Sixteen leaders representing several civil society and legal aid groups from Burma traveled to Cambodia in March to participate in intensive weeklong regional exchange visits with counterparts in their professional sectors. The three regional exchanges were among several planned under the Donor-Advised Fund Burma, implemented by Partners Asia and EWMI. The civil society leaders traveled to Cambodia from March 1-8, 2014 and participated in programs covering mental health, LGBT rights, and legal aid. The program is designed to respond to the decades of isolation faced by civil society in Burma by exposing leaders across CSO sectors the work of their ASEAN counterparts.
The visitors were hosted by the USAID Program on Rights and Justice in Phnom Penh, and participated in meetings with Cambodian counterparts in several provinces, including a documentation center, psychology organization, disability NGO, courts, prisons, and rural community networks. Participants also joined a two-day national conference, and networking among the three delegations has led to follow-on coordination back home in Burma.
The mental health delegation was made up of representatives from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and Social Action for Women (SAW), who met with counterparts from the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, a leading mental health group in Southeast Asia that supports survivors of torture and other state-sponsored violence. AAPP and SAW also met with the Documentation Center of Cambodia, experts from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and several local civil society groups including those working on gender-based violence.
The delegates focusing on LGBT rights came from Burma-based Colours Rainbow and the Burma LGBT Rights Network, and their visit included active participation at the national LGBT Law Conference hosted by EWMI, as well as meetings with international experts on LGBT law and the local HIV/AIDS civil society organization KHANA. Colours Rainbow later reported that delegates took away valuable lessons in using social media to promote LGBT issues, and made useful contacts with Burma legal aid lawyers who pledged to take cases concerning the LGBT community in the future.
The several public interest lawyers in the legal aid delegation spent much of their time traveling Cambodia to meet with communities, lawyers, and justice officials involved in public interest law cases. Representing several law firms, the three women and three men met with legal aid centers and other civil society groups in Phnom Penh, and traveled to Kampong Cham and Kampot Provinces where they visited prisons to observe client interviews (something they said was impossible in Burma), visited courts, and held meetings in rural settings with villagers displaced by land grabs. The lawyers also had a strategy meeting with the leading Cambodian lawyer involved in major land cases, such as the notorious Koh Kong sugar plantation land grab.
Immediately following the regional exchange visits, Partners Asia and EWMI hosted two action workshops in March, which included reports from several delegates from the exchanges. Representatives from Colours Rainbow have followed on their trip by inviting the three women legal aid lawyers to join a Burma-based workshop on legal services for the LGBT community, which was held on the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17, 2014 ). The next Partners Asia EWMI regional exchange to Cambodia is planned for June.