of the Juvenile Justice Bill, discussed in Part IV of this article, will establish a safer rule of law for
III. THE CURRENT LEGAL ENVIRONMENT IN CAMBODIA
The judicial system in Cambodia faces many challenges in its organization, structure, and
development, and struggles to cope with the demand for an effective delivery of justice. As of June
2017, there were a reported 25,500 prisoners in Cambodia.32 Of these 25,500 prisoners, 70.6% are
without a final judgment, 34.1% are in pre-trial detention and 36.5% are awaiting a final judgment.33
In addition, because of the government’s recent series of strict anti-drug measures,34 the prison
population is quickly increasing,35 placing an additional strain on the limited capacities of the justice
system. Over 17,800 people have been arrested during this war on drugs, with more than half being
arrested on small drug possession charges as opposed to trafficking, which is a more serious offense.36
Moreover, as of April 2018, there is still no comprehensive, state-sponsored legal aid system.37
However, the government increased the legal aid budget to the Bar Association of the Kingdom of
Cambodia to about $220,000, continuing a positive trend from previous years.38 In August 2017, the
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (“UNOHCHR”) held a conference with a variety
of stakeholders from the Ministry of Justice and legal aid NGOs to discuss the challenges affecting
legal aid, as well as recommendations for improving and increasing legal aid services, including those
for juveniles.39 Stakeholders agreed that legal aid advocacy and casework are invaluable instruments
in the justice system and must be included in domestic policy, of which the drafting process will start
soon.40 Additionally, the Ministry of Justice invited legal aid NGOs to collaborate with them during
31 Kong Meta & Erin Handley, New Facility for Young Offenders, PHNOM PENH POST (Sept. 20, 2016),
http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/new-facility-young-offenders. This new Juvenile Justice law was signed by
Royal Proclamation in July 2016 and was disseminated in both Khmer and English in mid-2017. See also Q&A on the
Newly Adopted Juvenile Justice Law in Cambodia, UNICEF CAMBODIA (Sept. 19, 2016),
http://unicefcambodia.blogspot.com/2016/09/q-on-newly-adopted-juvenile-justice-law.html [hereinafter UNICEF].
32 Cambodia, World Prison Brief Data, WORLD PRISON BRIEF, http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/cambodia (last
visited Oct. 9, 2017) [hereinafter World Prison Brief Data].
34 In early 2017, an intensive anti-drug campaign began in Cambodia to crackdown on “small-scale drug users and dealers
and to better monitor the nation’s borders to stop the entry of narcotics.” However, it has led to the detention and
conviction of thousands with no option of rehabilitation for many incarcerated users. See Lay Simean & Erin Handley,
Top Officials Vow Harder Line with Drugs Initiative, PHNOM PENH POST (Dec. 23, 2016),
35 Between 2010 and 2015, the prison population increased by almost 25%. World Prison Brief Data, supra note 32.
36 Nhem Chheng & Erin Handley, Mixed Results in Cambodia’s drug war: officials, PHNOM PENH POST (Feb 6, 2018),
37 Final Report from IBJ to UNOHCHR, Dec. 2017, CMB/09/CI/01 Cambodia B415, “Legal Aid at the Court of Appeal
in Cambodia” [hereinafter Legal Aid at the Court of Appeal in Cambodia].
38 Pech Sotheary, Legal Aid Budget to Rise by Half, KHMER TIMES (Aug. 30, 2017),
39 IBJ Internal Memorandum, Dec. 2017. The Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia’s (BAKC) 2017 figures show
that there is a total of 1011 practicing lawyers in Cambodia. In July 2017, the OHCHR established that there were only
135 lawyers practicing as legal aid lawyers (full or part time) in the country. Predictably, only a few of the lawyers are
willing and able to refuse more lucrative areas of practice in favor of the very modest salary that NGOs can afford.
40 See generally Jenessy Rodriguez, International Bridges to Justice, Internal Meeting Notes (Nov. 2017) (on file with