Legal Aid of Cambodia’s (LAC) juvenile justice project in the Battambang region
The justice system in Cambodia lacks structure as local authorities and police have very little expertise and no basic legal knowledge of children’s rights or legal documents. Once children are arrested and detained by the police, they are typically “punished” in some extrajudicial way if the offence is minor. If a child is prosecuted and enters the court system, the lack of a separate juvenile justice system condemns the child to be tried in adult courts, under adult laws. If sentenced to prison, the child will be incarcerated alongside adult inmates.
All children in conflict with the law – and child offenders serving prison sentences – have rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an international human rights treaty that Cambodia has ratified and acknowledged in the Cambodian Constitution.
Cambodia is therefore required to ensure that children in conflict with the law, and those already incarcerated, receive appropriate treatment as a right in order to meet international obligations under CRC.
Legal Aid Cambodia (LAC) is at the forefront of the struggle for children’s rights in Cambodia. This video gives you an insight into the magnitude of the work still to be done.
Summary of the Proposal by Children’s Rights International to assist in the setting up of a Child Friendly Court in Cambodia
Children's Rights International (CRI) is an Australian NGO, whose mission includes the promotion, protection and advancement across the world of the human rights of children and the promotion of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
It was set up in 2001 following the World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights held in Bath, England in that year by the Committee of World Congress Inc to further the objects above.
Its Founding Patron was the then Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC and its founding Chief Executive Officer was and still is Mr Bill Jackson.
In March 2010 the Hon Alastair Nicholson, who retired as Chief Justice in 2004, became Chair of CRI and he heads a revamped Board. He is now a Professorial Fellow attached to the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne and has a particular interest in the rights of children and has written and spoken extensively on that subject in Australia, the USA the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Mr Bill Jackson has worked extensively in international aid projects in the past including with the Australian NGO, Community Aid Abroad, and now part of OXFAM. He also has considerable film making and media experience, including experience as Director of Public Affairs for the Family Court of Australia.
The revamped Board of CRI includes Ms Sally Nicholes, a practicing lawyer specialising in human rights and family and children’s law who is also a member of Boards of other NGOs operating in Asia, Ms Leisha Lister, a senior court administrator, also with considerable Asian experience, Mr Frank Meredith who has international business experience at a high level in Asia, Ms Margaret Harrison, a legal and social science researcher with experience at the Australian Institute of Family Studies and Mr Ben Melin, a senior manager with WHK group, a major Australian accounting business. Both Ms Lister and Ms Nicholes are also members the Board of World Congress Inc, which continues to provide some financial support to CRI.
CRI has paid particular attention the area of child justice and has worked closely with Legal Aid Cambodia (LAC) following initial contact made at the Fourth World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights held at Cape Town, South Africa in 2004.
In 2006, CRI assisted LAC in attracting funds for the Juvenile Justice programme in the Battambang province entitled Enhancing Implementation of UNCROC and Cambodian Law in Battambang Province.
The present project developed following a visit to Australia in 2007 by three members of Legal Aid Cambodia for internships sponsored by CRI. Their visit was also in part sponsored by the then Attorney-General of Victoria and by the Honourable Justice Sally Brown and the Honourable Justice Bernard Bongiorno, now a member of the Victorian Court of Appeal.
In Australia they worked with the Victorian Children’s Court and Legal Aid Victoria and met with the Parliamentary Human Right Committee in Canberra. Since then Mr Bill Jackson the CEO of CRI has had extensive discussions throughout Cambodia with lawyers, government, police and others relevant persons concerning child justice issues.
