THE Kingdom of Cambodia Bar Association and the Cambodia Defenders Project (CDP)
have reached a carefully-worded agreement that allows the CDP to continue offering
free legal protection to the poor.
To do so, the CDP has officially changed its status to that of a human rights group.
The deal left another group, Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC), mulling over whether to
sign a similar deal, or hold out for more autonomy.
The CDP - temporarily renamed the International Human Rights Law Group Project for
Cambodia - has labored over negotiations with the Association for five months.
Skip Gant, technical director for the USAID-funded legal aid group, said: "It's
signed, a done deal. I am carrying it with me to Washington."
Association President Say Bory said: "The CDP is dead. The new group is... a
non-governmental organization with headquarters in Washington DC which works with
the bar association."
Gant said that the negotiations, which were set to finish by the end of 1997 when
the group's Justice Ministry mandate expired, took so long because of the desire
for a durable agreement. "We were looking to make the deal clear to people in
the future as well as the present."
The deal states that the law group would be an "independent and autonomous provider
of human rights services, which include legal services", Gant said.
USAID helped in the negotiations by temporarily suspending the CDP's funding last
month, to show they wanted a solution. "Within two days, the parties were back
at the table. It was a stroke of genius," Gant said.
Bory claimed the deal was the same one he had been offering since the beginning.
"I had said it many times, but they have just begun to understand [they can]
contribute to protecting the poor."
Bory said he would be happy to sign a similar deal with the Legal Aid of Cambodia
group. "I have not heard from LAC since, but I am always ready to sign a similar
deal. My pen is ready... [But] the spirit of the agreement must be the same."
"I assume we will keep on talking. I think something similar, as I understand
the wording, would be reasonable," said Phyllis Cox, an attorney consultant
with LAC. "I hope we will also be able to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement
that will turn out in reality."
Gant said that the CDP had similar concerns before signing, but that he was satisfied
with the final results.
"It was a maturation process. Trying to find the right language for both sides,
in two languages. The real sticky language had to do with [legal aid] organizations
working 'on behalf of' [the bar].
"What the bar leadership was seeking was some degree of oversight - something
I think the bar association is entitled to. We were worried about them having control
over the internal workings of the organization. That is what took so long. It wasn't
philosophy, it was the words."