Law and International LAw


One of my favorite blogs and an excellent one to consider subscribing to if you are interested in the field of International Law, IntLawGrrls, covered the passing of former Fletcher School professor, Ellen Lutz, today.

I have never met Ellen Lutz but I found her life’s work and the sense of her character that came through in this article to be very inspiring. As a Fletcher student interested in human rights law, a follower of Cultural Survival‘s work and campaigns, and as someone who hopes to find a life of balance while working in this field I feel so passionate about, her story is one I will hold close as a role model.

Ellen Lutz, photo credit: Intlawgrrls

In passing: Ellen L. Lutz

Ellen L. Lutz, an international human rights lawyer, teacher, and activist, died this past Thursday, November 4, at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The cause was metastatic breast cancer. She was 55.

During her final two years battling the disease, Ellen directed the Cambridge-based human rights organization Cultural Survival, co-edited two pioneering books (Prosecuting Heads of State, (Cambridge U. Press) and Human Rights and Conflict Management in Context (Syracuse U. Press), submitted formal reviews on state behavior to the UN Human Rights Council, led international litigation on behalf of Panama’s threatened Nobe Indians, and sang alto with the Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus. She did each with equal enthusiasm and skill.

Her concern for human rights began when, as a 15-year-old exchange student to Uruguay, she witnessed the onset of Uruguay’s state sponsored “Dirty War,” and supported the international human rights movements such actions spawned across Latin American during the 1970s. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Temple University (1976) and obtaining a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr (1978), Ellen took a Law Degree in International Law and Human Rights from Boalt Hall Law School (University of California at Berkeley) in 1985.

Ellen’s persistent interest in Latin America continued as professional work with Amnesty International (1979-81), in Washington, D.C., and in San Francisco.

She later headed the California office of Human Rights Watch (1989-94), where she conducted research and published on little-known but extensive human rights abuses in Mexico, and she was co-counsel in two groundbreaking human rights cases in U.S. courts, against the infamous Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Argentine General Suarez-Mason.

Moving with her family to Westborough, Massachusetts, in 1994, she helped to set up and then served as Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, taught international law. human rights, and mediation at Tufts, Harvard and the University of Massachusetts, and wrote widely. One of her students, now a professor at Occidental College, recalled how
warm and desirous she was of connecting to students amid the formal Fletcher iciness, a marvelous force of nature.

Ellen was asked to become Executive Director of Cultural Survival in 2004, where she increased the participation of indigenous people on the Board of Directors and Program Council, while steering the organization away from local development projects to broad human rights initiatives. Ellen said:

Development work like building schools, digging wells, and providing services is what governments should be doing. Our work is to make sure governments live up to their obligations.

One of her colleagues wrote,

It would be difficult to quantify Ellen’s ferocious passion for justice. Her zeal and natural warm-heartedness combined with a legal rigor that made her a truly formidable advocate.
There was much of such personal and professional praise. But, perhaps the most encompassing and, for Ellen, meaningful compliment came from Stella Tamang, a Nepalese tribal leader and friend:

To Ellen, my Kalyana Mitra,
In Buddhism Kalyana means Wellbeing and Mitra means friend. Kalyana Mitra therefore means friends who always think about their wellbeing. You have been such wonderful friend, a constant support during the problems I was facing about the political problem back in Nepal. We also talked about family, our children, and life. I am blessed to have a friend like you. We believe that if a person has done good Karma, he or she gets to meet with wonderful people, and you are the one for me…

And Ellen was not a Buddhist. Ellen is survived by her husband, Theodore Macdonald, an anthropologist previously with Cultural Survival and now with Harvard University, and her two children from a previous marriage, David and Julia Randall, now studying at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard, respectively. Her cat, Misty, and dog, Churi, are well taken care of. Her friends, among them many women human rights lawyers, are grateful to her for her wise counsel and unflagging dignity. All are thankful to their Kalyana Mitra.

