Alegal advocacy NGO wants judges to be punished for keeping suspects behind bars
too long before trial.
The Cambodian National Research Organization (CNRO) has taken up the case of Ngieng
Yong Yung, 57, who was imprisoned for 17 months before sentencing, requesting that
the presiding judge be punished for breaching laws related to pre-trial detention.
Under the 1992 UNTAC law that still heavily influences Cambodia's criminal procedures,
suspects may be held up to four months before trial, a period that can be extended
to six months "if justified by the requirements of the trial".
Yung, a Vietnamese-born welder, was arrested in January 2003 for armed robbery and
held in the capital's Prey Sar prison, before being sentenced on June 8, 2004, to
10 years behind bars.
CNRO is not pushing to have Yung released, but to punish the presiding judge, Tan
Senarong, for letting the investigation go too long.
"On March 5, 2004, CNRO wrote to Tan Senarong to free the accused, but the judge
did not release him and violated article 22," said the complaint letter, signed
by Heang Rithy, president of CNRO and campaigner against excessive pre-trial detention.
"[CNRO] asks the prosecutor to punish Tan Senarong, Phnom Penh court judge,
under article 57 of the UNTAC law."
Article 57 says: "any public agents, including police or military agents, who
deliberately infringe upon the rights of physical integrity... shall be liable to
a punishment of one or two years in prison."
The complaint was lodged with the Phnom Penh prosecutor on July 5 and with the Supreme
Council of Magistracy four days later, but so far there has been no response from
Tan Senarong told the Post that he wasn't afraid of the CNRO complaint and that the
investigating judges, not the presiding judges, were to blame for long detention
"For some cases six months is not enough," said Tan Senarong. "The
judge has many cases to run; crime is increasing every day."
Senarong said the 13 judges at the Phnom Penh municipal court had to share the two
courtrooms, leaving them just two mornings a months to hear as many cases as possible,
usually between 10 and 15.
Judges say they can only hear criminal cases in the mornings because prison guards
will not transport prisoners to court in the afternoon, fearing for their security
if they were to return inmates at night.
But Heang Rithy said inadequate facilities are not the main reason so many people
are detained for more than six months.
"It's related to corruption," said Rithy. "[The judges are] waiting
for the families to give money."
On June 30 Adhoc and local human rights NGO Licadho sent a letter to Hong Ro Gan,
general prosecutor of the Phnom Penh municipal court, complaining about the 111 people
detained for more than six months in the capital's three major jails.
By the end of July there were 146 people detained longer than six months around Cambodia,
said Chan Soveth, from the monitoring section of human rights NGO Adhoc, which visits
prisons twice a month.
Soveth said most of the detainees were poor and couldn't afford to bribe the authorities
to work on their case.
But Soveth, who has worked with Adhoc for more than ten years, was not confident
that breaches of the six-month detention law would be stopped by CNRO's action.
"Until now we're lacking in the rule of law," Soveth said.
Although the option of holding judges accountable for illegal confinement has always
existed under UNTAC law, this is the first time such a complaint has been lodged,
said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.
"The problem is that if we complain [before sentencing] sometimes it will make
the judge angry and have consequences for the client," said Sam Oeun.
He predicted that while punishment was unlikely, a warning or reminder to the court
would be a good result.