The Senate’s Commission on Human Rights, Complaint Reception and Investigation and the Samdech Techo Sen Volunteer Lawyers signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on joint cooperation aimed at enforcing the law on protecting the people’s rights and interests and especially protecting vulnerable women and people who do not have access to legal representation.
During the signing ceremony at the Senate on February 15, Yong Sem, member of the Senate’s Permanent Committee and chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, Complaint Reception and Investigation, praised the cooperation between the two groups to promote and protect the rights of all persons and especially women, to ensure everyone has equal rights and freedoms under the law.
According to Sem, based on the MoU, the two sides will act as a bridge connecting bilateral relations to commune councils and local people in order to provide information to each other at both national and sub-national levels.
They will also provide defence lawyers for all levels of the courts and mediate disputes outside the court system.
“When there’s problem that occurs, especially if the victim is a woman or they lack the money to pursue their interests in court, we will provide this information to the volunteer lawyers. And as Ky Tech said, the services will be free of charge,” he said, referring to the head of government lawyers and the Samdech Techo Sen Volunteer Lawyers.
“We all know that there are women victims who lack the ability or resources to seek legal protection and do not know who to depend on, so this MoU is very important,” he added.
However, Yong Sem said this commission is not only to address the issue of helping vulnerable women, but also to help the general public with any sort of violation of their rights.
Ky Tech said that after receiving the cooperation of the commission, he strongly hoped that the implementation of the law on protection services and social justice will be promulgated in Cambodia.
He stated that the volunteer lawyers perform their duties without accepting fees from their clients.
“Usually the lawyer is paid by the client to argue his case or defend him. But these volunteer lawyers do not charge money. These lawyers are able to work pro-bono because they are sponsored by Samdech Techo [Prime Minister] Hun Sen and Samdech Kittipritthbandit Bun Rany Hun Sen, who are the generous initiators of this project,” he said.
“Both Samdech are providing their own funding for this initiative without taking any money from the government’s budget,” he said.
However, Ky Tech claims that the volunteer lawyers will protect vulnerable women but not women who are criminals.
“If a woman is the perpetrator of a crime, for example, if she is involved in drug trafficking or murder, or a serious crime, our lawyers will not help. That’s because if we help with their case it might seem like we are encouraging these female perpetrators to commit crimes. Thus, the lawyers help only the women who are victims,” Ky Tech stated.
However, he said that because Cambodian law stipulates that both the perpetrator and the victim must have legal representation, the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) has a team to help those who are poor who have been accused of committing crimes.
The BAKC has recently committed to expanding the scope of its services providing free consultations and legal defence for the poor.
Under their programme, the BAKC will provide legal advice to anyone whether they are victims or suspects, including defendants who are poor and have been charged with a crime. This is to uphold the principle that every person who is prosecuted in court has a right to legal representation and advice to ensure that everything is done fairly and according to the law.
According to Ky Tech, the case that the lawyers have encountered in the past was women victims of land disputes with powerful people.
“For more than a year now, most of the women affected by land disputes have been abused by powerful people. And most of them lack any knowledge of the law. This causes controversy and allows dishonest people an opportunity to take advantage of them. Therefore, our lawyers will represent them so that they have equal rights and are protected under the law,” he said.
Currently, the volunteer lawyers have a total of 137 members and are present in all provincial capitals throughout the country.
There are 10 members who work as a legal research and consulting working group. They are responsible for advising people including the other lawyers.
There are 20 lawyers who act as the intervention working group and they are responsible for carrying out urgent tasks and assisting with cases in court as necessary. They are also tasked with helping people petition for intervention from Hun Sen or other officials via Facebook and other means.
The other 96 members are the capital-provincial working group, the main body of lawyers responsible for consultations and receiving applications from citizens who are requesting legal defence and then taking charge of their cases and representing them in court when appropriate.