By: Naomi Roht-Arriaza of Intlawgrrls

"Sea of Trees" Mondulkiri, Cambodia

Traveling through Mondulkiri province in the northern highlands of Cambodia earlier this month, I found myself on the top of a hillside, taking in deep breaths of crisp fresh air, and enjoying the peaceful view onto the “sea of trees”. But somewhere in the back of my head I was thinking about the terrible stories I’ve heard about deforestation in Cambodia and couldn’t help wondering if this was an anomaly, or how long these trees would be there?

Cambodia is ranked the 3rd worst country for deforestation rates in the world.  I’ve heard people in Phnom Penh say, where you would once find vast forests in the northern regions of the country, there are now long stretches of green plains, hills, and farmland.

Cropland in Mondulkiri

The causes of deforestation have evolved with the changing political and economic climate in Cambodia, with timber sales funding the Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent wars, in addition to local needs for additional cropland and daily supplies of firewood for cooking.  According to the World Wildlife Organization, “the Lower Mekong Dry Forests once blanketed north-eastern Thailand, southern Laos, Cambodia and parts of Vietnam but a majority has been cleared for farming.”

More than 80 percent of Cambodia’s population lives in the countryside and depends on subsistence farming. “[Today] the main cause of the loss of forest is the increase in the population” said Deputy Governor Leng Vuth in a 2010 UNDP report, “we now have 70,000 residents compared to 10,000 – a seven-fold increase in a 10-year period.”

Our tourist guide's home

While visiting Mondulkiri, I asked a tour guide familiar with the region whether he kew if the forests were being protected or not.  He said there are now vast stretches of land where it is prohibited for people to cut down certain species of trees. He pointed to a checkpoint as we passed one alongside the road and said, “that’s where police stop cars and trucks to make sure they do not have any of the illegal [kinds of] lumber in their cargo.” “And if they do?” I asked. “If they do find that expensive kind of [prohibited] tree, you will have to pay,” he said, uttering expletives about government corruption, he continued, “so you still can cut down the illegal kinds [of lumber] but you will have to pay [the police].”

According to a recent article in the Phnom Penh Post, illegal logging continues despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s efforts to make clear he would no longer tolerate military involvement in the facilitation of illegal logging. His announcement of a crackdown on all illegal logging has been largely ignored as a lack of enforcement, local official’s involvement in it, their implicit impunity, and a back-log of legal cases that would hold individuals accountable for illegal logging, all seem to contribute to a continuation of the status quo. It is clear that the current laws alone are not enough to halt natural resource destruction in the Cambodia’s forests.

International organizations including the WWF are working in the Mondulkiri and neighboring northeastern provinces where most of the wildlife crimes take place to help enforce the environmental protection in the region.  One of the guides  told us that teams from these international organizations spend weeks camped out in protected areas sleeping in hammocks deep in the forest in order to investigate suspected violations of the regulations.  As is often the case with enforcing national laws at the local level, the central government lacks presence and sometimes access to the region, and so international organizations work to fill the gap. When I asked what role the local government plays in protecting the forests he said, “the local government… we do not know. We do not know their plan.”


Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Cambodia hit the international news circuit this week with the announcement of a verdict in the first case before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of  Cambodia (ECCC or “E triple C”) convicting Kaing Guek Eav (alias “Duch”), head of the infamous S-21 Toul Slang prison, of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentencing him to 35 years in prison.  The sentence received mixed reactions from Cambodians and the international community, ranging from pride for completing the trial to outrage for the leniency and omission of certain victims’ claims.  Still others believe it is too late for “justice”, the accused are old, well-fed in prison, and even if found guilty they will hardly be punished, and argue the money could be better spent invested in the people of Cambodia today.

Interrogation Room at the Toul Sleng Prison, Phnom Penh

What is the ECCC?

The ECCC is one of several international criminal tribunals established for the purpose of trying individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide within the countries where those atrocities took place. Similar courts were established in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, East Timor, and Sierra Leone. These courts have been established in one of three ways: 1) by coercion through the Security Council (ICTY & ICTR) 2) by consent with a host government (ECCC), or 3) as part of a transitional administration (East Timor & Kosovo).

