Gov’t Deflects Criticism of Police, Courts in Amnesty Rape Report

Government officials this week downplayed a report released Mon­day by Amnesty International on rape in Cambodia, which found that victims of sexual violence are ill served by the nation’s police and courts.

“I think this report just does not reflect the reality in Cambodia to­day,” said Interior Ministry spokes­man Lieutenant General Khieu So­pheak. “They’re just listening to one angle. And we do not expect that the Amnesty International would say good things about Cam­bodia. Even though we’ve been do­ing so far so good, we’ve been do­ing well, we don’t expect that they will ad­mire us.”

Mr Sopheak declined to elaborate on specific policy successes on the issue of sexual violence, instead using an analogy to explain the government’s attitude to the report.

“I will compare this to one of our proverbs: Even though the dog is barking, the caravan is still walking forward,” he said. “The caravan doesn’t care what the dog does.”

He took particular umbrage with Amnesty’s charge that police often ignore rape complaints or encourage victims to reach informal monetary settlements with their attackers.

“If the police receive the complaint from the victim, we always do our best according to the procedure and the law,” Mr Sopheak said.

Though local human rights groups have long criticized police and other authorities for perpetuating the long-standing practice of cash payments to settle rape char­ges, Mr Sopheak said the practice was between victim and perpetrator.

“Sometimes, the victims and their offenders agree together se­cretly without notice to police, so how can we deal with that? And sometimes the victim agrees to settle and reports to the NGO, and the NGO reports to Amnesty, so I think this is not a good judgment by Amnesty.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan urged patience, saying Cambodia is a de­veloping country dealing with many other issues.

“We have a goal and a target point. Like with corruption, we un­derstand what we’re supposed to do,” Mr Siphan said.

Mr Siphan declined to elaborate on the government’s specific goals to tackle the rape problem, but named three broad areas: “We need good laws to implement, we need public awareness and we need efficient and good measurement to prevent abuse, to reduce the abuse.”

Despite “the issues raised by NGOs or whoever, we are…a young nation, [and] we do a lot of reform,” he added.

The Amnesty report called on the Interior, Just­ice, Women’s Af­fairs and other ministries to take more urgent action against rape, in­cluding the collection of accurate figures on the crime, which local rights groups say is in­creasing and involving younger victims.

Perhaps the most serious systemic flaws flagged by the report were found at the Ministry of Just­ice, where Amnesty reported that bribery of court officials was rampant. The report described the courts as “an insensitive and disrespectful environment for victims of sexual violence.”

Minister of Justice Ang Vong Va­thana could not be contacted about the report.

“I do not comment on that be­cause I don’t know much about it,” said Bunyay Narin, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice.

Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi did not respond to re­quests for comment. Ministry spokeswoman Sy Define referred questions on rape to Secretary of State San Arun, who could not be reached.

   (Additional reporting by Van Roeun)


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