Q: Are Cambodia's police protecting the people?
A: (A) Yes, (B) No
Living in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, 24-year-old Oum Chanthorn claimed she was ignored by the police when she filed a complaint in a violent case involving her family. The police regard domestic violence as a minor case, and she said the police asked her to solve the problem within her family members by herself and told her to wait till the next day. To this day they have offered no solution to her.
“If I could solve the problem on my own, I would not go to ask police for help,” she said. “Though the police did not demand money, if we gave them some they would work for us immediately.”
She added that it was a common thing for Cambodia’s police to act like this when dealing with the grass roots and poor people.
This is just one of the many examples to illustrate the ignorance of Cambodian police in performing their duties, which goes against the values of the police force. The role of the police, as defined in the UN Blue Book, says law enforcement officials shall at all times fulfil the duty imposed on them by law, by serving the community and by protecting all persons against illegal acts, consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession; they shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons; the officials shall not commit any act of corruption.
It is also stated in the mission of the Cambodia National Police that police are to work together to serve and protect the people with the police’s values including honesty, integrity, being fair, transparent, responsible, within the law, respecting the different needs of the people, building relationships with communities and protecting rights, equality and human dignity. However, the police are not sticking with these rules, which has made people lose confidence in them.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of Cambodian Defenders Project, said there were some loopholes within the policing structure in Cambodia, and explained that the lack of policing law, especially a criminal code, capacity such as education and training, the lack of modern materials, scientific investigation methods and dependence are the main issues of the ineffective work of the police.
“We indeed need the law to be enforced by the police and a scientific laboratory and skilled doctors in order to help find evidence such as finger-prints. It would be a useful tool in solving cases more efficiently and efficaciously,” he said, adding that the police sector lacks funds to process their work effectively.
“The government must take care and support the police so they can perform their functions efficiently. There should be more funds to the police department and police salary increases,” said Sok Sam Oeun in a document on Police in Democratic Society in Cambodia.
According to a report by Amnesty International in March, 2010, a clear majority of the victims of incidents were asked to pay bribes to ensure the investigation went ahead and the reports adds that the victims also complained that police appeared not to take their complaints seriously, in particular when there were no financial gains for them.
One police officer in Pursat province said the police have no money to do investigations, so they need money from the victims of crimes.
“We do not have our own money to investigate since my salary is not much,” he said.
However, he added: “We try to help people as much as we can in order to make them feel protected by us.”
Touch Naruth, the Phnom Penh municipal police chief, said the police always stick to their duties and respect people, though there are some inactive points still occurring, which cannot satisfy the public. He admitted that there are still some things that need to be improved.
“There is still a lack of neutrality. We are trying to improve it. We accept all the people’s complaints and criticism and we will make changes,” said Touch Naruth.
The General Commissariat of National Police under the Ministry of Interior has been drafting the police code, which Sok Sam Oeun said is very important to the police sector since it can strengthen their ability, structure, ethics and it will establish a proper police force in Cambodia.
As well as this, the GCNP has a five-year strategic plan from 2008 to 2013 for the Cambodian National Police to strengthen the ability and improve their effectiveness. It also aims to enhance the internal police structure and to establish a police force with capacity, professionalism, virtue and ethics which would be loved and supported by the people.
Sok Sam Oeun said to have a democratic and effective police structure, the police have to be neutral, not under the control of any political party.
“If the police are not neutral and cannot perform their duties free from interference, they will be used to obstruct democracy and crack down on the opposition only,” he said.