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is a hybrid court system established in an agreement between the Cambodian government and the United Nations. It is a Cambodian Court, established through the domestic court system (rather than by UN resolution or treaty under the Rome Statute). It follows international legal standards  and is considered “extraordinary”  in that it applies not only the Cambodian Criminal Code (e.g. murder, torture, religious persecution) but also International Laws (e.g. genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes) as well.

The court is comprised of 3 Cambodian lawyers and 2 International (UN-appointed) lawyers,  4 Cambodian and 3 internationally-appointed judges, and business is conducted in Khmer, English, and French.  It is the first international tribunal using a Civil Law legal system.

The hybrid courts of the ECCC took many years of negotiation between the Cambodian government and the United Nations to establish and have received plenty of criticism along the way.  Most notably for their failure to contain (perceived) outside political interference by the ruling party, and inability to address conflicts of opinion and judgment between the Cambodian and International representatives of the court. In the most recent incident, in response to the International Investigating Judge’s pressure to decide,  the Cambodian Investigating Judge signed and then later crossed-out his rugatory signature endorsing the investigations into additional Khmer Rouge Trial cases known as 003 and 004. These cases are believed by some to involve charges against officials connected to members of the current ruling party and thus are politically unpopular. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been public with his view against further investigations for fear they could lead to political instability or even internal war.

Transitional Justice

Nevertheless there is a lot to be said in favor of the ECCC, not only for their role in holding individuals accountable for the heinous crimes they allegedly committed under the Khmer Rouge regime. The courts, in conjunction with Cambodian NGOs, have worked to incorporate Cambodian people into the process of the courts.  When the trials first began there were over 31,000 people who wanted to be a part of the process by attending the trial. They organized busses from the provinces and they now do even more outreach to villages and schools, offering tours of the Toul Slang Museum and the ECCC premises free of charge.

In addition, many people believe the ECCC court sets an important example for accountability and the rule of law, with hopes that by holding the courts to international legal standards and practices, they may be helping to pave some of the road in Cambodia’s transitional justice process as well.

In fact just days before the announcement of a verdict in Duch’s case, the Cambodian government allowed the first public screening of “Enemies of the People”, a film with incredible footage of intimate interviews with individuals in charge of mass killings in the countryside, and some of the most senior Khmer Rouge officials, including Nua Chau aka “Brother Two” who worked side by side with Pol Pot in leading the regime during the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979.

Filmmaker Thet Sambath

In a post-screening discussion with filmmakers,  Thet Sambath and British documentarian Rob Lemkin, I began to think about other methods of healing and transformation that might be important for Cambodia as a nation, as a people, and for individuals alone to overcome the tragedies that took place during the Khmer Rouge.  It became apparent that the film, in its ability to illuminate truths that have so long been denied by those in the Khmer Rouge regime, and its screening in Cambodian communities around the world, could be one important step in that transformation.

For all of its challenges along the way, it seems at least for some, the ECCC is certainly another one of those steps in that process as well.

First off… Happy Birthday to my wonderful Papa Dan! Biggest news of the day in my sphere is my dad turning an impressive 65 today! Wisdom speaks louder than words and his will continue always to echo in my ears.

As many of you have seen, the international news from the Cambodia front has been the announcement of (alias) Duch’s judgement at the EC on Monday. I’ve included a few items and hope to post something myself later this week. Until then, here are some news stories from this past week!

Photo by: Pha Lina

Exam monitors ‘take money’

By: Khouth Sophakchakrya, July 28, 2010

THE head of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association yesterday accused officials in Kandal province of ordering teachers administering Grade 12 national exams to take money from students, part of what he described as worsening corruption surrounding the three-day tests.

Convicted Khmer Rouge prison chief to appeal: lawyer

By Suy Se in AFP, July 27, 2010

Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch will appeal against his conviction by Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes tribunal, which sentenced him to 30 years in jail, his defence lawyer said Tuesday. Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the court on Monday in a ruling that has been hailed as a “historic milestone” in tackling impunity in the country.

