Corrupt Justice System Failing Rape Victims

Women and girls who are raped in Cambodia rarely find justice because of widespread corruption and unlawful police practices, rights group Licadho said on Monday, noting that the situation remains unchanged since it released the same findings a year ago.

More than half of the 282 cases of rape or attempted rape investigated by Licadho last year have yet to be solved due to systemic flaws in the prosecution of rape cases, it said.

Licadho’s report, released on Monday, shows that the factors contributing to low numbers of convictions have been largely ignored by the government since being raised in a similar analysis last year.

“The Cambodian government must take steps to bring about justice system reform and attitudinal changes necessary to address the current failings,” the report says, adding that the recommendation seemed to have gone ignored after being raised last year.

“Until it does so, there will be no end to impunity for perpetrators of rape and no justice for their victims.”

In a particularly egregious case, the report tells of a 12-year-old girl who was raped three times by a 20-year-old man.

“Her family reported the case to the commune police who arranged a negotiation with the suspect’s family,” it says. “The girl’s family agreed that she would marry the man as soon as she reached 16.”

The family withdrew their complaint, and it is likely that the police received money for facilitating the negotiation, the report says.

With some of its 282 cases involving more than one victim, Licadho assisted a total of 292 victims—217 of them under the age of 18, a figure authors attributed partly to the potential underreporting by adult victims.

Of the 125 cases that reached a conclusion, a quarter ended before trial, the report says.

They were largely settled when police and court officials negotiated compensation for the victims, and in some cases took payments from them and their abusers, a practice prohibited by Cambodian law, it says.

Thirty-two percent of the closed cases ended with an acquittal or a downgraded sentence, at times because of corruption or a flawed interpretation of the law, the report says.

Naly Pilorge, Licadho’s deputy director of advocacy, said out-of-court settlements for rape undermined the law.

“It suggests that rape is not a criminal matter and isn’t really serious enough to be dealt with by the courts,” she said in an email.

“It also undermines the deterrent effect of the criminal law; if people know that they can pay their way out of a criminal prosecution there is very little disincentive to commit serious crimes like rape.”

Phon Puthborey, a spokesman for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said the ministry had “strongly encouraged” government officials against taking payments from the victims of sexual violence.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin and National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could not be reached for comment.

According to a U.N. report released in 2013, more than 1 in 5 Cambodian men aged between 18 and 49 admit to having raped a woman, and more than half of them say they committed their first rape before the age of 20.

[email protected]

© 2016, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.