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A tearful Tep Vanny (right) leaves the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh in 2012
A tearful Tep Vanny (right) leaves the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh in 2012 after judges announced that her sentence would be reduced and she would be released later that day. Heng Chivoan

NGO calls for fairer appeals

A major local rights group has called on the Court of Appeal to ensure that the “fundamental and universally recognized human right” to a fair trial is respected.

“Besides the overall concerns related to the lack of independence of the judiciary,” the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said in a statement yesterday, “[T]he most important issues to be addressed as a matter of priority include the systematic failure of judges to inform and explain defendants of their rights and the high numbers of hearings where defendants are not present.”

The report, which commends the Appeal Court for “generally adhering to the procedures that are meant to ensure fair trial rights”, also criticises it for its poor quality of evidence.

The report analyses data collected from 204 trials monitored between March 1, 2013, and January 31, 2014.

Tep Vanny, one of 13 Boeung Kak activists who faced the Appeal Court in 2012 after being convicted of occupying state land and obstructing public officials in aggravating circumstances, said that she was not given a fair trial, despite walking free.

“For my case in the Appeal Court, I would like to say that it was not fair, [because] even though we were released on bail we were still considered guilty,” Vanny said yesterday.

Vanny said the court did explain her rights but did not let her defend herself. She also said that a video produced by the authorities did not offer evidence of any crimes.

According to the report, in 52 per cent of cases monitored, defendants appeared in a prison uniform, which it says “undermines the presumption of innocence”.

But Ouk Savuth, general prosecutor of the Appeal Court, said the court “always makes sure the trial is fair”.

Savuth agreed that more vehicles need to be provided to transport defendants to the court but said that “at least three sub-appeal courts” will be opened in the near future to tackle the issue of trials in absentia.

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