Sunday,2007-2-4: Chance to Enhance Confidence in Legal System Almost Lost
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 493
When the National Assembly of the third legislature met for the first time on 16 July 2004, the Prime Minister presented an elaborate document “to inform the Cambodian people and all development partners of Cambodia of the Rectangular Strategy for growth, employment, equity and efficiency in Cambodia, which will become an important tool to support the implementation of the political platform of the Royal Government of the third legislature of the National Assembly.”
The platform was developed by the two coalition partners, and it was stated that the vision on which it was based “will become our most important action plan for the next four years.” The Rectangular Strategy is not just a national government paper – it was “formulated through broad consultation with all national and international stakeholders – including government ministries and institutions, representatives of civil society and the donor community.”
There are still frequent references to this policy paper, but it is not clear to what extent it is being used for the setting of actual priorities. For example, the Rectangular Strategy committed the government to establish special courts like a Commercial Tribunal, a Juvenile Tribunal, a Labor Tribunal, and an Administrative Tribunal. In the meantime, other laws have been presented to the National Assembly and passed, but it is not clear whether or not legislation for these tribunals will reach the National Assembly before the end of this mandate in 2008.
The Rectangular Strategy sets out important goals. It is worth remembering them – they are the official policy to be observed:
“The over-riding goal of the Royal Government of Cambodia during the third legislature of the National Assembly is to firmly and steadily build Cambodian society by strengthening peace, stability and social order, entrenching democracy, and promoting respect for human rights and dignity.”
During the past week, it was reported that the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee has started a campaign in different newspapers with the words “They Need Justice” – with the names of Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang, accused and convicted for the murder of Chea Vichea, who was at the time of his assassination on 22 January 2004 head of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC). The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and others believe that the trials were flawed, that the two persons in prison are innocent, and that other real perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted. Every day the newspaper ads carry a counter – for example, on Saturday, 3 February: “In prison for 1102 days, as of today”
One other union, the Cambodia Confederation of Trade Unions (CCTU), which is not directly represented on the Internet, raised a different voice from that of the FTUWKC and civil society organizations. The CCTU “would like to appeal to the courts of all levels and all law enforcement agencies that they should not release the two accused, unless the lawyers have sufficient evidence to have their defendants released.”
But while the CCTU focuses on opposing release, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and others are actually asking for the evidence to be fully examined. It should be remembered that appeals to find justice have been ongoing, and came even more strongly after former King Sihanouk wrote to the families of the two accused on 5 August 2006, stating that he believes that the two men are innocent, and that the government will find justice.
Such pleas are mainly based on the fact that the first court did not hear a number of witnesses about the different whereabouts of the accused at the time of the crime. Efforts were made to get a new hearing at the Appeals Court, and one was scheduled for 6 October 2006. But it was canceled, because the Judge Mr. Samreth Sophal was sick with diarrhea. Until now – almost four months later – no new date has been set by the Appeals Court.
The Rectangular Strategy says: “The Royal Government will promote legal and judicial reforms … enhancing the confidence of the national and international community.”
Such delays do not enhance the confidence of either the national or the international community. The accused need justice.