To the editor:
I am writing in response to the article entitled "Govt balks at using foreign-trained defenders" (Phnom Penh Post, Dec 2-15). I would like to clarify a number of points made in the article.
First, contrary to what the article implies, the Cambodian Defenders Project is not involved in an escalating dispute with the Minister of Justice Chem Snguon. We believe that criminal defenders can fit into the framework of lawyers envisioned by the Minister, and that criminal defenders are not contrary to the Minister's goals of "training of lawyers and the establishment of a Bar Association."
Second, we wholeheartedly desire to work with the Minister of Justice in the area of criminal defenders, and also in the general area of Cambodian court reform. In fact, beginning next year, the International Human Rights Law Group, in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, plans on making significant contributions and improvements to Cambodia's Judicial court system by pairing Cambodian judges with experienced international jurists and providing technical assistance.
Third, as the article pointed out, criminal defenders with the Cambodian Defenders Project have been trained in Cambodian laws. These laws include, but are not limited to, the UNTAC Law adopted by the Supreme National Council on 10 September 1992, the State of Cambodia Law on Criminal Procedure adopted by the National Assembly on 28 January 1993, and the Cambodian National Constitution adopted on 21 September 1993. We agree with the Minister of Justice that Cambodian laws and practices are the relevant legal materials.
Fourth, as part of their 10-month-long course, defender-trainees received over 1000 classroom hours of practical legal education. In addition, criminal defenders with the Cambodian Defenders Project have witnessed numerous court proceedings. Observing actual criminal trials has enabled them to see the Cambodian laws and practices at work. This, in turn, has given them a greater understanding of the Cambodian laws and practices.
Finally, the Cambodian Defenders Project defenders have appeared in a number of court cases before judges at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Battambang Law Court. These appearances, which were requested by the Presidents of the court, have been supervised by experienced criminal defense attorneys further ensuring that the defenders have applied relevant Cambodian laws and practices. As Judge Oum Sarith stated to the Post, the defenders "know the law and the points to defend the people on. The accused need them and rely on them to offer a defense."
- Francis J. James, Attorney-at-Law & Project Coordinator, International Human Rights Law Group's Cambodian Defenders Project
The article did not state the Cambodian Defenders Project had an escalating dispute with the Minister of Justice, but pointed out that the organization had been specifically referred to by the minister in his complaints. Mr James' second, third, fourth and fifth points were all covered in the story.