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We had the honor of serving yesterday as a judge for the National Moot Court Competition of Cambodia, organized by East-West Management Institute. A moot court is essentially a play trial, where law students prepare a case and argue it in front of a play-judge. This year’s trial involved criminal charges against a man involved in a drunken fight in a Phnom Penh beer hall. A sadly not uncommon fact pattern.
EWMI has been supporting this competition for a number of years now, and the passion and seriousness of the law students is second to none. This is a BIG DEAL for the teams, and a championship brings a lot of pride to the school.
Law students get to experience what it is like to argue a case in front of judges and a live audience. It also trains them in cross-examination techniques and how to think on their toes.
Congratulations goes to this year’s winner, the Royal University of Law and Economics, runners-up National University of Management, and all the contestants!
Discrimination is something we all do all the time. We use mental shortcuts of our past experiences to make decisions easier. However, some discrimination is wrong and can be bad for society. When people of a certain race or gender are excluded from jobs solely on the basis of their skin or gender then useful, productive workers for that job are forced to do something else that they might not be as good at. A recent article in the Phnom Penh Post details Cambodian women’s difficulty in being treated equally in the workplace. (story here).
Section 2, Article 12 of The Labor Law of 1997 does provide women and many other groups with protections against discrimination, it reads:
Except for the provisions fully expressing under this law, or in any other legislative text or regulation protecting women and children, as well as provisions relating to the entry and stay of foreigners, no employers shall consider on account of:
- political opinion,
- social origin,
- membership of worker’s union or the exercise of union activities;
to be invoked in order to make a decision on:
- defining and assigning of work,
- vocational training,
- granting of social benefits,
- discipline or termination of employment contract.
Distinctions, rejections, or acceptances based on qualifications required for a specific job shall not be considered as discrimination.
This language seems to extend beyond the hiring process and to wage inequality as well.
More generally, the Cambodian Constitution itself says “every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law . . . regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other status” (article 31). That covers an awful lot of people, but are LGBT groups left out? What about the disabled? At the risk of being too bold, I wonder whether the clause would be stronger if it simply said “every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law” full stop?
In 2009, a law was passed that had the purpose to “prevent, reduce and eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities” (article 2 – Law on the Protection and the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). The law requires all public facilities to provide access for all disabled people (nothing terribly surprising there). However, provisions requiring “ministries and state institutions that recruit civil servants to be employed, shall employ persons with disabilities as states in article 33 of this law, in accordance with the appropriate set quota. The set quota and recruitment process shall be determined by Sub-decree.”
Officials from The Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization have been quoted as being happy with the laws on the books, but unhappy with the resources devoted to implementation (source: here). I suspect women and other groups would have similar things to say.
Excellent post over at The Mirror about the gulf between law and implementation of law. On public understanding of law, he writes:
“But there are obviously also cases where it is surely quite difficult for the public to understand the complexity of some legislation – and if it is not easy to understand the rules, there is a lower motivation to follow them – though this is normally wrong not to follow the law.”
He’s absolutely right that many people will throw up their hands in exasperation if laws are too complex to understand. While some technical laws might be difficult for the lay-person to fully grasp, in general I’ve found Cambodian laws to be fairly clear and straightforward. Foreign technical experts are often involved in drafting legislation, and as a result Cambodian laws often reflect general legal principles common to most other countries.
In my view, the greatest barrier to following the law is access – it’s simply too difficult to find legal documents. Astonishingly, there’s no comprehensive legal database or library anywhere in the country. There have been no fewer than seven foreign aid projects involved in compiling laws, but unfortunately nothing sustainable and up-to-date has come out of it. Yesterday, I met with a foreign expert working through a university here in Phnom Penh who is working to create just such an online database. I’m hopeful that in the near future we’ll have better access to laws, which should provide more motivation to follow them.