​Judicial reform key to ending abuse of power | Phnom Penh Post

Judicial reform key to ending abuse of power


Publication date
22 November 2002 | 07:00 ICT

Reporter : Charlotte McDonald-Gibson

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What are your goals for this visit, and how you have progressed so far?

The focus of this visit has been to follow up on my report to the UN General Assembly

which was discussed in New York last week, and to follow up on previous visits to

see what the results are, and whether action is taken on the points I am raising.

Very high on my agenda once again for obvious reasons is judicial reform. Also part

of the focus of my visit are land issues and housing issues. You may have seen in

my last report I looked into the relocations, and to that I am now adding, for obvious

reasons, forestry issues. Then there are the elections of course, and a few other

issues, namely human trafficking.

Peter Leuprecht

I think it has been very successful so far. Of course the results will have to be

seen. I had a very constructive meeting yesterday with Hun Sen, who seemed to like

my report and thanked me for what I am doing. I was pleased, because it has not always

been like that.

I've seen Prince Ranariddh, I've seen the new council for legal and judicial reform,

I have had numerous meetings with NGOs and civil society representatives. On Monday

I'm going to Kampong Speu in connection with land issues, [and] we had a consultation

with government and NGO representatives yesterday on prison conditions.

How much support have you had from the Cambodian government?


This time I have no complaints whatsoever. Everybody has been cooperative. When

I compare my situation with that of other special representatives, I'm in a relatively

privileged position. Some cannot even go into the country. It's my seventh visit,

and I can come when I want, I can see whom I want, I can go where I want. On the

whole the government are very open.

What progress have you seen with regard to the human rights situation in Cambodia

since your first visit?

Any progress here considering the conditions can only be very slow. I think [you

need to] take a more long-term perspective. If you look at the last ten years it's

certain that in many respects Cambodia has come a long way, but there is a lot more

to be done.

What I've said right from the beginning is you have a certain number of underlying

cross-cutting issues, or evils, which are poverty, corruption, violence and lawlessness.

What would you say are the most pressing rights issues?

What the country absolutely needs is a proper judicial system, otherwise there

won't be any real respect for human rights - an independent judiciary and a non-corrupt

judiciary. That is one of the pre-conditions for putting an end to impunity.

Unfortunately justice is not the same for people who are rich and powerful, and people

who are poor and weak. The law should apply to everybody in the same way, but it

does not. Very often people who have power because of their position within the state

are abusing that power. I think this is quite common, the abuse of power.

What key measures are needed to ensure the 2003 election is free and fair?

First of all I hope that the new [National Election Committee] will be independent,

impartial, transparent. Some people are very frank in admitting that it's very difficult

here to get the idea of independent bodies accepted, because people simply don't

believe it can exist. Everything and everybody is highly politicized.

As far as the issues of substance are concerned, I think it will have to be seen

how the NEC implements the amended election law and what internal regulations they

will adopt. I told them that they should make use of their powers, in particular

to act against intimidation and violence. That was one of my criticisms with regard

to the commune elections - the old NEC did not make use of their powers at all. There

are a number of provisions in the law which will enable them to act against perpetrators

of intimidation or violence.

Another very important point is access to the media. [The government] said with regard

to private media they can't do anything, but where they can and must do something

is with the state electronic media: radio and television.

I think it's well documented that for the commune elections there was no equal access

to those, it was very one-sided. At the commune elections I was not happy because

the NEC told me, "Yes, we will ensure equal access to the state owned electronic

media". But when I came again and met them the second time, I asked them about

it. Too my surprise the president said to me that giving politicians access to radio

and television might cause trouble, might excite the population - a quite impossible


In your previous report, you stated that "an independent, neutral and transparent

National Election Committee could fulfill [a] valuable role". Do you believe

the recently elected NEC meets these stipulations?

Well I think it will have to be seen how they behave. Of course everybody knows,

and I'm not naive, that that they are more or less connected with political parties.

Now what I hope has real meaning, and it could be a pure formality, [is that the

NEC members] have to resign when they become members. That's not bad as a principle

- they have to resign for life from their political party. That is something that

should also be done for judges for instance, because judges also are very politicized.

Human rights NGOs here have said political killings have already begun - do you

share that opinion?

As I mentioned in my reports, according to what we have found [there were] 19

killings before the commune elections. The government had a tendency to say these

are not politically motivated. Now I don't go very much into this argument because

the fact is the victims happen to be people who are politically active or who are


What you could also say if you want to see something positive, is that the number

of killings was lower then before the 1998 elections. So you might say that there

is a trend - a declining number of political killings. I would very much hope this

is true because every killing is one too many.

