The former country director of prominent child-protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) was charged yesterday by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over allegations that he sexually assaulted at least nine residents at an orphanage he ran in 2013 and 2014.
According to current APLE executive director Samleang Seila, the organisation participated in the investigation against Our Home orphanage director Hang Vibol, who served as APLE’s first country director in 2003 and 2004. Vibol left the organisation to found Our Home, Samleang added.
“We started to initiate our investigation at the request of the Ministry of Social Affairs after receiving a complaint from another well-known NGO working in child protection,” he said yesterday.
After confirming the first alleged victim, he added, APLE informed the Ministry of Interior, and a full investigation was launched.
Phnom Penh court vice prosecutor Kol Bon said yesterday that he had charged 46-year-old Vibol “with indecent acts against a minor under 15 years old”.
“This case has now been sent to the investigating judge for further investigation and decisions,” he added.
Police Colonel Eang Chanlon, chief of the juvenile protection program in the Ministry of Interior, said Vibol was arrested on March 2 based on complaints from children living at his orphanage that he habitually abused at least six boys and three girls living there.
Tim Huon, investigation manager of APLE, said in a statement yesterday that Vibol’s arrest was the 21st of a person involved with an institution dealing with children.
“It is very complicated to obtain evidence in such cases, since orphanages are often closed settings. But APLE must pursue cases like these when they come to our attention, given the large number of potential victims and their dependence on the institution’s staff,” he said.
APLE’s experience with institution-based investigations played a role in their being contacted by the Social Affairs Ministry, Samleang said. Samleang also noted that APLE, since its founding in 2003, has required criminal background checks of all of its employees.
In yesterday’s statement, Seila said it was “difficult to believe such a person, who started a mission to protect children more than 12 years ago, can abuse children”.
In a later interview, Seila insisted Vibol’s arrest wouldn’t seriously damage APLE’s credibility thanks to its willingness to investigate anyone suspected of abuse, regardless of prior affiliations.
“We are proud of the outcome of this investigation,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who the person is, we will still investigate them transparently.”
Vibol and his lawyer could not be reached yesterday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE