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Women lack full rights at Appeal Court

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Female activists from the Boeung Kak lake community arrive at the capital’s Appeal Court for a hearing in June 2012. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights has released a report noting observations about how women are treated by the Kingdom’s judiciary. Pha Lina

Women lack full rights at Appeal Court

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) has released an observational report on the rights of woman defendant’s at the Appeal Court, claiming that many weren’t granted due process.

Having monitors attend 453 trials from December 2016 to June this year, CCHR found that there were 76 cases that involved a total of 97 women.

Of the number, the report found 28 per cent did not appear at their hearings, in many cases because of a lack of communication between the Appeal Court and the detention centre.

Additionally, 26 per cent of the women weren’t represented by a lawyer, while 14 per cent appeared in court wearing their prison uniforms, which the report says is “contrary to the presumption of innocence”.

Nine of the women weren’t told about their right to a fair trial, while 13 per cent were not informed of their right to a defence lawyer.

In 70 per cent of the cases, women were not told about their right to remain silent. This right was only clearly explained to five per cent of women.

CCHR said that there has been no clear mechanism to protect woman defendants due to the shortage of women working in the judicial system compared with men.

Between 2013 and 2017, CCHR found that the number of women in the judiciary had barely changed, as only 14 per cent of all judges,12 per cent of prosecutors, 22 per cent of court clerks and 20 per cent of lawyers were women.

“Such inequality in accessing judicial professions has a significant impact on women defendants, victims and witnesses. It contributes to a hostile environment where victims of abuse or sexual violence are often re-traumatised or blamed,” the report said.

CCHR urged the government to review its legal aid policy to ensure equal access to justice and legal representation for women.

It said the Ministry of Interior should follow the best practices of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in terms of witness and victim protection.

Another recommendation it gave was for the Kingdom to adopt legislation aimed at protecting the rights of victims of gender-based violence, especially focusing on legal and psychological support.

It stated that training in gender-specific issues should also take place for judicial actors.

Hun Seanghak, CCHR’s Fair Trial Monitoring Project coordinator could not be reached for comment. Touch Tharith, the Appeal Court spokesperson, said he hasn’t yet seen the report.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said on Thursday that he would review the report to see what methodology was used. He said the ministry will reform according to what it finds to be true.

“On behalf of an institution that is in charge of judicial system reform, we will review the report carefully and we may meet [with CCHR] in person to let them explain some issues that they have found regarding the rights of women defendants,” Malin said.

Nonetheless, he questioned the methodology that was used. “If they just have a monitor to sit at the appeal court, and that person has a table and ticked one, two, three … then we have reason to be suspicious of their assessment methodology,” he said.

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