Cablegate: Cambodian Government Announces New Criminal

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC)
officials announced the creation of a working group focusing
on cooperation and consistency between the Ministry of
Interior (MOI) and Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in the criminal
justice process. The announcement by Prime Minister Hun Sen
reflects a pledge by Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Sar Kheng to
address problems areas between the two Ministries, which he
mentioned to Ambassador during the 2009 TIP Report rollout.
The formation of the group is designed to improve
coordination in the criminal justice process, preventing
courts from dismissing or downgrading charges without
investigating cases, and to prevent pre-trial detentions that
sometimes exceed allowed limits. Sam Rainsy and a few
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have spoken out against
the new group, calling it further evidence of the RGC's
control of the judiciary. END SUMMARY.

Task Force Formation Part of Pledge by DPM

2. (SBU) Although the new task force will focus on all
types of cases, including robbery and anti-corruption cases,
direct applicability to human trafficking cases has been the
Embassy's clearest window into the formation of the group.
In June, during the rollout of the 2009 TIP Report,
Ambassador and the DPM discussed the problem of
inconsistencies in data reporting and difficulties tracking
cases from the initial police investigation phases into
judicial proceedings phases. At the time, the DPM instructed
his staff to gather statistics on all arrests and ensure
cases were being forwarded to the courts properly. During a
TIP-focused meeting with staff delegation Lerner in August,
the DPM spoke about meeting with the Minister of Justice to
review TIP cases and indicated his intention to continue
these joint reviews. Finally, during a September 1 meeting,
the DPM told Ambassador Rodley and G/TIP Ambassador CdeBaca
that MOI and MOJ were forming a working group to address
consistency and regularly explore solutions to problem areas
between the two Ministries.

3. (SBU) MOJ Undersecretary of State Ith Rady has been named
by the Prime Minister to head the new working group, assisted
by two deputies, Deputy Commissioner General of the National
Police Kang Sakhorn and Deputy National Military Police
Commander Sin Sophany. Both Ith Rady and Kang Sakhorn work
frequently on TIP issues and are well-known contacts. Ith
Rady told Poloff that DPM Sar Kheng nominated the three men
for their positions on the working group, and the Prime
Minister thereafter approved.

Task Force Cannot Oversee or Overrule Courts

4. (SBU) Ith Rady told Poloff that the working group does
not have any oversight of courts or judges, nor can it
overrule decisions made by the courts. Rather, he said, the
task force's mandate is to collect statistics from police and
courts in all provinces for review. If the group suspects a
problem of coordination based on its reviews, the group is
empowered to receive case details from the police or court,
after which it sends a report to the responsible Minister,
Justice or Interior. The Minister would then be responsible
for further action and follow up, including bringing the case
to the attention of the Prime Minister or to the Supreme
Council of the Magistracy (SCM), the nine-member body
appointed by the King that has administrative oversight for
the courts. Ith Rady said the purpose of the group is not to
supersede the authority of the courts or the SCM, but to
locate points where the system is breaking down, and bring
those to the attention of senior leaders who have authority
in those areas.

Opposition Party and NGO Reaction

5. (SBU) Opposition Parliamentarian Sam Rainsy excoriated
the idea of the task force in local media reports, saying
that "the judiciary will now lose whatever independence is
left to it."

6. (SBU) But local NGOs have adopted a more measured
response. Several NGO leaders told Poloff that they
recognized the existence of entrenched problems between the
Ministries of Interior and Justice, and believed that some
kind of review was necessary. Nonetheless, they feared that

PHNOM PENH 00000709 002 OF 002

a formal task force presented the potential for misuse that
could "scare" judges into making decisions based on what they
thought the government leaders wanted, rather than based on
the facts. Sok Sam Oeun, Executive Director of the Cambodian
Defenders Project, told Poloff he believed that a working
group could be effective, if it impartially looked at all
angles of all cases. He said the task force cannot focus
solely on acquittals as indicators of corruption, but should
look at convictions, too, to ensure that those convictions
were valid. As an example, he cited land cases where wealthy
developers are suspected of bribing police and court
officials to arrest and convict villagers who lack the
resources to fight a lawsuit.


7. (SBU) This move toward increased cooperation between two
Ministries that have historically failed to communicate and
have blamed each other signifies that the RGC is aware of the
breakdown in the criminal justice system such lack of
coordination causes, and that it is serious about resolving
those problems. Particularly in anti-TIP efforts, Post has
witnessed numerous questionable incidents where apparently
strong cases were dismissed, or charges were downgraded to
lesser offenses, sometimes simply because the police failed
to show up to testify, and other times with little or no
apparent justification. RGC officials believe this task
force will also help resolve the issue of pre-trial
detentions that extend beyond the legally allowed limits
(often because the case is lost in the bureaucracy), and we
continue to urge law enforcement and judicial authorities to
cooperate in resolving these issues. But NGO leaders also
raise important concerns about the ability of the courts to
rule independently if they fear consequences of executive
review, and about whether the task force is prepared to
examine all angles of cases and not simply assume that
acquittals are a sign of corruption. As usual, constructive
implementation of this positive policy development will be
key to its ultimate success, and we will continue to support
RGC efforts toward that end. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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