Cambodian women rally behind condemned opposition MP Mu Sochua

By: Observers, July 27, 2010

Mu Sochua, a female MP of Cambodia’s opposition Sam Rainsy Party, faces jail for refusing to pay 4,000 dollars in fines and compensation on a conviction last year for allegedly defaming prime minister Hun Sen. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called the proceedings against her an example of the “alarming erosion” of Cambodia’s free speech and judicial independence.

Photo by: Chor Sokunthea

Cambodian garment workers clash with police

By Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, July 27, 2010

At least nine female garment workers were injured on Tuesday in clashes with Cambodian riot police who used shields and electric shock batons to try to end a week-long strike over the suspension of a local union official.

Press Release: Kaing Guek Eav Convicted of Crimes Against Humanity and Grave Breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949

By: ECCC, July 26, 2010

The Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) today found KAING Guek Eav alias Duch guilty of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and sentenced him to 35 (thirty-five) years of imprisonment.

Duch gets 35 (- 5) years

By: IntLawGrrls, July 26, 2010

So says the presiding judge of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, in Khmer, in this 10-minute video clip of today’s verdict against Kaing Guek Eav (alias Duch), about whose trial we’ve blogged here. The 67-year-old Duch, stoic during the reading of the verdict, was convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, and torture, and sentenced to “35 years in prison — with five years taken off that sentence for time served.”

Cambodia: The Official Launch of the First Online Human Rights Portal

By: Sopheap Chak in Global Voices Online, July 26, 2010

Sithi.org, a Cambodian human rights portal that aims to crowdsource and curate reports of human rights violations, officially launched on July 22, 2010 with participation from various institutions including embassies, international and local NGOs, media and university representatives. Over the past year, the site has developed rapidly. A number of reports of human rights violations, relevant legal instruments and publications have been made available on the site.

Irish photographer recalls day he found KRouge torturer

By: AFP, July 24, 2010

In March 1999 an old man wandered up to an Irish photographer on his day off in a village in Cambodia. It was Duch, the torture chief of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime who many assumed was long dead.

Cambodian Ruling Party’s Plenum Reaffirms Hun Sen for PM Post in Next Terms

By: CRI English, July 22, 2010

The Cambodia’s ruling party — the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on Thursday reaffirmed at it plenum Hun Sen’s candidate for prime minister post for the next terms. “The plenum reaffirms its endorsement of Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen’s candidacy for the post of prime minister for the next terms,” announced the party’s communique released at the ending of the 35th Plenum of the Fifth-Term Central Committee of the CPP.

The Old Municipal Building

I first heard about Mu Sochua[i] when my mother forwarded me “Crusader Rowing Upstream in Cambodia”[ii] a New York Times article profiling her campaigns for women’s rights, land rights, and reelection to parliament which have led to political and legal entanglements with the current Prime Minister.  Now hardly a week goes by where Mu Sochua’s name does not appear in the newspaper.

The court battles began back in April, 2009 when Mu Sochua alleges the Prime Minister referred to her as “cheung klang,” a Khmer term which translates to “strong legs” in English. The term is typically used in reference to men and is understood to mean “gangster” making it especially insulting towards a woman. Mu Sochua contended the statement affected her “honor and dignity”[iii] and set forth to “claim justice for all Khmer women,” by suing the Prime Minister for defamation. The case was never heard before the courts, dismissed for lack of evidence.

Following the dismissal, both Mu Sochua and her lawyer Kong Sam Onn were accused by Prime Minister Hun Sen of defamation for having brought forth the defamation case against him in the first place. News reports indicate Kong Sam Onn was threatened with disbarment and subsequently dropped Mu Sochua’s case, apologized publically to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and formally joined the ruling Communist People’s Party (CPP).[iv]

Mu Sochua’s case is an interesting look into the intersection of politics and law and may be indicative of the reality in Cambodia today. I had the unique opportunity to observe Mu Sochua’s appeals trial at the Supreme Court on June 2nd, 2010. The following is an account of my experience in court that day. Much of the information is based on the translated summaries and subsequent discussions I had with a first-year student at the University of Law and Economics in Phnom Penh who also attended the trial.

