The devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge regime, and the wars that preceded and followed it, continue to haunt Cambodia and weaken development efforts in the country. A large problem affecting the justice system is a lack of available legal representation. Most lawyers in Cambodia practice law in the private sector in urban areas. Very few lawyers choose to practice in remote areas or for non-governmental organizations, making it difficult for indigent Cambodians to have access to a fair justice system. LAC’s mission is to provide free, quality legal services for Cambodia’s poor in both criminal and civil cases. LAC continues to play a crucial role in raising the profile of these case types, primarily through casework, but also through law reform efforts, advocacy and training. LAC strongly defends the poor and most vulnerable in Cambodia and provides pro bono legal assistance to them. LAC is committed to building the capacity of its lawyers and staff in order to improve the quality of our legal work, as well as our knowledge of the law and management, which is constantly undergoing changes. It is envisioned that through our diligent legal representation of the poor and vulnerable, LAC will make a significant contribution to the betterment of Cambodian society, and to the future peace and harmony of a country that has suffered such tragedies in the past.
Currently, many individuals who come into conflict with the law in Cambodia are not offered a fair trial. Often those arrested are unlawfully thrown into pre-trial detention centers. Once taken into custody, many are simply sentenced to jail time by judges without a full and fair trial to determine their guilt. Frequently, those who come into conflict with the law experience unlawful pre-trial detention procedures, over-detentions, unlawful detention conditions, and are often denied access to appeals. Additionally, many before the courts lack access to legal counsel to ensure they do not suffer similar violations. Individuals who have previously suffered rights violations, and those without access to legal counsel, are the target group of LAC’s work.
The Cambodian court system, the local authorities, as well as Cambodian society generally, stand to benefit from LAC’s work. Some poor and vulnerable people are victims of crimes committed by the rich and/or powerful. Many are accused of crimes which they did not commit, or are maliciously criminalized and punished by courts that are corrupt and lack independence. Furthermore, the accused often lack legal representation from lawyers in the criminal justice system. As a result, the innocent are punished and the real perpetrators escape the force of law.
In light of the overwhelming number of pending appeals and the slow judicial process of many cases, the Cambodian court system stands to improve through representation and reform. The only Court of Appeal in Cambodia is located in Phnom Penh, and appealing parties are required to be present for their hearing, making it difficult, and often impossible, for detained rural community members to appeal their imprisonment based on a lack of available transportation to the court. Those that are offered transportation from the provinces to their hearings are often denied a return trip to their detention facilities or are required to pay hundreds of dollars for the service, effectively foreclosing their ability to appeal an unlawful detention. Furthermore, there are in excess of four thousand individuals in pre-trial detention. Approximately eight hundred of these individuals are denied the opportunity to appeal their detention because of a lack of resources to transport them to the appellate court, and the overwhelming number of appeal cases causing significant delay.
LAC’s General Legal Aid program activities focus primarily on education, legal representation, and advocacy. The education program focuses on teaching youths and community members in the target regions about their rights and the rights of detained individuals. The LAC GLA program also provides legal representation to indigent parties to ensure they do not suffer from over-detentions, unlawful detentions, are not mistreated while in detention, and receive fair and expedient access to appeals. Furthermore, the LAC program will advocate for judicial reforms in the target regions. Pursuant to this, the program will host workshop discussions amongst legal representatives and judges in order to identify concerns about the criminal justice system. These concerns may then be used to propose meaningful judicial reforms to the government for courts located in the target regions.
LAC’s Current Donors
- European Unions (EU)
- BIG Lottery Funds
- Plan International
- French Embassy
- DFAT (Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
- The Planet Wheeler Foundation
Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), Cambodian Committee for Women – CAMBOW, CEDAW, Cooperation Committee Cambodia (CCC) Network, NGO Committee on the Rights of the Child (NGOCRC), NGO Forum, Child Rights International (CRI), and Southeast Asia Lawyer Network.
ADHOC, Asian Human Rights Committee (AHRC), Cambodian Defenders (CDP), Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC). The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), Non-Governmental Organization Committee on the Rights of the Child (NGOCRC), End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking in Cambodia (ECPAT), Gender and Development in Cambodia (GAD/C), Licadho, Legal Support for Children and Women ( LSCW)
LAC also cooperates with the government, e.g. the Ministry of Women Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior and the Council for Legal and Judicial Reform in order to advocate the rule of law, implement capacity building and outreach projects.
Number of employees: 65 personnel (18 lawyers and 47 non-lawyers)
Number of volunteers: 4-6 international volunteers and 4-5 volunteers per year
LAC annual budget: $900,000 to $1,242,508.