Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Cambodia - Cambodia’s Ranking Slips

Some supporters of the opposition being led into court. Supplied

Cambodia has succeeded in scraping the bottom of the World Justice Project’s (WJP) Rule of Law Index, landing at number 112 and earning the title of the second-worst performing country in the independent global survey released yesterday.

Sadly, the dismal results do not end there.

Cambodia fell behind both Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, which it slightly surpassed in last year’s ranking, and succeeded only in outperforming Venezuela this year – a country in the midst of an utter free fall and stricken with panic since the recent collapse of its currency and healthcare system.

Cambodia continued its losing streak, capturing a gold medal for the absolute worst performance in the East Asia and Pacific region, coming 15th for a second year in a row and dead last at number 28 for its paltry performance among the lower-middle income countries.

“[These findings] reflect how the public perceives and experiences various rule of law outcomes,” said Alejandro Ponce, chief research officer at WJP in Washington.

“Cambodia’s scores and rankings in the WJP Rule of Law Index can provide insight into [its] strengths and weaknesses.”

The global index is the world’s leading source of original data on the rule of law and is used as a tool to assess areas of concern and guide legislative reform.

WJP defines rule of law as a system in which four universal principles are upheld: the government, individuals and private entities are accountable under the law, laws are clear and just, applied evenly and protect fundamental rights, the process which laws are enacted and enforced is fair and accessible and justice is delivered in a timely manner by ethical and independent representatives.

According to these standards, the Kingdom is rife with red flags.

Two days ago, visiting UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Rhona Smith scrutinized Cambodia’s judicial system and labeled it flawed, citing particularly that idiosyncratic interpretations of the Criminal Code were unjust.

“In article 31 [the Cambodian Constitution] makes clear the emphasis to be placed on human rights and on ensuring that the law is applied without discrimination. Yet there are many examples of the law being applied in an apparently discriminatory and politicized manner,” said the UN envoy.

The arrest and denial of bail for Sam Rainsy Party Senator Hong Sok Hour serves as one of the clearest examples. The senator was charged with treason following a Facebook post that displayed a video of a fake 1979 border treaty between Cambodia and Vietnam last August.

Since then, the government has continually delayed Mr. Sok Hour’s requests for bail on the grounds that it would “cause chaos,” however unconstitutional it may be.

In April, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official Um Sam An was arrested for virtually the same offense – a Facebook post in which he claimed the government had used the wrong maps to demarcate the Cambodian-Vietnamese border – and was charged with “incitement to commit a felony” and “incitement to cause discrimination.”

He is still in jail despite his claim of parliamentary immunity and the absence of an assembly vote that would strip him of it, something many charged and convicted opposition party members have said is evidence of how the judiciary has been used to disrupt their party.

Tep Vanny, an outspoken land rights activist, has been confined to Prey Sar prison in pretrial detention since August on charges stemming from a 2013 demonstration. The activist was first arrested for her role in an alleged “cursing ceremony” in support of Black Monday protests and was charged with “incitement to commit a felony.” 

While delivering the verdict at Ms. Vanny’s trial, the judge altered the charge to “insulting a public official” – a lesser crime of which she was convicted and sentenced to six days in prison – but later lodged an additional charge against her of “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances” for her role in a 2013 protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s home.

Opposition official Son Chhay said the index findings reflected the reality of the country.

“It is recognized around the globe that there is no peace without justice. Justice can only come when a system is adapted to ensuring rule of law,” said the CNRP official.

“When you have a judicial system that is so corrupt – the most corrupt system in the country – it is not going to lead to a peaceful society, it’s quite concerning. That’s why we ought to encourage the government to look at the issues more seriously.

“Instead of trying to reject every report on corruption, they should try to improve it.”

In Cambodia, 1,000 people – 50 percent male, 50 percent female – between the ages of 18 and 60 were surveyed across the cities of Phnom Penh, Battambang and Kampong Cham. According to Mr. Ponce, the sample was stratified to account for gender and socio-economic status in line with Cambodia’s most recent 2008 census.

The survey measured performance using 44 indicators across eight primary factors: Constraints on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice and Criminal Justice.

Indicators ranged from measures of equal treatment and absence of discrimination to accessibility and affordability of civil justice. Scored from 0-1, Cambodia received its worst marks in the areas of criminal justice at 0.3, civil justice at 0.19 and open government and absence of corruption which tied at 0.24.

“[The] data and findings can be used to shape policy discussions and advocate for policies that strengthen the rule of law in the wake of the 2017-2018 elections in Cambodia,” said Mr. Ponce.

But government spokesperson Phay Siphan was not nearly as optimistic, calling the report “selective.”

“The government doesn’t pay much attention to this report. It has no interest.”

Effective rule of law can combat corruption, drive a country’s economy and protect its citizens from injustice, WJP said. According to the 2016 WJP Rule of Law Index, Cambodia has a long journey ahead if it wishes to scrape its way to the top from its current position at the bottom of the barrel.

Safiya Charles

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

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