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Ministries Seek to Bridge Gaps of Justice

The poor, women and minority indigenous groups suffer from informal or non-existent systems of justice, which the government is now seeking to redress.

The Ministry of Justice and the Council for Legal and Judicial Reform are seeking ways to improve access to judicial proceedings for the groups.

UNDP recently studied four provinces: Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri, Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Speu, to see whether establishing new courts would work.

"More than 90 percent of those interviewed in Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri said that land disputes and domestic violence are the top problems," said Raymond Leos, a top adviser at UNDP. "The people in the two provinces have almost zero access to the courts, because they are unaware of the procedures and fear corruption."

"Cases in the two provinces are similar to the provinces of Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang," Leos said.

Officials hope to empower the poor and vulnerable, including women and minorities.

The result of the study have been proposed for the government's plan for development.

Meanwhile, the ministries of Interior and Justice, with help from UNDP, are beginning to build district-level "justice centers" and commune-level dispute resolution practices, the UNDP said.

"The mobile courts will benefit the poor, so they won't have to travel from remote provinces, and will reduce costs when their disputes cannot be solved at the district level," said Pov Sophy, secretary-general of the Ministry of Justice.

Officials met Thursday to discuss indigenous law, examine divorce and separation issues, and to discuss "the feasibility of a Justice of the Peace system," Sophie Baranes, UNDP deputy country director for Cambodia, said.

Nut Sa An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, said the government has established justice centers, or mobile courts, in four districts of Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Speu province.

They will expand into Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri, as well as Battambang and Siem Reap in 2008, he said.