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Cambodia: Lack of Judicial Independence in Recent Appointment

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The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, an NGO coalition that includes ADHOC and LICADHO (FORUM-ASIA members), released a statement expressing concern over an appointment to the Appeals Court that violates the principles of judicial tenure and independence.
PHNOM PENH:  The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of 23 NGO members, is deeply concerned about the recent appointment of co-investigating judge of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) You Bunleng, to the Presidency of the Appeals Court, to be effective immediately.
In an article dated August 17, 2007, Voice of America reported that "Tribunal investigating judge You Bunleng was sworn in as the chief of Appeal's Court on [August 16, 2007]." You Bunleng now serves as both President of the Appeals Court and as co-investigating judge of the ECCC.
The promotion of  ECCC judge You Bunleng to the Presidency of the Appeals Court contravenes the principles of judicial tenure and independence. Moreover, it violates the spirit of both the 2003 Agreement between the United Nations and the Cambodian Government and the 2004 Law on the Establishment of the ECCC which stipulate that co-investigating judges to the ECCC shall be appointed for the duration of the proceedings.
According to domestic and international law, judicial tenure means that a judge cannot be removed from his or her position before reaching the age of retirement or the end of the fixed term of appointment and is also not able to be moved to another position during this time; it is an integral part of judicial independence from the legislative and executive powers.
"We understand the difficulties faced by the government in reforming the Appeals Court; however, we must stress that there is a wide body of both national and international law regarding judicial independence and the requirement of judicial tenure" explained Thun Saray, Chairman of CHRAC and President of ADHOC.
CHRAC appreciates Judge You Bunleng's promotion to President of the Appeals Court as part of judicial reform.  We are, however, worried that Judge Bunleng's transfer will strongly affect the progress and momentum of the ECCC.
The ECCC is an historic and extraordinarily rare process, potentially serving as a model for the normal Cambodian judiciary.   CHRAC expresses concern that this transfer will further affect the momentum of the ECCC, compromise the quality and established relationships between the UN and Cambodian officials in the ECCC and diminish the confidence of Cambodians and non-Cambodians alike toward the ECCC. Cambodians already have deep concerns and view the judiciary with doubt and suspicion. This sudden transfer will only further add to the doubt and suspicion of the judiciary due to the disruption of the ECCC work and the perception of non-independence.
This precedent must not be established, as it would mean that other judges of the ECCC are subject to future displacement at the will of the authorities.
An essential aspect of judicial independence is that judges be allowed to serve the interests of justice, and not the interests of the other powers. The interests of justice are exceptionally important in this case, as the ECCC is responsible for judging crimes that touched all of Cambodian society. It is necessary for Cambodian society as a whole to feel that justice is not only done but seen to be done..
CHRAC urges the Supreme Council of the Magistracy and Judge You Bunleng to take steps to ensure that his promotion to President of the Appeals Court does not affect his work as co-investigating judge of the ECCC.
For more information, please contact:

Mr. Thun Saray                    
President of ADHOC/Chairman of CHRAC     
Tel: 016 880 509

Mr. Sok Sam Oeun               
Executive Director of CDP                               
Tel: 012 901 199

Ms. Seng Theary                  
Executive Director of CSD                               
Tel: 012 222 552

Mrs. Nay Dina                      
Executive Director of KID                                
Tel: 011 924 286