Thursday, January 28, 2016

# 184 Time running out for Mr Fletcher to submit documents to the Supreme Court

The times of publication on this blog are Unites States Times – at least 12 hours behind Cambodia times. This is being published at 11 am, Friday 29th Jan Cambodia time – 6 hours before Mr Fletcher’s deadline to submit papers to the Supreme Court.

Phillip Hammond
Foreign Secretary
Parliamentary House of Commons

29th Jan 2016

Dear Mr Hammond

Only a few hours remain before Mr Fletcher must deliver the relevant papers to the Supreme Court. If he fails to meet the deadline he will have missed his last opportunity of a fair trial and will die in jail.

With Mr Fletcher’s death the FCO’s role in his pursuit and prosecution, in particular the destruction of his passport, will be of little interest to anyone. This seems to be the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s preferred outcome. And the FCO is not alone. Naly Pilorge, Scott Neeson and others who would be embarrassed (to say the least) if Mr Fletcher were to receive a fair trial and certain truths revealed, will breathe a sign of relief.

The FCO’s treatment of Mr Fletcher has not only revealed your callous disregard for the legal and human rights of a citizen of the United Kingdom, it has also laid bare the UK’s hypocrisy when it comes to human rights.

Consider this, published by the British Embassy in Phnom Penh just 8 days ago, on 21st Jan:

Call for bids: 2016/17 Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy

The British Embassy is pleased to announce that we are now accepting bids for new project concepts for Cambodia under the FCO’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy.

The Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, previously known as The Human Rights and Democracy Programme, is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s strategic programme dedicated to the UK’s global human rights and democracy work.
Through targeted projects overseas, it supports the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It aims to further British interests by supporting high-impact projects which promote institution-building, target universal issues and the underlying causes of human rights problems.

The programme invites proposals that support:
-       Democratic values and the rule of law;
-       The rules-based international order; and
-       Human rights for a stable world

2016-17 bidding round in Cambodia

We are looking for creative and original project ideas, for innovative activities that will have the greatest impact on improving human rights in Cambodia.

We are less interested in proposals which focus purely on seminars, workshops or the production of research reports as ends in themselves. Instead, proposals should include action-oriented ideas which will bring about concrete outcomes.

This reads well. Yes, there have been enough seminars, workshops and research reports. Now is a time for action; for the FCO to demonstrate that it is committed to action in the real world and not merely the mouthing of well worn platitudes.

Is there a lesson to be learnt from the shoddy way in which the FCO has dealt with Mr Fletcher’s case?

Imagine if the FCO had decided, at any time in the past five years, to take an interest in the human and legal rights of Mr Fletcher; his right to a fair trial.

Yes, I do understand that the British Embassy (regardless of what goes on behind the scenes in the real world of international diplomacy) cannot be seen to be trying to interfere in the administration of the Cambodian justice. However, the Embassy could have sent a representative to Mr Fletcher’s in camera (secret) trial back in 2011 and observed. The FCO could have noted in a published report, in the most diplomatically way necessary or appropriate, that there were aspects of the way in Mr Fletcher’s secret trial was conducted that were of concern to the UK government. The Embassy’s ‘concerns’ could have been in the public arena.

The same applies with subsequent court appearances of Mr Fletcher in which it has been blindingly obvious to anyone in attendance that the Cambodian Code of Criminal procedure was not adhered to.

Being a witness to and acknowledging breaches of human and legal rights is a necessary first step in the improvement of those rights in a country like Cambodia. If there is no witness (and there very often isn’t) the courts can behave as they like or as they have been instructed, with no fear of exposure.

When the judges look out into the court room and see that there is no representative of the British Embassy present, they know full well that the UK government does not care about the fate of one of its citizens and can deliver whatever form of justice they choose – regardless of Cambodian law.  In short, if the judges wish to abrogate pretty well every part of the Code of Criminal Procedure, they know that the UK Embassy will say nothing.

Impunity will continue to inform the decisions made by judges for as long as there are no witnesses to their actions.

