UN Expert Calls on King to Block Judicial Laws

The U.N.’s special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on Tuesday joined civil society representatives in calling on King Norodom Sihamoni to block three judicial laws that they say will entrench the executive branch’s control over the courts.

Gabriela Knaul delivered a speech in Phnom Penh to raise her concerns over the laws as a civil society representative delivered a petition to the Royal Palace calling on King Sihamoni to push for the revision of the laws, which were intended to create an independent judiciary.

Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, handed a petition—signed by six NGOs—to a representative of the Royal Cabinet at about 9:30 a.m. before driving around the city in a tuk-tuk and delivering the same petition to 10 embassies, including the U.S. and European Union.

“The king needs to seriously consider these three laws, because there will be a negative impact on the court system if these laws take effect,” Mr. Phearum said, referring to the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Courts, the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, and the Law on the Statute of Judges and Prosecutors.

Despite widespread opposition, both the single-party National Assembly and the Senate have passed the three laws unchanged over the past two months. After the Constitutional Council approved the laws earlier this month, only the king’s signature is needed for their passage.

Ms. Knaul, who is visiting Cambodia in an unofficial capacity, spelled out her analysis of the laws at a conference organized by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute.

“[S]ome provisions on the laws reveal serious setbacks regarding the guarantee of judicial independence, as they confer excessive powers to the executive over the judiciary,” she said.

It is also “crucial to guarantee that funding for the judicial system is not subject to judicial interference,” Ms. Knaul said. Judicial independence could be undermined if courts are financed by the executive branch of government, as is laid out in the Law on the Organization of the Courts.

“At the current stage of the three judicial reforms laws, I humbly appeal to the power of His Majesty the King, as the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary and of the well-being of Cambodian society: Do not enact these draft laws in their current forms,” she said.

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