*             *             *             *             *

Early morning crowds observe across the street

I arrived at the Old Municipal Building early on June 2nd, 2010. As I got off the moto, dripping in sweat from the hot morning sun, I found the street filled with small clusters of military and police authorities chatting and observing the crowd.  Having had arrived to Cambodia just one week earlier, I felt a bit intimidated by the police presence and unsure of the procedure for attending court. After scanning the crowd for others I might know, I slipped behind a reporter, handed my ID to the guard, and allowed my bag to be searched. Without any questions I managed to squeeze through a set of double wooden doors as they were closing behind the overfilled courtroom.

Shortly after finding a spot on the floor the first trial began.  Court proceedings are held in Khmer and for some moments I listened, uncomprehending, while NGO and media attendees leaned into their Cambodian colleagues for translation. I noticed a young man in front of me reading a copy of The Cambodian Daily[v], tapped him on his shoulder and whispered, “What is he saying?” referring to the judge at the front of the room. He explained the first case was a land dispute involving a rural landowner and the state.

Less than an hour passed before the first trial concluded and Mu Sochua was called before the court. It is important to note that Ms. Sochua was not accompanied by legal representation. According to her testimony, Mu Sochua sought representation but was not able to find a lawyer due to the troubles faced by her previous counsel. According to the Cambodian Civil Procedures, under Appeals before the Supreme Court [§5.40] it is stated that “All parties may be represented by their lawyers.”[vi] However, lawyers are only required for appearances by the accused in felony cases. The question of representation was never resolved during the trial. The prosecution asserted that Ms. Sochua should not be granted a court-appointed lawyer because she could afford one of her own. When Ms. Sochua contested that, due to the treatment of her previous lawyer, no other lawyer was willing to represent her, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s lawyer argued that she could not be sure of that because did not ask every lawyer in Cambodia. And so, after a formal reading by the Court Clerk, representing her own defense, a formal statement was prepared and delivered before the court by Mu Sochua herself.

During her statement, Mu Sochua  spoke about the importance of justice for women in Cambodia. She emphasized that her case was not about herself alone, but rather symbolized the value of all Cambodian women, and of women worldwide.  During her testimony Ms. Sochua also referenced the law: the Cambodian constitution and international standards of freedom of speech, human rights, and the rights of the child, all of which are incorporated under Cambodian law.  She also referred to Cambodian procedural law, under which the accused have the right to representation, drawing attention to the fact that the courts did not appoint her a public defender, despite her wish to be represented by a lawyer.

Following Ms. Sochua’s statement, the Prime Minister’s lawyer presented arguments on behalf of the Prime Minister, who was not present for the trial.  His main argument was that by suing the Prime Minister for only 500 Riel (roughly USD 13 cents) Mu Sochua’s defamation case was not made in good faith but rather with the bad intentions of creating a spectacle and thereby defaming the Prime Minister. Secondly, if Mu Sochua indeed represented all Cambodian women, then all Cambodian women must agree with her and find the actions of the Prime Minister objectionable. Third, he claimed that Mu Sochua further defamed the Prime Minister by reaching out to international women’s organizations to support her case. Forth, in defense of Prime Minster Hun Sen’s absence at court, his lawyer proclaimed that if the court wanted the PM present they should have gone to the Ministry Council and request his presence several days in advance (in order to allow for security to secure the premises). This was followed by audible laughter from the audience who view the argument as a weak explanation for the Prime Minister’s absence and believe the Supreme Court premises could have been secured had the PM decided to attend the trial.

There was no cross examination and little to no questioning of either side by the 5-judge panel of the court.  The court recessed for about 30-40 minutes before returning with a verdict to uphold the original decision by the Municipal Court in finding Mu Sochua guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and ordering her to pay an approximately 8 million Riel fine. The Supreme Court is the highest court in Cambodia and is considered the court of last resort and therefore their judgment is the final binding decision unless under a special procedure they are asked to consider a revision of a case decision.

