Cambodian immersion opens minds and hearts to social justice issues back home

Notre Dame Law students at the
Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh

Visiting the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

8 February 2017

Witnessing Cambodia’s developing legal system first-hand and networking with groups committed to human rights protection were features of a dynamic international learning opportunity for Law students at The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Fremantle Campus.

The Cambodia Immersion is part of the School of Law’s ongoing commitment to providing students with practical, social justice-orientated learning opportunities. This opportunity was made possible thanks to a Federal Government grant of $40,000, through the New Colombo Plan (NCP), which provided scholarships for 16 students to travel to Cambodia.

With supervision from Notre Dame Law academics Dr Lara Pratt and Justine Howard, students travelled to Phnom Penh for a two-week placement to explore the Cambodian legal system and, in turn, acquire an insight into the diverse career paths open to law graduates with a passion for human rights and social justice.

Students visited non-government organisations (NGOs), such as Legal Aid Cambodia and International Bridges of Justice – both which are engaged in human rights protection. They also observed court proceedings at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and at local criminal courts, met Cambodian law students, and engaged with a range of lawyers involved in human rights activities within Cambodia.

Dr Pratt said the purpose of the Law immersion in Cambodia was to give students an insight into the hardships facing ordinary Cambodians, and to encourage students to reflect the ways in which local and international laws may impact on marginalised and disadvantaged groups.

“Cambodia is a country whose recent history is marred by great tragedy. The enduring legacy of the Khmer Rouge Regime (1975 – 1979) has meant that Cambodia’s legal, economic and educational systems have had to develop in a relatively short period,” Dr Pratt said.

“Our Law students were able to see, first-hand, how the theory of human rights is not always straightforward when faced with the reality of Cambodia’s developing legal system. Students were also able to assist some of the NGOs with various tasks such as legal research and preparing grant proposals.”

Having access to this overseas learning opportunity gave Law student, Rachel Porter, an insight to the broader context in which human rights law operates.

“The skills we learnt from actually being at the NGOs would not have been possible within a conventional classroom. From this experience we observed a nation emerging from a genocide and trying to recreate a civil society,” Rachel said.

Inspired by the NGOs visited in Cambodia, Law student, Kendra Turner, says the trip allowed students to gain an understanding of some of the challenges that people in developing countries face and to reflect on their own position in the global community.

“The passion and drive of the different NGOs demonstrates how many Cambodians are dedicated to improving conditions and advancing the human rights of the marginalised,” Kendra said.

The University was awarded $310,200 in NCP funding in 2017 to support learning and immersion experiences in the Indo-Pacific Region for Notre Dame students from a range of disciplines.

Professor Peta Sanderson, Pro Vice Chancellor International, says studying abroad can form an important part of a student’s career development and is an important distinguishing attribute for future employers.

“Notre Dame is grateful to the Federal Government for its generous support which allows the University to provide these outstanding international learning experiences for students,” Professor Sanderson said.

“Ultimately, our students will benefit from the transformational, informative and comprehensive hands-on education they will receive through close engagement with the cultures, individuals and languages of the Indo-Pacific Region.”

For more information about study opportunities supported by the NCP, as well as other international exchange programs at Notre Dame, please visit


Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093;