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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

An Institution of Injustice

My Court, My Justice... and My Jungle Law!!! (sacrava 1015)
I Am Not for Sale (sacrava 1012)
Release Him Immediately (sacrava 1013)
An Institution of Injustice

Sunday, June 15, 2008
Op-Ed by Chanda Chhay

If there were such a thing as an Institution of Injustice, the Cambodian Municipal Court in Phnom Penh would certainly fit into this dubious distinction. The way Judge Chhay Kong handled the case of Mr. Dam Sith, the editor of Moneasekar Khmer newspaper, was not only a miscarriage of justice but also a brazen abuse of the laws as well as the institution (court), which he represented. The issues of miscarriages of justice or judicial abuses could have happened anywhere, but Mr. Dam Sith’s case certainly merit some discussion, for it is so blatantly mediocre even a non-lawyer like me could see the flaws.

A few days ago, amidst local and international condemnations, Judge Chhay Kong issued a firm refusal to a request from a dozen or so Members of Parliament for the release of Mr. Dam Sith on the ground that they (MP’s) had no “rights” or jurisdiction to meddle in judicial procedures (See Judge Chhay Kong’s letter in Khmer at the end of this article). However, two days after denying those MP’s request, Judge Chhay Kong has turned the integrity of his court and his noble principle of keeping outside influences away from judicial procedures upside down, when he suddenly bent backward to accept a lone Member of Parliament and head of the executive branch, Mr. Hun Sen’s request to release Mr. Dam Sith. Unbelievable! It is certainly counterintuitive to see any person, let alone a judge whose decision could take a person’s liberty or life away, making such an irrational decision.

One simple premise: If those other members of parliament had no rights to intervene in the judicial procedures, neither could Mr. Hun Sen, who is also a member of parliament. Therefore, Judge Chhay Kong should also firmly and confidently tell Mr. Hun Sen that he has no rights to interfere in the judicial procedures.

I know I am being harsh on this poor Judge Chhay Kong, who has possibly been pressured by powerful politicians to act according to their wicked whim. In a dictatorial democracy like Cambodia, it is not unusual to see a judge stuck between a rock and a hard place. But, that said, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t confront our predicaments and rise up to the challenges. After all, judges could not and should not afford to make mistakes or be reckless about their decisions because a person’s liberty or life depends very much on them. When a judge could not see this simple moral imperative, it is best for him or her to give up the law books and find a different career.

Chanda Chhay
Washington, DC.

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