William and Mary Law School

Understanding the Legal System and Political Situation in Cambodia

          With our time in Cambodia quickly winding down, we are trying to cram in as much as possible before returning to the U.S. After spending the majority of our time at ODC focused on our individual research projects and on reviewing and updating data for the website, during the last couple of weeks we found time to talk with a few of our colleagues and gain a better understanding of the legal and political situation in Cambodia.
          Last week we participated in a brown bag lunch with two American lawyers who have been working in Cambodia for a number of years. After providing a bit of an overview of the Cambodian government, we looked at a number of draft laws that are currently pending. Focusing on laws in Cambodia that will directly affect ODC operations, we discussed such topics as copyright law, defamation, freedom of the press, use of the internet, dissemination/republication of government data, creation and publication/republication of maps, registration and operation of NGOs, registration and operation of news organizations, and access to information. It was interesting to compare the existence and enforcement of laws in Cambodia with the legal system in the United States. We also briefly looked at the pending Cybercrimes Law and the far reaching impact that it might have. After operating in a bubble for much of our time here, it was an excellent opportunity to gain a broader understanding of the legal system in Cambodia.
          This week we had the opportunity to talk with another of our colleagues, and gain a more personal account of his experiences working in the Cambodian legal system. He has been doing human rights work in Cambodia since 1975, and since that time has held a number of different positions with a handful of organizations. His resume includes such items as working in a judicial office attached to a provincial court (where he helped provide training based on UNTAC to police and prison officers), working for NDI (where he helped develop a voter guide and worked for political reform), and helping to create tapes of political debates or roundtable political discussions and distribute them to the provinces. After graduating from law school, he began working with EWMI in 2006, where he has collected information on challenges in the court system and worked with practicing lawyers to strengthen their capacity as attorneys through monthly meetings and ongoing training. Besides sharing his work experience, he was able to offer more insight into the justice system in general. We talked about the challenges associated with a number of types of cases, such as land disputes, rape, human trafficking, and cases involving people with mental disorders. We also got to ask comparative questions regarding case settlement, impartiality, and potential corruption in the legal system. The discussion was fascinating, and I wish we had had more time to spend delving into the court system.
          Tomorrow we plan to speak with one more lawyer in the office, and find out a bit more about her work in arbitration, as well as her work as a law instructor. Each of these discussions have been invaluable and have expanded our understanding of the legal system and political situation in Cambodia.