Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Sunday that he was considering introducing the death penalty for people who rape children, but he said it would only happen after a nationwide referendum.
He was speaking during a meeting in the capital's Dangkor district with 44 staff members of anti-human trafficking NGO Afesip and 89 children who had been victims of rape.
“I ask myself, what percentage of a human can be made up of a ‘beast’? Whatever the percentage, ‘beast beings’ should not be forgiven."
"Two days ago, I told your grandma [Hun Sen's wife Bun Rany] that I wanted to initiate an amendment to the constitution to pave the way for reintroducing the death penalty,” the prime minister said.
He and his wife Bun Rany were visibly moved, wiping tears from their eyes as they listened to the narratives of girls who had been raped by neighbours, fathers and grandfathers – or who had been sold off by their poor families.
“Those who rape their child . . . a grandfather who rapes his grandchild . . . should receive the death penalty. But your grandma says that sentencing them to life in prison is enough,” Hun Sen said.
He said the constitution should not be amended through his request or through parliament – it could come about only if it was given the green light by a public referendum.
Hun Sen said he heard that during the French colonial period the death penalty was carried out by tying perpetrators to a raft and floating them on a river or out to sea.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said Cambodia used to have the death penalty but the law was amended when the Kingdom made economic and political reforms during the period of the ‘State of Cambodia’ (1989-1993).
He said the constitution could be amended if necessary but the death penalty was a controversial topic which required a referendum.
The prime minister's idea was supported by several Facebook users who commented on Hun Sen’s page saying they welcomed the death penalty. But legal experts and analysts were sceptical.
Innocent people 'at risk'
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said crime should not be punished by death, especially in a country where the judicial system was not yet strong.
He said there was a risk of putting innocent people to death. “I don't think we should go back like this. The world is demanding that every country eliminate the death penalty. But we seem to be going against this trend, which is not good."
“I think people are deterred by severe penalties. The problem is law enforcement. First, the police must be strong. Secondly, people must be educated about morality. Such education is on the increase, but not in a professional way."
"But every night, we hear a lot of preaching about dharma by Buddhist monks on the radio. So, education is going in the right direction,” Sam Oeun said.
Royal Academy of Cambodia president Sok Touch questioned the quality of investigations and the judicial system, and the independence, ethics and professionalism of prosecutors and judges.
He said the death penalty should only be enforced when there was watertight evidence. “Death cannot return life," he said.
Ou Virak, the president of the Future Forum think tank, said: "The death penalty is not effective and it could be used incorrectly. In the US, there are a lot of incorrect death penalties being carried out.”
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) executive director Chak Sopheap said the death penalty should not be reintroduced in Cambodia as the country has experienced mass killings and genocide.
He claimed that with lingering problems of impunity, corruption and lack of independence of the courts, the death penalty could be abused arbitrarily.
“There is existing criminal legislation to address offences such as rape. To be effective, it requires strong law enforcement and the assurance that victims are properly treated and justice is provided,” she said while calling for an increase in education about sexual violence.