Mu Sochua Speaking to the Press

Outside the courtroom Mu Sochua’s energy was high as she stood surrounded by media and supporters holding single candles, a symbol of the Sam Raimsey political party. Police officials stood off to the side as she delivered a defeated yet defiant speech, first in Khmer, and then again in English for the international NGO and media presence. She discussed the failures of the Cambodian judicial system and lack of freedom of speech within the nation. She said her verdict was evidence that the Cambodian judicial system is not independent of the political ruling party, evidence that the system is not “just” but “justice is for sale”.  She was adamant in her commitment to not pay the court-ordered fine, stating that she “could not, in her conscious, pay such a fine”. She encouraged Cambodians to not live their lives in fear but to stand up to injustices.

Following the press statements Mu Sochua led an impromptu march of supporters from the Old Municipal Building along Sihanouk Blvd. in front of the Royal Palace and past the Ministry of Justice and towards the Sam Raimsey offices.  After a few minutes of walking, a pick-up truck barreled through and police armed in riot gear jumped out and swarmed the crowd of supporters preventing them from walking further. Mu Sochua confronted them directly and with media in tow snapping photos cried, “what is illegal about walking through the city?” After about five minutes of this face-off, the police retreated to their pick-up trucks and drove off allowing the small group of supporters to continue along their way.

Police Preventing Passage

Although the June 2nd incident ended peacefully, there is considerable debate about what will happen next and the drama continues to be played out in the national media with newspapers speculating on the final outcome. Some contend the courts will take action to seize her assets or issue an arrest in order to collect the already overdue 16.5 million Riel fine. Others claim such actions would provoke protest and amplify her cause.

As a student of the Cambodian legal system with a background working in the field of nonviolent conflict I continue to follow the story with great interest. Is Mu Sochua picking a fight with the Prime Minister or is she waging a nonviolent campaign for people’s rights in Cambodia? What precedent might this case set for future cases of defamation and freedom of speech in Cambodia and what can we conclude about political interference in the court system from this case?

As the story continues to unfold, Mu Sochua is ever-persistent in her claims that she will not pay the fine. Upon return from the United States last week she announced yet again, “if they want, they can arrest me any time, my address is already known.”[vii]

Negotiating with the Police


[i] To learn more about Mu Sochua you can visit her website: http://musochua.org/ or facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2881835&id=7906996&ref=mf#!/sochua

[ii] Mydans, Seth “Crusader Rowing Upstream,” New York Times, February 21, 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/world/asia/22cambowomen.html?_r=1)

[iii] Duong Sokha, “Opposition MP Mu Sochua files lawsuit against Hun Sen on grounds of defamation,” Ka-set, April 23, 2009 (http://cambodia.ka-set.info/hot-news/news-mu-sochua-hun-sen-defamation-srp-090423news-mu-sochua-hun-sen-defamation-srp-090423.html)

[iv] “Media, opposition party under fire from Cambodia’s strongman” Southeast Asian Press Alliance, January 23, 2010 (http://www.seapabkk.org/newdesign/newsdetail.php?No=1205)

[v] This daily English newspaper does not currently have an active online presence, but information can be found here: http://www.camnet.com.kh/cambodia.daily/

[vi] International Human Rights Law Group Cambodia Defenders Project, Chapter Five: Appeals, (http://www.globalrights.org/site/DocServer/Cambodia_Ch5.pdf?docID=191) June 9, 2010.

[vii] Meas Sokhea, “Sochua defiant on return”, Phnom Penh Post, July 7, 2010 (http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010070640294/National-news/sochua-defiant-on-return.html)

Cambodian Sex Workers Protest (© 2008 AP Photo)

Cambodia: Sex Workers Face Unlawful Arrests and Detention

Officials Should Investigate and Close Government Centers Where Abuses Occur

By: Human Rights Watch, July 20, 2010

For far too long, police and other authorities have unlawfully locked up sex workers, beaten and sexually abused them, and looted their money and other possessions. The Cambodian government should order a prompt and thorough independent investigation into these systematic violations of sex workers’ human rights and shut down the centers where these people have been abused.

