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UN rights envoy raises concerns over justice system transparency

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
Rhona Smith in the meeting yesterday. KT/Mai Vireak

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia yesterday raised concerns over justice system transparency and judiciary independence during a meeting with Justice Ministry representatives.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, UN envoy Rhona Smith said a number of matters were raised regarding the justice system, social accountability and the independence of the judiciary in the Kingdom.

“I talked to the Ministry of Justice on many different matters,” she said, noting all levels of the court system were discussed. “[We also discussed] transparency in the justice system, and the appointment and promotion of judges and prosecutors, while also looking at the independence of the judiciary and strengthening access to justice in Cambodia.”

Ms Smith, who is currently on a mission to the Kingdom to review its human rights record, said she mainly focused on following up on what the government has done since her last visits, during which she made recommendations.

“Many of the issues I raised before, [including] pre-trial detention concerns, increasing the independence of the judiciary and the perception and the confidence in the judiciary,” she said. “I’m looking at alternatives to custodial sentencing, legal aid, and juvenile justice.”

In response to her concerns, Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said officials updated Ms Smith about their efforts to reform the judicial system, such as providing free legal aid to the poor.

Mr Malin said the ministry has pushed forward with its local Judicial Service Centres and associated education programmes to support greater use of judicial supervision and to complement the planned expansion of alternatives to custodial sentencing.

“We updated her about our plans to expand alternatives for legal service to all people,” he said. “We will make sure that no one is left behind. We also reported to her about the regional appeal courts, of which two have been built and five are under construction.”

According to Mr Malin, officials also told Ms Smith that the decisions to appoint and promote judges and prosecutors are made transparently and after thoughtful consideration, noting that the ministry is aware of public mistrust.

Mr Malin noted that Ms Smith also urged the Ministry of Justice to consider developing clear guidelines on appropriate standards and evaluation of evidence to ensure transparent judgements.

“We also acknowledged her concern over the increase of prison populations, which is affecting inmates and prison staff,” he added. “The government is currently finding ways to solve the problem.”

Human rights group Licadho last week issued a report on the Kingdom’s growing prison population and called for the country’s judicial system to grant bail for those who are suspected of committing non-violent crimes as a solution to decrease overcrowding.

The report noted that in 18 prisons monitored by the rights group, more than a third of prisoners, or 9,527 out of 25,926 detainees, were in jail awaiting trial. In some prisons, nearly half of inmates have yet to face trial.

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