Human Rights at Battambang University in Cambodia

“Our Goal is to Make Ourselves Unemployed”

Irregular working hours is part of working at RWI. It is simply impossible to implement a programme of this size and complexity between 8 am and 5 pm Monday-Friday. This is partly due to the workload, but also related to the fact that we have to align our activities with our partners’ schedules. If we want the initiatives to continue without RWI’s involvement in the future (which must be on top of the agenda in everything we do) we also have to accept that activities are implemented in line with existing University schedules.

During the weekend, there were three sessions at the Master Programme in Human Rights at Pannasastra University, a couple of the Cambodian librarians that we support participated in a regional RWI course in Bangkok, and Seila spent the whole weekend in Battambang implementing a human rights course. I realise that we basically implement activities throughout the year. And the weekends are no exception.

I am thankful to Seila for his willingness and commitment to implement a human rights course every second weekend in May and June in Battambang. The course is the first credited human rights course at the university and is offered for third and fourth year law students.

Soskeila Bun, a programme officer at RWI in Cambodia
Soskeila Bun, a programme officer at RWI in Cambodia

It is an 8 hour trip by bus from Phnom Penh to Battambang. Seila has to leave early Friday morning and does not return in Phnom Penh again until late Monday evening. Then he is back in Phnom Penh for 10 days and then he has to go back to Battambang again. It is tough. In particular when the bus breaks down, which it did today (Seila just sent me a sms). However, it is a very inspiring and interesting initiative which is much appreciated by the students and the university.

Our programme strategy has been to initially support a few committed universities in Phnom Penh with an aim of building up both the individual and institutional capacity at these universities. The quality of the universities in Phnom Penh are higher than in the provinces, it is easier for us to access them and we can provide the support in English.

The fact that we have an office in Phnom Penh has been instrumental in the programme success so far. We can meet with partners on a weekly basis, hold seminar series in our office and in general better interact with partners and other stakeholders. Without an office in Phnom Penh it would have been impossible to implement this comprehensive programme.

Even though we initially only supported selected universities in Phnom Penh, the idea has always been, inspired by RWI’s China Programme, to try to expand the support to also target universities in the provinces – making use of the expertise built up at universities in Phnom Penh. I had hoped that this would be something we could do at the end of the current programme cycle, i.e. in 2017. However, the commitment from both our partner universities in Phnom Penh, and in particular the individual researchers we have worked with, has been stronger than expected. We already now have a decent sized network of very good human rights academics that are happy to contribute to RWI’s Cambodia programme. We therefore decided to pilot this initiative already this year. And it seems to have been a successful move.

The advantage of using Cambodian academics, instead of internationals, is not only that the expertise is localised and that the academics know the Cambodian context very well, but also that they can teach in Khmer, something most international experts cannot do. In addition, it is of course much more cost-efficient and sustainable to use local academics rather than internationals. We hope that the courses and the networks we build up through the programme will not be dependent on RWI’s involvement in the future. We want to make the initiatives sustainable and we hope RWI will not be needed in Cambodia in the future. Basically, our goal is to make ourselves unemployed…hmmm?
Seila is now on a replacement bus.

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