Politics, inflation get blame
A steady decline in crimes against people in Phnom Penh since 2001 could be reversed this year because of rampant inflation and rising political tensions ahead of the general election in July, experts have warned.
Changing Crime In Phnom Penh, a recent study by Rod Broadhurst and Thierry Bouhours of Australia’s Griffith University, surveyed 1,092 households in the capital and found that Phnom Penh has lower rates of crimes against people than London, New York, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Buenos Aires.
Just 24 percent of Phnom Penh respondents reported being a victim of crime in 2006, compared with 46 percent in 2001, the study said.
However, while crime in Phnom Penh is down across the board, Broadhurst suggested that the gains were fragile and could easily be threatened by the spiraling cost of basic commodities such as gas, which rose above 5,000 riels a liter for the first time in April.
“Our surveys tell us that there has been a significant drop in street crime, in street corruption, and wealth creation has been very important in contributing to this decline,” said Broadhurst.
“But I’m concerned about the prices of basic commodities like rice. I’m concerned that there could be a spike (in crime) out of desperation,” he said.
“I’m concerned about the prices of basic commodities like rice. I’m concerned that there could be a
spike (in crime) out
Mok Chito, chief of the Crime Department at the Ministry of Interior, said crime was down by more than 16 percent in 2007, or 724 fewer cases than in 2006.
Chito said the fall was due to community cooperation to eradicate crime.
“NGOs, the police, the media and the people have all cooperated to reduce crime,” he said. “We’ve all done it together – not just the police.”
Chito doubted whether inflation would reverse the decline, arguing that “anger and revenge” cause crime, not the cost of food.
“If someone is strongly vengeful, they will commit crime,” he said.
As inflation looms as a key issue in the July 27 national elections, human rights groups have warned the coming months may see an increase in violence against political dissidents, a crime that goes unreported in official statistics.
Ny Chakrya, head of the monitoring section at the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, is skeptical of Ministry of Interior figures showing declines in crimes against people, from 58.5 per 100,000 in 1998 to 32.4 per 100,000 in 2005.
He could not comment on rates of burglary or theft, but said human rights abuses had already risen this year.
“What the ministry will publicize is not true. It is very selective and very manipulated,” Chakrya said. “I don’t see the Ministry of Interior publishing a report about human rights violations.”
Still, Broadhurst is confident that political stability and economic growth will continue to reduce crime over the long term.
Compared with 26 other cities around the world, Phnom Penh rates among the lowest for violent assault, with less than a tenth of the levels in Johannesburg, while sexual and other assaults against women are also low in global terms.
He also observed a notable increase in the trust shown in Cambodia’s police force.
“There were, particularly in rural areas, pretty significantly positive attitudes towards most police,” Broadhurst said.
“It’s very important not to paint too grim a picture.”