New Year brings welcome release of activists, but judicial reform still essential

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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.

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Cambodians stand together in solidarity for Human Rights Day 2014

Human Rights Day 2014 celebrations outside the National AssemblyToday, 10 December, marks International Human Rights Day (“IHRD”). Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1950, IHRD aims to bring the world’s attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) as “the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”[1] However, despite the dramatic improvement in Cambodia’s human rights situation since the Khmer Rouge atrocities of the 1970s, human rights violations remain a serious problem in Cambodian society, with those from poor and marginalized communities particularly affected. IHRD is an important moment for the human rights community in Cambodia to raise their concerns, and over the last few days human rights defenders (“HRDs”), monks, activists and civil society groups marched from across the country to Phnom Penh. They gathered outside the National Assembly this morning to call for, among other things, improved labour rights, land rights, and the release of imprisoned fellow activists.

Yesterday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) launched an exhibition entitled, “Where is My Justice?”, which highlights Cambodia’s deeply rooted culture of impunity and shares the experiences of victims of human rights violations. Impunity affects a wide range of people in Cambodia, from demonstrators subjected to excessive use of force by the police and judicial harassment, to people forcibly evicted from their homes in illegal land grabs or members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community who face discrimination and attacks; all have failed to receive justice for crimes committed against them. Continue reading

A morning in the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal

This blog post is written by Lale Kuzu, former CCHR International Intern.

As a law graduate from the U.K, I have often found observing the hushed stillness of the Court of Appeal as daunting as sitting in a head teacher’s office regardless of whether you are present for discipline or reward. I was struck by that same feeling in the presence of the judges at the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal, with the judges in red robes with silk white neckties seated in grand high chairs peering down at the crowd below it.

This feeling of both fear and respect was present until the moment eleven defendants dressed in orange uniforms were escorted through the door, each waiting to be un-cuffed before being seated in the two rows in front of me. The hustle and bustle that accompanied the eleven defendants, with their friends and families in the aisle next to them, prison guards sitting with them and lawyers hovering behind them transported me to a whole new court room.

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The CPP votes to give itself power over the judiciary

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has voted to give itself powers over the judiciary through a set of laws that bypass both the constitution and international standards guaranteeing an independent judiciary. Citizens have long felt the effects of a politicized judiciary, suffering from partial and unjust verdicts that have reflected the hand of the government rather than the application of the rule of law. This unofficial practice has now been cemented into law through a parliament free from opposition, scrutiny and debate.

After 10 years of waiting, it took only two months for the laws to be passed through the Council of Ministers, the National Assembly and the Senate. The secretly drafted laws were tactfully announced before a national holiday, in the knowledge that interested groups and media would be absent; release dates and information were bought back and forth preventing civil society from presenting an organized response. The laws were passed through a single party National Assembly amid an opposition boycott and were finally given the seal of approval by the Senate on Friday June 13th free from amendments or review.

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