Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Cambodian legal system failing people raped by a relative: Licadho

A rights monitor talks to a girl who reported a case of attempted rape. Licadho released a report Thursday, where a third of rape cases it investigated involved a relative as the perpetrator. LICADHO
A rights monitor talks to a girl who reported a case of attempted rape. Licadho released a report Thursday, where a third of rape cases it investigated involved a relative as the perpetrator. LICADHO

One in three rape cases investigated by local rights group Licadho involved a relative as the perpetrator, according to a new report illustrating the NGO’s findings on access to justice in rape cases in Cambodia.

The rights groups released the report Thursday morning, titled “Broken Silence.” The report looks at the 446 cases of rape or attempted rape investigated by Licadho from January 2017 to December 2019. The findings show that, of the cases investigated by the rights group, one-third or 137 cases involved a family member who was the perpetrator, with 126 of these cases involving a child.

“The harms of family rape are well known, but there is still not enough being done to make sure that perpetrators are held accountable”, said Licadho’s deputy director of monitoring, Am Sam Ath.

Of these cases, Licadho assessed that 53 percent, where a final judgment had been reached, had seen a reasonable application of the relevant laws, but 17 percent of cases resulted in lenient convictions or short prison sentences.

According to Licadho, access to justice for people who had been raped was frequently hindered by two recurring factors: women and girls being pushed to take back their complaints by other family members or their financial reliance on the perpetrator.

Rape cases are routinely poorly handled by the Cambodian justice system, with people pressured to withdraw complaints, accept out-of-court settlements in lieu of criminal proceedings, deal with corrupt officials or have investigations or hearings move at a very slow pace.

“The police didn’t work as quickly as they could have. They processed the case quickly only in the beginning when the incident happened,” said the father of a girl raped by her grandfather. The father and mother of the girl spoke to Licadho in a video released alongside the report.  

“Later on, they seemed to stop working on the case,” the father added.

Other factors like victim blaming, harmful gender norms and lack of social and health protections for people who have been raped further exasperate their experience of the criminal justice system.

National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun declined to comment in detail because he hadn’t read the report and was in quarantine.  

Justice Ministry Spokesperson Chin Malin said he too had not read the report but was curious about cases reported by Licadho where people had withdrawn their complaints and criminal proceedings had stopped.

“For rape cases, there can be not be any compromise or mediation, it is illegal to do so. Please report to us; we cannot tolerate this,” he said. 

Malin then questioned Licadho’s intentions behind publishing the report and if it was done “for the sake of doing it” or “for the donors,” but said he would review the report.

Licadho’s report states that family pressure or financial dependence on the perpetrator can make it difficult to report rape or cause people to withdraw civil complaints.

“Authorities often use the withdrawal of a civil complaint as a reason to improperly drop or stall criminal proceedings or apply a more lenient sentence,” the report reads. 

Licadho asked the Cambodian government to make it easier for people to report rape and ensure there is no pressures to withdraw their complaints. This includes dismantling gender norms, condemning any form of victim blaming, and to provide legal and medical service to meet the needs of people who have been raped.

It also recommended sensitivity training for judicial and law enforcement officers, more women judges, lawyers and police officers, and expediting rape cases and payment of compensation.

Lucia Soleti, the child protection manager at UNICEF Cambodia, said around 15,000 children who had been sexually abused were receiving support and special protections, pointing to the need for social workers to assist these children. 

“In 2020, UNICEF has been advocating and supporting MoSVY to deploy social workers in all 25 provinces including Phnom Penh, and strengthened their capacity on case management and mental health and psychosocial first aid.

Touch Channy, with the Social Affairs Ministry’s General Department of Technical Affairs, said that currently there is one social worker in every province with the support from UNICEF, however, they were overwhelmed with the case load.

“We want to have four to five social workers in every province, but this is what they could help us with,” he said. “They have about $300 per social worker and we do not have a government budget to allocate for an expansion.”