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Legal analysis of criminal charges against ex-governor, an emblematic case of impunity in Cambodia

To mark the International Day to End Impunity 2013, on 23 November 2013 the Cambodian Center for Human Rights ("CCHR") released a legal analysis of the criminal charges leveled against ex-Bavet governor Chhouk Bandith and Police Chief Sar Chantha (the "Legal Analysis"), arising from the shooting of three Kaoway factory workers on 20 February 2012. On 25 June 2013, Chhouk Bandith was found guilty of "causing involuntary bodily harm" under Article 236 of the Cambodian Criminal Code 2009, sentenced in absentia to 18 months' imprisonment and ordered to pay a total of 38 million Riels (approximately US$9,500) in compensation. Despite his conviction, the ex-governor has yet to spend a day in prison as punishment for his crime. He was tried in absentia and the police have yet to apprehend him, despite the fact that he was allowed to file for appeal of the verdict from hiding. Regardless of the lack of evidence against him, Sar Chantha was charged with the illegal use of a weapon and sentenced to six months in prison.

According to eyewitnesses, Chhouk Bandith aimed a gun at the Kaoway workers and fired, resulting in the serious injury of three women. Despite the ex-governor's initial confession of guilt (which he later retracted) the case was originally dismissed by the Svey Rieng Provincial Court, only to be revisited by the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal due to public outcry. Given the gravity of the offence, the charge of "involuntary bodily harm" is widely seen as too mild and indicative of the biased nature of the Cambodian judiciary and the impunity that is rampant in the country.

CCHR's Legal Analysis: (1) provides a factual background to the arrest, charging and sentencing of Chhouk Bandith and Sar Chantha; (2) conducts a step-by-step analysis of the charges and applies the law to the facts as they have been reported, arguing that the law has been incorrectly applied in light of the evidence available; (3) examines the judicial process both at the pre-trial, trial and appeal stages, and finds that the international norms prevailing over judicial hearings were violated; (4) provides an overview of the fundamental human rights violated by Chhouk Bandith, namely the victims' rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly; and (5) concludes that the overly-lenient charging and sentencing of Chhouk Bandith represent a gross miscarriage of justice.

CCHR President Ou Virak comments:

"It is appropriate on this International Day to End Impunity to highlight the case of Chhouk Bandith – a well-connected official who has been protected by a complicit Cambodian judiciary, rather than punished for the serious crime he confessed to committing. Chhouk Bandith should have been charged in the very least with the more serious offence of intentional violence, if not attempted murder. The case against him just goes to show that impunity is rife in Cambodia and that there are two justice systems at work in the country – one to serve the well-connected elite and one for the rest of us."

Download the legal analysis:
cambodia_legal_analysis_cchr.pdf (344 KB)

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