cambodian researchers

Normalising Human Rights Education in Cambodia


Sokseila Bun has been working at RWI’s Phnom Penh Office since 2013. We sat down to find out more about his work at RWI.

Bun didn’t plan to work in human rights and initially studied business but his first job at the International Justice Mission changed his perspective.

Initially, I probably wanted to be rich but I also applied to work at a human rights organisation at the same time (as my business degree)

. I was working in administration but went along with the director when they met about human trafficking, child abuse and victims. I started to learn what human rights were and became interested.

After graduating business school he went on to study a bachelor in law while still working at the International Justice Mission. In 2007, he travelled to South Korea to complete a Masters in Law, before moving to Australia to begin specializing in Human Rights and Democratisation at the University of Sydney.

After completing his studies, Bun returned to Cambodia. In 2013 he met the director of RWI’s Phnom Penh office and with his current projects finished, he joined RWI.

Bun says that RWI has a quite different approach to human rights work compared to his previous organisations. While he had previously focused more on advocacy, RWI tends to focus on research and development of human rights education at an institutional level.

It’s a different angle. Neither is better or more important and they both work in different ways to contribute to protecting and promoting human rights.

He now works as a Programme Officer with responsibilities in both the Cambodia and Regional Asia programmes, meaning his job varies extensively.

It is different from week to week, month to month. For example I just came from Kathmandu for an activity.  I do a range of technical work, programme and financial administration.

Sometimes this variation can prove challenging especially when a topic is new or there is a need to learn new skills, such as financial reports, quickly, but it is something that Bun embraces.

I prefer the technical things such as designing a training or working on an agenda but when it comes to the money and the numbers, I’m very slow.

He also travels extensively and engages in a lot of networking which he thoroughly enjoys. As a part of this, he says one of the most interesting and successful projects he has worked with has been the research initiatives.

In Cambodia it is not very profitable for teachers to teach and then do the research because they are paid at an hourly rate. It can be difficult for people to teach fulltime and do the research.

RWI connects local research with international research and resources, giving people a chance to receive mentorship and present their work at an international level.

It’s important to have Cambodian researchers presenting on the international stage. Six years ago there were no local voices for Cambodia but now there are so many of them. This allows the international community to get to know the ability of Cambodian researchers and their academic institutions.

Another key aspect of normalising human rights education in Cambodia has been supporting academic institutions by training lecturers, researchers and university staff on human rights and providing different teaching methodologies.

Additionally the human rights masters course that RWI supports at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia has now been running for five years and Bun says this has made an important impact on how human rights is perceived in Cambodia.

There have been so many students registered and graduating from the human rights programme. That’s quite a change, as previously it was not seen as a credible job. Before human rights were strange and sensitive, but not anymore because it is international law and part of our institutions and laws, so we can start to learn more and do more about human rights.

The Cambodian programme is made possible through Swedish development cooperation.