If Cambodia’s long-awaited domestic violence law passes, it would be the country’s first law to allow police to enter private homes without a warrant—a provision that, while necessary to protect victims, would open the door to abuses by authorities, women’s rights advocates said on Tuesday.
“If the authorities have to go to court to ask for a warrant, it will be too late to help the victims,” Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said at a Tuesday workshop of the Cambodian Committee of Women, a network of NGOs. Courts often take several days to issue warrants.
But a handout distributed at the workshop notes that under the proposed law, “extensive power of search and arrest without warrant is granted to police…the abuse of authority at every level is possible.”
“We cannot stop all abuses of the law,” said Kek Galabru, president of the human rights group Licadho. “We must first protect victims,” while also setting up monitoring procedures.
“Right now, no one can enter a house without a warrant, and sometimes children die because of this,” she added.
Chanthol Oung, executive director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, pointed out that police would not, under the law, be allowed to enter any home they chose.
“The police can intervene when [domestic violence] is clearly in the process of happening,” she said. “If a crime is happening on the scene they can go without a warrant to stop it. But they can’t enter private property under all circumstances.”
Since domestic violence happens behind closed doors, she said, often victims have nowhere to run to. In cases such as a wife’s confinement by her husband, the victim can’t even leave the house to complain to the authorities.
During the workshop, the advocates discussed the draft domestic violence law, which would be the first of its kind in Cambodia. An initial draft was drawn up in 1996, but it was rejected by the government; a new draft was introduced late last year.
Advocates hope it will reach the National Assembly in coming months. It is currently in the hands of an Assembly commission.
The women’s committee offered three main criticisms of the existing law. They said it should be changed to outlaw spousal rape, to allow victims to seek restraining orders to keep abusers away, and to make altering a victim’s appearance—for example, by throwing acid in someone’s face—a form of domestic violence.
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