Rights groups continue to appeal to the government for reform of the judiciary, noting that injustice leads to social instability
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 16 Dec 2008 07:22:09 -0800 (PST)
In Courts, Power Can Trump Law
By Pin Sisovann, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
15 December 2008
recent years, battles in Cambodia’s courts have often been fought
between a unified poor against money, the powerful or an unjust judge.
Rights groups have observed that when a large group attempts to defend
its representatives, courts will postpone questioning or public
hearings, a reflection of a trend for courts to side not with truth or
law but with power or unified force.
Many of these cases involve land disputes, where the poor are often
victims, said Thun Saray, director of the rights group Adhoc.
“If they want justice, they have to have a balance of power, or as
much money as the other side,” he said. “The poor, who don’t have the
balance of money or power, they will lose for sure. They can do
nothing but unite to fight injustice.”
Rights groups continue to appeal to the government for reform of the
judiciary, noting that injustice leads to social instability.
Thun Saray said he has noticed that when hundreds of people go to the
courts to back their representatives, they are banned from joining
proceedings, or proceedings are postponed.
Early last week, Licadho rights worker Chheng Sophors said, more than
300 villagers in Kratie province’s Snuol district gathered to support
four men they feared would be arrested and taken in for questioning.
The courts held off from any arrests, but Chheng Sophors said he still
worried they will be taken in secret.
“If we all didn’t go with them, we were worried [the courts] would
have arrested the four men,” said Lech Kreunh, a Stieng minority from
Snuol district’s Kuychirung village.
This happens often. When many supporters follow potential suspects,
“usually the courts don’t dare to proceed,” said Peng Bonnar, Adhoc
coordinator for Ratanakkiri province.
The instinct to gather together to protect each other lies in
traditions of the defense of common interest in collective
communities, he added.
Kem Sophorn, a judge and inspector at the Ministry of Justice, said
such behavior undermined Cambodia’s rule of law, where a Supreme
Council of Magistracy, the king and the government work to ensure
justice for citizens.
“Our judicial system is getting better,” he said. “The Ministry of
Justice has investigated all cases in which complaints were filed.
People who take the law into their our hands are wrong.”
When courts call someone in for questioning, they are not necessarily
arresting them, he said. “By law, we don’t need to call them. We could
just issue a warrant and have them arrested by police, while other
villagers wouldn’t know.”
Rights groups should not encourage people to dishonor the law or
mobilize them to take the law into their own hands, he said. Critics
should identify specific judges or cases, but general criticism won’t
solve the problem.
Such advice is little consolation for people like Sren Kert, 48, who
fled to Phnom Penh last week, worried he would be arrested when he was
called in for questioning at a court.
“They wanted to arrest me because I stood out in a protest,” he said.
“They didn’t take into consideration the fact that land belongs to all
villagers who protested.”
He repeated a few sayings that circulate about a court system that is
viewed as corrupt and unfair: “My Lord Court: no money, no solution”
and “Lovely court: no dollar, no solution.”
“It is true,” he said.
People don’t trust the courts, which is why they amass in large
groups, said Licadho founder Kek Galabru.
“Three or four hundred of them will come to tell the court that they
support the suspects who are being tried,” she said. “They have done
nothing wrong by showing their support, and it is within their
Kek Galabru denied the charges that rights agencies encouraged
villagers to take the law into their own hands.
“Organizations only give them consultation about the law, explaining
to them legal procedures,” Adhoc’s Thun Saray said. “It has been their
own idea to unite.”
Suon Visal, secretary-general of the Cambodian Bar Association, said
properly defending some cases can be difficult, meanwhile, because
alleged victims or suspects are often ill-prepared. Villagers may not
have the legal understanding their opponents do, making it difficult
to win at a case that requires deep investigation.
“Often they don’t prepare themselves to fight for justice,” he said.
“For example, the court asks for some legal requirements, and they
don’t do it. When it comes to the hearing, they don’t have evidence;
they lose. They only rely on the truth, so it causes a lot of
difficulty for the lawyer.”
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