Court: 12 Children Will Return to Orphanage

Despite the possibility that the US Immigration and Natural­ization Service may be opening an investigation into the Asian Orphans Association, Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Mon­day gave AOA legal guardian­­ship of 12 children that authorities took from it six weeks ago.

District and anti-trafficking police, along with human rights workers, removed the 12 children from an AOA clinic in Tuol Kok district in a Sept 3 raid, citing suspicions they might be victims of child trafficking.

Since then, AOA has won two court victories despite the trafficking allegations. The first victory, one day after the raid, saw the swift release from jail of four workers from the Tuol Kok AOA clinic with no trafficking charges leveled against them.

Monday’s ruling will return the children to the AOA effective immediately.

But despite these rulings, suspicion of the AOA over the past six weeks has spread from hu­man rights groups to the highest levels of government—and now, reportedly, to the INS.

In a letter posted to prospective adoptive parents on an Internet mailing list Monday, the head of a US adoption agency called Reaching Out Through Inter­national Adoption wrote that the INS was opening an investigation into the AOA, and that during the investigation US visas “would not be issued to any children from the AOA or whose adoptions were facilitated by Puth Serey [president of the AOA].”

Kenneth Foster, public affairs officer for the US Embassy, said the embassy could not comment on these reports, but expected to make a statement within the next few days.

Touch Samon, director general of the Min­is­try of Social Af­fairs, said he did not know anything about a INS investigation.

Likewise, Puth Ser­ey refused to comment on either the alleged INS investigation or Mon­day’s court ruling.

Monday’s court de­cision fav­ored the AOA’s guard­ianship request over two others from the human rights group Licadho and from the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Naly Pilorge, acting director of Licadho, said the judge explained his decision using these reasons: The AOA is registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, the AOA has a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the AOA has legal rights to the children. She said that Licadho will appeal the decision.

Court officials would not comment on the ruling. In an interview after the ruling, Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said she was “shocked” at the result.

“The decision of the court did not take into consideration that the AOA is supposed to be under investigation,” she said. “The AOA shouldn’t be even allowed to apply for custody of these children in the first place.”

On Sept 12, the Coun­cil of Ministers issued a directive un­der orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen, saying that the ministries of Interior and Justice should open investigations into the AOA and that the 12 children taken in the Sept 3 raid should stay in the care of Licadho, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Social Af­fairs, during the investigation.

None of these things have been done, Mu Sochua said Monday.

She said she plans to take the issue to Hun Sen again.

“I will ask the Prime Minister to ask for the results of the investigations from the two ministries involved,” she said. “Was there any investigation at all?”

Mu Sochua said the testimony of women who have come forward over the past month and a half to claim babies among the 12 should have at least been heard by the court.

“If we don’t do the best we can to enforce the law of this country, then we can’t protect the rights of the most vulnerable people,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)





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