Cambodian Community Empowerment and Legal Awareness (CELA)

The Community Empowerment and Legal Awareness (CELA) programme was established in Cambodia in 2008. The programme supports community organisation at the grassroots level by networking, educating and advocating on behalf of disadvantaged individuals.

The programme has five strategic objectives and related activities:

  • Raising awareness and building capacity
  • Training of trainers
  • Community education and empowerment
  • Exposing law students to social justice work
  • Strengthening community solidarity and supporting grassroots advocacy
  • Read about the Community empowerment and legal awareness programme

Raising awareness and building capacity

The first objective of the CELA programme is to raise awareness and build local capacity through the development, publication and dissemination of relevant community legal education curriculum.

The curriculum uses interactive teaching methodologies developed specifically for community legal education which originated from 'Street Law' programmes in the United States.

The material is taught through methods such as brainstorming, group discussions and debates, role-plays, games, quizzes, drawing, presentations, demonstrations, video, stories, hypothetical cases and real life case studies. Participants therefore take an active part in their learning with the dual result that they both enjoy the process and retain the maximum amount from it.

Several community legal education (CLE) manuals have been produced covering a wide range of topics from Community Legal Advisor Skills to Introduction to Law; the Khmer Rouge Tribunal; Gender and Domestic Violence; Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Land Law; and HIV/AIDS and the Law.

Training of trainers

'The workshops provided an invaluable forum for both testing and improving the curriculum, while simultaneously building a network of informed community trainers with effective facilitation skills'

The second objective of the programme is to build the capacity of local trainers, community legal advisors, and advocates to deliver interactive legal education in their communities, and to address community problems.

CELA organise 'Training of Trainer (ToT)' workshops for local NGO staff, community network activists and community representatives. There are community training modules on 'Negotiation Skills', 'Forced Evictions and Your Rights' and 'Indigenous Land Rights'.

Community education and empowerment

'It is through these education programmes that we encourage the development of individuals and champions who fight to protect and defend human rights and uninhibited access to justice. There is little use digging desperately-needed water wells for a community if the likelihood of land grabbing is a near certainty and community members have no one to turn to for help. Our legal education initiative broadens the base of social justice advocates for these communities to turn to immediately and long into the future'.

Bruce Lasky
Director of the BABSEA Community Legal Education Initiative

The third objective of the programme is to empower vulnerable and marginalised communities by helping them to better understand their rights and how to access them.

CELA programme staff, or trainers who were trained by the CELA programme carry out direct community trainings in the different provinces on topics such as 'Land and Housing Rights', 'Introduction to Law', 'Domestic Violence' and 'Advocacy Skills'.

A major project of the CELA in 2008-2009 was the development and publication of the 'Cambodian guide to defending land and housing rights'.

The guide is a comprehensive popular education resource for people who are facing displacement as a result of development. It contains information and activities that help communities facing eviction understand their rights under national and international law, and develop skills and advocacy strategies to defend their rights. Link to the guide.

A 'Stop Evictions' campaign run by the Housing Rights Task Force seeks to bring an end to violations of land and housing rights in Cambodia.

More about the Stop Evictions campaign and forced evictions in Cambodia.

Exposing law students to social justice work

Law students play an important role in the CELA programme. Working with international interns, Cambodian law students have researched and helped draft community legal education curricula, assisted with trainings, contributed to community service projects and advocacy campaigns, and learned about the legal and human rights problems facing Cambodian communities.

Strengthening community solidarity and supporting grassroots advocacy

'A network of indigenous community activists are now delivering trainings across the country to threatened indigenous communities'

Strengthening intra-community solidarity in collective defense of human rights is the final objective of the CELA programme. The programme works to facilitate community organising and networking between community activists including the Community Peace-building Network (CPN).

The Community Empowerment and Legal Awareness (CELA) programme has been developed by Bridges Across borders Southeast Asia (BABSEA) in partnership with the Community Legal Education Centre in Cambodia.

Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC)

CLEC promotes the rule of law and democracy by supporting programs that combine legal education, advocacy, and empowerment. Their key aims are:

  • Defending land rights through high impact legal advocacy, and empowering indigenous communities for the protection of land and natural resources.
  • Upholding and improving labour rights and industrial relations through legal trainings, factory monitoring, and legal awareness campaigns
  • Addressing the inability of most Cambodians to access the formal justice system through the institutionalization of commune level dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Promoting increased participation in legal and democratic processes, and upholding the rule of law through the development and enforcement of good governance policies.

More about Cambodian community legal education centre.

Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia (BABSEA)

Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia (BABSEA) is an international grassroots organisation working to bring people together to overcome poverty, injustice and inequity in the Southeast Asia region.

BABSEA's mission is to:

  • Raise global awareness of the pressing issues facing people in Southeast Asia
  • Facilitate people-to-people and educational exchanges, cross-cultural dialogue, and volunteer programs
  • Support local struggles for social justice, equitable development and the protection of human rights
  • Teach creative, non-violent methods of resolving conflict and redressing injustice.

BABSEA was incorporated as a not-for-profit organisation in the State of Florida in July 2008. As well their work in Cambodia they have several community development initiatives in Thailand, Malaysia, Laos and Vietnam.

More about Bridges across Borders.