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UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith attends a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Justice yesterday in Phnom Penh.
UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith attends a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Justice yesterday in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

UN human rights rapporteur discusses judicial sector reform

The independence of the country’s judiciary was among the issues that UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Rhona Smith raised yesterday during a meeting with the minister of justice as part of her 10-day visit.

During her meeting with Ang Vong Vathana, Smith received an update on the progress to reform three controversial judicial laws that were passed in 2014, which critics claim further compromised the independence of the Kingdom’s oft-maligned courts.

Smith briefly spoke with journalists after the meeting and said progress in that area was being made. She also cited planned salary increases for prosecutors and judges – 40 to 50 per cent raises announced in January – as a specific example of reform, but also expressed the need for continued efforts.

Ministry spokesman Chin Malin acknowledged that Smith had pressed Vong Vathana on reform, but said she also “praised the good development that we’ve created in our court administration”.

“She felt strongly about the increase in financial allowance for judges and prosecutors, because this helps promote the independence of the court.”

Several members of the opposition are facing what are widely believed to be politically motivated court cases.

When asked if the issue of the ruling party’s alleged use of the courts as a tool of intimidation was raised, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokeswoman Christine Pickering said Smith will discuss her findings and recommendations at a press conference next Thursday.

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