On January 6 - 8, the Asian Human Rights Commission hosted a conference in Hong
Kong entitled "CAMBODIA: Consultation on Police Reforms". Senior Cambodian
officials from the Ministries of Justice and Interior, and Khmer lawyers and NGOs
who attended the seminar produced this (excerpted) report on the state of Cambodia's
police and the urgent need for institutional reform.
The concept of the police as criminal investigators and peacekeepers is new to Cambodia
after the Pol Pot regime. The socialist regimes which came after the Khmer Rouge
saw the role of the police as that of a militia. Its function was to protect the
regime and to perform surveillance on the people. Between 1980 and 1992 surveillance
was carried out from the Ministry of Interior. Following the 1993 elections this
entire concept was forced to change. Now the Ministry of Interior has to work under
the framework of the Cambodian Constitution.
This conceptual difference is of paramount importance. Any discussion of police reform
or police education should begin with an appreciation of the fundamental difference
between the two systems. Many of the problems now besetting the police force could
be better resolved if this difference was understood.
Under a liberal democratic framework the courts are at the apex of the system of
justice, with the police a subordinate branch. The superior position of the courts
must be accepted as the basis of all relationships between the courts and the police.
Under the former system (1980-1992) the police were more important than the courts,
which merely had a public relations function.
Criminal investigations are directed towards criminal trials. In a liberal democracy,
trials must be conducted according to standards laid down in universally accepted
United Nations' covenants and declarations. Police procedures for criminal investigations
must also be laid down in law.
In a seminar held January 11-17, 1994, organized by the UN Center for Human Rights
in Cambodia, with participants coming from the Ministries of Justice and Interior
and from the higher judiciary, it was agreed that there was a great need for the
speedy adoption of laws. The participants said the number of existing laws was limited
and grossly inadequate. They insisted that a penal code, a criminal procedure code
and a law on evidence should be adopted as soon as possible.
As of the beginning of 1999, the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Law exist only
in draft form. These documents need to be made available to the people, and particularly
to groups working to develop the justice system, for comments and suggestions. With
expert help these two documents could be finalized quickly. They would be a cornerstone
for all institutions of justice administration and be the base for police reform.
There still does not exist a Police Code, but there is a draft which must be expedited
and made publicly available to human rights groups. The specific problems existing
in Cambodia must be addressed in this document.
The Police Law must create a Police Commission to supervise and manage reforms and
education. The commission could become a useful instrument for achieving positive
change within the police.
Police titles are military titles, beginning with "three-star general"
down to "assistant lieutenant", the equivalent of a constable in other
countries. These titles show the military origins of the police, when they were used
to fight the civil war. It has become imperative to give up this military past and
such military-style titling.
Before 1993 the police force was organized along political lines. Both major political
parties had their own police. De-linking the police command from political leadership
and running it on a professional basis should be the key to police forms and education.
Overcoming the existing culture of subordination to and collaboration with political
authorities is important in creating credibility, not only for the police but also
for the political system. This has a direct bearing on economic and political development
and internal and international trade. It is an essential step towards creating civil
society in Cambodia and in separating the police from criminal elements. It would
also go a long way toward overcoming the often-reported and much-feared kidnappings.
If policemen and soldiers want to join political parties they should resign from
the force. Policemen should not be recruited from political parties but instead through
a proper and independent process such as a police academy. Currently, some policemen
take open part in politics. The law forbids this but instead allows people to resign
to contest elections and return to the force if they fail. This is not a good situation.
Wage payments to "ghost police" (who appear only in the registers) as a
reward to political allies should also be abolished.
In any country police behavior is conditioned by the commands police receive from
their superiors. It is therefore essential that police chiefs be professionally trained
and not, as is now the case, recruited from outside the force. Though there are some
police officers who have qualified abroad, these do not include those in higher ranks.
Donors, foreign academies and other training institutes should treat such training
as a priority. Selection must be on merit.
Before 1993 police training was basically political indoctrination. Although this
has stopped it has not been replaced with proper training. Police trainers do not
exist in Cambodia; nor is the concept of such a category present. A police academy
is a dire need. Some donors have offered funds and have helped set up small-scale
education programs, but that has in no way resolved the problem.
