Lack of Legal Aid in Cambodia Puts Children, Poor at Risk

A national legal aid system is imperative and must be established to offset a widening gap between those who can afford justice and those who cannot, the representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia said on Friday. In a bid to address the problem, the Ministry of Justice and the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia held a national legal aid conference in Phnom Penh, during which the OHCHR’s Wan-Hea Lee appealed to the assembled prosecutors, judges and lawyers to take an active part in establishing such a system. … According to research carried out by the OHCHR, “the number of legal aid lawyers is small and diminishing,” Ms. Lee said. Data shows that there were 119 such advocates in 2010, but that the number has since fallen to 76. In several provinces, there are no legal aid lawyers at all. … Bar Association President Bun Honn told attendees at the conference that his legal body has such a department, which employs 48 legal-aid lawyers and is run on a budget of about $50,000. Up to October this year, the Bar Association received request for free legal aid in 798 cases involving 1,169 clients, 88 of whom were minors, Mr. Honn said, adding that assistance could only be provided in 95 of these cases. … Kem Santipheap, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said the Constitution states that “access to justice and equal rights before the law are guaranteed…regardless of social status.” However, the cost of legal aid could not be borne by the government alone. “Legal aid needs to be contributed to by everybody,” he said.

Lauren Crothers