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Reality moot at this court

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The defence team makes a case for imaginary defendant Colonel Calley Jones at a moot court hearing held yesterday at the Royal University of Law and Economics in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Stuart White/Phnom Penh Post

The fate of alleged war criminal Colonel Calley Jones was vigorously debated in a courtroom in Phnom Penh yesterday, with both sides clashing over whether the accused was accountable for the deaths of numerous ethnic Drak during a 2010 sectarian flare-up in the Barilandi Republic of Katoland.

Of course, the Drak are not a real ethnic group, Katoland is not a real republic and Calley Jones isn’t a real colonel – or person, for that matter – but none of that dampened the mood of the participants in the final national round of the Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Moot Court competition held at the capital’s Royal University of Law and Economics yesterday.

Margaret Ryan, director of RULE’s English Language Based Bachelor of Law program, said that moot court experience in international competitions – like the IHL and the still-larger Philip C Jessup competition – gives Cambodian students parity with Westerners when competing for advanced degrees.

But getting students into good schools is only the first step, Ryan added.  The goal is ending the pay disparities that exist between local and international staff in Cambodian law firms, and “ending the dependence on foreign lawyers,” she said.

Jasper Pauw, co-counsel for Nuon Chea at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, also acknowledged the importance of moot courts, but expressed concerns that qualified lawyers were graduating into a system that didn’t play by rules.

“That’s something that I’ve been worrying about for a long time,” said Pauw, who was not involved in yesterday’s moot court, but previously taught a course on international law at RULE. “Some of these kids, they’re really bright, and they really understand international law, but they’re going to have to forget all of that when they step into a Cambodian courtroom.

“In Cambodian courts, it only matters who you know, and who you pay, and whether there are any political interests involved,” he added.  

Tann Boravin, 20 – who was named Best Oralist yesterday, and who will advance to regional championships in Hong Kong with her partner, Tang Sokkhim, 24 – said flaws in the judiciary was something she was highly aware of, but hoped she could be among those to improve it.

“That also concerns me, because we live in a society where the court system and the judiciary are problematic,” she said.  “So as the next generation, we need to work to make the system more developed.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart White at stuart.white@phnompenhpost.com

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