In Cambodia there is a policeman for every 150 people. Normally in developed countries
the ratio is about 1 to 750. Before 1975, Cambodia's police force numbered 15,000;
now there are over 60,000 staff. This increase was for military purposes. A policeman
is paid about $10 a month, which makes corruption a necessity. Staff numbers must
be drastically reduced and quality, and wages, improved.
One one hand, police reform depends in large part on adequate funding. On the other
hand, foreign assistance for the police depends on genuine reform. An unwieldy and
ill-disciplined police force is unlikely to attract funding. Dealing with this issue
will take great political will.
Police officers work in one locality all their lives. This also leads to corruption.
Officers must be transferred at regular intervals.
Police reform is essential in dealing with the prevailing culture of impunity. Recent
attempts to allow former KR leaders to escape trial for genocide reflect how serious
is the issue of impunity.
The concept of forensic evidence is unfamiliar in Cambodia. Hardly any forensic science
expertise exists. Post-mortem examinations are not legal requirements. There is no
forensic laboratory. As a result, some very short-term training by foreign experts
can be used in dangerous ways.
The lack of forensic facilities is linked to the absence of the concept of proof
in criminal trials. The Khmer word used for trial means "a sentencing session".
Guilt has usually been decided by confessions from the accused, however they may
have been obtained. It would be better to follow the example of some countries where
confessions are inadmissible.
The following provisions must be incorporated in to the Criminal Procedure Law in
order to limit the powers of the police regarding arrest, search and related matters:
- Police must be required to identify themselves and reveal the reasons for the
arrest to the suspect.
- There should be rules for the proper use of handcuffs.
- The use of force should be defined in law, as should rules regarding the right
to self-defense and to the defense of third parties and of property.
- The beating of arrested or detained persons should be prohibited. The police
hieirachy should educate subordinates and punish any officer who beats arrested or
detained persons. The prosecutor should be mandated immediately to investigate any
accusations of torture.
- The proper use of weapons must be mandated.
- The law should state how much evidence is required before an arrest can be made,
either in the commission of crime or for probable cause. After a dossier has been
submitted to the prosecutor, the prosecutor should decide whether the police have
probable cause for an arrest.
- Except in cases specified by law, no arrests should be made without warrants.
Only a judge should be empowered to issue arrest warrants when there exists sufficient
- Arrest warrants should not be issued retroactively.
- Remedies for illegal arrests should be introduced. Compensation for victims of
illegal arrest should be mandated, offending officers punished, and information obtained
in the course of an illegal arrest ruled inadmissible in court.
- The limits to body or personal search should be clearly defined.
- Procedures for house searches and night searches should be mandated and should
never take place without the presence of the affected persons.
- Regulations should be laid down regarding seizures.
- Interrogation should not be permitted unless those arrested or detained have
been informed of their rights. Any statements taken from arrested or detained person
who have yet to be informed of their rights should inadmissible in court.
- The court should be sensitive to regards of complaints of physical and/or mental
- Arrested or detained persons should be informed of their right to counsel and
be permitted to meet with their attorneys immediately following arrest. Spouses or
other relatives should be allowed to sign a power of attorney on behalf of the accused.
Police should contact legal aid groups to ensure an attorney is provided for those
who cannot afford one.
- Police lock-ups with good sanitation and conditions should be built. No arrested
or detained person should be held in water closets or other inappropriate place.
- Forced confessions should be prohibited and all statements by detainees should
be examined by a defense attorney to establish whether or not they have been made
voluntarily. Judges should not read statements made by detainees in advance of their
trials; if they do a judge should be replaced at trial.
- Police should be trained to take statements properly and accurately. Statements
should be signed or thumbprinted by their authors.
- The practice of admitting statements without calling the authors of such statements
to court should be abolished. Article 42 of SOC Law 93, which permits this should
be annulled. Statements should not be admissible in court without the presence of
- Police should be trained in how to collect and preserve evidence.
- Police, if necessary at first a special group of police, should be trained in
the collection and use of forensic evidence, and supplied with all necessary equipment.
- People called in as experts should be properly qualified and their qualifications
examined before their opinions are accepted.
- Police should be required to appear in court to give evidence and be cross-examined
during trials. Otherwise their evidence should not be admitted.
- Police should be held responsible for their conduct and not simply for their
obedience to the orders of their superiors. They should be legally trained and held
responsible for any and all criminal acts.
- The jurisdiction of various kinds of police and in various geographical areas
should be made clear. Military police should not have jurisdiction over civilians.