On Friday, I received notice that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has issued a final order for the National Assembly to deduct the 16.5 million riels fine and compensation from my salary as a Member of Parliament in lieu of detention. I wish to make it clear that the decision of the Courts if, carried out will be against my will.
But the struggle for an independent judiciary begins now.
There are three key principles for such a justice system that the people must continue to demand: independence; accountability; access.
Achieving independence will mean that courts decide cases on the facts, and this is only possible when judges are competent and are free to use their conscience and are not members of any political party. This also means that critics of the government can exercise their freedom of expression without fear of political persecution. In a rights-based government, no matter a person’s position in the hierarchy of society, we are all equal once we step into a courtroom. This principle is stipulated in Article 128 of the Cambodian Constitution.
Achieving accountability means that appointments of judges and their performance is scrutinized by an independent body and by law.
Victims of rape and other violence can be confident that police will investigate cases in good faith, and report them to the competent courts for a resolution that makes victims whole and protects the rest of the community from future crimes by the same aggressors.
Achieving access to justice will mean that citizens accused of a crime can have a lawyer of their own choosing,and for those who can not afford legal protection, the state shall bear the cost.
It brings me great hope to know that a movement of garment workers, sex workers, beer-promotion women, university students, individual advocates, community members, moto-taxi drivers, vendors, farmers, union members, teachers, government officials, NGO staff, and global citizens, has been formed in the past few weeks to end the silence and speak out to protect freedom of speech and other fundamental rights.
I am deeply touched by their support, and encouraged by their commitment to seeking justice for the thousands of Cambodian citizens who face daily injustices.
I am also deeply touched by their gesture of solidarity and humbled by their request that I join their movement.
For too long, voices of women and the powerless have been silenced by fear. I have listened to hundreds, perhaps thousands of women and children speak of the shame and violation they have suffered when violence is inflicted on their bodies and on their minds as Khmer women deprived of equal rights under Cambodia law. Yet they dare not complain to those in power, for fear of retaliation, ridicule, or inaction and impunity. Thousands of our people have been forced out of their land and even entire communities have been uprooted by the state or powerful tycoons with backing of the State and in many instances , these forced evictions and land grabs are executed by the armed forces.
It is time to stop living in fear.
As the brave women who spoke at the first conference held by the movement showed, they – as Khmer people from all walks of life – are ready to break the silence and speak out against injustice, standing up for themselves and for victims everywhere.
I am honored to be able to serve the Cambodian people on our path to true democratic participation and equity. The momentum of this movement gives me strength to walk forward, and I hope to see more of our sisters and brothers join together to work towards true reforms for an independent judiciary.
I extend my deep thanks to everyone who has given me their support and given me the strength to fight my case in a judiciary that has been used as a political tool.
As an elected representative of the people I serve all Cambodians, not just those who give me their support.
I call on each and every one of us, to fulfill our responsibilities and commitment to build an independent, accountable and accessible system of justice.
Let’s get to work!
Download the Cambodia Daily article here.