UN special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Vitit Muntarbhorn has acknowledged the efforts the government is making in judicial reform, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Vitit met with justice minister Koeut Rith on December 6 at the ministry headquarters in Phnom Penh. 

The ministry said in a statement following the meeting that Koeut Rith had informed Vitit on priority areas, which include upgrades to the quality and effectiveness of the Cambodian justice system. He also highlighted that judicial reform is one of the five priorities set by the new government.

The statement added that Vitit welcomed and acknowledged the government’s efforts in justice system reform, while expressing support for the work that the ministry is carrying out, in particular the establishment of the National Authority for Out-of-Court Dispute Resolution.

Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said that during the meeting, Vitit did not share any criticisms of the human rights or justice sectors in Cambodia. 

“We discussed the justice system reform framework, the new mechanism to solve disputes out of court, how we are solving overcrowding situation at prisons and introducing means to serve sentences outside of the prison system, as well as our cooperation with UN mechanisms,” he added.

He noted that Vitit had encouraged justice reform as it is vital for human rights promotion, access to justice, the rule of law and democracy. 

On December 6, the government issued a directive forming an inter-ministerial team tasked with preparing a human rights report for the UN. The working group will be headed by Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) president Keo Remy. 

The directive explained that the group will be responsible for drafting a national report on the implementation of human rights treaties in Cambodia for the UN. These include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and several other agreements.

Soeng Sen Karuna, spokesman for rights group ADHOC, supported the government’s goal of reforming the justice system. He said an equal justice system is indispensable for protecting and respecting human rights, particularly regarding political activists, the environment and land issues.

“The justice system still receives criticism. For example, the justice watchdog project has reported a downgrade, expressing concern that some law enforcement officials may have some political bias,” he said.

He hailed the commitment of the head of government and the relevant leadership, adding that civil society organisations – and the public – would wait to see the tangible results of the current reforms.