Globalization in Cambodia: An Unfinished Work (Part III of III)

by Jeff Cook

While I characterized the economic benefit globalization has
brought to Cambodia as a mixed bag, I think the effect on the justice
system is a work in progress.  Beginning with the Paris Peace Agreement
in 1991, which ended a decades old conflict and set up a framework for
free and fair elections, the international community has had
a significant influence over domestic politics.  This influence has
wavered at times to be sure, but with the growing reliance
on international partnerships for economic success, international
influence is on the rise.  For the justice system this is a favorable
trend.  In the last two years Cambodia has passed a new and
comprehensive criminal procedure code and robust anti-trafficking
laws.  These were welcome changes to continued reliance on the
out-dated 1993 UNTAC Provisions on Criminal Law and the reliance on a
provision against "debauchery" to govern all trafficking offenses. 
Both the criminal procedure code and the anti-trafficking laws were
completed with international consultation and support.

Passing the laws was a giant leap in the right direction,
but the enforcement of the provisions has been progressing at a crawl.  For
example, it was under this newly enacted procedural and
anti-trafficking framework that a trial involving four perpetrators and
five victims was to proceed late last year.  After reviewing the
evidence, however, the judge determined that the perpetrators had been
tried under the wrong article.  Normally a trial judge can change the
article under which the charges are filed without scheduling a new
trial, but because the original charge was a misdemeanor, this could
not happen.  In Cambodia misdemeanors are tried by one judge, whereas
felony charges require three judges.  The case had to be retried. 
The court rescheduled the trial for September of this
year.  Lawyers and social workers prepared the victims and transported
the whole crew to the trial locale – 5 hours away from Phnom Penh.  The
morning of the trial the girls dressed up, nervous, but ready for the
big day.  Unfortunately, upon arriving at the court we discovered that
two of the judges were out of town for training and the trial could not
take place.  Disappointed, discouraged and drained we returned to Phnom
Penh, but not before making clear to the presiding judge that we needed
to receive notice of delays prior to the day of trial. 
The trial was rescheduled for November, and once again we prepared
diligently and transported the appropriate personnel to the city where
the trial was to take place.  To our utter amazement after arriving at
court, we were again informed that the same two judges were away —
this time receiving education in Vietnam.  The presiding judge insisted
that she did not know that the two judges were going to be gone until
the previous evening, but the result was the same — dejection.  The
trial has been rescheduled for the beginning of December, and we hope
and pray that it will move forward this time. 

This experience is symptomatic of the difficulty faced in
implementing the new legal provisions.  It was very promising
that international norms regarding trafficking were passed into law and
supported by the highest officials in Cambodia.  I only hope
that this support for passing the laws shifts to the infrastructure and
personnel tasked with effectively implementing them.  As they say, the
devil is in the details.