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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pace of legal reform far too slow: envoy

Pace of legal reform far too slow: envoy

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Surya Subedi, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, speaks in Phnom Penh in 2011. Photograph: Heng Chivoan

Draft laws on the status of judges, the structure of the judiciary and the reform of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy have been on the backburner for almost 20 years, and UN Special Rapporteur Surya Subedi wants to know why.

“The judiciary is the main issue [in Cambodia],” the Leeds University law professor told the Post yesterday.

“Everything comes down to the judiciary, so that as to be addressed properly. Not only the independence of the judiciary, [but] the capacity of the judiciary.”

The first of Subedi’s four reports on the situation of human rights in Cambodia thus far examined the judicial system and proposed 36 recommendations to the government.

“These recommendations should have been acted upon – not all of them, that takes time,” Subedi said.

“But some things, for example, these three core pieces of legislation do not require much additional resources, as it is part of the government’s legislative program.

“I want to explore what the difficulties are, why progress has been slow, and how I can assist [the government] to put [the laws] in place.”

Two years ago, Subedi’s discussions with the government on the laws, which would create a framework for a more effective, independent and robust judicial system, signaled the 20-year-old draft laws were moving forward.

But as yet, the legislative bills have not been tabled before parliament.

As a developing country, Cambodia’s focus has been on economic development, Subedi said.

“But more people would be willing to invest serious money if the judiciary were regarded as independent, robust and able to dispense speedy, impartial and effective justice,” he argued. “Economic development and reform of the judiciary is part and parcel of the same package.”

An effective judicial system has the trust and confidence of the people, the Nepali national added.

“In some cases, people have been arrested on Friday night and convicted on Monday morning. That is not satisfactory.”

The culture of impunity and an ethos of deference to the rich and powerful is another barrier to development that needs to be addressed, said the special rapporteur.

“If a judge delivers a judgment today, suppose against the rich and powerful, they must be able to have a good night’s sleep knowing that their job will be safe tomorrow.”

During his fact-finding missions for his 2010 report on judicial reform, Subedi said he met with Ministry of Interior officials and went through a list of cases he had compiled that had not been properly investigated.

“I was given the assurance that these would be properly investigated, and if necessary, some assistance would be received from the FBI or other international bodies.”

It is these type of government assurances in particular that Subedi intends to follow up on during his mission to the Kingdom this week.

While Subedi said he would have “liked to see a greater degree of cooperation” from the government, he said it was too early in the week to have an informed view about the cooperation of the government.

“There are ups and downs. There are some times when I have a better relationship, and there are some times when the relationship may not be as good as it should be,” Subedi said, adding that he had not been “discouraged”.

“With regards to criticising me as a mouthpiece of the opposition [a reference to an opinion piece from professor Pen Ngoeun published on the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit website], this is just an individual; thegovernment themselves invited me this time. I am here as their guest.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bridget Di Certo at bridget.dicerto@phnompenhpost.com

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