Judiciary Reform: Framework for a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict

PARIS AGREEMENT

Annex 5. Principles for a New Constitution for Cambodia

Paragraph 5

An independent judiciary will be established, empowered to enforce the rights provided under the constitution.

Implementation History

1991

No Implementation

No information was available on judiciary reform for 1991.

1992

Minimum Implementation

During the Supreme National Council (SNC) meeting of 10 September 1991, parties discussed issues related to the peace process, including principles governing the Cambodian judicial system, legal code, and legal procedure, as well as various other issues. All parties, except for the Khmer Rouge, were unanimously in agreement on the issues discussed. The Khmer Rouge rejected the documents and principles governing Cambodia's judicial system, legal code, and legal procedure.1 

  • 1. “Supreme National Council Meeting on 10th September,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, September 14, 1992.
1993

Minimum Implementation

In 1993, Hun Sen presented a plan of action for the Provisional National Government of Cambodia (PNGC) that suggested that they “improve the judicial system and make it absolutely independent, create appeals courts and provide more judges for provincial and municipal tribunals in order to increase work efficiency in a timely manner” (BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 1993).2

The new Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia was promulgated on September 21, 1993. According to Article 39, “Cambodian citizens shall have the right to sue, appeal and demand reparations for damage caused by the illegal acts of state and social organizations and personnel thereof. Settlement of appeals and reparations of damage shall be under the jurisdiction of the court.” 

  • 2. “Hun Sen Presents Transitional Government’s Action Plan to Assembly,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, July 7, 1993.
1994

Minimum Implementation

No developments observed this year. 

1995

Minimum Implementation

No developments observed this year. 

1996

Minimum Implementation

Judicial reform was not extensive. In a newspaper report, a leading Cambodian lawyer said that Cambodia needed to implement extensive legal reforms to accommodate rapid economic changes and instill confidence in foreign investors during this crucial transition period.3

  • 3. “Legal Reforms Urged to Ensure Economic Growth,” Emerging Markets Data File in NATION, August 28, 1996.
1997

Minimum Implementation

“The lack of an independent judiciary also continued to pose a problem. A Supreme Council of Magistracy, mandated by Cambodia's constitution to appoint and discipline judges, was expected to meet for the first time in November, but a Constitutional Council that is to provide independent confirmation of legislative compliance with the constitution had yet to be established." 

“U.N. Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia Thomas Hammarberg made several visits to Cambodia in 1997. After a visit in March, he raised concerns about the poor functioning of the judicial system."4

1998

Minimum Implementation

During 1998, the court system was virtually powerless. The judiciary was subject to political pressure.5

On March 19, 1998, the Cambodian parliament passed legislation that created the Constitutional Council as the country's supreme judicial body. The nine-member council is mandated to interpret Cambodia's constitution and its laws.6 The body's two eldest members, Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum and Son Sann, boycotted the meeting of the Constitutional Council, claiming many of their colleagues were illegally appointed and that the body was stacked in favor of strongman Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). The CPP, which effectively controlled Cambodia's judiciary, would now also control the Constitutional Council.7 Judiciary reform did not take place.

  • 5. “Human Rights Watch World Report 1999 – Cambodia,” Human Rights Watch 1999, accessed July 20, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/legacy/worldreport99/asia/cambodia.html.
  • 6. “Cambodian parliament passes law establishing supreme judicial body,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 19, 1998.
  • 7. “Cambodia's top judicial body finally convenes despite boycott,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, June 15, 1998.
1999

Minimum Implementation

The judiciary was far from independent, and numerous court decisions were influenced by corruption or political dictates.8

2000

Minimum Implementation

“Little progress was made in reforming Cambodia's judicial system, plagued by corruption and low-paid and poorly trained personnel. A council for judicial reform, established in 1999 at the urging of Cambodia's international donors, was completely inactive during the year. A legal reform unit established by the Council of Ministers in 2000 with World Bank funding accomplished little apart from hiring consultants to conduct a number of studies. The Supreme Council of Magistracy (SCM)- responsible for overseeing and disciplining judges and commenting on draft laws-began to meet more regularly. During the second half of the year the SCM Disciplinary Council investigated a number of complaints against court officials and took disciplinary action against five judges and one prosecutor” (Human Rights Watch, 2001).9