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Khmer New Year is traditionally a time to reflect on the year that was, and look forward to what the future will bring. This year’s festivities began on a positive note, with the release of imprisoned land rights activists and opposition party members. However, while certainly cause for celebration, the significance of the move should not be over-stated: the releases are reportedly the result of political bargaining between the CNRP and ruling Cambodian People’s Party, following months of negotiations related to the reform of the National Election Committee. Without meaningful reform to strengthen judicial independence, politically motivated cases against critical voices and unfair trials are likely to continue.
Yesterday, CCHR released a Briefing Note that addresses the situation of Children in the Cambodian criminal justice system. Of the total of 2,258 monitored trials by CCHR’s Trial Monitoring Project between August 2009 and June 2012, 219 involved juveniles. Children require rights that offer them special care and protection, including when they are accused of infringing the law, as their needs differ to those of adults. They are therefore entitled to protections beyond those that adults are entitled to. However, the findings of the Briefing Note suggest that juvenile justice rights are largely ignored within Cambodia’s judicial system.
For example, judges can impose a criminal penalty on juveniles as young as 14, despite the age of criminal responsibility being 18 in Cambodia. Criminal penalties are imposed on up to 50% of children charged with a felony, and they are therefore given the same criminal responsibility as an adult, meaning that their rights as a child are disregarded.
CCHR Report – Fair Trial Rights in Cambodia, Monitoring of the Court of Appeal
The right to be judged fairly and impartially by an independent court is an absolute right that should never be violated. However, in Cambodia fair trial rights have long been an area of concern and with recent legislation having further weakened the independence of the judiciary; a heavy spotlight should be on the courts, judges and prosecutors.
CCHR’s Trial Monitoring Project has provided that spotlight since 2009 and has since built a bridge of dialogue between the courts and civil society to address individuals’ rights violations. The report released today by CCHR is the result of data gathered from 204 cases CCHR team monitored at the Court of Appeal in the past year and highlights the challenges individuals face regarding their right to a fair trial.