The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) on Thursday released a monitoring report on the respect of defendants’ rights during trial, concluding that their rights at the Appeal Court have not been fully respected.
From November 2017 to October last year, CCHR monitored 452 cases involving 667 defendants. All the cases concerned individuals who had been convicted but had appealed.
The report found that 157 of the 667 defendants appeared in the Court of Appeal in blue convict uniforms, while 347 appeared in dark orange uniforms or their own clothing.
The remaining 163 defendants were either absent from proceedings or had appeared in their own clothing because they were not being held in pre-trial detention.
According to prison regulations, a convicted person is provided two blue cotton shirts with a white stripe around the collar and two pairs of blue cotton trousers with a white stripe down the leg. Those whose cases are ongoing wear the dark orange uniform.
“We welcome the provision of different uniforms for convicted persons and for those for whom no conviction has yet been issued.
“However, to ensure that the presumption of innocence is fully respected, all defendants awaiting a verdict should be able to wear their own clothing to court.
“Almost a quarter of defendants appear before court in the blue convict uniform,” the report said.
The report noted that the practice is contrary to Cambodia’s Constitution, a 2013 prakas and Prison Procedure No 5. Moreover, it was inconsistent with international human rights law and international standards to guarantee the right to the presumption of innocence.
“The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior shall issue and disseminate clear guidelines stipulating that defendants undergoing criminal proceedings are allowed to appear in court wearing civilian clothing.
“The judges of the Court of Appeal should allow the accused brought to court in convict’s uniform to wear civilian clothing instead during hearings,” CCHR said.
It recommended that the relevant authorities follow best practices implemented at the UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal, where defendants are permitted to wear their own clothing at all stages of the criminal process until final conviction.
The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons spokesman Nuth Savna said on Thursday that the issue had been discussed with the court. That discussion led to the system now in place.
“We don’t allow them to wear civilian clothes because we are concerned with security. When we bring them to the hearing, the temporary detention rooms at some courts are not safe enough.
“If they were to wear civil ian clothes, they could easily escape if something went wrong. We can allow them to wear civilian clothing, but we must handcuff them to ensure they cannot flee. This would look even worse,” Savna said.
Savna asked for understanding regarding the challenges faced by the prisons department, especially concerning security when defendants are outside prison.
The General Department of Prisons will continue discussions with the court on how to safely allow defendants to wear civilian clothing when standing trial, he said.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chhin Malin downplayed the importance of what defendants wore in court.
“If, like in other countries, we let them wear civilian clothes it would be good. But it is not necessary. The important thing is the procedure leading to the decision of the court.
“Their clothing is just an image. It has no impact on the decision of the judges. Simply separating defendants with different coloured uniforms is enough in the local context,” Malin said.