Inflation ‘manageable’ in first half of 2010

By: May Kunmakara in Phnom Penh Post, July 20, 2010

INFLATION, recorded at 5.22 percent in the first half of the year, has grown at a “stable” and “manageable” rate according to commentators. According to National Institute of Statistics consumer price index released yesterday, the first six months of 2010 saw inflation reach 5.22 percent compared to the same period last year. Quarter-on-quarter inflation was slight at 0.3 percent.

US envoy defends military relations with Cambodia

By: AFP, June 19, 2010

A senior US diplomat on Sunday defended relations with allegedly abusive Cambodian military units as he concluded a two-day visit to the capital Phnom Penh. William Burns, US Under-Secretary of State for political affairs, said military aid from the United States to Cambodia was intended to boost a civil-military relationship that was essential to a “healthy political system”.

Sochua at ‘war’ with courts

By: Meas Sokchea in Phonm Penh Post, July 16, 2010

OPPOSITION lawmaker Mu Sochua reaffirmed yesterday that she would refuse to pay fines levied after she was convicted of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen, again daring the government to imprison her for failing to meet a court-ordered payment deadline.

Human rights head ‘seriously concerned’ at pursuit of opposition MP

By: Earth Times, July 16, 2010

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed “serious concern” Tuesday at the Cambodian government’s pursuit of a criminal case against opposition parliamentarian Mu Sochua.

Hundreds of families block land-clearing

By: May Tithara in Phnom Penh Post, July 16, 2010

AROUND 256 families from Kampong Speu province’s Trapaing Chor commune held a sit-down protest in Phlout Leu village yesterday to prevent a sugar firm from clearing their farmland, villagers said. Villager Lot Sovan, who claims to have occupied the land since 2000, said the company began clearing the land at 3:30pm Wednesday. Villagers asked the company to stop, insisting that the dispute over the concession had not been resolved. The villagers then prevented further clearing by protesting yesterday, he said.

Cambodia women see future in sports and big muscles

By: Kounila Keo, Christian Science Monitor, July 16, 2010

Cambodia women are rising fast in the wide world of sports. Pétanque player Duch Sophorn has alone won gold, silver, and bronze medals in international competitions over the past decade.

Photo of Tonle Bassac Commune by Jake SchonEker

Group 78 anniversary rally planned

By: Jake Schoneker and Tang Khyhay in Phnom Peh Post, July 15, 2010

AYEAR ago this week, police and red-shirted demolition workers arrived at dawn on a Friday morning to clear out a tract of land in Tonle Bassac commune known as Group 78. Once a close-knit community of street vendors and civil servants that contained 146 families, the land is now empty, a fenced-in plot of grass and sand. On Saturday, former Group 78 residents plan to reunite and demonstrate at their old home, a year to the day after the last families were forced to abandon the site and scatter to the outskirts of the city.

100,000 Cambodian officials to be required to declare assets as part of anti-corruption fight

By: Canadian Business, July 14, 2010

Some 100,000 government officials in Cambodia will be required to declare their assets this year in an effort to combat corruption, a senior official said Wednesday. Under an anti-corruption law passed in March, any official found guilty of taking bribes could face up to 15 years in prison. Cambodia, a poor country heavily dependent on foreign aid, is routinely listed by independent groups such as Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in Asia.

It’s time I give a proper introduction to what my object and purpose is  in Cambodia this summer.  Here’s an intro to the internship I’m engaged with when not out and about having fun…

Me at the Kampon Speur Court

As a part of my graduate studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy I am spending  13 weeks as a Legal Intern for International Bridges to Justice (IBJ).  IBJ is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization working to provide legal aid in Cambodia. The work of IBJ in Cambodia is threefold: 1) Ensuring that the rights of the accused are respected and providing adequate, well-trained lawyers to represent them 2) Informing the public of their rights as an accused and 3) Putting the laws that are already on the books into practice in the courts.

