Today’s decision of the Supreme Court to dissolve the main opposition political party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has significantly heightened the human rights and rule of law crisis within the country, the ICJ said.
The Supreme Court has also banned 118 of CNRP politicians from political activity for five years.
“By dissolving the main opposition party and banning 118 CNRP politicians from political activity for five years, the Supreme Court is irreparably interfering with the rights of potentially millions of Cambodians to freely choose their political representatives and vote for them in the upcoming elections,” said Kingsley Abbott, the ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia.
“The fact that the Law on Political Parties was amended to enable the Supreme Court to dissolve political parties shortly before it dissolved the CNRP strongly suggests the entire ‘legal process’ was nothing more than political theatre, inconsistent with human rights and the rule of law.”
A full bench of nine judges of the Supreme Court, including the President, unanimously decided to dissolve the CNRP pursuant to powers contained within Article 44 (new) of the Law on Political Parties (LPP), which was controversially amended twice this year, in February and July 2017.
The lawyers representing the CNRP were not present at Court after electing to boycott the proceedings in protest at their legitimacy.
Furthermore, the President of the Supreme Court, Justice Dith Munty, who read out the decision, is reportedly a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and sits on both its Standing and Permanent Committees, raising serious doubts about the independence and impartiality of the Court.
“It makes a mockery of fair justice to have someone in a leadership position within one political party sit in judgment on the conduct of that party’s main opposition. There can be no starker example of an inherent conflict of interest,” Abbott said.
“At an absolute minimum, the President should have recused himself from any role in relation to the case, as should have any other judge sitting on the bench if they hold a similar position within the CPP,” he added.
These concerns are consistent with the ICJ’s findings in a report it released last month, in which it found that the “single largest problem facing the Cambodian justice system is the lack of independent and impartial judges and prosecutors.”
“The problem is two-fold: an endemic system of political interference in high-profile cases and an equally entrenched system of corruption in all others.”
On 23 October 2017, the 26th anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Conference on Cambodia, the ICJ and 54 other organizations wrote an open letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Conference’s co-chairs calling on them to reconvene the members of the Conference, along with other concerned stakeholders, for an emergency summit to discuss the human rights crisis within the country.
“The dissolution of the CNRP sends a strong signal to the international community and all Cambodians that a red-line has been crossed, which makes reconvening the Paris Peace Conference to address the human rights and rule of law crisis within the country all the more urgent,” said Kingsley Abbott.
Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, ICJ, t: +66 94 470 1345 ; e: firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been reported that, on 4 and 5 October 2017, the Cambodia Youth Party and the Funcinpec Party, respectively, filed complaints with the Ministry of Interior (MOI) alleging that the CNRP had violated Articles 6 (new) and 7 (new) of the Law on Political Parties, and asked the MOI to file a complaint with the Supreme Court to dissolve the CNRP.
On 6 October 2017, the MOI filed a complaint with the Supreme Court pursuant to Article 38 (new) of the LPP to dissolve the CNRP.
Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is a State Party, guarantees the rights of all persons, without any unreasonable restrictions, “to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; and to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.”
Article 14 of the ICCPR affirms the principle that tribunals judging rights and obligations in legal proceedings be independent and impartial.
Detailed international standards on requirements for a court to be independent have been set out in the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary (1985), and requirements for judicial impartiality have been set out in the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct and Commentary (2002/2007), which includes the standard that “All partisan political activity and association should cease upon the assumption of judicial office” (para 75 of the Commentary).