Last month, the International Bar Association (IBA) Human Rights Institute issued a report entitled Justice versus Corruption: Challenges to the Independence of the Judiciary in Cambodia which paints a dark picture of the extent of political and financial corruption in the Cambodian judicial system. This report was prompted by the enactment of three controversial laws that enabled the Cambodian government to undermine the independence of the courts, but the IBA’s investigation went beyond these three laws to examine the judicial system as a whole, only to discover that, in addition to persistent problems of government interference with judicial independence, the entire Cambodian judicial system was riddled with both bribery and political corruption.
There are credible allegations that cases are often decided in favor of the party offering the larger bribe; Cambodian lawyers interviewed by the IBA researchers estimated that 90% of the cases heard by the courts involve bribes to judges or clerks, and that when no bribe is offered, judges often give no attention to the case, and court staff will refuse to release basic information, or give lawyers access to the case files. In addition, the report found that trainee judges are asked for large bribes to access to their professional trainings — meaning that what the report calls the “the culture of bribe giving and receiving” is taught to judges from the very beginning of their career. In addition to this widespread bribery, political corruption of the judiciary is also pervasive. The report notes suspicions of judges and clerks sometimes being given specific instructions from powerful politicians how to decide cases in which these politicians have a financial interest.
To address this widespread, systemic corruption, the IBA offers a series of recommendations. A few of the report’s recommendations are concrete and implementable. For example, report recommends that the IBA exercise influence on the Cambodian Bar Association (the BAKC) to reform itself if it wishes to remain a member of the IBA; such pressure may be help to end corrupt practices in the BAKC itself, and encourage the independence and protection of lawyers in Cambodia. Unfortunately, however, most of the report’s recommendations, while appealing in theory, are not terribly practical, at least in the context of Cambodia today. In emphasizing idealistic, aspirational recommendations, the report perhaps missed an opportunity to recommend some more concrete, practical goals that, while not fully addressing the problem, might at least have some chance of being adopted. Continue reading