Independence of the Bar in Cambodia: Re KONG Sam Onn | Letter

21 May 2009

Chiv Song Hak, President, Bar Council
Members of the Bar Council
Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia
Nº. 1011Eo, Croix Rouge Khmere (St. 180)
12211 Phnom Penh Cambodia
Fax 023 213 658
Email to:,,,,

Dear Mr. Chiv Song Hak and Members of the Bar Council,

RE: Independence of the Bar in Cambodia

I am writing on behalf of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a committee of Canadian lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by providing support to lawyers and other human rights defenders in danger because of their advocacy.

We wish to offer our moral support to the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia in fulfilling its function to uphold and defend the independence of the legal profession from interference by those acting on behalf of members of the executive branch of government.

As you know, the independence of the Bar is protected by Article 1 of the Law on the Bar, which states: “The lawyer’s profession is an independent and autonomous profession involved in serving justice and may only be pursued from within the framework of the Bar Association.” In addition, Article 1 of the Code of Ethics for Lawyers Licensed with the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia states in paragraph 3: “Professional installations must assure the respect for the principles of dignity and independence and guaranty professional confidentiality.” These provisions are consistent with the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990), which uphold the basic purpose of the principle of the independence of the bar, which is to protect clients’ legal rights, particularly their human rights, which are also specifically upheld by Cambodia’s Constitution. The UN Rules and all other international principles concerning lawyers and the rule of law insist that lawyers must be free to accept cases and represent clients regardless of the political causes or affiliations of the client. Lawyers must be free to take cases to independent courts for impartial adjudication without interference from politicians or other embers of the executive.

It has been drawn to our attention that Mr. Ky Tech, a lawyer who we understand represents Prime Minister Hun Sen, has made a complaint of professional misconduct against a lawyer, Mr. Kong Sam Onn. We understand that Mr. Kong has been retained by Ms. Mu Suchua, an opposition Member of Parliament, to represent her in a case of defamation she has instructed to be filed against Prime Minister Hun Sen regarding defamatory statements Ms. Mu alleges Mr. Hun Sen made against her. We understand that Prime Minister Hun Sen has made a counter claim of defamation against Ms. Mu Suchua, as well as her lawyer, Mr. Kong Sam Onn. The particular facts of this case in the Cambodian context provide us with significant concern that the complaint against Mr. Kong Sam Onn may be based not on any legitimate concern about Mr. Kong’s professional conduct. Rather we are concerned by allegations and an appearance that the allegations against Mr. Kong are intended to influence the course of the defamation case.

We understand that the BAKC has commenced an investigation into Mr. Kong Sam Onn’s conduct, which could lead to serious disciplinary actions including Mr. Kong Sam Onn’s debarment. We understand that the matter is now before the BAKC Disciplinary Council.

We sincerely and respectfully hope that the BAKC and its Disciplinary Council will not be used inappropriately in any attempt by the executive branch of government to harass or influence a lawyer who is performing his professional duties on behalf of his client. We also hope that the BAKC will not be subject to any undue influence in its own deliberations or findings. We join with others concerned about the independence of the bar and the rule of law in Cambodia in urging the BAKC to ensure that it does everything possible to uphold its independence and withstands any and all external pressure. Since the complaint to the BAKC appears to be interconnected with the defamation counterclaim that has been lodged against Mr. Kong Sam Onn, we respectfully suggest that the BAKC consider holding any investigation in abeyance until the court has made its findings in the defamation case. We also urge the BAKC to take all possible steps to ensure that Mr. Kong receives a fair and impartial trial.

As lawyers, we wish to offer our support to Members of the BAKC Bar Council in their important work to uphold the dignity and independence of the legal profession. Please feel free to contact us at any time.

Yours sincerely,

Gail Davidson
Executive Director
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

cc. Mr. Suon Visal
Secretary General,
Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia email:

cc. Mr. Ky Tech,
Former President,
Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia email:

cc. Mr. Say Bory
Former President
Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia,

cc. Mr. Sok Sam Oeun,
Cambodia Defenders Program
Phnom Penh, Cambodia email:

cc. Mr. Run Saray,
Legal Aid Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia email: