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Judge the judges, NGOs say

Boeung Kak activist Yorm Bopha, 29, leaves Phnom Penh’s Court of Appeal in June
Boeung Kak activist Yorm Bopha, 29, leaves Phnom Penh’s Court of Appeal in June. HENG CHIVOAN

Judge the judges, NGOs say

For too long the rich and powerful have used the courts to intimidate those who thwart their agendas, a group of community and NGO representatives said at a press conference yesterday.

At the conference in Phnom Penh members of the forest, land, fishery and trade union communities called on the National Assembly to put forth legislation that would hold judges and prosecutors accountable for alleged complicity in furthering business interests by prosecuting people who stood in the way.

“I would appeal to the government to encourage the setup of a law on the management of judges and prosecutors as soon as possible,” Meng Bunroeun, community representative in Pursat province said.

“[The National Assembly should] take immediate measures against court officials who do not fulfil their professional code of conduct.”

People interfering with companies that are developing their land frequently receive writs to appear in court, Bunroeun said.

About 500 human rights and land defenders have been threatened through the judicial system in the past five years, according to Theng Saroeun, Secretariate of Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community. In those arrests, people were accused of crimes such as incitement and fraud.

“Those charges are different from the facts; most court and law enforcement officials do not investigate thoroughly,” Saroeun argued.

Judges and prosecutors who assist in misusing the courts currently face no consequences because no laws holding them accountable exist, said Chan Soveth, a senior investigator of rights group Adhoc.

That lack of accountability decays the public’s confidence in the court system as officials in the system engage in nepotism, and bow to political parties and business interests.

Soveth urged the National Assembly to set up such statutes to avoid convictions such as that of Boeung Kak activist Yorm Bopha, who, he said, was jailed after a shoddy investigation.

But Sam Prachea Meanith, chief of cabinet at the Ministry of Justice, said the groups’ proposals would have no positive effect on Cambodia’s courts.

“No one has the right to give orders to the prosecutors and judges,” Meanith said.

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