Defining Advocacy

by Jeff Cook

There are about 600 Khmer lawyers in Cambodia, which has a total population of about 13 million.  The Cambodian Defenders Project reports that only 226 lawyers are registered with the Cambodian Bar Association and of that number, 119 practice in court.  To put these numbers in perspective, while in America there is one lawyer for every 300 people, in Cambodia even using the generous figure of 600, the ratio is one lawyer for every 21,600 people. 

I point this out to indicate what a privilege it is to become a lawyer in Cambodia.  Indeed, only 35 people were allowed to be admitted to the bar this year, see here.  And with such few lawyers, it is often difficult for the poor to find adequate representation.  The court's practice of trying many cases in one day (up to 10) makes it that much more important to have one's position argued in a clear and powerful voice.

It is with these facts in mind that I am extraordinarily happy to report that one of the recent additions to the bar was one of our staff members at IJM.  I'll withhold his name for security reasons, but we are all very excited about his new advocacy role.  He is now a member of a very select group of professionals and effectively doubles the number of practicing Christian lawyers in the country.  As a lawyer, he can have great influence over the developing legal system and be the model by which others can follow by presenting thoroughly researched and reasoned arguments. 

And because he is receiving cases through IJM, these arguments will be presented on behalf of minors and other trafficking victims who have been enslaved at brothels and forced to provide sex to customers.  These victims do not have money to pay for a lawyer, but now, they have one more lawyer who will take up their cause and fight injustice.  In fact, we believe he is capable of having a tremendous impact; he will zealously fight to reverse the fear equation by empowering victims to speak out against their abusers in court and, based on this testimony and other evidence, secure convictions.  These convictions will then deter future would-be exploiters.

I have the great privilege of working with this lawyer by assisting him develop the necessary skills to be a strong advocate for these young victims.  He has already overcome many obstacles in his personal life, and taking on heart-wrenching cases of traumatized and frail victims as a first-year lawyer is certainly no easy task.  Please continue to pray for both of us as we take on new challenges.

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