KHIEV Thuon, aged 40, never believed she would become an important person needed
by many Cambodians.
She was proven wrong on Feb 3 when, along with 24
other Khmers, she was certified a public defender to represent defendants in
Cambodia's criminal courts.
The group - the first-ever independent,
free-of-charge public defenders to complete extensive training in Cambodia - are
part of moves to make the justice system more independent and
"Today is a great honor for me," Thuon said after the
graduation ceremony. "I could hardly believe it would become true and I would be
so important for many people."
Not a lawyer by profession, Thuon said she
had been involved in social activities such as helping women for 17
Thuon was picked to be part of the foreign-funded Cambodian
Defenders Project, which gave nine months training to 25 people from thoughout
the country on State of Cambodia law, UNTAC law and the
They began defending clients on a limited basis shortly
before their graduation, and have already scored some successes.
said she had so far defended two people - one a government policeman accused of
stealing a United Nations vehicle and the other a woman charged with illegally
detaining a child.
The two had faced between five to 10 years in prison
under the present law, but her efforts saw their jail terms dropped to one year
The project's other successes include securing the freedom of two
pregnant women from Phnom Penh prisons, reported recently by the Post, including
one who had been tortured into giving a confession.
Thuon said that
working in the court system was difficult and painstaking, because both the law
and legal procedures were often "supplementary" to other factors.
fate of defendants could depend simply on the mood of prosecutors, and
"diplomatic maneuvers" were often required by the defenders.
bargaining over the price of fish," she said. "It's even worse
At the defenders' Feb 3 graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, US
Ambassador Charles Twining said: "The work of the public defenders is really at
the forefront of democracy in Cambodia, because in my view justice is
Kem Sokha, chairman of the National Assembly's human rights
commission, told the defenders their jobs would not be easy.
the Khmer adage "Don't hit the eggs against the rock", he told the graduates
they had to become like steel, to protect the eggs and be able to break the
The project, organized by the International Human Rights Law Group,
is mainly funded by the United States Agency of International Development
After initial concern from Minister of Justice Chem Snguon about
the project, the government has now authorized the defenders to practice
The 25 defenders will work in Phnom Penh, Battambang,
Kampong Cham and other provinces.
Khiev Thuon said she was looking
forward to her work beginning in earnest.