Civil Society Said that Courts in Cambodia Sentence Poor People without Defense Lawyers – Saturday, 15.8.2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Posted on 16 August 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 625

“Non-government organizations in Cambodia said that some courts at some provinces and cities hear some poor people or [suspected] criminals without lawyers. This problem was mentioned in a foreign radio program aired in Khmer on this Thursday.

“Recent reports of human rights organizations and people with professions in the field of law said that some courts in Cambodia hear suspects with criminal accusations without defense lawyers, which leads to violations of the law and of human rights.

“The head of the investigations section of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), Mr. Oum Sam Ath, said that there are two kinds of suspects who need defense lawyers: first, underage suspects, and second, criminal suspects. He said, ‘Regarding lawyers for the first type, if a court asks the Bar Association to appoint a lawyer to defend a defendant, and there is no lawyer nominated, the courts think they lack lawyers; as for the other case, it is that the courts thinks that the defendants do not have money, and there is lack of lawyers anyway; this is the courts ’mistake.’

“He added that by law, when investigations are conducted on underage suspects or on criminal suspects, it is required to have defense lawyers for them, and not just during the hearings only. Mr. Oum Sam Ath emphasized that questioning or hearing these suspects without their defense lawyers is against the law, and it cannot provide justice to those suspects.

“An investigating official of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Mr. Chhim Savuth, said that it happened that criminal suspects had no defense lawyers, because most suspects do not know the law, and do not appeal or ask the court to find a defense lawyer for them; some contact non-government organizations for defense lawyers.

“The director of the Cambodian Defenders’ Project, Mr. Sok Sam Oeun, said that at present the government does not provide defense lawyers for the poor. Poor suspects, who can afford to find lawyers, are helped by the Cambodian Bar Association and by lawyers of non-government organizations. He added that the problem of having no defense lawyer for some criminal suspects does not result from a lack of lawyers, because there are about 600 lawyers in Cambodia. Besides, there are 29 lawyers at his organizations and lawyers from other non-government organizations that work to defend suspects. But the major problem is that these lawyers do not have money to go to conduct investigations as the government does not provide them money.

“He said, ‘Those working privately do not have money. Therefore, how can they help, while in our legal system the government does not think about defense lawyers for the poor? The state leaves this task to the Bar Association, which is also a private group.’

“Mr. Sok Sam Oeun added, ‘In Cambodia, the respect for citizens’ rights does not comply with international standards, and we should conform to international standards to solve these problems.’

“One of ten criminal suspects in Borei Cholsar, Takeo, Yeu El, said that he and other suspects were accused of vandalism on 16 July 2009, but the court heard them without lawyers, as they did not have money to hire them. During the hearing, the judge did not allow them to speak about the reasons why the plaintiff sued them. After the hearing, the Takeo Municipal Court sentenced each of them to serve one year in prison, and ordered them to pay Riel 1 million [approx. US$250] in compensation to the plaintiff.

“The judge of the Takeo Municipal Court, Mr. Cheng Bunly, said, like Mr. Sok Sam Oeun, that the courts do not have money to hire private lawyers to defend suspects; there are only lawyers from non-government organizations. Lacking money, the court finds it difficult to go out to conduct investigations.

“A court monitor of the Center for Social Development, Mr. Sem Sopha, said that according to his observations of nine courts in Cambodia, in 2008, there were 4,155 suspects in total, where 2,077 had defense lawyers, and among them, 1,552 were criminal suspects, while 270 criminal suspects did not have defense lawyers. This is the problematic situation of the court systems at present.

“A Sam Rainsy Party Parliamentarian, Mr. Son Chhay, said that funds that the National Assembly allocated for the Ministry of Justice are smaller than the funds for some other ministries, such as for the Ministry of Defense, for the Council of Ministers, and for the Ministry of Interior. He added that this creates the problems in the administration of the courts, and also, even though the judges and the prosecutors have fairly high salaries, there is still corruption in the court system.”

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.3, #469, 15.8.2009
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Saturday, 15 August 2009


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