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Group Notes Continued Concern for Courts

A worrying number of people report coerced confessions ahead of trial, and many are kept beyond reasonable limits awaiting trial, the Center for Social Development said Thursday.

In an annual report, the group found a high number of cases where defendants were allegedly beaten in order to extract confessions.

In six courts monitored by the group, including the Appeals and Supreme courts, 25 percent of defendants claimed they were coerced into confessions by judicial or police officials.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court had the most allegations against it, followed by Kandal provincial court, according to the report.

Courts continued to be under-funded, said Pen Reny, head of the CSD legal unit, noting the budget for the court remained 0.28 percent of the national budget in 2007.

"The lack of court officials impacts the hearings and leads to insufficient justice for defendants, and it also can delay hearings and leave defendants in detention beyond a reasonable time," she said.

US Ambassador Jospeh Mussomeli, who attended a discussion coinciding with the report's release, noted that the percentage of coerced confessions was the same as last year, indicating no change in the way defendants are treated in the initial case process.

He said adults were frequently detained beyond reasonable limits while awaiting trial, and even more so with juveniles. This was something the courts could do something about, he said.

Keu Khem Lim, deputy director-general for the Ministry of Justice, said the ministry was trying its best to carry out the government policy.

In 2007, the ministry drafted new criminal and civil codes, which would provide a basis for proper court conduct, he said.