Soy Pisey, a Prov ethnic minority member from Ratanakkiri province’s Banlung district, described how there are sometimes disagreements in the villages near her community, and that the villagers usually ask the elders of the community to mediate the disputes.

Historically, within her community, which contains many indigenous groups, such as Tampuan, Bunong and Kouy, disputes were addressed solely through the traditional beliefs of each group. This involved elders mediating, in order to find an acceptable and just resolution for all parties. 

“When a dispute arises, it is generally resolved through the mediation of older people, who act as judges. I think this approach is more convenient, as is less expensive and uses far less time than going to court,” she said.

The approach carried in her community is parallel to the mechanism that the government is introducing – but with a clear organisational structure: the National Authority for Out-of-Court Dispute Resolution.

The authority was established through a Royal Decree, signed by King Norodom Sihamoni on November 2, which detailed its establishment, organisation and functioning.

‘In near future’ 

Chin Malin, Ministry of Justice secretary of state, told The Post that although the decree has been approved, several core tasks are still required before the national authority will commence oprations.

He expected the body to begin its work in the near future, noting that provincial authorities and civil society organisations expect it to engage in actively resolving community conflicts for the benefit of the public.

According to the decree, the national authority will consist of 11 core members, who will be appointed from state institutions and the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC).

Malin outlined the tasks that await completion. The composition of the national authority must be finalised, and a supporting General Secretariat must be established. Legal documents must be drawn up, and then qualified mediators must be recruited.

“The primary purpose of creating the new authority is to bring justice services closer to the people. Additionally, it will foster peace and harmony within communities. Finally, its establishment will contribute to judicial reform by addressing congestion and diminishing the caseload burden of the courts,” he said.

Specialist lawyer Lor Kimgech noted that out-of-court dispute resolution mechanisms are prevalent in many developed nations. This approach aims to assist citizens in avoiding difficult, time-consuming court proceedings.

“The fact that such a committee has been formed here to assist in resolving community issues reflects positively on our government,” he said.

Authorities, NGOs back mechanism

Svay Rieng deputy provincial governor Men Eng recalled that the provincial authorities have previously employed out-of-court resolutions in numerous instances, including for land disputes and property conflicts.

“We generally try to solve problems out of court. The more that we can do this, the more benefits the people will enjoy,” he said.

“We are determined to do our best to uphold the interests of the public as a whole. Our shared duty is to ensure the wellbeing of our citizens both physically and mentally,” he added.

Am Sam Ath, operations director at rights group LICADHO, believed that if the new mechanism functions well, it will help to reduce the number of civil and commercial cases that are sent to court.

He said that in his opinion, the new approach will require honesty from all of the participants, and warned that if the authority failed to act with transparency, professionalism, non-discrimination and a total absence of corruption, its effectiveness will be compromised.

He added that if done well, it will reduce costs and support a harmonious society. He noted that criminal cases and certain other issues cannot be resolved through this mechanism.

“I understand that the formation of this national authority will not nullify the influence of the courts, as unresolved matters will ultimately be referred to court. Cases involving criminal charges and certain situations not amenable to this mechanism will always require adherence to court procedures,” he continued.

Support from highest office

During a recent meeting with garment workers in Kampong Speu, Prime Minister Hun Manet explained that the national authority will not become a substitute for the courts, or replace the existing judicial system.

“In the past, the government has often resolved disputes through out-of-court mechanisms, in keeping with our traditions. Typically, when disputes arise, individuals seek assistance from the commune or district chief before resorting to legal action, or turn to village elders for mediation,” he said.

The prime minister noted that out-of-court dispute resolutions eliminate the need for engaging a lawyer and can save time, when compared to court proceedings. The government is actively promoting this approach, as it plays a vital role in resolving civil cases.

Manet explained that the national authority’s purpose is to mediate and resolve civil, trade and other disputes that may arise. This mediation is initiated upon the request of the involved parties and is founded on agreements between them.

He advised all provincial and district authorities to be prepared to collaborate with the national authority as soon as the decree takes effect.

Pisey placed high expectation on the coming mechanisms ability to resolve disputes in her community. 

“Once the new authority is in place, I believe dispute resolutions in the community will be even more accurate than the traditional mediation process,” Pisey said.