A Cambodian perspective on human rights

Soy Kimsan is a teaching assistant and researcher at the Royal University for Law and Economics in Cambodia. He is currently participating in RWI’s fellowship programme where he is conducting research on fair trial rights in Cambodia.

Why are you focusing your research on fair trial rights?

Many people in Cambodia have lost trust in the judicial system. The general perception is that the only way to win a trial is to spend more money than your opponent.

But Cambodia is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees fair trial right protections. And Cambodia has fair trial right protections in the constitution.

So the questions are: How well are they implemented, to what extent and, more importantly, to what extent are they understood by the judicial officials?

Others have done this type of research in the Cambodian context, but most of them are foreigners. I think it’s important for Cambodians themselves to start writing about these issues from a Cambodian perspective.

Ensuring fair trial rights is a means to safeguard individual liberty and to cross check the performance of the judiciary and the government.

How do you hope your participation in the fellowship programme will contribute to improving human rights in Cambodia?

While I’m here I’m hoping to improve my research, writing and pedagogical skills so when I return to my work I have a better ability to perform in my role as an academic researcher and teacher. In my work at the Centre on the Study for Humanitarian Law, a centre which was started with the support of RWI, I provide training to students, young lawyers, legal practitioners and judicial officials on human rights and fair trial rights. I hope to improve my skills while I’m here. It’s important because I’m the trainer of the trainers.


How did you become interested in working with human rights?

Human rights are important for everyone on the planet. I’m passionate about it because of Cambodia’s history. We’ve endured much suffering and under the Khmer Rouge regime we were deprived of all of our human rights. A quarter of a generation was killed.

Now that we’ve had 20 years of democratization and economic development, we have made progress, but it hasn’t been easy and we still have human rights violations.

So I began to conduct independent research into human rights to determine what the international standards are, to learn more about human rights violations in other parts of the world and to understand how other countries try to solve their problems.

The human rights principles are not very understood in Cambodia and I wanted to contribute to changing that. I believe that education is one of the best fertilizers to make that change.

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