Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Serial offender back in court on charge of attempted rape

Serial offender back in court on charge of attempted rape

Serial offender back in court on charge of attempted rape

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Eng Sokha

Eng Sokha, who last year beat a rape charge after the judge concluded he did not

take the victim's virginity, will appear in court on charges of attempting to rape

a seven-year-old girl.

Sokha was scheduled to face rape charges in a Kandal court May 21 until the investigating

judge, Kong Kouy, reduced the charge to one of indecent assault prior to the hearing.

Kouy, who was the presiding judge in the first case, applied the same logic to the

new case. When asked why she lessened the charge to indecent assault Kouy told the

Post May 22: "I've already forgotten the case. From what I remember [he] did

not do anything [to the girl], just touching her on the outside and not deep."

However after hearing testimony from Sokha, the seven-year-old victim, the victim's

father and Sokha's father, trial judge Cloth Pich accepted the prosecutor's request

to reinstate rape charges.

The Minister for Women's and Veteran's Affairs, Mu Sochua, said she was watching

the case, adding that her ministry planned to take an advocacy role in "special

cases" involving rape.

"This case is definitely one we will follow very closely. I can assure you this

judge will be questioned [about any decision]", she said speaking ahead of the

May 21 hearing.

In January last year, Sokha was sentenced to six months in prison with another six

months suspended sentence for indecent assault on a six-year-old girl. Although a

midwife who examined the victim had concluded that the girl was raped, Judge Kouy

lessened the charge on the basis the rape "was not deep" and the girl's

virginity was preserved.

Kouy also accepted the claim that Sokha was a minor and thus liable for a shorter

sentence, despite commune records showing he was 19 at the time.

"The decision of the court totally appalled me," said Sochua. "This

is exactly why the judiciary of any country cannot be involved in corruption."

Kouy's January 2000 ruling contradicted Article 33 of the UNTAC Criminal Code which

does not specify "depth" as a factor in determining rape. Article 33 defines

rape as "any act involving penetration against a non-consenting person".

At that time the sentence for rape carried a minimum sentence of five years, which

could be doubled for the rape of a minor. Penal code amendments passed November,

2001 increased the minimum sentence to ten years.

With time already served Sokha was out of prison within a month of his sentencing.

Shortly after he was seen loitering around the local primary school where villagers

say he made several attempts to lure young girls to isolated places. In one case

a villager intervened when he spotted Sokha leading a seven-year-old girl away.

"Sokha likes playing with the kids. He plays with them, gives them candy and

lures them," said a boy from Sokha's village of Kampong Chamlong on Route One.

"This is not the first time he has done this and it won't be the last time.

There was evidence of repeated rape and the court did not listen to that evidence,"

Sochua said.

The court is also investigating an earlier case in which Sokha allegedly raped a

10-year-old girl in 1998. The girl remained silent until last year, when she discovered

Sokha was in prison.

The rape of minors is an increasing problem in Cambodia. Last year human rights NGO

Licadho surveyed rape incidents reported by the Khmer press. A quarter of all victims

were under ten, and almost two-thirds under 18. Two-thirds of child cases handled

by Licadho this year involve rape.

According to NGO Adhoc's 2001 Human Rights Report, child rape in Cambodia is increasing.

Of 182 victims assisted by Adhoc in 2001, 20 percent were under ten and 75 percent

were under 18. That marked a 25 percent increase on the previous year.

Adhoc said the authorities were more conscientious in finding a solution to rape

cases, but that rarely involved convictions. Police or the courts typically mediate

for cash compensation between the families of the victim and the perpetrator.

Sochua said the payment of compensation was a civil matter, which should not prevent

the prosecutor seeking a conviction. Compensation payments had led young middle class

boys to engage in rape and gang rape because their parents could afford to settle

cases privately, she said.

Locals from Sokha's village described the family as "rich and scary" although

they are only modestly better off than most of their neighbors.

The victim's father told the court May 21 that he wanted both a criminal conviction

and 4 million riel ($1,025) in compensation.

If the delayed trial is not resumed within the next two months Sokha will be eligible

for release while awaiting trial. Sokha and his family live just 70 meters from the

victim's family.

According to a Licadho statement, Eng Sokha spent "a lot of time hanging around

a local primary school watching young girls" after his release. Local villagers

backed that claim.

"He often goes to the school at midday for the school break," one schoolboy

from the village told the Post.

At the May 21 hearing the seven-year-old victim pointed to Sokha and testified that

he was her attacker. She alleged Sokha had tried unsuccessfully twice before to lure

her from school for sex.

"I met him [on January 12] and he said 'I will bring you to your mother', but

I disagreed so he took my hand and pulled me to the back of the school," she

testified.

The girl told the court that when she refused to take off her clothes Sokha threatened

to kill her, so she complied and was raped. Sokha, the girl testified, said he would

kill her if she told her mother.

"This time he will not get away with it," prosecutor Kry Sok Ee said after

a break in the court hearing.

Sokha, who again told the court he was just 17-years-old, denied the charges and

said he only confessed after police beat him and applied electric shocks.

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