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The Workshop on the Law and Human Rights [3-5 SEP 1999]

The Liberal Democratic tradition in Cambodia is less than seven years old; Thus the new legal order builds on the liberal democratic foundation is young and under developed. Only a very few laws have been passed through the legislature. The law drafting and the passing of laws are taking place in a very slow way. The Penal Code is under preparation and the Criminal procedure code it is said may be passed very soon. A few other laws have been passed.

The procedural laws relating to fair trial have not yet been discussed or passed. The trial procedure remains more less like it was before the promulgation of the new Constitution in 1993 September. Some improvements of practices have taken place due to education of judges and lawyers and also due to a change in the understanding of the role of the Ministry of Justice.

Prior to 1993 and immediately there after, the Ministry of Justice dominated over the judiciary and influenced every aspect of the judicial system. Now, there is the understanding that Ministry of Justice has only an administrative role and the judiciary must be left to function independently. Though the realisation of this practically may take even more time, the very changes in the attitudes that is taking place now, can have very serious implications for the betterment of the system. We welcome these changes and call upon the process of speeding up these changes.

'People who come before courts need to be defended and given all the legal system they are entitled to…'

However, as we await these changes, the people who come before courts need to be defended and given all the legal system they are entitled to. This is primarily the duty of lawyers and lawyers must rise up to occasion and do their duties towards their clients. The limitations involved in the absence of laws and the hard conditions that exist due to a lack of a proper system must not be used as excuses; instead the lawyers must creatively intervene to use every possibility to help their clients and also to help the courts to be truly independent entities.

The most important agent of the change in the legal order at this moment in Cambodia is the lawyers themselves. They must now show that they are capable of doing their basic duties as lawyers. Given the vacuum of laws, the lawyers must approach all their tasks pragmatically. They must involve practical ways to gain respect for the rights of their clients and also to gain respect for their profession. They must be brave, courageous, and bold. They must work hard and try to win the public support for rapid development of legal assistance to people of Cambodia. Despite of the frustrating circumstances of the situation they must always be enthusiastic and highly motivated. They must realise that all that they do to help their clients will help to establish legal practices that will be established for the benefit of others in future.

There are still many practices relating to arrest and detention that are bad and illegal practices. Despite the 48 hours rule for detention in police custody, often people are kept for longer time. Once they are produced in courts, they are often kept for further time unnecessarily. Bail should be given in liberal manner and unnecessary detention before trials must be avoided. The lawyers must take up these issues, in particular cases. They must also take up this as an issue and work towards change of attitudes and practices.

The complaints of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment are many and these must be brought to the notice of authorities and the public.

The legal profession is very much linked with the judicial profession. If the judges are frustrated due to lack of proper salaries, proper training, and other facilities, this adversely affect the functioning of courts and the functioning of the legal system as a whole. Above all the judges need to be given a proper salary. We know that giving a good salary alone will not stop corruption. On the other hand, without providing a proper salary the society can not expect a proper service from ill paid judges. Other methods must be developed to monitor the proper functioning of the judiciary.

Of particular importance is the rights of Children who are arrested and detained. On this issue we have made a separate statement due to the grave importance of the issue.

'The lawyers must consider the plight of their poor clients and do their utmost to provide a quality legal service.'

Legal aid lawyers are particularly concerned with the poor. The poor are also helpless and they are very much in need of vigorous defence by the lawyers. The lawyers must consider the plight of their poor clients and do their utmost to provide a quality legal service. This is very essential in dealing in protecting and promotion of human rights. Thus legal aid lawyers have a very grave responsibility.

  • A Seminar on Cambodian Democratization and Human Rights [17-28 NOV 1998]

  • Asian Human Rights Commission

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