Some of my colleagues at IBJ, Cambodia

Another one of IBJ’s underlying goals is to eliminate the practice of torture in Cambodia. Torture is well-documented as a form of carrying out criminal investigation and extracting confessions from the accused in Cambodia and many other countries where more complex methods of investigation such as forensic science or even something as simple as fingerprinting are not the norm. The idea is that torture can be prevented or mitigated when the legal system (police, prisons, and courts) are held accountable by the presence of a lawyer representing the accused. Providing lawyers for the accused is not only a way of implementing the legal rights of Cambodian citizens and preventing torture, it is a step towards building the rule of law and strengthening the judicial system.

Courtroom in Kandal Province

The need for legal aid in a country like Cambodia where there is currently no state-sponsored legal aid system (i.e. free lawyers for those who cannot afford one) cannot be understated. Cambodian law includes provisions  that require individuals accused of a felony to be represented by a lawyer. My current understanding is, however, that without NGO-sponsored legal aid lawyers, those who are accused of  crimes (not misdemeanors) would either be tried without legal representation or continue to sit in jail waiting for a lawyer. In some countries legal aid is provided by the government.  Ideally the Cambodian government would support a government-funded legal aid system but currently they do not have the funds or capacity to do so. IBJ continues to work with the Cambodian government towards that goal. In the meantime, a couple of nonprofits like IBJ try their best to fill the gap in legal aid.

Cases (literally) stack-up at court

Working with an organization that supports a small number of lawyers in rural and urban provinces that would otherwise have zero lawyers for the poor is without a doubt a rewarding experience.  Hopefully we are also making important contribution as well. As an intern I am conscious of the balance between the time and energy that interns extract from organizations and companies (and spread beyond the organization and field after they leave) and the time and energy they contribute to that organization or company during their internship. There are five legal interns, a journalist, and a videographer interning with IBJ Cambodia this summer. Both a great presence and seemingly and occasional burden on the small Phnom Penh and rural offices.

Courtroom in Kampong Speu Province

As far as day-to-day work there is a good deal to be done. I spent much of June learning about the Cambodian legal system, the Cambodian context (historical, political, social, etc.) and about IBJ’s approach to providing legal aid, education, and overarching goals of strengthening the legal system and rule of law. In addition to helping to write funding proposals, giving English lessons to some of our Cambodian colleagues, each of the legal is paired to work with one of the IBJ lawyers. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ms. Pheak, accompanying her on prison visits and court dates to see her in action representing the accused at trials in the Kandal and Kampon Speu provinces neighboring Phnom Penh. An experiential learner at my core, I continue to learn the most from these experiences, out of which I am developing profiles and case studies of individual cases and issues that illustrate successes and areas for improvement in the legal aid system.

Ms. Pheak

There are so many elements that contribute to the creation and establishment of an independent, accountable, and sound legal system.  As I look critically and hopefully at the Cambodian legal system I continue to wonder where the crux of the complex issues lie. After the first trial I observed, I was convinced education, both basic education and educating people about the law and their rights, were the crux. I saw witnesses and family members unnecessarily scared and confused from court processes and procedures and felt it too much to expect people who have little to no education and no experience with the legal system to understand what is going on in a courtroom or to understand what their rights are even when they are explained to them if they have no context for what those rights mean and no means for exercising them. On the other hand, I know there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of uneducated, illiterate individuals around the world demanding their rights be respected and calling for fairness, justice, saying no to corruption, and working to strengthen democracy in their communities and countries.

Families talking with the accused from outside of court

Overtime I have thought the “real crux” was combating institutionalized corruption, establishing systems of accountability, continued intensive police training,, and the overall lack of lawyers in country. Of course no one crux is the problem nor the solution to these challenges. And little by little individuals working from all angles must contribute to improving their corers and cross-sections of the labyrinth.

For me at this very moment that means getting back to a questionnaire I was developing.

My favorite co-worker at the office

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