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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Amnesties galore: Prey Veng boss scorns courts

Amnesties galore: Prey Veng boss scorns courts

Amnesties galore: Prey Veng boss scorns courts

IN a bizarre and unprecedented move, provincial authorities in Prey Veng have

begun offering amnesties to armed robbers, murderers and thieves, in return for

promises from the criminals that they will "refrain from future wrongdoing" -

sparking severe condemnation from human rights officials.

The new policy

has caused a major rift between the Prey Veng provincial court - which wants to

carry on prosecuting the criminals in accordance with the law - and the

Governor, Deputy Governor, police, military police and gendarmerie, all of whom

back the governor's amnesty plan.

According to the constitution, only

the King is allowed to grant an amnesty.

Thomas Hammerberg, the UN

Special Representative for Human Rights, called the new policy "outrageous", and

noted that "the authorities blessed the whole thing. This is what makes people

believe that the worst criminals can get away with it."

However, the

Governor of Prey Veng, Chuang Sivuth, stood by his new policy, even though he

admitted it was not exactly legal.

"By law, the bandits should be

punished," he acknowledged, "but with our policy we are making a favor to these

robbers."

He said that his aim was to create a province where the crime

rate was negligible.

"It is provincial policy to demolish the robbers

... there are lots of robbers in the district and we want them to come and

confess."

He also said, with irritation, that the actions of the court in

trying to continue to prosecute the criminals were interfering with his

policy.

"The function of the court could infringe on my policy," he said.

"I am trying to be diplomatic with the court, but the court has summoned a

couple of robbers for questioning, which makes the other robbers afraid of

coming to confess, and it interferes with our policy."

Observers in the

area say there has been a rift between the court and the governor for some time.

The renegade policy was first implemented on Sep 15, when provincial authorities

held a ceremony to give amnesty to 15 criminals in Me Sang district, Prey Veng.

During the ceremony (which was attended by over 500 people including local MPs

Gnim Vanda, Deputy Governor Chhay Saret, police, military police, chiefs of

communes and hundreds of villagers) the criminals swore that they would refrain

from wrongdoing in the future, and signed contracts saying that if they were to

break this agreement they would be arrested by the police.

The Prey Veng

provincial prosecutor, Moung Sarin, said wryly that the court had not been

informed of the ceremony, nor had its staff been invited to attend.

"I

have made a dossier which I have sent to the Ministry of Justice, to ask for

suggestions on how to deal with this," he said, noting that by law, the

criminals should be investigated by the court, and that providing amnesty for

offenders was the sole province of King Sihanouk.

"This is not legal," he

said. "I'm really curious because this has never happened before, and I cannot

understand why all these robbers would just come and confess."

When asked

whether he believed the local authorities had demanded money from the

confessors, Sarin declined to comment, but asked with a smile what the Post

thought.

But he admitted he was particularly surprised at the "victim's

representative", Hem Sovan, who spoke at the Sep 15 ceremony on behalf of all

victims of the armed robbers, murderers and thieves.

According to the

minutes of the ceremony obtained by the Post, Sovan "congratulated and supported

the policy of the authority, especially parliament member Mr Gnim Vanda, in

granting amnesty to the bandits who confessed." He added that "amnesty for

bandits who confessed can eliminate criminal activities because punishment by

law is not fruitful."

"I'm curious about this too," said Sarin. "Why

would the victims not want to ask the authorities for compensation from the

offenders?"

Governor Sivuth agreed that his policy did not provide

justice for the victims, but was keen to assert that it did help to improve the

security situation. When asked how allowing robbers to go free improved the

security situation, he replied that the robbers appreciated their new freedom,

and had promised to "not be bad" again. He denied accepting money from the

criminals in return for their amnesty, as did Deputy Governor Chhay

Saret.

Saret told the Post that the new strategy had been modeled on the

government's amnesty for former Khmer Rouge soldiers.

"After the Khmer

Rouge defection, when the government welcomed the rebels into the government,

the Khmer Rouge did not exist any more," he said, arguing that by extension, if

the provincial authorities welcomed bandits back into the community, the bandits

would cease to be bandits.

However, not even the Governor and Deputy

Governor seemed able to agree on some of the most basic points of the policy,

and in interviews conducted on two consecutive days in Prey Veng, both the

Governor and Deputy Governor constantly contradicted themselves and each other

over the aims and the extent of the strategy.

Deputy Governor Saret, for

example, was at pains to stress that this was not an "amnesty", although he

later admitted that it was.

He then announced that "They [the criminals

who received amnesty] are still under investigation, but if some day they are

found to have committed more crimes, then they can still be arrested - and for

their past crimes as well." Yet later in the same interview he said that "after

confession, the authorities do not have the right to arrest them."

There

was also some confusion over the efficacy of the policy in terms of trusting the

criminals to do as they had pledged.

"We believe the robbers did not tell

us everything, that they have done more serious things," said Chhay

Saret.

He then said the 15 bandits were not "serious" robbers, and that

serious robbers would never give themselves up. When asked how this could

possibly help to reduce crime in the province, the deputy governor avoided the

question.

Similarly, the Governor admitted, "We can't trust them, so we

... are investigating them secretly."

The Deputy Governor was also at a

loss to explain how his authorities' actions were legal, saying, "Of course this

is not the law, but the competent authorities have the right to destroy or

eliminate robbers." He was at pains later to stress that "this is not government

policy, it is our policy."

Nor could either official explain how the

policy would in any way deter new criminals from committing crimes.

And

the policy does not stop at just murderers, robbers and thieves. According to

local sources, one day after the ceremony 53 prostitutes were called in by the

authorities, and were made to sign written statements declaring that they

promised "to stop being prostitutes". A day after that, all the brothel owners

in Prey Veng town were rounded up and subjected to the same

treatment.

Governor Sivuth denies, however, that he is creating an

extrajudicial monster, or that he is preventing the court from doing its duty,

saying instead that the crime rate in the province has dropped since the

round-up of criminals, and that the detaining of sex workers and brothel owners

was "merely a warning step to stop them from continuing their

activities".

"It's a way of educating them," he said.

And he has

no plans to change his policy in the near future. When asked whether he believed

that granting amnesty to criminals was a more effective way of dealing with

crime in society than prosecuting them and sending them to jail, he answered

simply, "Yes, it is. Because the people here now have a good understanding of

what amnesty is."

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