Three Provinces in One Week: And I Thought Last Week was Busy!


This week started out with a trip to the Pailin Provincial Court, where Sothea (the lawyer) was scheduled to defend a client at trial. Pailin is a small province in the west, nestled between Battambang Province and the Thai border. The drive to Pailin took about an hour, but the drive was so beautiful I wouldn't have minded if it took longer - despite the bumpy Cambodian roads. Once we arrived, we sat in on two hearings and two trials before our client's. As I've mentioned, trials in Cambodia can be very speedy - sometimes to the point where it is disconcerting; however, there were a few differences I noticed between the court in Pailin and the court in Battambang as I sat through these hearings and trials (which dealt with issues ranging from prison-escape to illegal logging to fighting in public):

Formality: Compared to Battambang, legal proceedings in Pailin have a much more similar air to US trials about them, in that they feel almost more official. Police officers stand at attention, all parties rise when the judges enter the courtroom, the courtroom itself is in better condition (not to mention the amazing mountain-view), and both lawyers and judges seem more thorough in their questioning. I wondered if this might be connected to the fact that we were in a much smaller province, so I asked Odoum about it (the Cambodian intern who kindly translates for me during trials and hearings). He said because of the small size of Pailin, there are only 100 to 200 trials per year, whereas in Battambang there can be 1000, so I suspect that may be the reason behind why Pailin has retained the formality and seems to handle trials with more ritual and attention to detail.

Human Rights: Along the same lines, I asked Odoum if excessive pre-trial detention is less likely in Pailin since there are so many fewer defendants. He told me that although excessive detention is less common, most prisoners are still held a month or two over the six month statutory limit. Still incredibly problematic, but in Battambang I have seen clients held in jail for 21 months for drug sales charges, only to receive a 20 minute trial in conjunction with multiple other defendants. In Battambang, I often see multiple prisoners being tried in the same session and in front of each other (even if their crimes are related); here, there was only one instance of this, a father and two sons being tried for illegal logging on property they mistakenly believed was theirs in an area where many other people have also logged, but have not faced any charges. Multiple witnesses testified for defendants as well - something I see in Battambang but not too often.

Women: It didn't strike me until I saw that the clerk for two of the proceedings was female - I have not seen one female clerk, judge, lawyer, or prosecutor in the many trials I have attended in Battambang! It was definitely nice to see a woman involved in the legal system here, and I was further surprised when a female lawyer showed up to defend the client involved in the fighting incident. While continuing my research for the baseline project I was assigned in my previous post, I have learned that there are not many women involved in the legal system right now, but as more women are attending law schools and taking the test to become a judge, I'm hoping the number will rise. Girl Power!

Pailin Courtroom

Pailin Courtroom

View from Courtroom

Pailin Courtroom View

Judges' Stand

Pailin Judge Stand

Defendants' Stand and Gallery Seating

Defendant(s) Stand

After our trial was completed, Sothea informed me that we would be staying for lunch as he had a friend from law school (whose father works in the Ministry of Justice) that he wanted to spend some time with, so we went to eat at a restaurant that consisted of bungalows on a lake. We were joined by one of the judges and a prosecutor, both of whom had been involved in the proceedings from that morning. We had a nice, relaxing lunch on the lake and although I didn't try the snake soup, snake gall bladder, or eel, my vegetables and rice were very good. (I had some chicken I initially intended to eat as well, but decided to sneak it to the cat under our table instead!)

Our Bungalow

Pailin Lunch Bungalow

Snake Soup & Gall Bladder

     Snake SoupSnake Soup 2

Pailin Countryside

Pailin Countryside

This post is already getting long (sorry!) so I'll quickly sum up the other big work event of the week. Some IBJ staff from Phnom Penh, as well as a representative from the European Union, came in this week to participate in a Community Legal Awareness session in a small commune of Battambang. Basically, IBJ holds large meetings around different villages where we talk about any legal issues the commune is dealing with, give some advice, and let them know all about IBJ and how they can contact us should they find themselves in need of legal defense. In this commune I noticed that most questions centered around marriage issues and domestic disputes, and Mr. Ouk Vandeth (Cambodia's Program Director) doled out very helpful advice and was quite an engaging speaker.

CLA Banner   CLA Speakers

Afterwards, we headed out to Pailin again for a quick meeting, and stopped at a mountain-side restaurant where there are no seats, but tens of hammocks to choose from! The view was amazing:

View from Hammock

Some other photos from lunch:


Life & Travel

The U.S. Embassy threw a Fourth of July BBQ for American citizens living in Cambodia, and as I obviously couldn't miss that, I made the 6-hour trek down to Phnom Penh for a very quick trip. Despite the almost two feet of rain I found myself wading through when I arrived, the trip was definitely worth it. I was able to catch up with a few other interns here in Cambodia, have some wonderful BBQ, and celebrate America! Not to mention the fact that I got to watch U.S. Ambassador Todd participate in a dunk-tank for charity.

U.S. Ambassador Todd

Ambassador Todd

Quick Video of the Flooding (not even the worst of it)

Overall another great week of working and fun here in Cambodia. I know I said I would make up for my previous post being so short, but I think I may have taken that a little too far - so sorry for the long post yet again!

As always, you can see the hundreds of photos I've been taking on my Flickr photo stream if you're interested:

Up Next: Trials, Meetings, and an Unexpected Holiday in Siem Reap