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Low ranking for rule of law

Boeung Kak community activists protest in front of the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh last year
Boeung Kak community activists protest in front of the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh last year. The World Justice Project ranked Cambodia last in the region in its Rule of Law Index released yesterday. Heng Chivoan

Low ranking for rule of law

The World Justice Project yesterday ranked Cambodia 91st out of 99 nations and at the bottom of the barrel regionally in terms of its devotion to the rule of law, despite its midlevel performance in terms of providing order and security.

In its annual Rule of Law Index – which measures key indicators like checks on government power, absence of corruption and fundamental rights – the WJP found that Cambodia’s “adherence to the rule of law” was the worst in the East Asia & Pacific region.

“While the country’s score in protection of fundamental rights improved during the past year, the overall legal and institutional environment remains weak,” the report reads.

Cambodia’s score on fundamental human rights was up about 7 per cent over last year’s index, but still ranked 82nd in the category. The only one of the WJP’s eight key indicators in which Cambodia did not rank in the bottom 20 per cent was in maintaining security and order, in which it ranked 54th overall, and third out of 16 low-income countries.

However, despite the modest strides in fundamental rights, the report says: “Constraints on government powers and regulatory enforcement are poor (ranking 94th in both categories), and the justice system is ineffective. Property rights are weak, and corruption remains a significant problem (ranked 86th overall and last in the region).”

The report comes hot on the heels of the government’s latest promises to fast-track three key judicial reform laws that have been in the works since at least 2005.

In a speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the draft laws were currently in the final stages of approval.

“I hope the three laws will be introduced at the same time to guarantee the implementation across all the courts, and I am hoping the three laws may be introduced in the first half [of 2014],” he said.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Sam Prachea Manith said yesterday that the final drafts of the laws would be approved by the Council of Ministers next week “at the latest”, at which point they would be forwarded to the National Assembly.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, however, expressed uncertainty yesterday over whether the three laws – which civil society has been unable to review in detail – would help or hinder Cambodia’s commitment to the rule of law.

“The law has two ways: sometimes it makes [things] better, sometimes it makes [things] worse,” he said, noting that the proposed Law on the Amendment of the Supreme Council of Magistracy would change its fundamental composition.

“In the old draft … only one member was a politician, but in the new draft, five are magistrates, and five are politicians,” he said. “It means that the body of magistrates is under the influence of politics. And you can imagine who [the politicians] will be from; [they] will be from the ruling party.”

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