Opposition leader Sam Rainsy led a march of around 1,000 drought-affected farmers to the offices of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank on August 9. Rainsy called on the country heads of the institutions to pay more heed to the needs of the poor, and to combat corruption.
The Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC) has criticized aspects of a draft law
to outlaw domestic violence, saying that several clauses in the legislation could
result in the law being "a dangerous step backwards".
The draft was produced last year and submitted to the National Assembly in July,
but a CWCC paper presented at a joint government-NGO conference August 6 warned that
it contained several serious flaws.
"A large proportion of women in Cambodia are victims of some form of domestic
violence, from threats up to rape and murder," it noted. "[But] there are
several things which should be done to the draft law before it is adopted."
Among the necessary corrections called for by the NGO were: that the draft should
provide that the perpetrator, not the victim, be removed from the home; that a clause
appearing to legalize marital rape be rewritten; and that three articles that created
a series of "badly defined" new crimes be deleted.
The NGO did applaud the new law as "an important advance in Cambodian law",
stating it would better prevent violence by instituting protection orders against
abusive spouses that would compel them to stay away from the marital home. Victims
would also benefit as the courts would have more latitude to impose penalties appropriate
to each situation.
Minister of Women's Affairs, Mu Sochua, said she was concerned the drawn-out discussions
could mean the law would not be adopted before the general election in July 2003.
At that point the National Assembly's mandate will expire, which would likely result
in further delays in passing the law.
Sochua, who has campaigned forcefully for years on the subject, said efforts to perfect
the minutiae of the legislation could backfire. She called on the participants to
get a basic law passed first, then concentrate on the details.
"When we go shopping at the market, we want to buy everything, fish, vegetable,
fruits ... [but] we have only one basket and have to put everything in it. I am afraid
the basket will leak," she said by way of analogy.
There was broad agreement at the conference that the legislation was necessary. Surveys
from both government and NGOs repeatedly show that domestic violence affects at least
a quarter of Cambodian women.
Hor Phally, executive director of the Project Against Domestic Violence, said it
could help reverse a rising tide of domestic violence and give women an option other
than turning to NGOs such as hers for help.
"Khmer tradition means that women always keep quiet when their husbands abuse
them, but since [there are a] growing number of NGOs helping women, it's given them
encouragement to speak up," she said.
Other participants said combating domestic violence would require re-educating police,
who are generally reluctant to get involved in what as seen as a family matter. Sok
Sam Oeurn, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the police needed training
to properly deal with the issue.
"The police never consider domestic violence as something wrong," he said.
"They don't want to get involved in conflict."
"Sophal", is a 41-year-old farmer from Kandal whose case illustrates the
realities of domestic violence. She is now under the protection of an NGO but told
the Post her husband beat her for years after he took a mistress.
Eventually she complained to the local authorities and the police, but they did not
help. His last act of violence forced her to flee.
"I could not stand being with him any longer," she said. "He poured
gasoline on my body and set me alight. I will divorce him to save my life."
"Though I worked hard I was still wrong," Sophal said. "I cooked
food for him, but he never enjoyed it. He did not tell me the reason, but only used
violence. [Sometimes] when I returned from the rice field, he would beat me."