Catalyst Asia: Empowering the Disenfranchised

March 13, 2015

A young boy watches on as communities march to a local prison where activists have been jailed. (Credit: Dene-Hern Chen)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The dusty, smog-filled outskirts of Phnom Penh may seem like an unlikely location for the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), but it was chosen for a reason. Just 5 km away from the city’s notorious Prey Sar Prison, it is easier for CLEC’s lawyers to promptly assist human rights defenders in need of pro bono legal aid.

“Whenever we hear of summons from the police, our lawyers have the ability to be accessible at the scene from the very first minute of their arrest,” Yeng Virak, CLEC’s executive director, said. “So that helps to lessen their vulnerability of forced confession or abuse.”

Legal intervention is especially necessary in a country like Cambodia where allegations of abuse by the government is rampant. Since 2000, more than half a million people – in a country of 15 million — have been affected by state-sanctioned land grabs.

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