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Inmate swaps with Vietnam from next month

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
A prison officer escorts inmates to the Phnom Penh municipal court. KT/Pann Rachana

After a long wait, the Treaty on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons between the Kingdom and Vietnam will come into effect early next month, to allow certain inmates to continue serving jail terms in their home nations.

The Ministry of Justice announced recently that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had informed it that the treaty would come into effect on October 1.

Sea Kosal, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in the letter sent to Ministry of Justice on September 4, cited contents from a Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomatic note, dated August 18, which said the effective date was made based on Article 20 and Paragraph 1 of the treaty.

Kim Santepheap, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, told Khmer Times yesterday the treaty will benefit both nations and it was different from an extradition agreement.

“This treaty will allow the transfer of sentenced persons between the two nations,” he said. “In some cases, families of the sentenced persons can also request the respective governments for the transfer.”

Contacted yesterday, Vietnam’s Ambassador to Cambodia Vu Quang Minh commended the Vietnamese legal teams who had been working closely for a long time to “finalise and put this important Treaty into force.”

“Since we are neighbouring countries with intensive trade and economic ties, as well as people to people exchanges, there are also some people who take advantage of our countries’ closeness to conduct crimes and illegal activities and therefore we have a number of sentenced inmates who have to serve their terms in each other nation’s prisons and correction facilities,” he said.

Ambassador Vu said the Treaty would help both sides to transfer certain inmates to continue serving their sentences in their own countries.

“So their families can also visit and support them while in prison. We believe this is a very humanitarian arrangement. Moreover, the Treaty reflects our mutual trust and close cooperation between our law enforcement authorities,” he said.

“We hope that we will continue our joint efforts to find and curb transnational crimes, including human trafficking, drug abuse and illegal trade, and reduce the crime rates in both countries.”

Kin Phea, director-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, yesterday welcomed the move.

“It’s a good legal instrument that highlights good legal cooperation between the two countries,” he said.

Phea noted the case of Miech Srey Neang, 27, from Phnom Penh who was convicted and sentenced to death in July by Vietnam’s Tay Ninh Provincial People’s Court after being found guilty of trafficking drugs from Cambodia to Vietnam.

In August, Srey Neang appealed against her conviction after getting legal assistance from the Cambodian government.

“So this treaty can be used to transfer that Cambodian prisoner to be punished in Cambodia,” he said. “The two countries share different criminal penalties. The maximum criminal punishment in Cambodia is life imprisonment while that in Vietnam is the death sentence.”

During his visit to Hanoi in December 2016, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc witnessed the signing of three cooperative agreements, including the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between the two nations and the Treaty on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

Four years later in March this year, the draft law was debated and approved by the National Assembly during a plenary session.

Asked why the treaty took so long to come into effect, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said yesterday it was a matter of procedure between the two nations which needed time for discussions.

“It does not mean the treaty was done after the leaders of the two countries signed it,” he said. “It needed to be internally discussed by each country before getting approval from the respective legislative bodies, as well as heads of state.”

Malin said after the treaty comes into effect, the two nations can request each other for convicted persons to serve their prison sentences in their home nations.

He said the Kingdom has the same treaty with several countries but some have not come into force yet. He said it is in force only with India and Vietnam.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun has told Khmer Times that this treaty will help add to the 2013 extradition agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam.

During a visit by Mr Hun Sen to Hanoi in December 2013, the two nations also signed eight agreements, including an extradition treaty.

The 2013 agreement aimed at suppressing crime based on respecting sovereignty, quality and reciprocal interests by concluding a treaty for the extradition of offenders. The treaty was ratified in 2014 and came into force the same year.

“If one country wants to transfer a prisoner to another, the matter needs to be decided by the courts. They cannot just be transferred whenever that country wants,” Sam Oeun said. “They also should not transfer political prisoners or prisoners of conscience.”

He said the government should respect the principle of extradition of a foreign resident in a territory which says: “Extradition shall not be possible if the act charged is political.”

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