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Cambodian judicial appointments concern UN human rights experts

Cambodian judicial appointments concern UN human rights experts

Two United Nations human rights experts today expressed concern over judicial independence in Cambodia following recent appointments that they say seem to contravene the separation of executive and judicial powers enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia, Yash Ghai, and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Leandro Despouy, issued a joint statement that the appointments cast doubt on whether “judicial independence is being fully respected in Cambodia.”

They called on Cambodian authorities to ensure that the provisions of the Constitution, as well as international human rights law, are respected so that judicial independence can be upheld.

“An independent judiciary is a fundamental guarantor for the protection of human rights in any country; without independent judges, it is not possible to ensure everyone’s right to a fair trial,” Mr. Ghai and Mr. Despouy said.

All judicial appointments, transfers, promotions, suspensions or disciplinary actions in Cambodia are supposed to be decided by the country’s Supreme Council of Magistracy and then implemented by royal decree.

But the two experts said the decree of 9 August replacing the President of Cambodia’s Court of Appeal appears to have not been based on a decision by the Supreme Council of Magistracy, but instead followed a request from the Chairman of the Supreme Council for State after a proposal from the Justice Minister and the Co-Chairmen of the Council for Legal and Judicial Reform.

“In other words, the replacement of the Appeal Court President was done at the request of the executive branch of government,” the statement said, adding that the appointment of four new members of the Supreme Council of Magistracy by a separate decree on the same day appears to have been similarly made at the request of the executive.

Mr. Ghai noted that he has already voiced concern that the existing composition of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, which includes a government minister and a senior member of the ruling party, “does not inspire confidence that the judicial appointment process in Cambodia is free of political control.”

Today’s statement said three of the new appointments to the Supreme Council of Magistracy were for positions that are supposed to be reserved for members elected by judges.

“No elections appear to have been held for these positions,” Mr. Ghai and Mr. Despouy said. “Indeed, no elections have ever been held for these three elected positions.”

Mr. Ghai, a constitutional lawyer and academic from Kenya, and Mr. Despouy, a human rights lawyer and academic from Argentina, are among a series of independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor issues of concern.