Stigma on Judicial Reform in Cambodia

Posted by: | Posted on: December 3, 2008

I appreciate the appealing for thorough investigation of the UN representatives to the death of Heng Touch (PPP: UN representatives call for investigation into prison death). This case is considerably not the first one of impunity happened in Cambodia. The legal frailty has strongly rooted in Cambodia and it has gradually become the “culture of impunity”.

Since 1993, administrative and judicial reform is one of the priorities of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to achieve its “National Programme to Rehabilitate and Develop Cambodia”. After the UNTAC-sponsored election, the UNs and other international stakeholders have utilized both carrot and stick tactic to speed up the reforms in Cambodia. In one hand, they urged the RGC to accelerate reforms with soft and hard pressure, while in another hand they still keep providing funds to develop various projects run by the government. But we can see only the good writing law has become the result of their effort while the implementation and legal enforcement are still slack. Ronald Bruce in his article “The Political Economy of the Royal Government of Cambodia” emphasised that the political culture of Cambodia strongly embedded in the political leadership of “the familism, cupidity, narrow horizons and reluctance to absorb or tolerate opposing point of views”. With the administrative system of “the clans and clients”, Ronald articulated his example said that the architect of the nation’s economic reformist Sam Rainsy was once ousted from position because of his hard line resistance to this culture. Judicial reform, among other national reforms have frequently undercut by the continuity of malfeasance, corruption, and violence, Ronald observed.

RGC has to achieve its obligation in the Cambodian national constitution as well as the treaty which it has pledged with foreign donors to pursue the reforming of good governance, decentralization, curbing corruption, and strengthening the rule of law. I am admiring the RGC’s “Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development of Cambodia” which are periodically named “Triangular Plan”, “Rectangular Plan”, and “Millennium Development Goals of Cambodia” etc. Each strategic plan has well described the willingness to reform the legal system particularly the national court and judiciary. And the fourth mandate of RGC is going to carry out this same strategic plan with little adjustment for its another five years in power, and I wish this pretty good plan should not be good solely in the paper.

The question of Heng Touch died as the prisoner is prevalent to think of RGC’s achievement of legal reform and impunity in Cambodia. This single case has drawn our attention to many other victims savaged by the never-discovered and punished perpetrators. Politicians, actress, popular singers, Buddhist monk, labor unionists, and some Cambodian ordinary peoples who were devastated or murdered have been waiting the day of impunity culture eliminated in Cambodia. The UNs as well as foreign donors and Cambodian people are eagerly looking forward to seeing the complete achievement of judicial reform in Cambodia.

Sophan Seng
Ph.D student in political science
University of Hawaii at Manoa

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