Elsewhere Drugs Mean Death, Here Just a Slap

A Cambodian man was executed in Vietnam on Saturday for drug trafficking. But if he were caught for the same crime in Cambodia, he might have gotten away without even a slap on the wrist, officials said.

Tran The Trung, 49, a Cambodian, and Vietnamese Quach Kim Thuan, 41, were convicted of running a major drug ring that smuggled heroin from Cambodia to Vietnam, the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper reported.

According to The Associated Press, the two men were executed by firing squad in Ho Chi Minh City. The AP did not say when the men were convicted.

Graham Shaw of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said most countries in Southeast Asia give the death penalty to drug traffickers. But Cambodia, which does not have the death penalty for any crime, does not seem to give any serious punishment for those caught with drugs, he said.

“Police here said that they don’t even bother arresting people for drugs because it doesn’t matter,” Shaw said. “The people they catch just get let go.”

The reason for this involves the security and independence of judges. Shaw said Cambodian officials who are able to punish those pushing illegal substances fear for their safety because they are often threatened by influential people.

“The courts are unwilling and unable to implement drug control,” said Shaw. “The judiciary is very corrupt.”

In April, a senior judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Sok Sethamony, was shot

and killed as he drove to work.

He had presided over several

high-profile, non-drug related cases, including the trials of suspected members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters.

Also in April, an Appeals Court clerk was shot and killed and a municipal court prosecutor was shot by two men in Russei Keo district who were allegedly trying to extort money from him.

On Oct 10, two high ranking military officers were arrested in connection to a Tuol Kok district home raided by police Oct 1. The police found 35 kg of heroin and 5 kg of amphetamines.

Major General Dom Hak and Lieutenant Colonel Muon Sokhan were soon released from the drug charges after the investigation found no evidence, co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh said at the time.

After charges against the two RCAF officers were dropped, police officers quoted Dom Hak as saying that a small quantity of amphetamine powder found at this residence was used to strengthen his fighting cocks.

One of the officers then said that he would no talk further about the case.

“If we say anything else or give our names, there will be big problems, because the top leaders have already made negotiations,” the officer said at the time.

“Even if we find something new and the leaders have already reached a compromise, the person who takes action will be the person who gets in trouble,” he said.

In March, Tep Sumphan, a member of a government human rights committee was convicted for possessing almost 4,000 pills of methamphetamine and a kilogram of heroin. He was fined about $2,500 and the judge said the reason behind the light sentence was because Tep Sumphan’s arrest had been made irregularly.

“The current drug laws in Cambodia are not effective because they are weak,” said Lour Ramin, deputy secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs. “The laws are currently being amended.”

He said that people who face conviction for their involvement with illegal substances have the choice of either paying a fine or going to jail. With the new laws, an offender will have to do both.

According to Lour Ramin, a draft of the revised laws have been sent to the Ministry of Justice to wait for the National Assembly’s approval. Cambodia’s drug regulations do not meet international standards at this time, but the deputy secretary general said that the new laws will.

Shaw agreed that meeting international standards would help Cambodia’s leniency with drug trafficking, but the problem is not just that the country refuses to adhere to international rules. It also fails to implement its domestic drug laws, he said.

“Ideally people should go to court, get fined and spend the rest of their lives in prison,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter if you were the prime minister or a street cleaner, you would be treated the same.”


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