Judiciary and Rule of LawBriefing Paper: The Role of the Cambodian Judiciary in Political Cases
September 2, 2010 On Saturday, May 29, 2010, at 6:15 a.m., Mr. Leang Sokchouen, an employee of LICADHO, was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district by police officers from the Internal Security Department of the Ministry of Interior. Subsequent to his arrest, Mr. Sokchouen was transferred to the Headquarters of the National Police Commissioner in Phnom Penh, where he was held incommunicado for more than 33 hours, despite repeated requests by family and his lawyer to be able to access him.
Cambodia is State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 9 (1) of the ICCPR reads as follows:
"Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as established by law."
The Human Rights Committee, the treaty body which is tasked with monitoring the State parties'' performance under the ICCPR, has stated that deprivations of liberty must in all cases be carried out in accordance with domestic legislation (principle of legality). More importantly, the Committee has held that deprivations of liberty must not be arbitrary, clarifying that "arbitrariness is not to be equated with against the law, but must be interpreted more broadly to include elements of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability and due process of law."
Leang Sokchouen's arrest and remand in custody by the Cambodian judiciary bears all the hallmarks of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability and due process outlined by the Human Rights Committee. These violations are characteristic of political systems that fail to genuinely implement basic principles of the rule of law.
March 25, 2010 We, the undersigned civil society organizations, condemn the Kompong Speu Provincial Court’s decision yesterday to arrest and detain two community representatives involved in the ongoing Omlaing Commune land dispute. The bogus charges against the two community representatives constitute yet another instance of Cambodia’s rich and powerful using the judicial system as a tool of enrichment and weapon of intimidation. We also condemn the response of mixed police forces to the villagers who came to the provincial court to show their support.
Omlaing Commune Council member You Thou and community leader Khem Vuthy were arrested on charges that they incited villagers to burn two temporary shelters used by construction workers belonging to Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company. The two representatives also stand accused of colluding to set the structures on fire.
March 11, 2010 Although the Coalition of Cambodian Civil Society Organizations (hereafter “the Coalition”),comprised of more than 200 local NGOs and Associations, only received a copy of the current Draft of the Anti-Corruption Law “hereafter “the Draft” at the last minute, the Coalition have made a concerted effort to provide several key comments on the Draft in its previous joint statement issued on March 09, 2010 on the eve of the National Assembly Session convened to debate the Law.
The joint and several efforts of the Coalition are aimed at ensuring that the proposed law is good and that it is able to adequately serve Cambodian society and the people well into the new decade through various radio talk shows, press conferences, and the submission of a letter attached to our previous joint statement, requested that the parliamentary debate and adoption of the draft law be deferred until a later date to allow for more time and scope for public input into the discussion now before the National Assembly.
January 29, 2010 Acid attacks have become an increasingly common form of violence in Cambodia in recent years. This particularly vicious method of attack is generally directed against women, often by their own husbands, or the wives of their lovers, with the most common motive being jealousy or revenge for perceived infidelities. There are, however, countless other motives for such attacks, with male and female perpetrators and victims. The attacks are almost always premeditated, as the perpetrators must take the time to acquire caustic acids. Unfortunately, these chemicals are typically inexpensive and readily available on the open market. Acid is very popular weapon given that it almost invisible to the police and the public.
December 8, 2009 The Prey Veng provincial court has found Neak Loeung Secondary School teacher Chin Rithy guilty of defaming the school's principal following a land dispute. The November 11, 2009, decision imposed a fine of 5 million riels (USD$1250) and ordered Chin Rithy to pay 5 million riel in compensation to the principal, Youen Sovuthy.
The defamation charge stemmed from a complaint filed by Chin Rithy to the Provincial Education Department on April 30, 2009, accusing Yoeun Sovuthy of selling school land to fellow teacher Pang Samet. Chin Rithy is director of the Prey Veng Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), a group which also disputed the land sale.
The 3-hour trial was held on November 5, 2009, and was attended by 15 CITA members, including CITA president, Rong Chhun, and other NGOs supporting Chin Rithy.
November 27, 2009 On October 27, 2009, the Siem Reap provincial court convicted Chan Norn and Chang Savoeun of assault and robbery, sentencing the two men to one year imprisonment each and ordering each to pay compensation of 3,000,000 riel (USD$750) to complainants Chey Sovann and Em Sothea. The complaint had stemmed from a long-standing land dispute which turned ugly on March 22, 2009, when police opened fire on a group of protesting villagers, resulting in four villagers being shot. The court acquitted seven other villagers who were facing the same charges.
The trial of the nine villagers, which had been held a week earlier on October 20, 2009, was heavily guarded. Initially 20 military police had been guarding the court; however, after over 120 villagers and supporters came to observe the trial, reinforcements were called in. Shortly after the hearing began at 8am, approximately 150 military police armed with guns, shields and electric batons arrived and surrounded the court compound, ensuring that none of the supporters were able to enter the court and observe the hearing. As the supporters waited outside the court, compound police harassed several villagers, accusing them of forming a demonstration to disturb the hearing and continually demanded that they leave.
November 16, 2009 We, the undersigned members of Cambodian civil society, condemn the lifting of parliamentary immunity from Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) President Sam Rainsy by the National Assembly on November 16, 2009. The Assembly's action is yet another blow to Cambodia's faltering democracy, and continues the government's disturbing trend of using the courts to intimidate and weaken political opponents.
