Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng has advised the Ministry of Justice and its partners to facilitate the acceleration of trials for drug offences.

Sar Kheng was addressing an annual meeting of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) to review the work results of 2022 and set the direction for 2023.

He suggested that the justice ministry and relevant authorities work closely with judicial authorities to make drug trials more efficient.

“All of the police officers and justice ministry officials involved should be working to make sure that drug offences – and money laundering charges – are proceeded against as efficiently as possible. This includes the seizure of assets,” he said.

“They must be instruments of the government’s will to work within the global framework and investigate the financing of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” he added.

Following the meeting, he advised the NACD to coordinate with relevant state institutions to accelerate the drafting of amendments to the Kingdom’s laws on drug control.

“They should formulate policies and legal documents that reduce drug activities in Cambodia. Specifically, they should prepare new laws relating to drug control and the use of [precursor] chemicals, as this should prevent the production of illegal drugs more effectively,” he said.

He also instructed all state agencies, the private sector, religious institutions and members of the armed forces to educate members of the public about the dangers stemming from the use of drugs.

“They should be working to improve the mechanisms we use to treat and rehabilitate drug addicts, while following a strategy that cuts the supply of drugs,” he added.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, said that given the number of drug cases before the courts, the problem of overcrowding in prisons is unlikely to be resolved soon.

He said that although the justice ministry has launched a campaign to speed up procedures to clear the backlog of court cases, challenges remain as nearly half of prisoners in the country are in custody for drug-related offences. He expressed concerns that the backlog of cases would continue if the problem of drug use persisted.

Sam Ath said he was pleased that the interior minister had identified the problem, and called on the judiciary to work to address the issue.

“It is an excellent sign that Sar Kheng has made this appeal, but we should remember that the justice ministry has previously campaigned to speed up the processing of cases. Perhaps the ministry needs to play more of a role in coordinating the efforts,” he said.

According to the NACD report, it cracked down on 6,390 drug-related cases in 2022, netting 15,002 suspects – a small increase compared to the previous year. But drug seizures were up 218.14 per cent, with over 14 tonnes confiscated.