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."
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
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
He also said, with irritation, that the actions of the court in
trying to continue to prosecute the criminals were interfering with his
"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.
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."
whether he believed the local authorities had demanded money from the
confessors, Sarin declined to comment, but asked with a smile what the Post
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
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 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."
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
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
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.
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
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
"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."