In 2009 representatives of LAC were sponsored by CRI and AusAID to attend the 5th World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. This resulted in Congress resolutions which supported the Cambodian Government’s proposed Child Justice Law and urging it to introduce child justice systems complying with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In 2010, the Hon Alastair Nicholson made two visits to Cambodia in connection with the present project and in July 2010, co-chaired a seminar with HE Ith Rady in Phnomh Penh to examine the possibility of setting up a Children’s Court in Cambodia. That seminar was co-sponsored by Legal Aid Cambodia and Every Child Cambodia and was attended by a wide range of persons including judges and court officials, Cambodian Government representatives, police and representatives of NGO’s. The seminar was opened by the Cambodian Minister for Justice HE Ang Vongvathana and the then Australian Ambassador to Cambodia, HE Margaret Adamson.
The seminar revealed widespread support for action in this area and a working party was set up with the approval of the Minister, to consider further action.
That working party has now recommended that the existing court in Battambang be set up as a child friendly court. Because the Juvenile Justice Law has yet to come into effect, the Court will have to apply existing criminal law but will work to do so in a child friendly manner.
Objects of the Project
The objects of the project are to provide capacity building support to the court and associated organisations in order to achieve the goal of becoming a child friendly court. This will involve:
• The further education and training of Judges, Prosecutors, Court Administrators, Police, Corrections Authorities and Social Services workers in the proper handling of criminal proceedings against children. • The promotion of observance and implementation of international human rights standards by all those involved. • The promotion and strengthening of the Cambodian legal system in order to assist it to comply with the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and national or regional human rights institutions or mechanisms. • The promotion and development of good diversionary programmes for juvenile offenders or young people at risk of becoming offenders. • The development of child correction facilities that comply with human rights norms and provide children in detention with full opportunities to continue their education and participate in rehabilitative programs. • The development of guidelines for all relevant parties as to what is required to achieve a child friendly court • Reduction in juvenile crime and enhancing community safety.
The Term of the Project
It is anticipated that the project will continue over a period of two years from its commencement.
It should be stressed that this project is confined to the setting up of the court and the training of relevant staff in Battambang as a child friendly court. If the project is successful, it will provide an invaluable guide to further and larger projects associated with the setting up of courts and corrections institutions and allied services such as police and social services personnel associated with the introduction of the Juvenile Justice Law when it comes into effect.
Funding of the Project
The project requires funding to assist in creation of an in country structure for training and capacity building in developing a child friendly court. The project will be supported by CRI’s administrative skills and CRI’s international legal network. It will also be supported by Legal Aid Cambodia (LAC) and its experienced staff, in delivering training appropriate to Cambodian conditions and culture.
Its anticipated budgeted cost is - (a draft budget has been prepared by will need reconsideration following this visit It is anticipated to be in the region of US $200-250,000.
The Parties to the Project
CRI in partnership with LAC and the Cambodian Ministry of Justice supported by the Government and NGO Working Group.
The Role of CRI
The creation of an in country structure for training and capacity building supported by CRI’s administrative skills and CRI’s international legal network. In furtherance of this role it will:
• Provide a Manager to oversee CRI’s role in the project in Australia and Cambodia; • Arrange expert training for selected Cambodian personnel in Australia or at other suitable locations overseas, including arranging travel and accommodation and where necessary, interpreter services; • Provide experienced consultants to visit Cambodia to conduct seminars and train Cambodian personnel in child friendly court practices (NB Consultants will normally be paid only of the cost of travel and reasonable expenses but will otherwise donate their services); • Arrange to provide design and support for case management and data collection. • Arrange travel and accommodation for these purposes.
The Role of LAC
• Provide a project manager to manage the project in Cambodia and liaise with the Cambodian Department of Justice and the Courts and other relevant services. • Assist in the development of training appropriate to Cambodian conditions and culture. • Arrange and assist in the co –ordination of visits by overseas experts including appropriate briefings to these experts as to Cambodian law and culture and the provision of interpreter services where necessary; • Assist with the provision of office accommodation and clerical assistance to CRI (at CRI’s expense).
The project is seen to be an important and timely precursor to the introduction of the Cambodian Children’s Law and will need to be evaluated with a view to its continuation and expansion throughout the Cambodian legal system after passage of the Law.
