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Police reform demanded by senior officials

Police reform demanded by senior officials

On January 6 - 8, the Asian Human Rights Commission hosted a conference in Hong

Kong entitled "CAMBODIA: Consultation on Police Reforms". Senior Cambodian

officials from the Ministries of Justice and Interior, and Khmer lawyers and NGOs

who attended the seminar produced this (excerpted) report on the state of Cambodia's

police and the urgent need for institutional reform.

The concept of the police as criminal investigators and peacekeepers is new to Cambodia

after the Pol Pot regime. The socialist regimes which came after the Khmer Rouge

saw the role of the police as that of a militia. Its function was to protect the

regime and to perform surveillance on the people. Between 1980 and 1992 surveillance

was carried out from the Ministry of Interior. Following the 1993 elections this

entire concept was forced to change. Now the Ministry of Interior has to work under

the framework of the Cambodian Constitution.

This conceptual difference is of paramount importance. Any discussion of police reform

or police education should begin with an appreciation of the fundamental difference

between the two systems. Many of the problems now besetting the police force could

be better resolved if this difference was understood.

Under a liberal democratic framework the courts are at the apex of the system of

justice, with the police a subordinate branch. The superior position of the courts

must be accepted as the basis of all relationships between the courts and the police.

Under the former system (1980-1992) the police were more important than the courts,

which merely had a public relations function.

Criminal investigations are directed towards criminal trials. In a liberal democracy,

trials must be conducted according to standards laid down in universally accepted

United Nations' covenants and declarations. Police procedures for criminal investigations

must also be laid down in law.

In a seminar held January 11-17, 1994, organized by the UN Center for Human Rights

in Cambodia, with participants coming from the Ministries of Justice and Interior

and from the higher judiciary, it was agreed that there was a great need for the

speedy adoption of laws. The participants said the number of existing laws was limited

and grossly inadequate. They insisted that a penal code, a criminal procedure code

and a law on evidence should be adopted as soon as possible.

As of the beginning of 1999, the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Law exist only

in draft form. These documents need to be made available to the people, and particularly

to groups working to develop the justice system, for comments and suggestions. With

expert help these two documents could be finalized quickly. They would be a cornerstone

for all institutions of justice administration and be the base for police reform.

There still does not exist a Police Code, but there is a draft which must be expedited

and made publicly available to human rights groups. The specific problems existing

in Cambodia must be addressed in this document.

The Police Law must create a Police Commission to supervise and manage reforms and

education. The commission could become a useful instrument for achieving positive

change within the police.

Police titles are military titles, beginning with "three-star general"

down to "assistant lieutenant", the equivalent of a constable in other

countries. These titles show the military origins of the police, when they were used

to fight the civil war. It has become imperative to give up this military past and

such military-style titling.

Before 1993 the police force was organized along political lines. Both major political

parties had their own police. De-linking the police command from political leadership

and running it on a professional basis should be the key to police forms and education.

Overcoming the existing culture of subordination to and collaboration with political

authorities is important in creating credibility, not only for the police but also

for the political system. This has a direct bearing on economic and political development

and internal and international trade. It is an essential step towards creating civil

society in Cambodia and in separating the police from criminal elements. It would

also go a long way toward overcoming the often-reported and much-feared kidnappings.

If policemen and soldiers want to join political parties they should resign from

the force. Policemen should not be recruited from political parties but instead through

a proper and independent process such as a police academy. Currently, some policemen

take open part in politics. The law forbids this but instead allows people to resign

to contest elections and return to the force if they fail. This is not a good situation.

Wage payments to "ghost police" (who appear only in the registers) as a

reward to political allies should also be abolished.

In any country police behavior is conditioned by the commands police receive from

their superiors. It is therefore essential that police chiefs be professionally trained

and not, as is now the case, recruited from outside the force. Though there are some

police officers who have qualified abroad, these do not include those in higher ranks.

Donors, foreign academies and other training institutes should treat such training

as a priority. Selection must be on merit.

Before 1993 police training was basically political indoctrination. Although this

has stopped it has not been replaced with proper training. Police trainers do not

exist in Cambodia; nor is the concept of such a category present. A police academy

is a dire need. Some donors have offered funds and have helped set up small-scale

education programs, but that has in no way resolved the problem.

In Cambodia there is a policeman for every 150 people. Normally in developed countries

the ratio is about 1 to 750. Before 1975, Cambodia's police force numbered 15,000;

now there are over 60,000 staff. This increase was for military purposes. A policeman

is paid about $10 a month, which makes corruption a necessity. Staff numbers must

be drastically reduced and quality, and wages, improved.

