Local authorities in Ratanakkiri province yesterday denied negotiating a settlement for a district police officer accused of taking two underage girls to a guesthouse in Banlung town and raping them last month.
The suspect, a policeman named Meas Sorphorn, is accused of bringing the 12- and 13-year-old Jarai girls from Paknhai commune to Banlung town with promises of buying them cellphones and jewellery.
Instead, the family said, Sorphorn locked them in a guesthouse bathroom and raped them.
Puy Srak, the father of the 13-year-old, said family members noticed the girls looked pale and shaken that evening, December 20, and later learned they had been raped. When the family reported the incident to local authorities, officials encouraged them to compromise, Srak said.
“They said if we complained through the law, there would be no money and we should handle the case in our traditional way,” Srak said. “Therefore, we followed them.”
According to Srak, the commune chief, commune police chief and a district police official in charge of penal cases brokered the deal. The family accepted $12,000 in compensation on December 22.
Officials reached yesterday denied involvement. Paknhai Commune Chief Cheng Heng said he was not involved in the deal, arguing the commune “has no rights to solve this case”.
However, Commune Police Chief Ith Chhoeung said that Heng and the village chief had negotiated the compensation.
“Ring the commune chief and village chief because they made the compromise in the traditional way,” Chhoeung said, before hanging up.
Women’s rights advocates have tried to discourage use of the reconciliation process – a common way to resolve cases of domestic violence, divorce and rape in the provinces – which is often led by local authorities.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said the use of reconciliation by local authorities makes it easier for violence against women to go unpunished.
“If they continue to do such a thing, the rapist can escape from the law and any responsibility,” he said.
“It could encourage him to do such a crime in the future.” Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, called for local authorities to be investigated along with the suspect.
“This is violence,” Sopheap said. “If you see this happening and you close your eyes, you are also involved in violence.”
Such compromises are unfortunately common in rural Ratanakkiri province due to lack of trust in the criminal justice system, particularly among ethnic minorities, said Adhoc provincial coordinator Den Khorny.
“There are compromises in cases like harassment, violence and rape,” Khorny said. “They find it difficult to get justice in this region because they do not know the law and do not trust it and are sick of it.”
District Police Chief Mao Sann could not be reached yesterday.
However, Deputy Provincial Police Chief Keo Davy said district authorities reported that the family was “confused” and that there “is no rape case”. She said provincial authorities are continuing to investigate.
As for Srak, he made a dark prediction that the village may not wait for the police to conclude their investigation.
“The rapist is still at his home and does not dare to walk out,” Srak said. “The one who commits wrong, the people will beat him to death.”