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Is Every Khmer Citizen Equal Before the Law?

By: Norbert Klein, editor: The Mirror Posted: September-07-2009 in
Boeng Kak Lake - Photo - Courtesy - The Mirror
Norbert Klein, editor: The Mirror

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 628 - Sunday, 6.9.2009

Well, Article 31 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia speaks very clearly:

  • “The Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of human Rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women's and children's rights.
  • Every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other position.”

While talking to a number of people about the case of a person who spent four years – without having been presented to a judge for sentencing! - in prison, supposedly “by mistake” because the legal bureaucracy had forgotten about this person, accused of having stolen a second hand mobile phone worth US$15.-, I did not find anybody who thought that a rich person, or a person with higher level social and political connections, would have been in prison for four years in a similar situation. And this is the second, similar case within a month. The media report again and again – over the years – that many people in general do not believe that the courts bring justice equally to all.

It is a stark contrast to have, during the same week, the report that a former high ranking police officer, accused to have been behind an acid attack, is absolved from prosecution by a court, for insufficient evidence. She threatened the victim and her family members, who taped the threatening phone calls before the crime happened.

There is always the desperate hope that crude injustice will not happen again, or will happen less. The Minister of Justice admonished the courts not to give too harsh sentences. And this week, a prosecutor of the Supreme Court started to questioned the Kandal Court for illegally detaining a person for four years who is accused of a petty crime only. Will those responsible for the misconduct of justice be punished? Will the innocent victims of these events even get a financial compensation for the time they were jailed against the law?

This week, the president of the Cambodian People's Party, who is also the president of the Senate, also called for moderation when applying the law against those who are economically week in society – pointing out that they have the power to vote!

On 18.1.2008, last year, The Mirror had carried a report saying that the President of the National Assembly signed a letter, asking for the suspension of pumping sand to fill the Boeng Kak Lake – and The Mirror carried an aerial picture showing the lake when it was still larger than now – a natural basin for floodwater, a place of recreation, a counterbalance to the urbanized areas. Many big cities in the world would be happy to have such a lake in their midst.

Now also the President of the Senate referred to the Boeng Kak Lake, reminded commune, district, and municipal governors and councillors to remember that the citizens are voters, while implementing the law. He said that “what is important is that proper solutions are offered to the residents, otherwise it will affect the members of our party, accusing them of disregarding the difficulties of the citizens.”

Such concerns were were hardly heard by other representatives of the state and of Phnom Penh city. And he added a reference to the implementation of new obligations required by the traffic law, saying, “Sometimes, the poor people have little money to afford to buy a motorbike to work as moto-taxi drivers, and sometimes, even our civil servants encounter difficulties and take their free time to work as moto-taxi drivers, to find additional income to support their family’s living. They face another difficulty when their motorbikes are confiscated to pay taxes... there has to be a practical understanding for our people and for our fellow civil servants who face difficulties in their livelihood.”

This was not a call to disregard and to not implement the traffic law – but law enforcement too has to be done in a balanced way, considering all participants in road traffic. Throughout the city, one can see police forces stopping motorcycle drivers who do not wear safety helmets, or who do not have rear-view mirrors on their vehicles. And while they are busily educating the poorer participants traveling on the roads, big cars without license plates - so they have also not paid taxes - pass by without getting attention, or being stopped, or getting confiscated as may happen to a motorcycle driver whose owner has not paid the license tax. There was not one day for months - when I travel around town on a moto-taxi – that I did not see several big cars without license plates.

This week, we mirrored that in May 2009, 132 people died in traffic accidents, and 442 people were seriously injured - the number of deaths countrywide had increased by 35% compared to the same period in 2008. And it was reported that in Phnom Penh, 67% of traffic accidents that happened during daytime were due to over-speed driving. Are those who cause many of these high speed accidents the same who are targeted by the campaign to fix rear-view mirrors to their motorcycles? The equality before the law needs also to be applied when enforcing the traffic laws equally - “regardless of sex, social status, wealth, or other position.”

Source: The Mirror
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