Quick update to catch you up on some great news, and to share some observations about the workings of the criminal justice system here.
First, the news. In the last nine weeks, our team at IJM-Cambodia has completed three trials against those involved in the modern-day slave trade. All three cases have involved cross-border human trafficking -- recruiting networks that have used deception to lure and trap very poor and vulnerable people into exploitation outside of Cambodia. These cases have involved three different destination countries (Thailand, Malaysia, and China) and three different industries/case types (fishing, domestic servitude, and bride trafficking). It has been fascinating and challenging work. We have watched God work miracles, and we have marveled at the great progress happening before our very eyes. Three cases, three wins, and ten convictions!
Below are some links to accounts of two of these cases. (The third did not receive any coverage.)
Conviction of Major Labor Trafficking Network for Thai Fishing Industry (IJM article, May 2017):
IJM-Cambodia Trial Against Bride Trafficking Network (June 2017):
God is on the move in this country. We can see it and feel it. Tomorrow we will join our team for our second quarterly prayer retreat, where we will give praise to the One who makes justice possible. And, to quote IJM Founder and CEO Gary Haugen, "We will keep asking for more. We will keep asking for more."
Many of you have asked us about how the system works here. What's the same? What's different? We are in a much better position to answer some of those questions now. Here are a few observations:
• Under Cambodian law, a criminal trial is consolidated with a claim for civil compensation. That means the victim’s lawyer (our IJM legal team) gets a seat at the table when the criminal trial takes place. We have a right to cross-examine witnesses and make closing arguments at trial, alongside the prosecutors and defense attorneys. It’s a three-party trial, and the victim is one of those parties.
• There is no right to a jury trial here. Trial is to a single judge or a panel of three judges, depending on the severity of the offense. Felonies are crimes with a sentence of more than five years, and all felony trials are heard by a three-judge panel. Misdemeanors are crimes with a sentence up to five years, and misdemeanor trials are heard by a single judge.
• Criminal charges are made by a judicial official called an Investigating Judge (IVJ). When a prosecutor believes charges are warranted, the prosecutor submits a written report with supporting evidence to the IVJ. The IVJ then conducts a “Judicial Investigation,” with witnesses being summoned to give statements that are put in writing. Each witness puts a thumbprint on his or her own statement. After completing the Judicial Investigation, the IVJ either closes the case with no charges, or forwards the case on to trial with formal charges. The IVJ does not participate in the trial, which is heard by a different judge or a three-judge panel.
• When trial begins, the written statements from the Judicial Investigation are already part of the record. The trial judge or judges read all of those statements before the trial begins. Witnesses do not have to repeat the “testimony” they have already given. When a witness is put on the stand, it is for cross-examination only. The judges get the first shot, followed by the prosecution, defense, and victim’s lawyer.
• Because so much of the record is made before trial begins, the trial itself is short. The three trials I have attended have started and finished in a half-day. (Trials in the U.S. typically range from 1 day to several weeks.)
• Court hearings and trials reliably fail to start on time. They typically begin about 60-90 minutes after the scheduled time. Everyone here knows this, and they plan accordingly. (Warning: the transplanted American lawyer can find this highly uncomfortable.)
• Trial concludes with an anti-climactic scheduling of a verdict announcement a week or a few weeks later, when the verdict and judgment will be read in court. It's deeply unsatisfying on the day of trial, but so far our team has been rewarded for its patience.
It is different, but it is good.
I constantly have to pinch myself. Somehow we have been given this gift of getting to participate in this work. I go to the office every day with the goal of actually helping to free slaves, send slave traffickers to jail, and help protect the poor from violence. I have never felt more alive and filled with purpose. IJM stands up for the lost, the vulnerable, the voiceless, the oppressed, the poor, and the forgotten. It is God’s work. It’s big, important, meaningful, and deeply fulfilling. The work of our office is making a tremendous difference out here in the real world. So we are grateful. We are constantly reminded that all of you helped make this happen through your prayers and financial support. With full hearts, we send you our thanks. We will never forget the blessings that you made possible. God bless you all!