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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US court drops case against government

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Hun Manet speaks to the media after returning from a trip to the United States in April last year. Pha Lina

US court drops case against government

A United States court has dropped a “torture” case against the Cambodian government brought by lawyers for the family of former Cambodia National Rescue Party official Meach Sovannara, one of several one-time opposition members imprisoned in Cambodia in cases widely believed politically motivated.

In an order dated May 11, Judge George Wu of the US District Court Central District of California, agreed with a submission by Sovannara’s lawyers to close the case without prejudice.

Morton Sklar, the attorney representing Sovannara’s US-based family, said his team moved to have the case dismissed so it could be refiled at a federal court in Washington, DC, that had jurisdiction over foreign governments.

The case was initially brought against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son Hun Manet last year and also named the Cambodian government as a defendant.

It alleged that the imprisonment of Sovannara for 20 years on “insurrection” charges over a 2014 anti-government rally that turned violent amounted to torture under international law.

The plaintiffs argued Manet was liable because of his senior military positions, including his role as deputy chief of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit.

They also moved to add as a party to the case opposition lawmaker Nhay Chamroeun, one of two parliamentarians attacked by Bodyguard Unit soldiers in 2015.

However, in April, Wu ruled that an attempt to serve Manet with legal papers while he was in California was ineffective, and thus he was not subject to the jurisdiction of the court.

Sklar, Sovannara’s lawyer, said the case would be submitted in Washington after the commune elections on June 4.

“The merits of Meach Sovannara’s and Nhay Chamroeun’s claims will now be left to the federal court for Washington, DC, to decide,” he said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan, however, said he was not concerned.

“The Washington court has no jurisdiction over Cambodia,” he said.

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Don Rennie's picture

Dear Shaun,

As usual, I think Mr. Phay Siphan may be uninformed and spoke from his hindquarters instead of his mouth. There are a number of federal statutes that reach far beyond the boundaries of the USA.

For example, there are the Universality Principle (a crime against humanity) and the Passive Personality Principle (a citizen has been harmed). Each one deals with issues whereby the USA can assert jurisdiction over a sovereign nation.

The initial precedent goes back to 1945.

If Mr. Phay would take time to research legal matters more thoroughly, he might not look so foolish.

DR