Human Rights Watch yesterday called on the government to withdraw three “seriously substandard” draft laws on the Kingdom’s judiciary, saying that passing them in their current form would eradicate any separation between the judicial and executive branches of government.
The three laws, which were recently approved by the Council of Ministers “[a]fter years of outrageous foot-dragging”, would give the minister of justice an inordinate amount of power, allowing the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to cement what is widely perceived to be its control of Cambodia’s courts, HRW said in a statement yesterday.
“The Cambodian government has made annual promises to the Cambodian people and donors to take steps to establish an independent judiciary, but has utterly failed to keep them,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams says in the statement. “By enacting laws empowering the justice minister over the judiciary’s ruling body, [Prime Minister] Hun Sen can formalize his de facto power over the courts.”
Under the constitution, the Supreme Council of Magistracy is charged with overseeing judges and defending the judicial branch from outside influence.
But should the new laws go into effect, the justice minister and other representatives of the ministry would hold key positions on the Supreme Council of Magistracy, raising concerns that the council’s decisions could be politically influenced.
In its statement, HRW went on to call for the laws to be “withdrawn at least until they can be adequately subject[ed] to public comment”, a step the government has already called unnecessary, and that opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Son Chhay yesterday called unlikely, given that the current parliament is “just a rubber stamp”.
Legal expert and Cambodian Defenders Project executive director Sok Sam Oeun yesterday echoed HRW’s misgivings about the laws. “The Supreme Council of Magistracy cannot protect the independence of the judiciary,” he said.
CPP lawmakers Chheang Vun and Cheam Yeap could not be reached for comment.