this drafting process in order to share lessons learned and best practices for a more comprehensive
legal aid policy.41
Unfortunately, in past years, international funding for access to justice in Cambodia has
reached a standstill.42 Despite the fact that international donors have supported the justice sector for
years and understandably believe that it is time for the domestic justice sector to sustain itself, the
reality is that Cambodia is not fully prepared to embrace a self-sufficient model. While millions of
dollars pour in for transitional justice work,43 the day-to-day justice system continues to be ignored
at the expense of thousands of Cambodians.44 The denial by the international community of
Cambodia’s lack of readiness to take ownership of its domestic justice sector will lead to a regression
in access to justice for countless Cambodians, especially those in rural and remote areas.45
In February 2016, the Child Rights International Network (CRIN) released its international
ranking of each country’s diligence in protecting the rights of children.46 This study focused on the
legal status of the child, court remedies available to children, evaluation of sentencing, pre-trial
detention rates, etc.47 Cambodia did not fare well during this assessment and is currently ranked 166
out of 197 countries in the study.48 Limited job opportunities, lack of adequate nutrition, hunger,
forced labor, and poor health conditions are just a few of the problems that Cambodian children face.49
When children come into contact with the law, these conditions subject them to abuse and violate
their rights, such as through restricted access to legal representation, harsh pre-trial detention
conditions, and a lack of alternatives to imprisonment.50 The newly formed Legal Aid Technical
Working Group spoke of these issues at their meeting on November 30, 2017, and discussed the need
to prioritize children in the national legal aid policy in order to strengthen rule of law.51
A. Why Worry About the Rising Rate of Detention Among Cambodian Juveniles?
Cambodian juveniles are often held in pretrial detention for months, without a warrant or
reasonable cause.52 Additionally, they are tried without legal counsel in adult criminal courts and
given unnecessarily harsh sentences for petty crimes.53 A minor in Cambodia is defined as eighteen
years of age or younger and the Cambodian Criminal Procedural Code (CPC) limits detention to
children fourteen to eighteen years of age.54 The CPC states that pre-trial detention can only be used
in limited circumstances, such as “where it is necessary to prevent the harassment of witnesses or
victims, to prevent the offense from happening again…to preserve evidence [and] to preserve public
order.”55 Nevertheless, Cambodian authorities regularly violate the CPC by using this last resort
42 IBJ Internal Memorandum, A Worsening Situation for Domestic Justice (Sept. 2017).
43 Mydans, supra note 24.
44 IBJ Internal Memorandum, supra note 42.
46 Jonathan Cox, Cambodia Near Bottom in Global List of Children’s Access to Justice, KHMER TIMES (Feb. 14, 2016)
49 A Measure of Last Resort: The Current Status of Juvenile Justice in ASEAN Member States, 44 RAOUL WALLENBERG
INST. OF HUM. RTS. & HUMAN. L. 9, 49 (2015) http://rwi.lu.se/app/uploads/2015/04/Juvenile-Justice-Report.pdf.
[hereinafter A Measure of Last Resort].
50 Id. at 44.
51 See generally Rodriguez, supra note 40.
52 Carmela Ferraro, Cambodia Opens the Door to Juvenile Justice Reform, THE GUARDIAN (Oct. 23, 2012),
54 CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE OF THE KINGDOM OF CAMBODIA art. 212 (Cambodia) [hereinafter C. CRIM. PROC.].
55 A Measure of Last Resort, supra note 49, at 35.