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.

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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

Kampong Speu Provincial Courtroom

Third arrest in Kampong Speu sugar conflict

By: May Titthara and Will Baxter in Phnom Penh Post, June 24, 2010

A FARMER was arrested and briefly detained by military police in Kampong Speu province on Wednesday after trying in vain to stop employees of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company from clearing his land, marking the third arrest in a controversial land fight. Rights workers condemned the action as an example of Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat, who owns the company, leveraging the military against villagers to further his business interests.

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010062440062/National-news/third-arrest-in-kampong-speu-sugar-conflict.html

Image By: Jared Ferrie

As Champagne is to France, Kampot pepper is to Cambodia

By: Jared Ferrie in Christian Science Monitor, June 23, 2010

The Cambodian government recently approved ‘geographical indication’ status for Kampot ground pepper, which Parisian chefs have called the best in the world.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2010/0623/As-Champagne-is-to-France-Kampot-pepper-is-to-Cambodia

Image by: Mak Remissa

Next Time You’re in … Siem Reap

By: Adam Rose in TIME, June 23, 2010

In antiquity, the secrets of silk- farming were so jealously guarded by the Chinese that the Romans, who only ever saw the finished product, believed silk threads grew on trees. But today, if you want to know how a $70 scarf is spun out of the saliva of the Bombyx mori, or silkworm, all you need do is visit the Angkor Silk Farm, on the outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia.

http://www.time.com/time/travel/article/0,31542,1998973,00.html

Khmer Rouge history slogans to be in schools

By: Mom Kunthear in Phnom Penh Post, June 22, 2010

The Education Ministry has approved two slogans concerning the importance of Khmer Rouge history lessons that are set to be displayed in high schools nationwide, officials said Monday. According to an unofficial translation, the slogans, which were suggested by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) and amended by the Education Ministry, read: “To study life in the Khmer Rouge period is to learn about reconciling and educating children to be tolerant and forgive each other,” and,“To learn about the history of Democratic Kampuchea means to learn to prevent other genocidal regimes from happening”.

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010062240002/National-news/kr-education-kr-history-slogans-to-be-in-schools.html

UN Official Accuses Cambodia of Human Rights Breaches

By: Radio Australia, June 18, 2010

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cambodia says he has serious concerns about Cambodia’s human rights record. Surya Prasad Subedi has just ended a ten day mission to Cambodia, focussing mainly on the judiciary, and says he’s uncovered serious shortcomings. He says it’s a judicial system that’s critically underfunded and fails to appropriately train people in the basics of human rights law.

http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/connectasia/stories/201006/s2930634.htm

UN envoy warns of failing judiciary in Cambodia

By: Press Trust of India, June 19, 2010

The UN special envoy on human rights in Cambodia has said that the country’s judiciary is facing tremendous challenges. “The judiciary in Cambodia is facing tremendous challenges in delivering justice for the people of the country, especially the poor and marginalized,” Professor Surya Subedi, the UN special rapporteur said on Thursday. While considering the overall state of the judicial system in Cambodia, he raised specific concerns relating to the judiciary’s role in protecting freedom of expression and in cases involving land-related rights.

http://www.ptinews.com/news/727480_UN-envoy-warns-of-failing-judiciary-in-Cambodia