Professor Joel Samuels Helps Rebuild Cambodia’s Legal System

Associate Professor of Law Joel Samuels in his Civil  Procedure class.

Associate Professor of Law Joel Samuels in his Civil Procedure class.

Few people in the world can say they have had a hand in helping to rebuild a country’s legal system.

Professor Joel Samuels can say he has done it for several around the globe, much of that work in Russia and Zimbabwe. This February, he will add Cambodia to that list.

Samuels, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and deputy director of the University’s Rule of Law Collaborative, will travel to Cambodia as part of a five-member American Bar Association (ABA) delegation to help the country’s on-going efforts to rebuild its judicial system from the devastating impact of the Khmer Rouge.

Other members of the delegation include James R. Silkenat, president-elect of the ABA; the Honorable Cara Lee Neville, secretary of the ABA; the Honorable Elizabeth S. Strong, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge; and Tracee Davis, Of Counsel, Zeichner Ellman & Krause LLP.

“Back in the 1970s, when the Khmer Rouge came to power, the Cambodian judiciary—and indeed an entire class of judges and lawyers—was decimated,” said Samuels. “Since that time, Cambodia has essentially had to rebuild its whole system from scratch, and our delegation will be a small part of that process.”

“Our primary goal is to share our knowledge about a number of legal disciplines and to learn more about the challenges being faced by the legal profession in Cambodia,” said Silkenat.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia with an iron fist from 1975 to 1979, radically and suddenly transforming the country. Public schools, universities, churches, and shops were closed.  Citizens could no longer own private property, and children were removed from their parents and raised to think of the state as “mother and father.” According to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of educated Cambodians, including doctors, lawyers, and judges were executed.

While the Khmer Rouge’s control of the country lasted less than four years, its effects were felt for decades.  Not until 1993, when the country became a constitutional monarchy, did Cambodia begin to make significant steps towards rebuilding its government, infrastructure, and economy.

Professor Samuels estimates that efforts to re-establish Cambodia’s legal system have been going on in earnest for nearly two decades. And according to Silkenat, there have been a number of ABA rule of law projects in Cambodia over the past 10 years.  But the process of rebuilding institutions and training a new generation of legal actors is by nature a slow one.

“We expect that there will be frequent follow-up sessions in the future,” Silkenat added.

During the upcoming trip, Professor Samuels will deliver lectures to the Cambodian Judges’ Academy and to the Cambodian Bar on various forms of dispute resolution, including litigation, arbitration, and other mechanisms.  In addition, he will provide an introduction to intellectual property law for the Cambodian judges.

Other members of the delegation will be focusing on ethics, criminal law, business law, judicial administration, bankruptcy/insolvency and bar associations.

“I am looking forward to engaging with my counterparts at the ABA, who share my interest in promoting rule of law,” said Samuels. “On top of that, I am especially excited to have my first chance to interact substantively with members of the Cambodian Bar and to have an exchange of ideas with them.”

“The ABA has strong rule of law programs and activities in a large number of developing countries around the world and we are very pleased to include leading legal scholars from the University of South Carolina School of Law in this effort,” said Silkenat.  “That adds great substance and depth to our work.”

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