Week 6 in Cambodia| July 5, 2011
Well, I am now in transit on my way to Rabat, Morocco and am writing to you from Charles de Gaulle airport (this airport and I are getting really close this summer). I can’t believe that my stay in Cambodia is already over. I’m sad to leave all of the great friends that I’ve made in my short time in that wonderful country, but I also eagerly await my next adventure. I guess now I should fill you in on my last week at BNG Legal.
Last week was by far one of my busiest weeks at work. At 14h00, every Friday, we have a weekly training meeting, where a different group presents on a new topic to keep all of the BNG lawyers up to date on Cambodian legal issues. After conducting research on property takings in Cambodia, Vlada and I came up with the idea to present on the American eminent domain jurisprudence at this weekly meeting. We spent a majority of Monday and Wednesday preparing for this presentation. In addition to creating a power point- complete with maps and pictures of the cases to help give context to the cases we were discussing, we decided to make our presentation interactive by including questions and hypotheticals to encourage our international team members to critically analyze the material we were presenting and to draw comparisons between the two county’s systems. At the end of our discussion, we prompted the BNG team to discern whether any of the lessons America learned over years of case law could be adopted into a solution for Cambodia’s current land dispute issues.
On Tuesday, Vlada and I were lucky enough to attend the UN ECCC (Extraordinary … of Cambodia) to watch some of the initial hearings for Case 002. Case 002 is the second and most likely the last case that will be brought against the Khmer Rouge in the UN criminal tribunal. It is a suit against four of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, all of whom face a life sentence of 35 years if convicted. I must say that it was a very strange feeling to be sitting in the same room as the defendants, knowing what human rights crimes they facilitated. The way that the court was set up is unique in that each international lawyer is paired with a Khmer lawyer. For example, one defendant will have both an international and a Khmer lawyer. Similarly, prosecutor and deputy prosecutor positions are paired off, giving them each the title co-prosecutor or deputy co-prosecutor, respectively. I was extremely impressed by the eloquent speech given by the Australian deputy co-prosecutor, but was disappointed and slightly embarrassed by the sole American lawyer presenting at the court. With all due respect to the American defense lawyer, I think that the William and Mary Trial Team could have done a much better job- then again, we are pretty amazing. Another really great aspect about being at the court was being able to look into the room and recognize so many UN intern friends. It was a real honor to be able to listen to the Australian deputy co-prosecutor make a statement that my friend, Dinu, helped write.
After work on Thursday, Vlada and I were featured on Cambodian radio, just like Soma Norodom promised. It was a great experience! I will try to include a link to the recording below. Depending on my computer skills, you should have a quick listen.
Then came Friday, we started off the day going to a Cambodian trial court to help represent one of our clients in an adoption case. The court was both terrifying and laid back. Unfortunately, they took our cameras away, so I do not have any pictures to share with you. The building is in an old hotel and- to make a Harry Potter reference- reminded us a bit of Azkaban. Walking in, we passed many people dressed in blue jail uniforms with white trim, waiting for their court appearance. That was intimidating and depressing. Many of the poor people in the courthouse didn’t even have shoes, even some not in the blue and white uniforms. Once we got into our meeting with the judge, however, it felt like any other office in Cambodia. People were walking in and out in button-down shirts and flip flops, and cell phones continued to go off throughout the proceeding. Even the judge (who, come to find out, has two phones) let her phones ring before silencing them. That is one cultural difference that I’ve come to understand, but I’m not sure that I will ever come to appreciate. The court sided for our client, granting temporary custody rights and setting another trial date a few weeks out. Everyone is happy to see this case move forward. In the beginning, I was smiling because I was happy for our clients and for the little girl they will be taking care of. But, when the adoptive parents gave the biological mother pictures of her daughter, happy with her new family, I realized that I had been naïve to feel to so happy, ignoring the other side of the story. You could tell that it was hard for the mother to let her daughter go. She wanted to be with her child, but she knew that she couldn’t provide for her (due to her medical conditions, extreme poverty, and other mouths to feed) and that giving her up for adoption would give her daughter the best chance at a good life. Seeing that was probably one of the most touching experiences of my life. I really revere strong women like her who can make such hard decisions. After court, we came back to the office and prepared for our afternoon presentation. We were glad to see that our work was well received, even if it was like pulling teeth at times to get people to participate. Then, we interviewed Mr. Naryth, the managing director of BNG Legal. Once that was over, the firm had a nice snack party to as a going away present to me, complete with Asian fruits and KFC- Khmer (Kentucky) Fried Chicken.
As it was one of our closest friend’s birthdays, we went out for a few drinks and danced most of the night away. Saturday was my last day in good ole Phnom Penh. I started off the day packing. Then Vlada, Thomas, and I went to breakfast at our favorite breakfast place so that I could have my last delicious breakfast ball. It was worth every second of it. We then headed off to the Russian market for some last minute souvenirs. I try to collect one piece of artwork from every country I visit, so I was on a hunt. I pretty much knew what I wanted, since I had seen it before, but it was hard to find and it took us a long time wandering through the market. Fortunately, we bumped into an adoption client and got to meet the little girl we have been working so hard to help. We also bumped into our group of intern friends. I guess the Russian market is the place to be on an early Saturday morning in the city. We went to a juice bar, where I got a mango smoothie even though I asked for bubble tea (but it was delicious nonetheless). Then, I wanted to see the Royal Palace before I left. On the way, we stopped by a dentist that a friend from work recommended and I got my teeth cleaned for $10! Figured it was a good deal since I don’t have dental insurance in the US. We finally made it to the Royal Palace. But unfortunately, Vlada wasn’t able to come in with us because her long jean shorts and cover up apparently didn’t cover up enough to be granted admission. Thomas and I walked around the grounds, but most of them were closed since the French Prime Minister was there for a meeting and so they had closed off a lot of the palace to the public. We did get to see the silver pagoda, which is a temple with silver titled floors that centers on a jade Buddha. It was magnificent. After the palace, it was time for my last meal. We went to one of my favorite Indian restaurants and I ordered my new favorite meal, Palak Paneer. Then it was time for a quick shower and off to the airport.
All in all, I had an amazing experience in Cambodia and I appreciate every minute that I was able to spend there.
My Home in Charles de Gaulle Airport