recent years, battles in Cambodia’s courts have often been fought between a
unified poor against money, the powerful or an unjust judge.
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.
these cases involve land disputes, where the poor are often victims, said Thun
Saray, director of the rights group Adhoc.
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.”
groups continue to appeal to the government for reform of the judiciary, noting
that injustice leads to social instability.
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
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.
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
happens often. When many supporters follow potential suspects, “usually the
courts don’t dare to proceed,” said Peng Bonnar, Adhoc coordinator for
instinct to gather together to protect each other lies in traditions of the
defense of common interest in collective communities, he added.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.”
true,” he said.
don’t trust the courts, which is why they amass in large groups, said Licadho
founder Kek Galabru.
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 rights.”
Galabru denied the charges that rights agencies encouraged villagers to take
the law into their own hands.
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.”
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
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.”