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Cambodia’s judicial system among most corrupt

NGO report says Cambodia unable ‘to uphold the rule of law, ensure sustainable development and a good quality of life for the population at large’

Cambodia’s judicial system among most corrupt

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

 Cambodia’s judicial system and law enforcement agencies are its weakest and most corrupt state institutions, according to a report published Tuesday by an NGO that monitors corporate and political corruption worldwide.

The country's judiciary is inadequately paid and highly politicized, allowing impunity to reign, Transparency International said in its national integrity assessment of 13 key pillars of Cambodian society.

Using a scoring system with 80 to 100 representing the strongest an institution could be and 0 to 19 the weakest, the judiciary scored an average of just 16, based on capacity (13), governance (21) and role (13).

Law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, scored 22. Broken down, they earned no points with regard to financial resources and independence.

Cambodia is "not strong enough to uphold the rule of law, ensure sustainable development and a good quality of life for the population at large," the report said.

In a case that is perhaps one of the most emblematic of the issues plaguing the judicial system, a report in The Cambodia Daily newspaper Tuesday said a police chief in the country’s Takeo province had emerged from hiding after paying off the family of the woman he shot dead in March. In response, the court dropped the case against him.

Endemic corruption in the courts and prison system is driven by low salaries and poorly written laws, said Mu Sochua, an opposition member of parliament who was jailed for a week in July after leading a protest in capital Phnom Penh.

She said bribes can lead to dropped charges or slashed sentences.

 “If I am a person with money, I can use that to communicate with someone. Before a prosecutor, if I have money, I can get a release. You can have your charges dropped if you have money,” she said.

The country’s Anti-Corruption Law is also criticized for a controversial provision that allows whistleblowers to be imprisoned for up to six months if the Anti-Corruption Unit cannot find evidence to support claims of corruption.

Transparency International’s report recommends that three recently passed laws on the judiciary be amended to ensure independence in the courts.

Calls were also made for an access-to-information law to be drafted and passed, and for asset declarations to be made public and open to scrutiny.

Cambodia ranks among the 20 most corrupt countries in the world. Last year’s corruption perceptions index, which is put together by Transparency International, put Cambodia 160th out of 177 countries.

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