workplace


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

Advertisements

Claro! Nokia! Uriburu

Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist recently posted a piece on why we overestimate the gap between the gap between nonprofit and for-profit jobs.  It’s a short and interesting read if you’re considering the pros and cons of working in one of these sectors.

In this post, Penelope talks about how both nonprofit and for-profit workplaces are changing and why our age-old typical stereotypes no longer hold true.  Not only are these sectors getting more creative about how to structure themselves internally and “how they give back” externally, their financial structures may be one of the only significant remaining differences between the two. Dan Pallotta, who writes regularly for Harvardbusiness.org, gives similar arguments while dispelling myths about the private sector in a recent piece on how the “Psychic Benefits of Nonprofit Work are Overrated”.

Personally I’ve found the establishment of an entire field around corporate social responsibility (CSR) as one example of the sensible meeting of the for- and nonprofit sector minds. But even that is an oversimplification of the existence of and potential for building bridges between sectors to accomplish positive change in the local communities where they operate to the global world within which they exist.

As a graduate student evaluating the pros and cons of each sector, and the goal of affecting positive local and global change, I find the shifting trends within these sectors as an encouraging and exciting affirmation that nonprofit and for-profit companies alike continue to have to adapt in order to compete in the evolving world.  It’s also a good reminder that it is more about what you want to accomplish, the specific workplace(s) you work at or seek to work with, and perhaps most importantly the individuals you work with that matter the most.

A recent panel I attended discussing work in the field of International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (INCR), another field that crosses the nonprofit, public, and private sectors, confirmed just that. As one panelist put it, “It really does matter who you work with; you spend a lot of time with them!”

And if you’re looking to shift sectors, or like me, hoping to shift in and out of sectors throughout your career, the continued blurring and overlapping of the various sectors, public, private, nonprofit, for-profit, international, and domestic workplaces signifies an even more essential development: We may not have to choose!