Monday, May 22, 2006

U.N.: Cambodia needs independent judiciary

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, May 19 (UPI) -- U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour is calling for an independent, professional judiciary in Cambodia.

Wrapping up a one-week visit to Cambodia Friday, Arbour said Phnom Penh should realize the "capital importance" of such a judiciary not only for the consolidation of democracy but also for resolving issues of impunity, land conflicts and corruption in the Southeast Asian country.

The high commissioner said she had been told repeatedly of positive developments since the U.N.-organized polls of 1993, including stability, economic growth and regular elections, but she pointed out Cambodia still had difficulties to overcome, as successive U.N. human rights experts had found.

"Evidently, no country has a perfect human rights record," she said.

"I believe the most promising sign of eventual progress is the capacity to acknowledge shortcomings." But Arbour said she left reassured by the expressed commitment of the government to strengthen cooperation in human rights and determined to ensure that "our work yields tangible benefits for the protection of human rights in Cambodia."

In March, both U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Arbour called on the government to continue to cooperate with U.N. human rights officials after expressing concerns at reported remarks that Prime Minister Hun Sen had denounced them. In January, Arbour voiced "deep regret" over the arrest of two more human rights activists and warned the trend threatened to undo efforts to build a just society.

She said the visit had allowed her to focus on strengthening of the judicial branch of governance.

"An independent, professional judiciary with recognized integrity would not only be essential in protecting fundamental rights and freedoms but also facilitate the resolution of a number of the difficulties evident in Cambodia, including impunity, conflicts over land and corruption," Arbour added.

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