It is a country where there is still a lot of violence. But in cases where you do

not even know who the perpetrator was, it's a bit difficult to say what the motivation

was. But I think what is essential is to fight violence in general.

In your meeting with prison officials, what was discussed and what were the outcomes?

Well it was not just prison officials, we had the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and

the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). It is very specific issues, [such as] the appalling

state of health and health care in prisons. I think one of the reasons is there is

very bad coordination between the MoI, which is in charge of prisons, and the Ministry

of Health.

[There is] very poor nutrition, very poor water supply, it's unbelievable. And overcrowding

is terrible - people are like sardines, and there are prisons where they can't all

lie at the same time, so they do it in turns. While some sleep others have to stand

up, it's terrible. When you see it in a movie you will say it's grossly exaggerated,

but it's not, it's a very harsh reality.

One point we also raised is the non-separation of different kinds of prisoners, which

is contrary to international standards. They don't separate pre-trial detainees from

convicted prisoners. They don't separate minors from adults - you see very often

young boys who are in pre-trial detention because they stole a chicken, they are

in these terrible places where they have to live and to sleep next to convicted murderers,

rapists. I think the risk is the prison becomes a school of crime.

Did you feel the MoI and MoJ shared your opinion on this?

The officials usually don't deny that there are huge problems. What I find positive

is that whenever I ask to go into a prison, I've been allowed to.

Usually those in charge of prisons welcome criticism, because it will help them to

get more funds, and there is a terrible problem with a lack of funds. The state spends,

per day per prisoner, just 1,000 riel. It's absolutely disgusting they dont get enough

to eat.

What you also have in prison is a certain amount of corruption. Quite frequently

the families have to pay a certain amount of money to the prison guards in order

to get access to the inmates. Again you always come across the same issue - they

are very badly paid. And I think if you pay people at a level where they can't survive,

that incites favors and corruption.

Have you made that recommendation?

I mentioned before the need to increase salaries, for judges, for prison guards,

for teachers. They are now quite dramatically raising the salary of judges ... the

minimum salary for a judge will go up to something like $300, and so far a good salary

for a judge has been $30.

Hun Sen referred to a carrot and stick approach. He said to fight corruption in the

judiciary, on one hand the carrot is the increased salary. The stick will be - and

I hope it's happening, so far one has not seen much - will be severe disciplinary

action against judges who are found guilty of corruption.

Following the collapse of the Khmer Rouge tribunal talks earlier this year, there

has been speculation on the best way forward. What are your thoughts?

I think I've always made it very clear. First of all I was not happy about the

decision to pull out. The Secretary-General of the UN has said we'll come back if

we receive a mandate. Now there are efforts underway in New York at the General Assembly

to get a mandate adopted. So I still have some hope.

The big question last week was whether the Cambodians would co-sponsor the resolution.

When the UN pulled out in February, the Cambodian government was saying it was very

sorry and the door remained open. And what I said to them is if you are sincere,

if you really want a tribunal with UN participation and if you really regret the

pull out, then you can show that by co-sponsoring.

At least last week they did not seem willing to co-sponsor, but maybe they will come

around to it. I think if it is passed it should be passed before the end of this

General Assembly, before the end of December.

You have recently expressed concerns about the Montagnard refugees. Has the government

responded to this?

I've repeatedly raised the issues of the Montagnard refugees, and I must say that

for some time the Cambodian government behaved quite well. The unfortunate situation

now is that UNHCR, which is the UN agency to determine the status of these people,

at present does not have access to the border areas.

What also seems to happen is that people on the Cambodian side who had previously

helped refugees from the other side have been harassed and intimidated. They may

be frightened and less willing to help. It's not a happy situation.

In New York the Vietnamese representative took the floor and said these are not refugees

they are illegal migrants. I said three things. First of all, you cannot say whether

they are illegal migrants because these people have no opportunity to have their

status determined, because they can't gain access to UNHCR.

Secondly any repatriation, if it happens, can only be voluntary. And thirdly, you

don't send people back without having determined their status. I have reason to believe

in light of my discussions that the changed attitude of the Cambodian government

is due to a massive amount of pressure from Vietnam.

How should the government proceed to implement the changes needed to improve the

human rights situation?

Well, there is no simple answer to that. I think what is generally needed is a

coherent strategy and a strong and obvious political will on behalf of the government.

And I said that to Hun Sen yesterday, because he said he couldn't do everything.

I said, "Yes, but you can do a lot, and demonstrate strong and serious political

will to improve the situation."

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