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Assembly Unable to Watch Over Police: Group

Cambodia needs an independent body to oversee police performance, a Hong Kong-based right group recommends, claiming the National Assembly’s traditional oversight duties are failing because the police and Assembly are stacked with ruling party members.

“In other countries, there are independent committees to oversee police performance,” said Lao Monghay, a researcher for the Asian Human Rights Commission. “If police officers abuse citizens, people can file complaints to the body. Right now there is a chance, because Cambodia is drafting a bill for police, in which such an independent body could be included.”

The National Assembly is “politically implicated” and “controlled by the ruling party,” he said, making an independent body more important.

Police have put out suggestion boxes in recent months, but critics say these have not been used. However, Lt. Gen. Keat Chantharith, a spokesman for the national police, said not many police mistakes had been reported because not many police abuse their positions.

After his appointment to national police chief last year, Gen. Neth Savoeun has worked to improve the image of Cambodian police, who are often criticized as corrupt or involved in the crimes they are supposed to fight.

Hotlines and suggestion boxes are fine but people are likely afraid to use the boxes properly, because it is 'only and internal measure', Lao Monghay said.

Nhuon Nhil, first deputy president of the National Assembly, said Cambodia law allows only the Assembly and its commissions to oversee national security and defense, including police.

“The law doesn’t authorize NGOs to do the work instead of the National Assembly commissions,” he said. “People didn’t vote for NGOs to do so.”

The Assembly can also gather ministers and other government leaders to solve complicated matters, he said.

Yim Sovann, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said that in order to enforce security and gain the public’s participation, security work needs to be transparent and responsible.

“To get more inputs, transparency, I think human rights groups, NGOs that have watched government performance should be allowed to review these problems,” he said.

“The term ‘the secrecy of interior security, national security’ refers to absolute secrecy for the whole national security, war,” he said. “The term doesn’t refer to social order, abuses by police, human rights worker’s safety. These issues have nothing so confidential that civil society shouldn’t take part.”

He also pointed out that the National Assembly’s nine commissions are all controlled by the Cambodian People’s Party, which controls the executive branch, creating a demand for people to be allowed to oversee government through civil society.

“Experience proves that the commissions didn’t oversee the government of their own party effectively,” he said. They “indentify the problems only to ignore them.”

Nguon Nhil called such criticism “groundless.”