Looking Back and Looking Ahead – Sunday, 4.1.2009

Posted on 5 January 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 593 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 593

The beginning of a new year always challenges us – to look back, and to look ahead. In both cases we may gain some orientation. We know, more or less, what happened – but do we understand why? Are we satisfied with what we know? What do we like to continue, and what to change?

Or do we try to look more into the future than into the past? Looking forward to 2009 – but is it with fear, or with hope? May be we have our own clear plans what to do – but will we be ale to make things work out, because many others have the same hopes – or not?

Obviously, we cannot get all the lifetime prosperity, harmony, and affection which people wished for us so that the New Year would be a Happy New Year. But could we, maybe, foresee and say more – not for us as individuals, but for the society were we live?

The last couple of days provided two strong indications about that – but of a contradicting nature.

A paper reported that the president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had said – though without using these words – that we do live in a society which is not governed by the law.

Quite a strong statement – because the Phnom Penh Municipal Court court “lacked judges for hearing 6,500 cases in 2008. Being unable to solve many cases like that, makes that hundreds of accused persons are detained beyond the legal limit, which states that the detention of an accused or of a suspect can be up to a maximum of six months. Then they have to be brought to court for a hearing, and if the court cannot find them to be guilty, they must be released immediately. However, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Khmer courts in different provinces do not abide by this legal procedure, and continue to detain thousands of people for many years without conviction, which is against legal procedure and seriously violates the rights of the accused.” By the end of 2007, there had even been 9,200 such unsolved cases.

Not some uninformed and ill-intended observers said this, but the president of the Phnom Penh Municipal court.

And the future?

The president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court “acknowledged that Khmer courts are not yet quite in good order; therefore all Khmer courts need many more years to improve.”

The Court Watch Bulletins of the Center for Social Development describe what the accused – guilty or not – will have to endure for years to come (according to the time line given by the president of the Municipal Court): “The municipal court conducted hearings for three criminal cases every day, and half of those hearings lasted only not more than 20 minutes. So the period for hearing each case was very short, just enough to read the verdicts by which the court defined punishments, or defined who were the losers and the winners in a conflict. The result is that each case is not clearly analyzed according to the procedures of the law, and according to the facts. Therefore it is seen that frequently the rich and high ranking officials won cases against poor people, and against people who are not powerful in society.”

The president of the Municipal Court states now that one of the reasons for these regular violations of the law is a lack of staff at the courts: there are not enough judges and not enough prosecutors! There is no reason to doubt this. But we do not remember to have seen, in the press over the years, that the leadership of the courts, the leadership of the Ministry of Justice, the leadership of the government as a whole – responsible in different ways to upheld a state of law – has decried this situation, leading to regular gross violations of basic rights of citizens according to Cambodian laws, and initiated urgent efforts to rectify this situation.

The situation has an even worse aspect, when one considers that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng was quoted to have acknowledges that there is corruption among high ranking police officers.

But is all his going to be rectified – not immediately, but consistently, and step by step, without unnecessary delay?



The Supreme Court Released Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun on 31 December 2008 on bail – they had been arrested on 28 January 2004 and were convicted to serve 20 years in prison by the Phnom Penh court, for killing the labor union leader Mr. Chea Vichea on 22 January 2004.

But the president of the Supreme Court explained now that the present decision – to release them on bail – was made because the murder of the former president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia needs further investigation, as there were gaps in the procedures, and there is insufficient evidence.

This decision was widely welcomed – as it initiates a reconsideration not only of what really happened five years ago, but it will also be necessary to clarify:

  • What went wrong with the investigation of the police, and why?
  • What went wrong at the initial court procedures, when evidence offered by the defense was disregarded, and why?
  • What went wrong when the Appeals Court on 12 April 2007 upheld the convictions of Born Samnang and of Sok Samoeun, in spite of many indications raised in the international and national public – including by the former King – that the initial process was flawed, and why was there no new investigation ordered by the Appeals Court?

There is hope that the present decision of the Supreme Court will lead to justice for the two persons who spent already five years in prison.

But tis is only one side of the problem. The Supreme Court created an opportunity like never before, to go into detail, to clarify what went wrong and why, and who may have to take responsibility for what went wrong, and bear the consequences according to the law.

Not a revision of old, or the promulgation of new legal procedure will make Cambodia a state under the law – only the strict application of the law will help to bring change.

There was never a better chance for this than since the recent decision by the Supreme Court.


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