The Interior Ministry on Wednesday announced that police across the nation saw the crime rate drop last year to an average of just eight crimes per day compared to 10 crimes per day in 2007.
The national crime figures, which were released at an annual conference at the Interior Ministry, follow close on the heels this week of crime figures for Phnom Penh, which claimed that, on average, less than one crime per day took place in the capital in 2008.
According to City Hall, there were just 351 criminal offenses committed in 2008 in the capital—down from 357 in 2007.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak told police and provincial governors from across the country Wednesday that there were 2,881 crimes committed in Cambodia in 2008 compared to 3,732 in 2007.
Considering it has a population of more than 13 million, Cambodia appears, according to the Interior Ministry figures, to be virtually crime-free compared to countries with similar or smaller populations.
In Sweden, a country of more than 9 million people, there were 1,306,000 offenses reported to police in 2007, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention website.
In New Zealand, which has a population of more than 4 million, 426,691 crimes were reported over a one-year period in 2007 and 2008, according to a report by New Zealand National Police.
According to Khieu Sopheak, of the 2,881 crimes committed throughout the country last year, 1,085 were felonies—of which 347 were killings—and 1,796 were misdemeanors.
“Some crimes were very brutal, seriously frightening the people, such as murders, armed robberies, robbery-killings, rape-killings, indoor and outdoor property robberies and gang activities,” Khieu Sopheak told the conference, adding that 2008 also saw the emergence of new crimes involving technology.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the free legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders Project, said the fact that the Interior Ministry is releasing statistics on crime indicates a positive first step, though the numbers don’t necessarily add up to the reality.
“Cambodia has no corruption cases reported. Does that mean there is no corruption in Cambodia?” Sok Sam Oeun asked, adding that there needs to be a shift in the way police conduct their duties.
“However, it is a start. It is the first time the Interior Ministry has reported like this. It is an improvement, but it is not perfect,” he said.
“Police should move from the ones who violate human rights to become the first ones to improve human rights,” he added.
Sok Sam Oeun also encouraged the government to do more to boost the country’s police force, and for the force to be more forthcoming with information.
“More crimes reported shows more trust in the police force and a more active police force,” he said.
Lars Pederson, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Cambodia, said Wednesday that the low crime statistics, when compared to developed countries, “very much relates to the fact that the government has very limited resources for interpretation of crimes.”
“Everyone knows that reporting a crime has very little likelihood of that leading to convictions due to the limited capacity of investigations and prosecutions and case-building,” Pedersen said.
Chhay Sinarith, director of the Interior Ministry’s internal security department, declined to comment on the national crime figures.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said by telephone that his organization does not keep track of such statistics, but pointed out that Adhoc alone received more than 2,000 complaints of criminal-type offenses in 2008, including rape and violent assault.
“I think it depends on the definition of crimes from other countries compared to here,” Thun Saray said, adding that many criminal cases are resolved through police-negotiated compensation.
In cases of domestic violence, women tend not to report abuse to police because husbands often provide financial support for the family and divorce is looked down upon, he said.
Despite the official low crime rate, the perception of Cambodia as having a problem with crime is likely to stick, as travel alerts posted on the websites of a number of foreign countries paint a different picture, claiming that crimes such as robberies and shootings are quite prevalent in Cambodia.
“Cambodia has a high crime rate, including street crime. Military weapons and explosives are readily available to criminals despite authorities’ efforts to collect and destroy such weapons,” according to the US State Department travel warning website.
“Many rural parts of the country remain without effective policing,” it adds.
The Australian government website advises its citizens to use caution when visiting Cambodia “because of the risk of civil unrest, violent criminal activity and terrorism.”
“There have been recent reports of an increase in assaults and armed robberies occurring at the Riverfront area in Phnom Penh and in Sihanoukville, particularly at isolated beaches,” the site warns.