The CLEC’s Access to Justice Program (AJP) enhances capacities of its target communities to access dispute resolution mechanisms in the areas of land and natural resources (LNR) for fair and just resolution including compensation from development projects that affect their LNR tenure and their lives. It works in the judicial and other alternative dispute resolution processes where fair and just resolution and remedy are provided as much as possible to vulnerable LNR communities.
The AJP employs both lawyers and non-lawyers (community-based paralegals or citizen’s legal advisors) to fulfill CLEC legal aid in the form of strategic litigation in both criminal cases and civil claims in relation to the issues of LNR, and through civic engagement where all actors including CLEC’s target beneficiaries (local LNR communities, CBOs, LNR Activist, HRDs, youths and paralegals), governmental authorities, private sector and other stakeholders come altogether to discuss and solve LNR cases/issues and related policies in a form of multilateral dialogue or peace table or mobile mediation in a transparent and accountable manner.
The AJP is formerly known as the Community Justice Project-Decentralized Dispute Resolution (CJP/DDR) project that sought to realize dispute resolution institution and process in commune/Sangkat offices by equipping it up with the existing commune/Sangkat chiefs and councils. The majority of Cambodians were unable to access the formal justice system, and the existing local methods of dispute resolution were not sufficiently standardized, professional or comprehensive to offer viable alternatives. The commencement of the CJP/DDR coincided with the release of the Royal Government of Cambodia’s justice sector reform strategy, which recognized the need to build capacity in alternative dispute resolution methods. The CJP/DDR responded to everyday disputes in Cambodia at community level that some were usually manageable locally, and some others related to several types of disputes – including those involving unbalanced bargaining power or those with political overtones – that were often left unresolved. Courts in Cambodia had proven to have too many barriers for ordinary citizens to access, while alternative forms of dispute resolution had not demonstrated a capacity to provide justice for rural Cambodians.
The community-based paralegals were also selected at each commune/Sangkat and well trained as local legal resource to support the commune/Sangkat dispute resolution panels (CDRP) and to perform roles as informal legal aid providers, mediators/conciliators and legal awareness persons.
As the background, CLEC succeeded to institutionalize commune level dispute resolution mechanisms which sustainably improved micro-justice for the people at the local level. Recognizing the need for expansion of effective local dispute resolution mechanisms, and the need to ensure access to justice for poor communities at judicial system, CLEC subsequently integrated the CJP/DDR into a program called Access to Justice Program (AJP).