Cambodia Table of Contents
The protection of all Cambodians by the law is guaranteed by the 1981 Constitution, which declares that the state "recognizes and respects human rights" and that it protects "the honor, dignity and life of its citizens" (see The Constitution , ch. 4). In the mid-1980s, lawyers in the Ministry of Justice had published some legal texts and statutes, but by late 1987, it was not possible to verify the existence of a comprehensive criminal and civil code. Decree-laws promulgated in 1980 paid considerable attention to political offenses, and they prescribed five levels of punishment for such crimes. A first-level offense, such as aiding or abetting an individual known to be "a traitor to the revolution," was punishable by two to seven years' imprisonment. A second-level offense, such as subversion or economic sabotage, was punishable by imprisonment for between five and ten years. Third-level offenses, which included the crime of taking up arms against the state, were punishable by five to fifteen years' imprisonment. A fourth-level offense, defined as plotting to overthrow the state or committing "treason against the revolution," and punishable by ten to twenty years' imprisonment. Fifth-level offenses, which included compounded acts of sedition by individuals in positions of authority, acts of rebellion by insurgent leaders, and acts of spying by operatives who maintained espionage networks carried sentences of twenty years to life imprisonment and even the death penalty. A further decree-law, promulgated around 1983, also addressed crimes against the state, such as treason, but included common-law offenses, such as murder, rape, and theft. Penalties for political crimes generally remained the same as they were in the earlier law. For common-law crimes such as murder, however, offenders were subject to ten to twenty years' imprisonment; for aggravated assault, six months to ten years; for rape, two to five years; for rape followed by murder, twenty years to life with the possibility of a death sentence. People convicted of theft were subject to confinement for a period of six months to fifteen years. Former Khmer Rouge cadres who were convicted of outrageous crimes against humanity faced the death sentence. Such sentences, however, had to be approved by the Council of State (see Government Structure , ch. 4).
The first courts in the PRK were the people's revolutionary courts set up almost on an ad hoc basis by the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Council in 1979. Establishment of a more institutionalized system took place in approximately 1983. At this time, a network of courts was extended to each province and municipality. Officers of each court included a president, one or two vice presidents, and a judge. A reporting channel presumably connected these local courts to the Ministry of Justice, but, as of late 1987, its existence had not been confirmed. Similarly, a People's Supreme Court, evidently under the Ministry of Justice, was established in the early 1980s, but its functions continued to be obscure.
The independence of the judiciary at all levels remained in question. According to a 1982 decree-law, the purpose of the courts was to uphold the policies of the government. Officers of the court were appointed by local party and government committees with the apparent concurrence of the Ministry of Justice. Court officials thus were responsible to the committees that recruited them.
The power to arrest and to detain for political or for criminal offenses was quite widespread among government bodies. It extended from the agents of the Ministry of Interior to the People's Security Service and to the military units of the main, provincial, and local forces. Refugee and defector accounts indicate that suspicion rather than evidence frequently sufficed to cause the arrest of a suspect. A 1987 Amnesty International report stated that arrested individuals were denied information about the charges against them and were frequently imprisoned without trial. Detention routinely was followed by interrogation, accompanied by repeated beatings and by torture. In an effort to correct the most flagrant of these abuses, the government promulgated its decree-law of March 12, 1986. According to Amnesty International, this statute "codifies and modifies non-legislative instructions against torture, rules on search procedures and regulations concerning powers of arrest and length of detention for interrogation." Amnesty International further observed that this was "the first PRK law to address issues directly related to human rights in these areas."
Accused persons were accorded relatively few constitutional safeguards. They had the right to a defense counsel, but they could represent themselves. Fragmentary information reaching Amnesty International demonstrated that individual guilt or innocence-- especially that relating to political crimes--was not decided on the basis of judicial proceedings, but was determined beforehand by the arresting authorities following interrogation. Guilty persons then were sentenced administratively without due process. In the few cases brought to trial, the court confined itself to ratifying the sentence already decided upon behind the scenes. Defendants who were dissatisfied with a court ruling theoretically had the right to appeal, but the procedures remained unclarified, and the role of the People's Supreme Court as the final arbiter of judicial decisions was unknown.
Data as of December 1987
Cambodia Table of Contents