More than sixty lawyers, law students, LGBT activists, human rights defenders, and Ministry of Justice officials assembled in Phnom Penh for the first Cambodian LGBT Law Conference. Conference participants met to discuss ways to ensure the LGBT community has equal rights and protections under Cambodian law. The purpose of the conference was to identify legal issues facing the LGBT community, and to draft measures to address these legal issues.
EWMI’s Program on Rights and Justice (PRAJ II) organized the two-day conference, held on March 4-5, 2014. The conference was a follow up event to a National Dialogue hosted by UNDP, USAID, and OHCHR Cambodia in January, “Being LBGT in Asia,” which identified broad social issues that the LGBT community faces in Cambodia. The specific issue which the Cambodian LGBT Law Conference focused on was mainstreaming LGBT rights into the Civil Code and into regulations of the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.
The conference was opened by USAID representative April O’Neil who reaffirmed the US State Department’s commitment to equality for LGBT persons worldwide. EWMI partners and local LGBT leaders co-facilitated the conference with Professor Gary Atkins of Seattle University. EWMI Senior Legal Advisor, Mark West, was also present and was quoted in Cambodia Daily for his remarks that the 2011 Civil Code demonstrates a “clear evolution” in the law since the country’s 1989 Marriage and Family Law, which had prohibited same-sex marriage. “The Civil Code supersedes the Family and Marriage Law and…frequently uses the word ‘spouse’ to describe couples and also clearly states that homosexual marriage and heterosexual marriage are types of marriage. I think that’s fascinating.” Dr. West added.
One of the issues discussed at the conference was the discrimination and stigmatization LGBT persons face in school, which deter them from receiving their education. Transgender students are often harassed and forced to dress in gender-based uniforms in school. Conference participants addressed this issue by drafting and unanimously adopting proposed language for a ministry order, or Prakas, which states “No students shall be denied education services on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or choice of uniform.” The conference will submit this Prakas to the chief of cabinet of the Minister of Education, Youth and Sport and to the Ministry of Justice. Watch as Cambodian law students lead conference participants in drafting the Prakas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTteZs2Psmc.
Nuon Sidara of EWMI-partner organization Cambodian Center for Human Rights, expressed the equality in education issue best: "School is a place for personal development and education but not discrimination, especially on sexual and gender diversity as diversity in school is fun, is normal, is happening and it is a legal right."