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Prosecution challenged

Dear Editor,

Why was the arrest of Norman Robinson (page 14) not used to illustrate the problem

of police corruption (page 1) in the last edition of the Phnom Penh Post? Why are

you using the phrase 'under 18' to imply children? In Cambodia sex with a 16-year-old

is not illegal. In Cambodia voluntary prostitution by a 16-year-old is not illegal.

Cambodian culture and the Cambodian National Assembly define, in relation to sex

and prostitution, a minor as under 15 years.

In the Law on the Suppression of the Kidnapping and Trafficking of Human Persons

(commonly known as the Debauchery law) article 3 prohibits kidnapping for forced

prostitution of persons of any age, and article 8 prohibits sex with minors under

15. Mr. Robinson's actions fall under neither category. Could Mr Robinson have been

prosecuted for violating a UN convention? The answer is no for two reasons: firstly,

charging any person with violating any UN Convention lacks legal grounds as UN Conventions

are not penal laws with penalties (human rights expert Phnom Penh Post 30 April 1999)-persons

can only be prosecuted for contravening a relevant domestic law with penalties applicable

to that convention; and secondly, UN conventions allow for cultural diversity, so

that Cambodia can define, for sexual and prostitution purposes, a minor as under

15. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) Part 1, article 1 states

"for the purposes of the present convention, a child means every human being

below the age of 18, unless under the law applicable [in Cambodia the Debauchery

Law] to the child majority is attained earlier." Child prostitutes are therefore

persons under 15. The Phnom Penh Post should, when talking about such matters, use

the same statistical groupings as the WHO and UN Population Fund which classify children

as 0-14 years, after all the Phnom Penh Post should reflect Cambodian values and

not those seen in a Christian newsletter.

An international police expert at the Ministry of Interior has admitted to friends

that the majority of Christian NGOs involved in advising police are motivated by

a deep hatred of homosexuals; no wonder then that Cambodian police are given wrong

advice about laws, and are encouraged to divert scarce resources away from tackling

trafficking and forced prostitution into the more lucrative areas of police blackmail

and extortion.

Should anyone care? Well yes of course for a variety of reasons; legally and morally

it is wrong to persecute people because of a different sexual orientation; it also

raises serious questions about Cambodian sovereignty when un-elected foreign-led

or funded organisations can subvert the will of a nation's parliament, and on a wider

world stage this is a classic example of American Christian 'values' being imposed

on weaker countries-the bombing in New York should be seen as a rejection of these


President Bush said recently that he had put "several NGOs with nice sounding

names" on a terrorist list; perhaps Hun Sen should do likewise before Christian

fundamentalists start murdering abortion doctors here as they do in America. Why

does the Cambodian government allow foreigners to force Khmers to reject their parents'

religion and to spread ideas of hatred which can only cause us trouble in the future?

Mr Robinson was quite literally terrorised and it is somewhat ironic that the present

British Ambassador, who is an appointee of the Labour government which lowered the

age of consent in the UK (for homosexuals) from 18 to 16, should have given British

funds to an NGO which engineered this illegal arrest of a British citizen, and which

advocates a change in the age of consent from 15 to 18, contrary to British policy;

since both Cambodia and the UK have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the

Child, and have ages of consent at 15 and 16 respectively, sex at 16 is legal in

both countries. Will the ambassador hide behind the legal obfuscations of the NGOs,

or has he the moral courage to state that homosexuals have human rights which do

not include unlawful detention and extortion, and that British funds will no longer

be given to certain NGOs "with nice sounding names"?

Newspapers must also take responsibility for what is going on; reporting on the real

facts behind a story, and reporting opinions opposed to NGO thinking, would also

make a much more balanced and interesting read.

- Touch Bunnil, Phnom Penh



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