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Rule of law rank near bottom

Police search for drugs at the White Building in Phnom Penh
Police search for drugs at the White Building in Phnom Penh earlier this year. A new report that surveyed 1,000 people revealed that only 28 per cent of respondents believed that police act according to the law. Vireak Mai

Rule of law rank near bottom

Cambodia has again scored dismally in an annual index released today ranking the rule of law in 102 countries, placing 99th overall and the worst in the region.

The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, which is based on surveys with ordinary people and in-country experts, ranks countries based on eight key indicators including constraints on government powers, an absence of corruption, and regulatory enforcement.

In every factor measured, Cambodia scored the worst in the East Asia and Pacific region, where other ranked nations include Myanmar, Vietnam and Mongolia.

The report notes that the importance of an effective rule of law – in which governments are held accountable, fundamental rights are protected, and the judiciary is independent – cannot be underestimated.

“Where the rule of law is weak, medicines fail to reach health facilities, criminal violence goes unchecked, laws are applied unequally across societies, and foreign investments are held back,” it says.

“Effective rule of law helps reduce corruption, improve public health, enhance education, alleviate poverty, and protect people from injustices and dangers large and small.”

The only countries to fare worse than Cambodia in the index were Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Venezuela.

In an example of its failures in implementing rule of law, the report reveals that out of 1,000 respondents in Phnom Penh, Battambang and Kampong Cham, just 28 per cent believed that police act according to the law. Only 30 per cent believed that police respect the basic rights of suspects and 22 per cent believed that police are punished for violating the law.

Cambodia, which last year ranked 91st out of 99 countries, saw notable drops this year in “order and security”, which at 72nd place remained its best score, and “civil justice”, where it lagged behind every other country surveyed.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said that he wasn’t surprised by the particularly poor ranking in that area, highlighting a number of flaws within the wider justice system.

“Cambodia does not yet have an independent judiciary,” he said. “Judges are not neutral, not independent.”

Sam Oeun cited the “politicisation” of Cambodia’s courts, a lack of adequate funding and scientific knowledge for forensic examinations, and a failure to implement legislation as obstacles to rule of law in the country.

“Corruption is an obstacle too. Corruption happens everywhere,” he added.

But government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed the index’s findings, insisting that every effort was being made to carry out a just rule of law.

He declined, though, to respond to some of the concerns addressed in the report.

“They have nothing, no message that’s important,” he said. “How can you compare other countries to Cambodia?”

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