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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Women's Minister pushes acid victim's cause

Women's Minister pushes acid victim's cause

acid.jpg
acid.jpg

Acid victim Som Rasmey

Minister of Women and Veterans' Affairs Mu Sochua is calling for an appeal in the

case of Som Rasmey, an acid attack victim whose assailant was convicted but received

only a two-year suspended sentence

"To me, it is abuse of power by the judge who has the total power to interpret

the law," Sochua said of the Dec 27, 2000 judgment by Kampong Cham Municipal

Judge Tith Sothy against Minh Rinath, wife of Military Region 2 Intelligence Colonel

Sok Heng.

Sothy refused to upgrade the charges against Rinath to the felony offense of voluntary

manslaughter, arguing that Rinath had intended only to "...damage [Rasmey's]

beauty because of jealousy.

Rinath perpetrated the Nov 6, 1999 attack against Rasmey - which has left her permanently

disfigured and destitute - in revenge for Rasmey's extramarital relationship with

Heng and subsequently kidnapped Rinath's infant daughter. The infant has never been

seen since.

Neither Heng nor Rinath bothered to attend the Dec 27 trial and the trial has become

an exemplar among human rights workers of the vicious combined effects of impunity

and the widespread violence against women in Cambodian society.

"Pinning down a woman and pouring acid on her face can by no means be interpreted

as a misdemeanor... it's nothing less than [attempted] manslaughter," Sochua

said of the fairness of Sothy's ruling. "After all, they were not slapping the

woman or pouring water on her...you don't need to be a legal expert to understand

[the severity of the crime]."

Sochua has decided to challenge the Kampong Cham court ruling and is advising Rasmey

to file an appeal.

"Several other cases of violence against women, including those involving rape

and sexual assault particularly on minors, have come to my notice wherein strong

evidence against the offenders was not used properly by the prosecuting agencies,

either deliberately due to corruption or due to lack of gender sensitivity,"

Sochua said of her motivation for getting personally involved with Rasmey's case.

"I will personally take all these victims' appeals to the Prime Minister and

even to the King to make sure that justice is given where it is due," she said.

Sochua is also preparing to challenge current legal definitions of rape that are

linked to the "depth of penetration".

"The questions like penetration specifically by a male organ, how deep or shallow,

needs to be thrown out as they leave chances to convert the rape case into that of

a misdemeanor or an assault. Moreover, in several cases of rape, penetration takes

places by other means too, [such as] with a bottle neck, for instance," Sochua

said.

The Minister also plans to call for a review of how "violence" is commonly

defined with regard to sexual violence against females.

"I also differ from the definition of violence as it is accepted by the courts,"

she said. "The law does not need to look for the telltale signs of injuries

on the victims' private parts to conclude that violence indeed took place... it needs

to consider verbal violence and intimidation also."

Explaining that the Ministry of Women and Veterans' Affairs was a "very young

ministry", Sochua said she was not properly equipped to deal with the whole

range of legal and rehabilitative issues associated with rape and violence against

women.

"But we have a clear mandate... to protect the rights of women, and we are determined

to achieve that with the help of our NGO and other partners," she said.

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