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Rape cases still skirting law

Teenagers are escorted out of a Phnom Penh police station to a vehicle by authorities last year after being apprehended in Por Sen Chey district and charged with rape. National police
Teenagers are escorted out of a Phnom Penh police station to a vehicle by authorities last year after being apprehended in Por Sen Chey district and charged with rape. National police

Rape cases still skirting law

Justice continues to prove elusive for rape victims in Cambodia, as major failings in the Kingdom’s justice system “remain largely unaddressed”, according to a new report from rights group Licadho.

A follow-up to the November 2015 study Getting Away With It: The Treatment of Rape in Cambodia’s Justice System, yesterday’s briefing report highlights the ongoing prevalence of rape cases settled via compensation, a resolution not permitted by Cambodian law yet still routinely negotiated by authority figures.

“When police and court officials help to negotiate compensation to settle a case, they almost always take a payment from the suspect and sometimes from the victim,” the report reads.

In 2015, 79 percent of cases settled by compensation were negotiated by authorities - with eight out of 19 cases negotiated by the police, four by prosecutors, two by investigating judges, and one by a commune chief - an increase from 72 percent of cases from 2012 to 2014 - with 43 out of 72 cases negotiated by the police, six by prosecutors, and three by investigating judges.

“What’s striking is the pattern that continues – not just from the last report – but from years and decades where many of these cases are resolved through money or connections,” said Naly Pilorge, Licadho’s director.

While Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin yesterday admitted that many local authorities continued to negotiate compensation settlements, he said they were often motivated by “a culture of genuinely wanting to mediate relations between the accused and the victim”.

“Local authorities often negotiate compensation settlements not because they do not understand the law, but because they have the interests of society at heart,” he said, denying that personal agendas were involved. “Authorities usually know the victims and the perpetrators who will ask for forgiveness, so being authorities in the village, they want to mediate the issue.”

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, meanwhile, said that he “[does] not believe” compensation alone was used to conclude rape cases, adding that police investigations often wrapped subsequently because “evidence is sometimes changed” after a monetary deal has been struck.

“I don’t believe the charge is dropped just because compensation is settled,” he said. “According to the law, authorities and the court must still continue [pursuing] the case [after compensation].”

The report examined 282 cases of rape or attempted rape in 2015 encompassing 292 victims. Of those, 75 were women aged 18 and over while 217 were children under 18.

“Corruption is rampant throughout the court,” Licadho’s Pilorge said. “We receive rape victims that often get victimised by law enforcers and the court system.”

According to Malin, reforms to the justice system are already in the works. “Authorities have been trained, but they still need to [learn to] practice the law,” he said.

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