At a hearing at the Court of Appeal yesterday, judges appeared to express doubt about witness testimony held against a German man convicted in 2006 of sexually abusing four boys in Preah Sihanouk province.
Alexander Moritz Watrin is seeking to overturn his 10-year sentence by Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court for having sexual contact with the victims who ranged in age from 12 to 15 years. The Supreme Court in April remanded the case back to Court of Appeal, saying witness testimony was unclear.
The Court of Appeal shortened Watrin’s sentence in 2009 to seven years to reflect a new anti-human trafficking statute adopted in 2007, which replaced previous laws on debauchery.
Presiding Judge Seng Sivutha said yesterday that the reason the Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to review the case was that “the date at of the incident is unclear and the children who testified did not know much and did not appear in court.”
Judge Sivutha added that the reliability of the victims’ testimony–which was crucial prosecuting Watrin in 2006–was under review.
Samleang Seila, country director of the anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, which is providing legal representation for the victims in the case, said he did not understand why the credibility of the victims’ testimony had suffered in the appeal process.
“I don’t understand why the one court believed the victims’ testimony and then the next judges didn’t,” said Mr Seila, adding that personal accounts are often crucially important in sex cases involving minors because there is rarely tangible evidence.
Mr Samleang said that this case was not the first time that courts have inconsistently dealt with the testimony of minors.
Patrick Stayton, field office director for the International Justice Mission, said yesterday that judges are often very reluctant to consider the testimony of young boys.
“It is a cultural thing and hardly unique to Cambodia but my understanding is that judges seem to have a difficult time believing that boys can be molested too,” said Mr Stayton, adding that the testimonies of young female victims were deemed more credible.
The Court of Appeal is to announce its ruling on July 20.