Cambodian Again Second-to-Last for Rule of Law

Supporters of Rong Chhun, leader of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions hold placards during a protest in front of Phnom Penh municipal court on August 1, 2020. Photo: AFP / TANG CHHIN Sothy

PHNOM PENH – The government has rejected the latest Rule of Law Index issued by the World Justice Project (WJP), which ranked Cambodia second-bottom in the world for the rule of law.

According to the index, Cambodia ranks 139 out of 140 countries, just ahead of Venezuela. It is the sixth time in a row that the index places Cambodia in the penultimate position, while the South American country was already at the bottom of the list last year.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the WJP did not analyze Cambodia clearly and did not understand the country’s real situation either.

“I don’t know on which scientific method they ranked [the countries for the rule of law] but I don’t recognize the report because it is different from what Cambodia is,” he said.

Chin Malin, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, also disagreed with the WJP’s evaluation, saying that the report lies and cannot be trusted.

He added that some countries are fighting in a war and facing refugee problems while others have only one political party with no elections at all. Some others are even led by military power after a coup, but they scored higher for the rule of law than Cambodia, he noted in a reference to Myanmar which is ranked 132nd among 140 surveyed countries.

Am Sam Ath, Monitoring Manager of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), said the government’s rejection of the report has become a normal response as the authorities believe the evaluation is biased and political.

“The government usually rejects civil society groups’ reports as well,” he said.

Nevertheless, Sam Ath noted that if in the future Cambodia improves the practice of the rule of law, but still gets low scores like these past few years, it would then show that the evaluation of the situation in Cambodia is suspiciously unreasonable.

The WJP does not only evaluate Cambodia, but most countries around the world, and the evaluation isn’t based on the state’s political system but on the practical situation of the rule of law in each state, Sam Ath explained. 

The index considers the justice system as a whole: the level of independence of the courts, how the law is being enforced and the human rights being considered, whether the corruption rate is high and the three branches of power – legislative, executive, and judicial – are independent, or how democracy is enforced in practice.

“The fact that the government dismissed the report by saying it is based on political tendency is not a good image for Cambodia. Authorities should check the report to review the lacking points of the country and try to improve them. That will be beneficial to Cambodia as a democratic country,” he said.

Since the index’s first edition in 2015, Cambodia’s scores have been declining continuously. It has also been ranked second-to-last every year since 2016, only ahead of Venezuela.

“The focus should be on improving the practice of the rule of law,” stressed Sam Ath. “If there is a remarkable improvement [in the country] yet the scores remain low, then we will see if the report is really biased.”

The ranking of regional countries is fairly disparate: While Cambodia comes 139th and Myanmar 132nd, Vietnam and Thailand are in the middle of the ranking at the 84th and 80th position respectively. Singapore ranks 17th, Malaysia is 55th, Indonesia comes 64th and the Philippines is 97th. No data is available for Lao and Brunei.

The top-ranked countries are Denmark, Norway, and Finland.

The U.S. ranked 26th and China 95th.

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