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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sgnoun gets tough in support of courts

Sgnoun gets tough in support of courts

J USTICE Minister Chem Snguon has told the Prime Ministers that armed government forces

are intimidating Cambodian court workers from judges down to keep them from doing

their jobs effectively.

That has to stop, Snguon said, before "the people will trust, love and respect

the courts."

Western legal observers praised Snguon's actions as brave, necessary and possibly

overdue.

On Jan 3 this year Snguon sent a memo to the Ministers of Interior and Defense, and

the RCAF chief of general staff, asking them to help stop a group of armed military

police who - for the past four years - had stopped court staff from serving an eviction

notice to one property owner.

Snguon named the leader giving the group their orders as Kieng Savuth - the commander

of the National Military Police.

Fifteen days later, Snguon wrote a curt memo to the Interior Ministers again, asking

them to investigate another case, this involving an armed mob that ransacked the

Kampot court because they disagreed with a court judgment.

And then on Jan 25, Snguon told the Prime Ministers in his 1995 report of the Annual

Assembly of Justice Work Activities that it was an objective of the courts in 1996

to "try to suppress... all those acts of violation of the laws by government

servants, who have power or [strength of arms], in order to promote the respect of

[the Kingdom's laws]."

Snguon's ministry considered what it accomplished in 1995 was worthy of pride - except

for only an "average" result in getting the public to "trust, love

and respect the courts."

Citing two ways to better the courts' image, Snguon told Prince Norodom Ranariddh

and Hun Sen that the courts would try to improve the "good moral conduct"

of all court staff. The second way was to stop armed soldiers and police from interfering

with court decisions and actions.

One of the two cases Snguon complained about involved years of frustation in trying

to enforce court orders. The other was the recent ransacking of the Kampot courthouse

by an armed mob led by monks.

In the older case, involving Savuth - a powerful military figure - court staff were

stopped for the third time, on Dec 28 last year, from serving papers to a landowner

by "a group of armed forces equipped with pistols, long weapons and machine

guns" Snguon said.

Snguon urged Interior Ministers Sar Kheng and You Hockry, Defense Ministers Tea Chamrath

and Tea Banh, and RCAF chief of general staff Ke Kim Yan "to please kindly assist

in the support of the policy of the Royal Government, by taking real action to suppress

the obstruction...".

Snguon said he hoped that the government would not lose honor "in front of local

and international opinion, for only this [case involving a] house".

Snguon asked Hockry, Kheng, Chamrath, Banh and Kim Yan if the armed defenders of

the house were civilian, "why could they wear military uniform?" They should

be arrested for that, he said.

Court forces should have assaulted the building because there would be no danger

of blood being spilled between groups supposedly on the same "friendly"

side, he said.

The house and land in question are on Street 284, near the Olympic Stadium in Phnom

Penh, according to Khut Vit, the Municipal court clerk who handled the case.

He said the land had been owned since the '80s by a man named Ty Vanny, but said

Vanny had allowed Voeng Yan Thoeng, a car serviceman, to live and work there.

In 1992, Vanny reclaimed ownership, but Thoeng refused. Thoeng had illegally sold

the property to a prominent Phnom Penh-based brewery company which Vit said had asked

Kieng Savuth to provide protection.

On March 16, 1992, the Municipal court ruled in Vanny's favor. The judgment remained

valid while the dispute dragged on to the Supreme Court.

Vit said: "[The armed forces] who protected the land said they would withdraw

if Kieng Savuth ordered them to do so."

Vit supported Snguon's complaint by saying that three other security units - one

of them Military Prosecutors, according to Snguon's memo - which were asked to help

the court were withdrawn by their commanders because they feared Kieng Savuth.

"The court was left alone to deal with the dispute without any intervention

or support of the verdict," he said.

Following Snguon's memo, Vit said that the court's ruling was finally served on Jan

11 this year - almost four years since the judgment was made.

"Thanks to the intervention of Minister Chem Snguon, we succeeded in returning

the land to the owner [Vanny] according to our original ruling," Vit said.

The second case concerned the Dec 28 demonstration of 200 armed people - including

monks from Utumpor Pagoda - who ransacked Kampot court.

They had rallied against a court decision allowing Chhun Sakhan to retain possession

of some land that the monks and people claimed was part of the pagoda.

Snguon said he was not making a judgment whether the Kampot judge was right or wrong,

it was just that he was surprised and "seriously concerned" that people

including monks could use violence and destroy court property.

He asked Kheng and Hockry whether the relevant authorities had been informed about

the demonstration.

"I would like to kindly request Your Excellencies to take necessary measures

so that this kind of action will not occur any more in Kampot," he said. Snguon

added that this demonstration could lead to even more violent reactions against the

court. "Is it possible [the next time] they will burn down the court buildings,

or perhaps beat the judge, prosecutor or court staff?"

He asked the Interior Ministers to "examine the possibility" of repairing

the ransacked building; replace desks, chairs, filing cabinets, typewriters and copy

machines stolen or destroyed; and to provide guards for the court.

Snguon also said help was needed retrieving 100 case files that had also been stolen.

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