In a decision communicated to the Cambodian government on 25 November 2005 and now made public, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found that the Cambodian Military Court had no jurisdiction over Cheam Channy, a civilian and Member of Parliament for Kampong Cham province.
Cheam Channy was arrested hours after the removal of his parliamentary immunity on 3 February 2005, accused of organising an illegal army. On 9 August 2005 he was condemned to a seven-year prison term by the Phnom Penh Military Court, following a trial widely criticised as politically-motivated and lacking in credibility. No evidence of the possession of arms or the plotting of any violent act was presented, and the trial judge refused to permit defence witnesses to testify or to allow the defence to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia described the trial as a “grave injustice” and called for Cheam Channy’s immediate release, noting also the lack of military jurisdiction in the case.
The UN WGAD, which is composed of independent experts, dismissed Cambodian Government arguments that an outdated law from 1981, during the “People’s Republic of Kampuchea” era, still allowed for the military trial and detention of civilians. The Working Group found instead that two more recent laws (the 1992 criminal code and 1993 law on courts) both clearly excluded civilians from military jurisdiction, and stated that “under the laws of Cambodia the military tribunal did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate in Mr. Cheam’s case”.
The WGAD further found that Cambodia was in breach of its obligations under international human rights law, declaring that “the deprivation of liberty of Mr Cheam Channy is arbitrary being in contravention with Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” (to which Cambodia is a state party).
Finally, the WGAD has requested the Government “to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation”.
The decision is welcomed by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO), who have closely monitored Cheam Channy’s case.
“We reiterate our strong belief that his arrest and condemnation constitute a politically-motivated attempt to silence a member of an opposition party. This is all the more confirmed by the recent arrests of people having peacefully expressed their views, including human rights defenders”, concluded Sidiki Kaba, President of FIDH.
“After such a decision, the only way for the Royal Government of Cambodia to comply with its international human rights obligations and Cambodia’s own national law is to release Cheam Channy,” said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge. “The Government should immediately request His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni to issue a royal pardon in this case.”