Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sentencing of Sok Bun ‘a missed opportunity’

Sentencing of Sok Bun ‘a missed opportunity’

Sentencing of Sok Bun ‘a missed opportunity’

On Tuesday, real-estate tycoon Sok Bun was sentenced to a suspended three-year sentence in the beating of TV personality Ek Socheata (better known as Ms Sasa), which was captured on camera in July. He’ll likely serve less than three more months (in addition to a $1,500 fine) after Bun and Socheata reached an out-of-court settlement, according to her lawyer. This week, Audrey Wilson spoke with Dr Katherine Brickell, an expert on domestic violence in Cambodia, about how the Sok Bun case fits in with a wider culture of violence against women in the Kingdom

How do you think this case in particular illustrates the gap between domestic-violence law and practice that you have studied in Cambodia?
While the gap between the rhetoric and practice of human rights in Cambodia is not unexpected, the 2012-2015 study I led on domestic violence law puts it into stark relief. The country has made an investment in the policy infrastructure for prevention and reduction, yet this rarely translates into women being able to claim the rights to which they are entitled without risk. This week is a poignant reminder of the mismatch which has come to define so many facets of Cambodian life: Sok Bun’s “light” trial outcome coinciding with the One Billion Rising campaign, which each year highlights the impunity and injustice that survivors of various forms of violence face.

Why do you think that cases like this are settled out of court?
Given the lack of public trust in the court system in Cambodia, I think it is unsurprising that the case was partly settled out of court. Our study found use of the 2005 Law on The Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims is actively discouraged by some local stakeholders because of the dangers of corruption that victims may face, including the extortion of informal fees. Local reconciliation remains the modus operandi in domestic violence cases, particularly in rural areas.

How does the involvement of alcohol shape views of domestic-violence and crime in Cambodia, in your experience?
Multiple studies have found that single-cause factors like alcohol are identified by policy implementers as root causes of domestic violence, glossing over underlying inequalities that contribute to men’s violence. The same trend can be said of my own research data, which showed how men locally often use drinking as an external factor to “explain” and divest responsibility for the violence they perpetrate. That said, there is evidence that alcohol consumption does play a contributory role in the occurrence and severity of violence.

The high-profile nature of this case has increased discussion about violence against women in Cambodia, at least for a news cycle. But what do you think a case like this obscures – especially about the average case of gender-based violence in Cambodia? 
Most gender-based violence is happening in peoples’ homes. But this case has, for me, brought about a renewed interest in the politics of violence against women in the public sphere. This one case has attracted Hun Sen’s condemnation as “intolerable”, whereas multiple incidences of violence against female human-rights activists on the capital’s streets have met quite a different response. The selective deployment of rule of law and, indeed, the politicised framing of what “counts” as violence against women is, in my opinion, a moot point in the Cambodian policy circles charged with its prevention and alleviation. While the sentencing of Sok Bun clearly hasn’t gone far enough – and has rightly attracted criticism for its leniency this week – the “average” woman in Cambodia who has suffered violence is not able to even have her “day in court” and legally sanction her perpetrator[s].

Based on your research, what would you say is the way forward against this kind of violence? 
To put it simply, our study found that passing laws is not enough: there needs to be fundamental change in the social, economic and political realms of Cambodian life if domestic violence survivors are to be able to use the fullest extent of the law without fear of repercussions. Sok Bun’s sentence is, alas, a missed opportunity to say that enough is enough – violence against women will not be tolerated, even by those most powerful and most protected in Cambodian society today. Be it a celebrity coming to the aid of friend, or a housewife protecting her home from advancing bulldozers, elite and ordinary women in Cambodia are too often subject to violence for peacefully defending their, and others’, interests.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Preah Vihear court drops charges against villagers

    The Preah Vihear Provincial Court has dropped all charges against eight ethnic Kuoy villagers who were in a land dispute with the Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co Ltd since 2014. Wednesday’s decision was made by the judge who tried the case on June 10. The eight

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Residents ordered to remove structures on Phnom Penh’s canal

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng has ordered authorities to act against the perpetrators who built houses along the Luo 5 canal in Meanchey district. The municipal administration plans to create a committee to solve the matter. The order was given on Wednesday while Sreng led

  • ‘On the offensive’: Cambodia to load up on loans to stimulate economy

    As the dust settles on the economy, Cambodia comes to grips with what needs to be done to turn the economy around, starting with a big shopping list for credit ‘We are going on the offensive,” Vongsey Vissoth, Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary

  • Eighty replacement peacekeepers set for Mali mission despite Covid

    Eighty Cambodian blue helmet soldiers who completed the peacekeeping mission under the UN umbrella in Mali will return to Cambodia on Friday, said the Centre for Peacekeeping Forces spokeswoman Kosal Malida. “To protect their families and communities from the Covid-19 pandemic, the 80 are required to

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Families told to register for cash handouts

    The government has called on poor families to apply to commune authorities for evaluation to receive financial support during the Covid-19 crisis. A $300 million budget has been planned for implementation within a year. Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Visoth said this