Rainsy is the third SRP member to be stripped of parliamentary immunity - the second time this year only - in the past five months. Fellow SRP Parliamentarians Mu Sochua and Ho Vann were stripped of their immunity by the National Assembly on June 22, 2009. The latter was acquitted by the Phnom Penh court on September 22, 2009; yet, the National Assembly has failed to restore his parliamentary immunity back.
September 29, 2009 On August 27, 2009, the Phnom Penh municipal court sentenced Toch Ly, a village chief from Kompong Chhnang, to 16 months imprisonment after she was found guilty of forging thumbprints in an ongoing land dispute. She was also ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riel (USD$250) and compensation of 5 million riel (USD$1250) to the private company KDC International. Toch Ly was accused of forging a thumbprinted document in which 77 families denied that they sold their land to KDC International. The company is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Suy Sem, the Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy. Despite testimony from community members supporting the authenticity of the document, the court ruled that some of thumbprints did not belong to the people named on the document, but were instead made by their relatives.
September 2, 2009 The Cambodian League for Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) jointly condemn the decision by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to acquit former National Military Police Deputy Chief of Staff General Chea Ratha and her accomplices accused of an acid attack on Ya Soknim. The August 31 verdict, issued by judges Sin Visal, Din Sivuthy and Sem Sakola came after several inexplicable delays in the case over the past months.
Human rights activists believe the attack on Ya Soknim, that left her severely mutilated, was an act of revenge against her and her niece, the TV celebrity In Solyda, who has been estranged from Chea Ratha since early 2008.
August 24, 2009 On July 24, 2009, 30 protestors were arrested in connection with a land dispute in Kbal Spean Village, Poipet Commune, Poipet City, Banteay Meanchey Province. The day before, 50 armed military and police officers had escorted court prosecutor Tan Sei Hak, investigating judge Ang Meal Tei and court officials to enforce an eviction notice by blockading the area and surrounding the houses. In response, residents barricaded their houses and set fire to car tires in attempt to defend their homes. Police managed to break the dead lock by using water cannons and an excavator to level the houses.
August 4, 2009 LICADHO condemns this morning's court verdict convicting opposition MP Mu Sochua of defamation and ordering her to pay a total of 16.5 million riel (US$4100) in fines and compensation.
"This verdict is a significant blow to freedom of expression and will have serious ramifications on the ability of National Assembly members to publicly speak their minds," said LICADHO director Naly Pilorge. "It is yet another example of the perilous state of democratic freedoms in Cambodia."
Mu Sochua, a Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) MP for Kampot province, was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and ordered to pay 8.5 million riel in fines and 8 million riel in compensation to Hun Sen. Mu Sochua was tried on July 24 but the verdict was delayed until today.
The Prime Minister filed a defamation lawsuit against Mu Sochua in response to her attempting to sue him for defamation for comments he made during a public speech in April. The court threw out Mu Sochua's lawsuit against the Prime Minister but proceeded with his counter-suit against her.
June 22, 2009 We, the undersigned members of Cambodian civil society, condemn the lifting of parliamentary immunity from SRP members Ms. Mu Sochua and Mr. Ho Vann by the National Assembly today, Monday 22 June 2009. The National Assembly’s action is a significant blow to democracy and freedom of expression in Cambodia.
In addition to the decision to lift Ms. Mu Sochua’s parliamentary immunity, which was made to allow Prime Minister Hun Sen’s criminal defamation lawsuit against her to proceed, the National Assembly also made a surprise decision to lift Mr. Ho Vann’s immunity this morning. In his case, the decision clears the way for a lawsuit, filed by a group of military officers, for criminal defamation, disinformation and incitement to be made against him.
The manner in which the lifting of the two SRP MPs’ immunity was conducted this morning leaves no doubt that the government understands that this process was unfair. The decision to include Mr. Ho Vann’s immunity in the vote was made in secret and only known at the last minute. National and international observers - including foreign diplomats - were refused access to the National Assembly to observe the vote. One open handed vote, rather than separate ones, was used to lift the immunity of both MPs.
June 1, 2009 In recent years, senior Cambodian government officials including Prime Minister Hun Sen have stated the government's wish is to have a Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, commonly referred to as the “NGO Law”. In late September 2008, the Prime Minister announced that the NGO Law would be one of three priority laws to be completed.
But while these officials have claimed a need to address crime and corruption on the part of NGOs, a brief examination of the reasons they put forward suggests that the reverse is actually true - in reality, this proposed legislation is intended to restrict the lawful activities of Cambodian civil society organizations.
March 22, 2009 LICADHO condemns the Kampong Thom Provincial Court's conviction of former Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) commune chief Tuot Saron on a charge of kidnapping and illegal confinement. This prosecution and conviction is baseless and politically-motivated, LICADHO believes.
On Friday, March 20, Tuot Saron was convicted and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Three other provincial SRP officials, who have all fled and are in hiding, were convicted in absentia of the same charge; two of them, Men Vannak and Hour Sarath, were also sentenced to three years' imprisonment, while the third, Thorn Rithy, was sentenced to five years in prison.
March 2, 2009 On 24 January, 2009 hundreds of families were forcibly evicted from Dey Krahorm in the heart of Phnom Penh. In the month following the eviction, residents struggled with the poor living conditions at the Damnak Trayeoung relocation site while others mounted protests to demand proper compensation for their stolen land and destroyed houses. However, for three former Dey Krahrom residents the repercussions of their struggle to save their land now includes criminal convictions.