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China MoU to help ‘reform’ judiciary

Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana signs a judicial reforms agreement with China on Monday in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied
Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana signs a judicial reforms agreement with China on Monday in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

China MoU to help ‘reform’ judiciary

China has signed an agreement to assist the Kingdom with judicial reforms and to share expertise in overhauling such systems, though one international expert yesterday cautioned that China shouldn’t be considered “a model for justice reform in Cambodia”.

Under the five-year agreement, signed on Monday, China will provide training and financial, judicial and legal assistance, said Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin. China will help new administrative offices – created in 2014 – by providing training on managing caseloads, finances and personnel, as well as information technology, he said.

“We still need support for [the administrative offices] to function properly,” Malin said.

Judges would also receive training from China, although the specifics haven’t been decided yet. “We may have an exchange program,” he added.

What’s more, China will assist in the establishment of a legal and judicial research centre, which will provide policy recommendations to the government on general legal and judicial reforms.

The courts, however, have long been one of Cambodia’s most-maligned institutions, especially after the 2014 passage of three controversial laws purportedly aimed at “judicial reform”, but which critics claimed only further solidified the executive branch’s control of the judiciary.

The judiciary has yet again been under international fire recently for what observers have termed a raft of politically motivated and legally questionable cases against opposition members and leaders.

Kingsley Abbott, senior legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists, yesterday questioned whether China was in the best position to help the Kingdom improve.

“Certainly, China should not be used as a model for justice reform in Cambodia, given its well-documented harassment of human rights lawyers, legal assistants and activists, and its own challenges with justice reform and the establishment of an independent judiciary,” he said.

Cambodia, he added, “should focus on establishing independent judges, prosecutors and lawyers who are able to carry out their work free from interference”.

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