The First Week| May 29, 2009
The first week has been pretty interesting. On my first day, my only assignment was to read the entire Code of Criminal Procedure, which was recently enacted, so the lawyers, judges, and other judicial actors really don’t know what it says or how it applies. My supervisor, Vandeth, asked me to find any section relating to the rights of the accused and isolate it, and try to clarify any ambiguities. It was a little disconcerting because I haven’t taken Criminal Procedure, so I was kind of winging it, but I did get to read the entire Code.
The next day, we drove about 2 hours north to the Kampong Chhnang Province for a criminal trial. Vandeth is a defense attorney, so he was defending the accused in a rape case. The trial took about an hour and a half, with a completely different system from the US. The three judges, wearing colored robes, sit at the front of the courtroom, with the court clerk sitting by the wall on the right, and the Royal Prosecutor sitting by the wall on the left. Next to the court clerk sits the defense attorney, and next to the Royal Prosecutor sits the victim’s attorney. In front of the judges are several rows of seats. The accused sits in the first row, with a microphone in front of him, and the witnesses and spectators sit behind him (or her). Most of the trial is conducted by the judges themselves, who call on the witnesses. Rather than a witness stand, the witness rises from where he is sitting, and answers the questions directed to him from the judge. I am not sure if the attorneys may question each witness, but they are certainly allowed to question the victim. This proceeds witness by witness until the end of the trial, when each of the attorneys (the Royal Prosecutor, the victim’s attorney, and the defense attorney) make a short closing statement. The judges then excuse themselves to make a decision.
After the trial, we hung around the courthouse for a while, then headed back to Phnom Penh. There wasn’t much left to do for the day, so we visited the office and then called it quits. I found out, however, that my organization had decided to send me to Takeo Province rather than staying in Phnom Penh for the summer. It looks now like they will have me split the summer between PP and Takeo, but I haven’t got it entirely worked out yet.
Later that night, we went to the Hotel Cambodiana to meet up with a group of human rights activists from Burundi, doing a tour and studying issues of torture. It was great to get an opportunity to practice my French a bit, and it made me thirsty to meet more French speakers so that I can dust off the good old français.
The third day of work, we drove down south the Takeo, about a 2 hour drive, to conduct a Street Law training session. Street Law is a program in which the attorneys train regular people about their rights as accused and if they are the victims of a crime. Although the entire session was in Khmer, I could tell that people were interested and that it went over really well. I think we will be doing a lot of those session throughout the summer. Hopefully I can start taking Khmer lessons soon, so that I’ll be able to understand the session better. I also met the attorney and other employees of IBJ in the Takeo office, so that was good.
So that was my first week in a nutshell. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be moving to Takeo next week or not, but I will keep you updated!