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Kem Sokha off the menu as Smith talks judicial independence

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UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith arrives for a meeting at the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday. Heng Chivoan

Kem Sokha off the menu as Smith talks judicial independence

The UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, on Tuesday, focused on “judicial independence” at a meeting with Ministry of Justice officials.

Both Smith and ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha was not raised.

According to Malin, subsequent to the two-hour closed-door meeting between Smith’s delegation and senior ministry officials led by its secretary of state Chiv Songhak on Tuesday, the parties said they had “fruitful” and “positive” discussions.

He told reporters after the meeting that Smith and the ministry discussed many issues, with a special focus on “social justice and independence of the judiciary”, while political issues, the Supreme Court-dissolved CNRP or Sokha were not brought up.

“Our discussion was not related to political issues. We talked only about judicial system reforms and the independence of the judiciary, the training of judges and mechanisms to transfer judges.

“She raised concerns that she requested our ministry take into consideration. Our ministry welcomes the raising of [issues] or [people’s] opinions. Some problems [raised] were problems we [are aware of] and are resolving,” Malin said.

He said his ministry had informed Smith that Cambodia is constructing two regional appeal courts in Battambang and Tbong Khmum provinces. Currently, there is only one Appeal Court, in Phnom Penh. He said the government plans to build five more regional appeal courts across the country.

Over past weeks, prosecutors and judges have been transferred after making “minor mistakes” and being punished by the Supreme Council of Magistracy, Malin said.

Smith expressed concerns on the procedures behind their transfer. “She raised the question that ‘if the judges had received their punishments and were then transferred to other places, they could cause more trouble and conduct their work no more efficiently’,” Malin said.

Responding to her concerns, Malin said if any judge had committed “serious mistakes”, including instances of corruption, they would be removed from their position or face legal action. “Transfers are an opportunity for them to make changes or do so in advance,” he said.

Twenty-two prosecutors throughout the Kingdom have been appointed or transferred in a reshuffle that one prominent Senate member said was meant to strengthen the judicial system.

A royal decree in October said the new appointments and transfers applied to prosecutors, deputy prosecutors and deputy prosecutor-generals from Kampong Speu, Battambang, Mondulkiri, Kampong Thom, Svay Rieng, Preah Sihanouk, Ratanakkiri, Tbong Khmum, Prey Veng and Koh Kong provinces.

‘Many issues raised before’
Ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan told The Post last week that the reshuffle also aimed to prevent corruption in the judicial system.

Speaking to the journalists after the meeting at the ministry in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Smith said she had discussed judicial independence and the strengthening of access to justice in the Kingdom.

“I talked with the Ministry of Justice on many different matters, from the legal age to regional appeal courts, transparency in the justice system and the appointment and promotion of judges and prosecutors.

“We also looked at the independence of the judiciary and the strengthening of access to justice in Cambodia,” Smith said.

“Many issues I have raised before, from pre-trial detention, increasing the independence of the judiciary and the perception of and confidence in the judiciary. I am looking at alternatives to custodial sentencing, the legal age, juvenile justice, while we discussed many [other] issues.”

Smith is to conclude her 11-day visit to Cambodia this Thursday and report to the UNHCR next September.

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