It is now too late for the FCO to help Mr Fletcher. However, the next time a British citizen finds himself (or herself) in Mr Fletcher’s position, denied a fair trial, the very least the FCO could do would be to monitor their progress through the court and to keep track of how the case is dealt with by the Cambodian judiciary. The mere presence of such a person could have a positive impact on the administration of justice.

Perhaps the FCO could spend some of the money earmarked for human rights work on employing an Ombudsman-like observer who could keep track of cases such as Mr Fletcher’s (and Matt Harland’s), merely reporting the facts. Call this small NGO ‘Court Watch’ or something along these lines. Court Watch’s role would merely be to bear witness to what takes place in court – not just in the case of UK citizens but of Cambodians also who get caught up in a corrupt judicial system.

The role of Court Watch would not be to advocate; merely to report; to see to it that all facts relevant to cases it reports on are made available to anyone who is interested. In one of Mr Fletcher’s hearings, for instance, there was only one journalist present (no-one from the British Embassy) and no record was made of the proceedings by the court. In this instance, the judges adjourned for 15 minutes and returned with a six page summation of the case that had clearly been written before the court proceedings commenced. There will be no independent record of this having taken place. And there should be – not just for Mr Fletcher but for others denied natural justice.

Court Watch’s should not include any interpretation of the facts. Its role would merely be to observe and record impartially. 

This is, of course, a part of the media’s role, but realistically it is simply not possible for newspapers to put in the time and effort necessary to track any more than a small number of cases of interest.

What I have suggested in broad brushstrokes here would not amount to interference.

I would like to add, having observed the Cambodian judiciary fairly closely this past 15 months in the case of Mr Fletcher, that it seems there are two diametrically opposed forces in operation. On the hand hand there are those within the system who want to see it reformed. On the other there are those who do not want the status quo to change as this would impact in a negative way on their income and lifestyle. And for certain NGOs reform of the judiciary would make it much more difficult for them manipulate the judiciary to their own advantage.

In as quiet, subtle and diplomatically appropriate way, Court Watch (of some similar body) could be cheering from the sidelines as improvements are made and, through the mere publication of facts relating to cases, be admonishing those who wish to retain the status quo.

best wishes

James Ricketson

# 183 The Foreign & Commonwealth Office abandons Mr Fletcher to his fate

This is a slightly abridged version of a a letter sent to Mr Phillip Hammond 3 days ago. There has been no response. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office refuses to communicate with either Mr Fletcher or myself!

Phillip Hammond
Foreign Secretary
Parliamentary House of Commons

25th Jan 2016

Dear Mr Hammond

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office refuses to communicate with Mr Fletcher. Your staff refuse to communicate with me also, despite Mr Fletcher having given me his power of attorney.

The ostensible reason for this fatwa is that Mr Fletcher writes too many letters; asks too many questions. He does this because, as is the case with my own correspondence, his questions are never answered.

Mr Fletcher has been granted the right to make a submission to the Supreme Court. This is the good news.

The not-so-good news is that he was given a 20 day deadline to do so and the deadline expires in 5 days. With no money at all (barely enough to buy food) and with communication into and out of the prison close to impossible, meeting this deadline is proving problematic. It may prove impossible.

As I am not in Cambodia I am not in a position to assist him in getting the documents to the Supreme Court by 29th Jan….

What the FCO says it will do for British citizens and what it will actually do are two quite different things!

I am not sure how the Supreme Court can be approached with a request for a two week extension and I am certainly not in a position, in Australia, to find out. I am sure, however, that the British Embassy in Phnom Penh could, if it so chose, make a request to the court for an extension, citing the difficulty a UK citizen with no money and inadequate access to communication tools, has in preparing a submission. If such an extension can be granted I will fly to Cambodia in the next ten or so days and find a lawyer who is prepared to act on instructions and not conduct the case in secrecy.

If the British Embassy in Phnom Penh cannot provide Mr Fletcher with any assistance in either getting his documents to court in time or requesting for a time extension I would appreciate it if you let me know so that I can try, at this last minute, to find someone in Phnom Penh who can assist him.

best wishes

James Ricketson