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Cambodia: Vital need for independent judiciary

UN rights chief stresses vital need for independent judiciary in Cambodia

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour wrapped up a one-week visit to Cambodia today, stressing the “capital importance” of an independent, professional judiciary not only for the consolidation of democracy but also for resolving issues of impunity, land conflicts and corruption in the Southeast Asian country.

She said she had been told repeatedly of positive developments since the UN-organized polls of 1993, including stability, economic growth and regular elections, but she pointed out that Cambodia still had difficulties to overcome, as the findings of successive UN human rights experts had shown.

“Evidently, no country has a perfect human rights record,” she noted. “I believe the most promising sign of eventual progress is the capacity to acknowledge shortcomings.” But she said she left reassured by the expressed commitment of the Government to strengthen cooperation in human rights and determined to ensure that “our work yields tangible benefits for the protection of human rights in Cambodia.”

In March both Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Ms. Arbour called on the Government to continue to cooperate with UN human rights officials after expressing concerns at reported remarks that Prime Minister Hun Sen had denounced them. In January, Ms. Arbour voiced “deep regret” over the arrest of two more human rights activists and warned that this trend threatened to undo efforts to build a just society.

Today she said the visit had allowed her to focus on the strengthening of the judicial branch of governance. “An independent, professional judiciary with recognized integrity would not only be essential in protecting fundamental rights and freedoms but also facilitate the resolution of a number of the difficulties evident in Cambodia, including impunity, conflicts over land and corruption,” she added.

Mr. Arbour also highlighted the ability of civil society actors to work freely and safely as another key indicator of a functioning democracy.

During the visit she met with King Norodom Sihamoni, Mr. Hun Sen and senior members of his Government. She also held talks with representatives of human rights non-governmental organizations, the UN country team, members of the diplomatic community and officials of the Extraordinary Chambers for the trial of Khmer Rouge officials held responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the 1970s.

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