AMBODIANS who find themselves victims of criminality against their person or property
have various avenues for redress under the laws of the Royal Government of Cambodia.
What follows is a general course of action, not exhaustive legal advice.
The first step after the perpetration of a felony is to file a complaint with the
local police authorities.
Typically, Cambodian policemen will not intervene in misdemeanors and felonies, including
murder and related offenses, unless a complaint is filed by the victim.
Bring along copies of the relevant laws (if any) as they may not be available at
the police station.
First-time victims will be surprised to learn Cambodia's finest are provided few
accoutrements of police work, including proper uniforms, basic forms and imported
Those cars one normally sees outside police stations are the personal cars of the
ranking police officers and should not be confused with automobiles that can be put
into service for official business.
To facilitate a prompt and speedy investigation it is therefore highly recommended
that complainants provide what is technically termed a "small gift" to
the police force.
As a rule of thumb, this small gift should be nearly equal in value to the money
or property lost through criminal activity.
In the case of murder or other bodily harm, the amount of the gift will vary according
to the assumed wealth of the victim or the status of the perpetrator. Be sure to
get a receipt for tax purposes!
Several days after the complaint has been filed, it is likely that you will receive
a visit at home from the police. The visit may simply be to request another "small
gift" to help provide gasoline and lunch for the policemen who, with limited
resources, are investigating the crime. They may also wish to take an inventory of
your remaining property for future reference.
Don't be surprised if the visit is to announce that the perpetrator has already been
Should the perpetrator be found to be a member of the armed forces, the police will
inform you that they have no jurisdiction in the matter. You will then be given instructions
to the nearest military camp, a heavily guarded outpost in an isolated part of town,
so that you can raise the matter with the perpetrator's commanding officer.
Before one's visit, it is prudent to find out to what extent the commanding officer
depends on the perpetrator for his income and how closely the two are related.
If the perpetrator is a member of the police, he will usually be brought to your
home by his colleagues in the force. No need to trudge down to the station for a
line-up like in other countries!
Such visits typically occur during non-business hours (such as very late at night),
which foreign legal observers say is a traditional method police use to demonstrate
their determination to resolve the case.
As a formality, you will be asked to confirm that the person present committed the
crime. Be sure to follow your conscience!
On occasion, perpetrators have been found to be neither members of the police nor
the armed forces. In such cases you may be asked to contribute to the removal of
the perpetrator's body from the police jail and his cremation. Your stolen property
will be returned to you for a small handling and storage fee. Bargain hard!
In instances where no perpetrator is located will you be informed that the felony
was committed by the Khmer Rouge.
At this stage of the criminal investigation, several options will be open to you.
First, you can accept the money offered to you by the perpetrator (or his commanding
officer) to drop the criminal charges. Although this is usually your best bet, remember
that you have little recourse should there be problems in the transfer of funds (e.g.
the check is drawn on a local bank or is paid in PDK commercial paper).
Secondly, you and your family may seek a permanent transfer to a different province.
Bear in mind that Witness Protection Programs are not nearly so sophisticated as
they are in other countries - Groucho noses are not readily available in the markets.
Try to depart in the early morning hours and be sure not to leave a forwarding address.
Lastly, you can continue to press for the prosecution of the case. Don't forget to
reinforce the wood on your house or hut. Limit your children's excursions out of
doors. Acquire ammunition (and a valid license) for your handgun and stock up on
hand grenades. And keep plenty of buckets of water handy to put out the inevitable
So long as the perpetrator is not transferred to a different province and the complaint
(and complainant) remains viable, he might eventually be arrested. Next comes the
hard part: winning in the courts!
Next, the courts.
- (James Ross is the former director of the Human Rights Task Force in Cambodia,
and now resides in New York).