Faculty of Law students are buoyant after what they say were the "first
successful student demonstrations" in Cambodia, which forced the Ministry of
Education to withdraw students not qualified to study law.
since returned to class but some believe the general feeling of their protest's
success is premature. As one student put it: "The Ministry of Education has not
done enough yet to uncover corrupt officials."
The 41 students at the
center of the dispute were to have entered directly into the middle of the
second year but other students charged that corrupt officials had sold positions
in the law class. Five days of student boycotts culminated in a peaceful march
from the law school to the Ministry of Education on Jan. 18.
deaths in the anti-corruption demonstrations in 1991 lingered and the students
were wary but confident on the march as unarmed police controlled traffic and
the students worked hard to maintain discipline. About 400 students took to the
streets, trailing a convoy of nearly a hundred motorcycles. They covered the
three kilometer distance under stretched blue banners they had spent all night
Demonstrating about illegalities, students made sure they did
not break any laws. Current law requires notice and one student said: "If we had
not received permission we would not have marched."
The roots of the
confrontation lie with the attempted admission of 63 new law students. On Jan. 7
the Education Ministry posted a list of students to be admitted directly into
the Faculty of Law's second year.
The ministry claimed these additional
students had studied law in the border camps and were qualified for admission.
Students at the faculty said they asked for clarification on the new students'
status and when the ministry did not respond they began boycotting classes on
One student said: "There were students [on the list] who failed
the preparatory class, there were students who passed the preparatory class but
did not attend the first year of law school, and there were students who did not
attend preparatory class in Phnom Penh and did not study law in the border camps
Two days after the boycott began, students said they were
visited at the law school by an official of the Ministry of Education. "The
official told us that he would not answer questions one at a time," said a
student who was at the meeting. "He told us that we had to ask all of our
questions, and then he would answer. We refused to do this. He tried to persuade
us to return to class. We refused. He demanded that we identify our leaders. We
told him that we had no leaders and that we all supported each other in the
As students demonstrated outside his office on Jan. 18 Minister
of Education Ung Huot told them he would "forward the investigation" to the
Ministry of Security. "There is corruption," he said, "but I do not know where
it is." The Friday before the demonstration, students were told the ministry was
conducting an investigation but they were not told until the day after the march
that a non-Khmer was in charge of it.
American Ken Bingham from the
Institute of Economics was asked to sort out the false border-school law
certificates from those that were authentic. Bingham said of 27 certificates
shown to him by the Ministry, he found four were fraudulent as a result of
inspection and interviewing the candidates.
Rescinding the admission of
the "illegal students", as the students called them, was only the first
complaint. They claim positions in the second year of law had been sold for
One student said a friend was offered a space in the
second year for "around three thousand dollars but he did not have the money and
he was afraid that he would fail the semester's test or his admission might be
Students said the ministry should reveal the names of and
punish the officials who had attempted to enroll the students and who, they say,
had sold positions in the class. They pointed out to members of the press that
the ministry has the names of all falsely enrolled students and need only ask
who sold them positions in the class.
The falsification claims do not
cover all former border camp students - 43 have already joined the second year
law students at the beginning of this academic year. They came from refugee
camps along the Thai border closed during the UN mandate in Cambodia.
one camp, Site 2, run by the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF),
two Law faculties were opened. Many of the students who studied there have
entered classes in Phnom Penh.
The "old" students accept them as part of
their class. One said during the protests: "We support the government's policy
of reconciliation, we support the inclusion of these students into our class but
most of the newest group of students are illegal."
that the Ministry require all 62 students to come to the Faculty and threatened
demonstrations other-wise. Student leaders said that they wanted to identify
which were "fake" students. The Ministry's response initially was to take down
By Saturday morning, Jan. 15, law school administration
officials had been absent from the school for three days, but returned the day
before the demonstrations. One student joked: "Perhaps they went on
Law faculty teachers quietly waited for the students to return
The students said that the teachers told them: "We do not
support you, nor do we oppose you." One teacher said that "we support the
student's general right to demand things that are legally theirs." But they were
unwilling to take sides in this matter.
"We come to school, we teach our
class, and we go home. We do not have anything to do with school administration
or the selection of students." However, the teachers agreed that if a student
started the second year of law school without passing the law preparatory
course, and without attending the first year of the law faculty, "that would be
a big problem for the teacher."
On Monday Law students at the Faculty of
Law continued a boycott of classes for the fourth consecutive day. They had
demanded of the Ministry of Education that the new students being offered a
place in the school present themselves at the school that
Appeals were broadcast on Cambodian television over the weekend,
asking the new students to come to the school on Monday morning, Jan.
However, none came. The Ministry of Education officials also failed
to arrive at the school, though they had promised the students to settle the
problem on Monday morning.
That night the students prepared their
Ironically, corruption was also involved in the 1991 entry
of the first group of law students-the very students who protested this past
One student, now in his second year of law school, said that his
mother paid $1,800 for his position at the school one and a half years ago. He
said that though this was also corruption, it is different. "I passed the test
to get into Law School, but that was not enough, I also had to pay for a
position in the school."
But he also said that "other students paid to
get a passing grade [on the entrance exam], and then paid to get into the
Several students said that for that original entering class it
was "impossible to get a place in the class without paying $1500 to $2000, no
matter how well you did on the exam."