Cambodia: Chua Sakhon Re-Arrested and Three Appeal Court Judges Suspended


Urgent Appeal Case: UA0106

3 January 1998 the police rearrested Chua Sakhon, a military police commander and a member of Prince Norodom Ranariah’s royalist FUNCINPEC party. He was in a U.N. vehicle accompanied by several U.N. officers at the airport trying to leave Cambodia under U.N. protection. However, the police did not have a warrant of arrest. When questioned later, the prosecutor reported that they did not need any such warrant: verbal instructions were sufficient!

Minister of Justice Chem Snguon issued an order temporarily suspending the three Appeal Court judges who made the decision to release Chua Sakhon from prison. The minister’s decision has been condemned by observers as outrageous.

BACKGROUND: Three judges of the Appeal Court overturned Chua Sakhon’s conviction by a municipal court last June on 26 December 1997, and he was released from jail. On returning home, however, he received several threats to his life from the police, and consequently, he sought the protection of the United Nations Centre for Human Rights in Cambodia. Since the Centre was satisfied that the threats were real after making an investigation, he was assisted on 3 January to leave the country.

This is the first case since the inauguration of the Appeal Court in 1993 that it has overturned a verdict. Under the socialist (Stalinist) form of court system established in 1983 through the recommendation of Vietnamese advisors, the Supreme Court had no power to overturn any decision made by municipal courts, which were the only lower courts existing in the country at the time. Under the country’s new Constitution, which was adopted in September 1993, however, Cambodia opted for a liberal democratic form of government. There was no real change though in the institutional framework of the country, and the basic ruling apparatus remains the same as the pre-election arrangement under the State of Cambodia (SOC) government.

Observers are perplexed by the action of the minister of justice in removing the judges and ignoring the order given by them. There is no legal provision under which the minister has such power to act in the manner he has done. This action only reconfirms the fact that the minister tries to control the judiciary as he had done under the earlier socialist administration. In any democracy, the minister’s action in this instance would be treated as contempt of court.

ARE FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS POSSIBLE?: This raises a question as to whether it is possible to continue with the arrangements to have free and fair elections that are planned to be held in the middle of this year. In a recent interview, Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary-general, claimed that U.N. officers in Cambodia are the eyes and ears of the international community who are watching developments in Cambodia. The way U.N. human rights officers have been treated in this instance will create grave doubts as to what U.N. officers will be allowed to do in Cambodia.

For a detailed account of the Cambodian judicial system, you may see \”An Absence of Genuine Courts: A Fundamental Obstacle to Democracy in Cambodia\” in the December 1997 issue of Human Rights Solidarity or on the web page of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) at .


You may write your protest letters to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and U.N. Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia Thomas Hammarberg, calling for the immediate release of Chua Sakhon, reinstatement of the three Appeal Court judges and the resignation of Minister of Justice Snguon.


His Excellency Hun Sen Second Prime Minister Office of the Council of Ministers Phnom Penh, Cambodia Fax: (855) 23-426-054

Mr. Thomas Hammberburg UN Special Representative for Human in Cambodia D-519 Palais des Nations Geneva 10, Switzerland Fax: 22 – 917 0022

And to the diplomatic representative of Cambodia accredited to your country.


Dear Sir,

Re: Rearrest of Chua Sakhon and Suspension of Three Appeal Court Judges

I have learned that Mr. Chua Sakhon, who had been released from prison after three judges of the Appeal Court overturned the verdict against him, has been arrested again on 3 January 1998. I have also learned that Minister of Justice Chem Snguon has suspended the three judges who made the decision. Moreover, appeals by U.N. officers on Mr. Chua Sakhon’s behalf have been ignored.

As you know, all of these actions violate the basic human rights of Mr. Chua Sakhon as well as the independence of the judiciary. These events remind one of the harsh times that the Cambodian people had under the Pol Pot regime. These actions in no way help the people of Cambodia to get over the feelings of terror created during those terrible times.

As a person who wishes well for your country, I am much saddened by these events. I urge you to take suitable action to respect the rights of Mr. Chua Sakhon by immediately setting him free, restoring respect for the independence of the judiciary by lifting the suspension against the three judges and taking suitable action against Minister of Justice Snguon for tempering with the judicial process.

Please remember to send copies of your letters to Asian Human Rights Commission.

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA0106
Countries : Cambodia,