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Acid victim's child custody bid stalls after court hitch

Acid victim's child custody bid stalls after court hitch

acid.jpg
acid.jpg

Achild custody civil suit launched by acid attack victim Som Rasmey against her

convicted attacker, Minh Rinath, was derailed after Rinath failed to attend a

July 4 Kampong Cham Municipal Court hearing.

Som Rasmey before and after the attack.

Twenty three-year-old Rasmey

burst into tears when Judge Tith Sothy announced the suspension of court

proceedings due to Rinath's absence. Post enquiries at Rinath's home on Street

63 in Phnom Penh revealed that she and her husband were busy on the

Thai-Cambodian border negotiating a logging deal.

"I think that the

postponement of the trial is a pretext [to protect Rinath]," Rasmey told the

Post, adding that she had received "indirect" death threats from Rinath to drop

the custody battle.

"I have never seen my daughter since that day [I was

attacked]...I live my life for the sake of my daughter, I've lost everything

else."

On Nov 6, 1999 Rasmey was held to the ground by Rinath and four

hired accomplices who proceeded to pour two bottles of hydrochloric acid over

her head, arms and back. The attack was apparently motivated by jealousy over

Rasmey's relationship with Rinath's husband, Colonel Lim Sok Heng of RCAF's

Region 2 in Kampong Cham. At the time of the attack Rinath took Rasmey's infant

daughter and has kept the child ever since.

Rinath was convicted in

absentia on Dec 27, 2000 of assault and battery in connection with Rasmey's

mutilation, but received a two-year suspended sentence that ensured she would

never spend a day in jail.

The suspended sentence and the refusal of

Judge Tith Sothy - who is also overseeing her civil case - to upgrade the

charges against Rinath to voluntary manslaughter to reflect the seriousness of

the crime was at the time heavily criticized by UN human rights officials.

In March Minister of Women's Affairs Mu Sochua blasted Rinath's lenient

sentencing as an "abuse of power by the judge" and promised to push for an

appeal in the case, which is currently under way.

Both Chanthol Oung,

Executive Director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center, and Rasmey's lawyer

alleged similar irregularities in the conduct of the July 4 civil hearing. Oung

expressed concern at the fact that Rasmey had been impelled to seek weekly

custody visits of a "kidnapped" child.

"Rasmey should also be complaining

about the kidnapping of her child... this should be a criminal case," Oung

said.

Rasmey's lawyer, Meas Sokunthea of the Cambodian Defenders Project,

told the Post that Judge Tith Sothy rejected her request to hold the hearing

with Rinath in absentia.

Oung said that prior to the start of the

abortive hearing, Sothy had called Rasmey into his chambers and asked that the

court be closed to outside observers.

"The judge said 'This is a very

small issue, why have you invited all these small and long noses [Cambodian and

Western observers]?'" Oung said. "I was surprised by this even though I already

thought that the [civil trial] result wouldn't be helpful for Rasmey due to the

result of the criminal case."

An official of the Cambodian Office of the

UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights (COHCHR) said they would continue to

push for resolution of Rasmey's case.

"We're still concerned and we're

still monitoring the case," the COHCHR official said. "We hope to ensure that

for the next [custody hearing] all parties will be in attendance or that a

decision be rendered with [Rinath] in absentia because we consider it extremely

important that a fair decision is rendered in this case."

Getting either

Rinath or Lim Sok Heng in court could prove difficult due to the apparent

unwillingness of Judge Sothy to enforce their appearance.

"Judge Sothy

said he would not force [Rinath or Lim Sok Heng] to come to court because they

were protected by the military," Oung said. "This case depends on the commitment

of the judge and the court and whether they want justice."

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