Governance and Monitoring
1. The project will be governed by a steering committee (Constitution to be determined) under the general supervision of the Government and NGO Working Group. 2. The Committee will meet at least three months prior to the commencement of the project and thereafter at no more than three monthly intervals until the project is completed and evaluated. 3. The Committee will have the overall responsibility in conjunction with the Government and NGO Working Group for the development and monitoring of the project and the development of guidelines appropriate to the achievement of a child friendly court. 4. The Committee will receive regular reports at each meeting from the implementation Committee as to the progress of the project measured against its objects and will assess whether the project is on track and what if anything needs to be done to improve its performance.
The project will be implemented by a small Implementation Committee consisting of a chair who will be a member of the Steering Committee and project managers from CRI and LAC, together with such other members as the Steering Committee determines. The Committee will meet at least monthly
Its responsibilities will include:
• Overall implementation of the project. • Tracking the project against targets set by the steering committee. • Keeping the project within budget. • Develop and arrange training programs consistent with objectives. • Assessing and maintaining the quality of training provided. • Preparing and delivering timely reports to the Steering Committee.
Financial management, banking etc
(To be determined)
At the conclusion of the project it will be evaluated by an independent person or persons selected by the steering committee in order to determine whether and to what extent the objects of the project have been achieved.
Such an evaluation shall include:
• Examining the impact of the project and assessing its progress towards achieving its objects. • Examining the strategy of the project and its success or otherwise. • Evaluating the likely success of similar projects in the future and the implications for the stakeholders
Afghanistan is described as the most dangerous country in the world and there are good reasons for this. War has been the constant companion of its people for three decades and the situation is unlikely to improve once the Western powers withdraw, as they are likely to start doing as early as next year. As I write the Taliban, and various tribal warlords who wield considerable power, are resurgent and struggling for authority. Their previous treatment of women and children gives no cause for optimism.
Children's Rights International in Cambodia and Vietnam
Children’s Rights International has been working on the ground in Cambodia with its partner Legal Aid Cambodia (LAC) since 2005. CRI’s current priority, after extensive consultation, is to help establish a Child Friendly Court system in Cambodia. Since that time, with the support of the Cambodian Ministry of Justice, the Child Justice Working Group, the NGO Working Group on Child Justice, the Australian Embassy, AusAID, and UNICEF, considerable progress has been made.
The Hon. Alastair Nicholson, Chair Children's Rights International
and Touch Chiva, Project Officer Legal Aid Cambodia
This partnership will shortly commence to roll out training programmes in Australia and later in Battambang, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to assist Cambodian judges, prosecutors, police, prison officers, social workers and allied professionals in bringing to Cambodian children, in conflict with the law, their rights as detailed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Cambodia is a signatory. A Child Friendly Court is the aim. To establish this Court in 3 key provinces is currently seen as a 3-year project. With successful outcomes and additional funding the project could be expanded to other provinces and hopefully to include the whole of Cambodia.
Touch Chiva (LAC), Denzil Sprague (CRI), Kimleng Ouk (LAC), Frank Meredith (CRI), Bill Jackson (CRI), Run Saray (LAC) and Op Vibol (LAC) at the opening of CRI's new Cambodian office.
CRI's Man in Phnom Penh
By Margaret Harrison, CRI Board Member
CRI now has a country representative in Phnom Penh to assist us in a voluntary capacity with the many and varied administrative tasks associated with the conduct of our Cambodian juvenile justice project. Denzil Sprague is an Australian business man and long term resident of Phnom Penh, whose interest in the education and welfare of young Cambodians has already benefitted many primary school children in the district of Pouk Ressey and who has become an invaluable part of the CRI team, as a liaison person in our dealings with banks and other non-government and government organizations in Cambodia. He is a former farmer, pilot, arts/law graduate and brick factory proprietor, who in the past 4 years has assumed responsibility for the building of a school and the welfare and educational advancement of its 800 students. Many more young Cambodians have already completed their primary schooling as a result of his endeavours.