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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US Protect Act sees sex-crime accused extradited

US Protect Act sees sex-crime accused extradited

An American accused of sexually molesting boys was extradited from Cambodia and charged

on September 24 under a new US law to prosecute citizens who commit sex crimes abroad.

Another suspect, now jailed in Phnom Penh, may be charged under the same law.

The Protect Act, passed in April as an amendment to an earlier sex-tourism law, targets

US citizens in foreign countries who commit sex acts with minors below the age of

18. Previously, prosecutors had to prove intent to commit such acts before traveling.

Now, only the proof of an illicit act or an attempt to engage in it is required.

The first person to be charged under the law, Michael Lewis Clark, 69, was arrested

by Cambodian police on June 28. Police raided his room at a guesthouse in Phnom Penh

where he was found with two boys, aged 10 and 13, authorities said. He was handed

over to the US Customs Service and deported on September 9. He faces up to 30 years

in prison.

Another suspect, Gary Evans Jackson, 56, is being held in Pre Sar prison and may

also stand trial in the US under the same legislation.

Jackson was arrested on August 1 when police, working alongside US Customs officials,

acted on a tip from a local NGO that interviewed children allegedly victimized by

Jackson. The NGO reported that police found images of child pornography on a seized

computer. That investigation is continuing.

Heidi Bronke, spokesperson for the US Embassy, could not confirm the progress of

the investigation, but said the United States was "extremely pleased" with

the cooperation from Cambodian authorities.

"They've been doing a great job in our mutual efforts to stop American citizens

from committing sex crimes in Cambodia," she said.

Mark Robinson, the US customs attaché in Bangkok, also characterized the relationship

as "excellent". He said the new law could increase what was already a "large

proportion of [the agency's] investigative activity" dedicated to sex crimes.

"In terms of expansion, we'll investigate any allegation that has some merit,"

he said. "We are actively pursuing allegations of people who have broken the

law."

Child advocates in Cambodia praised the law as a step forward toward protecting children

from sex offenders.

Christian Guth, police advisor to the Ministry of Interior for the Law Enforcement

Against Sexual Exploitation of Children Project, said it showed a notable commitment

by the US and brought it closer to what other countries had been doing in the past.

"[The Protection Act] is a good thing for law enforcement agencies to use against

the sexual exploitation of children," he said. He cited several other countries

such as France, Australia, Japan and Switzerland that had proven willing to use extradition

treaties to prosecute nationals accused of sex crimes in Cambodia.

He noted that two Japanese men were arrested and deported for having sex with underage

girls two years ago, in addition to British and French citizens.

But he warned that sex offenders might avoid punishment in their own countries if

the standard of evidence collected by police in Cambodia fell short of that in developed

countries.

"This law should be used as a way to help justice [against sexual offenders],

not as a way to avoid prosecution," he said.

The problem has grown as Cambodia has become a new destination for sex tourists in

Asia, said NGOs in the field. A number of surveys, including one by the World Congress

against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, found that as many as 20,000

minors are involved in prostitution in Cambodia.

The number of foreigners in Cambodia arrested on charges of sexual exploitation has

also grown, although many have disappeared before standing trial, said Guth.

But despite their visibility, foreigners account for just a fraction of the total

number of sexual abuse cases each year. The majority are committed by Cambodians.

In 2002, foreigners constituted less than 10 percent of the 232 sexual offense cases

brought to court, Guth said. Westerners, in particular, were implicated in only about

eight of those cases.

Zannak Mey Vannak, project coordinator for Action pour les Enfants, a French NGO

in Phnom Penh, said the organization is pursuing at least 20 investigations of suspected

pedophiles in Cambodia. He called on the authorities to tackle the cases more aggressively.

"We will push more and more for police to investigate the cases, not just wait

for complaints [to be filed]," said Vannak. "We need a proactive style

of investigation."

Sébastian Marot, coordinator at Mith Samlanh/Friends, an NGO working with

street children, said the situation was slowly improving. He was heartened by the

rise of prosecutions for child molesters

"Recently, quite a few were arrested and tried properly," he said. "There

were some flaws, but things are moving forward. From a paradise for pedophiles, I

think slowly the image [of Cambodia] will change."

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