Justice and money

Time and again there are allegations that the court system is working but justice is not served in Cambodia because of special, unofficial payments which have an influence on the speed with which court cases are handled, and also on their outcome. Much of this appears in the form of allegations and rumors which cannot be verified easily. There is the expectation that the Anti-Corruption Unit, established in 2010, will gradually bring more light into these dark affairs.

All this is related to illegal activities.

But there are also legal activities where money has a deep influence on legal procedures. I will bring an international example.

I am not aware of bail regulations in Cambodia, but I would appreciate if people knowing details and facts would share them in the Comments section.

The former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is at present under house arrest in the USA, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel servant. I am not getting here into discussing the accusation in this case, but only some related financial aspects.

First of all: where did the alleged crime happen? It is reported that Dominique Strauss-Kahn stayed in the Sofitel Hotel near New York’s Time Square, in a room which costs US$3,000 per night. Right: US$3,000!

Of course nobody would expect that this high official would find a $30 room in guest house. Maybe US$300 would be enough for a high class hotel room? Or, if such a room would still not have all the facilities and comfort necessary to keep a functionary of global caliber working and happy, maybe one or two more 100 dollar bills might be added to the US$300 I would have estimated. But US$3,000 – far beyond my imagination.

In Phnom Penh, there is a long struggle going on around the Boeung Kak Lake. It is not the International Monetary Fund that is involved, but the parallel organization World Bank. Just to share a report:

The League of Boeung Kak Women Struggling for Housing Rights

Srey Pov has been living in village 24, Boeung Kak Lake for more than ten years. She and her husband bought the property and have the legal documents to prove it. She is one of the community representatives, along with Ly Mom, Tep Vanny, Kung Chantha and several other women. What is interesting about them is the fact that they are all women. There are very few male representatives, and none as outspoken, driven or principled as those that make up ‘The League of Boeung Kak Women Struggling for Housing Rights.’

They have been fighting against the developer Shukaku Inc., a company owned by Ly Meng Khin, a ruling party senator and close ally of Hun Sen, in order to secure on site housing, rather than be evicted to Damnak Treung, or accepting the $8,500 cash compensation being offered.

Three nights at US$3,000 for one person in that hotel in New York – and it is already more than the US$8,500 offered for legally bought land, and the home developed on it during more than ten years.

Even the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank Considered the Inspection Panel Report on the Cambodia Land Management and Administration Project on 8 March 2011:

Washington, 8 March 2011 – The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors met today to discuss an Inspection Panel investigation of the Cambodia Land Management and Administration Project and the proposals of World Bank Management responding to the findings of the Inspection Panel.

The Panel Investigation report notes that the Project “undoubtedly benefited about one million households,” and recognizes “this important achievement of the Land Management and Administration Project.” The project provided 1.24 million predominantly poor Cambodians with land titles and its goal was to provide fair and transparent access to land in a country where property rights were destroyed through decades of conflict. The report agrees with the view that securing land rights is critical to sustained poverty reduction in Cambodia.

The Panel also found there were problems, many of which Management identified in an earlier report in 2009. Residents in the Boeung Kak Lake area were denied access to due process of adjudication of their property claims and were displaced in violation of the policies the Bank agreed with the Government for handling resettlement. Management did not adequately follow up on strengthening public awareness and community participation, and there were delays in implementing dispute resolution mechanisms and the assistance to improve state land management. The Panel also found management was too slow to respond to the evictions.

“We are deeply troubled and frustrated about the people who are being forced from their homes. We have been working hard to try and help them, with an action plan offering the Government financing and technical advice to find practical solutions. We are open to other ways to help these people. We have repeatedly called on the Government to end the evictions. We are seeking a positive Government response,” said World Bank President, Robert Zoellick…

The residents of Boeung Kak Lake alleged that evictions were being carried out in violation of the agreed Resettlement Policy Framework established under the Land Management and Administration Project, and applicable to the eviction of people from state land in project titling areas…

The project was designed to support the first phase of the Government of Cambodia’s long-term plan to build a modern land administration system, by improving land tenure security and promoting the development of efficient land markets. Canada, Finland and Germany provided co-financing to the project…

The Government canceled financing for the project on 7 September 2009 after the Bank suggested joint suspension of the project pending discussions on the application of its safeguard policies for handling resettlement issues.

Going forward, the Bank seeks to pursue high-level engagement with the Government of Cambodia and Development Partners to support affected communities in a manner that responds to their development and livelihood needs. Management proposed to report back to the Board on the implementation of the Action Plan within 60 days.

That was on 8 March 2011. I am not aware of the report back, which had been due on 8 May 2011.

And I am not aware that the affected people are receiving financial assistance to pay legal costs to continue defending their claims, based on their understanding of the Cambodian land law, which gives rights to people who have lived on land for a certain number of years without legal challenge.

But in the meantime, the accused former head of the International Monetary Fund is released from detention while awaiting trial, after posting a one million dollar bail, staying instead in 24-hour house arrest; it was also reported that the authorities said “it would cost in excess of US$200,000 a month to pay for the tight security to meet the bail conditions.”

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a strong candidate for the next presidential elections in France. These recent developments received wide attention in the French press – one report received the following comments:

In the infamous column in which French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy cried his outrage at the public humiliation inflicted to Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the aftermath of his arrest, one sentence described particularly well the unspoken but unshakeable consensus governing politicians and the law in France. Levy expressed his indignation against: “The American judge who by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.”

The idea that Strauss-Kahn should not be treated as “a subject of justice like any other” remained a leitmotiv through the flood of media reactions to his arrest in France. Because he had more to lose than “a vulgar delinquent” would have in a similar case, the argument went, because of his years of service to the world as head of the International Monetary Fund and because of his prestige as future presidential candidate, he should be given special treatment. His disgrace should be hidden from public view; he should be spared the humiliation and disagreement of handcuffs, detention, and monitoring; and most importantly he should be given the benefit of the doubt.

When somebody – because of money and prestige – is not considered “a subject of justice like any other” the basis of the legal fabric of a society is at stake.
The residents around the Boeung Kak Lake, trying to voice their grievances peacefully, have been subjected to police violence and continue to be under threat.
Some have been beaten, arrested, threatened and intimidated by the police and by staff of the company that got the lease.

One tries to imagine how things would have moved, if both the residents, and those who have been given new rights on the land, would be treated “as subject of justice like any other” – in a way so that most observers could see that this is happening.

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