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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The 'NGO judiciary'

The 'NGO judiciary'

L etter addressed to Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Gareth


I would like to bring to your attention the case of a British doctor

now under detention in Cambodia for having sex with children. This matter has

been publicised on the Internet by Michael Smith who works for Danish National


The story he tells is that Gavin Scott was arrested on a

charge of having sex with 15-year-old boys in Phnom Penh on the initiative of

NGOs wanting to mount a test case to prevent others having sex with children.

The point Smith makes is that NGOs should also make sure the judicial system is

equipped and able to handle such an important case. The evidence is that it is

not. There is grave fear that the accused's human rights and rights to a fair

trial will not be respected.

The sentence he can expect has been

estimated at ten years, a most draconian one. Smith cites, as a guide, the case

of a 66-year-old man found guilty of sex in Pattaya in Thailand with a

13-year-old who was sentenced to four months by a court in Sweden.


most serious aspect of the case is that Scott is unlikely to have a competent

defender. An article in the Phnom Penh Post reports statements by two

independent human rights workers.

Michael Karnavas, previously of the

Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP) has suggested the United Nations Committee on

Human Rights (UNCHR) had close relations with the Lichado human rights group,

one of the NGOs behind Scott's arrest. Apparently this relationship is now

preventing UNCHR from attempting to get Scott a fair trial. Karnavas himself,

while director of the CDP to act on Scott's behalf, though they are by far the

most competent to provide an adequate defence. Another defenders' group, CADEAS

has also refused to take the case and it has been left to the group Charto to

assign its administrative director, Oum Samuel, to the defence.


Julian, a former Human Rights Commissioner for New Zealand has said there is no

way that Samuel, untrained as a defender and wih minimal experience, could

provide an adequate defence. It also appears that Charto have refused to accept

the help of independent British lawyer, Robert Carlin. Carlin cannot act without

a Cambodian colleague, and Samuel has not been willing to even see


Australia is highly commended throughout the world for its support

of democracy and stability in Cambodia and has recently acted strongly to

prevent child abuse. It would be very fitting for Australia to persuade UN

agencies and the British to act to give Dr. Gavin Scott the benefit of a proper

defence. He has been in T3 since 23 June, and those who know characterize this

prision as, perhaps, the most awful place of detention in the world.


self-appointed defenders of human rights have failed. Karnavas says "human

rights groups have been silent on Scott's inability to get a competent defender.

There appears to be an attitude of 'he's guilty so let him hang'."

It is

perhaps time for those with influence and authority to act. The justice system

in tragic Cambodia should not include NGO-led lynch mobs.

I beg leave to

send a copy of this letter to the British High Commission and the Phnom Penh

Post, and to post it on internet.

- Gehan Wijeyewardene, Senior Fellow in Anthropology, Australian National




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