One one hand, police reform depends in large part on adequate funding. On the other

hand, foreign assistance for the police depends on genuine reform. An unwieldy and

ill-disciplined police force is unlikely to attract funding. Dealing with this issue

will take great political will.

Police officers work in one locality all their lives. This also leads to corruption.

Officers must be transferred at regular intervals.

Police reform is essential in dealing with the prevailing culture of impunity. Recent

attempts to allow former KR leaders to escape trial for genocide reflect how serious

is the issue of impunity.

The concept of forensic evidence is unfamiliar in Cambodia. Hardly any forensic science

expertise exists. Post-mortem examinations are not legal requirements. There is no

forensic laboratory. As a result, some very short-term training by foreign experts

can be used in dangerous ways.

The lack of forensic facilities is linked to the absence of the concept of proof

in criminal trials. The Khmer word used for trial means "a sentencing session".

Guilt has usually been decided by confessions from the accused, however they may

have been obtained. It would be better to follow the example of some countries where

confessions are inadmissible.

The following provisions must be incorporated in to the Criminal Procedure Law in

order to limit the powers of the police regarding arrest, search and related matters:

  • Police must be required to identify themselves and reveal the reasons for the

    arrest to the suspect.

  • There should be rules for the proper use of handcuffs.
  • The use of force should be defined in law, as should rules regarding the right

    to self-defense and to the defense of third parties and of property.

  • The beating of arrested or detained persons should be prohibited. The police

    hieirachy should educate subordinates and punish any officer who beats arrested or

    detained persons. The prosecutor should be mandated immediately to investigate any

    accusations of torture.

  • The proper use of weapons must be mandated.
  • The law should state how much evidence is required before an arrest can be made,

    either in the commission of crime or for probable cause. After a dossier has been

    submitted to the prosecutor, the prosecutor should decide whether the police have

    probable cause for an arrest.

  • Except in cases specified by law, no arrests should be made without warrants.

    Only a judge should be empowered to issue arrest warrants when there exists sufficient


  • Arrest warrants should not be issued retroactively.
  • Remedies for illegal arrests should be introduced. Compensation for victims of

    illegal arrest should be mandated, offending officers punished, and information obtained

    in the course of an illegal arrest ruled inadmissible in court.

  • The limits to body or personal search should be clearly defined.
  • Procedures for house searches and night searches should be mandated and should

    never take place without the presence of the affected persons.

  • Regulations should be laid down regarding seizures.
  • Interrogation should not be permitted unless those arrested or detained have

    been informed of their rights. Any statements taken from arrested or detained person

    who have yet to be informed of their rights should inadmissible in court.

  • The court should be sensitive to regards of complaints of physical and/or mental


  • Arrested or detained persons should be informed of their right to counsel and

    be permitted to meet with their attorneys immediately following arrest. Spouses or

    other relatives should be allowed to sign a power of attorney on behalf of the accused.

    Police should contact legal aid groups to ensure an attorney is provided for those

    who cannot afford one.

  • Police lock-ups with good sanitation and conditions should be built. No arrested

    or detained person should be held in water closets or other inappropriate place.

  • Forced confessions should be prohibited and all statements by detainees should

    be examined by a defense attorney to establish whether or not they have been made

    voluntarily. Judges should not read statements made by detainees in advance of their

    trials; if they do a judge should be replaced at trial.

  • Police should be trained to take statements properly and accurately. Statements

    should be signed or thumbprinted by their authors.

  • The practice of admitting statements without calling the authors of such statements

    to court should be abolished. Article 42 of SOC Law 93, which permits this should

    be annulled. Statements should not be admissible in court without the presence of

    their authors.

  • Police should be trained in how to collect and preserve evidence.
  • Police, if necessary at first a special group of police, should be trained in

    the collection and use of forensic evidence, and supplied with all necessary equipment.

  • People called in as experts should be properly qualified and their qualifications

    examined before their opinions are accepted.

  • Police should be required to appear in court to give evidence and be cross-examined

    during trials. Otherwise their evidence should not be admitted.

  • Police should be held responsible for their conduct and not simply for their

    obedience to the orders of their superiors. They should be legally trained and held

    responsible for any and all criminal acts.

  • The jurisdiction of various kinds of police and in various geographical areas

    should be made clear. Military police should not have jurisdiction over civilians.


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