International investigators and anti-human trafficking NGOs blasted Cambodia’s judiciary for its handling of child sex crimes at a conference in Phnom Penh on Tuesday that also praised police for their work in such cases.
The comments came at the end of a two-day conference that saw investigators, NGOs and Ministry of Interior officials come together to discuss child sex tourism.
“We find [Cambodian judges] release suspects before they can even be tried, and I don’t understand why,” said Investigator Gary Phillips of the US Department of Homeland Security in Bangkok.
“As soon as it gets to the judicial system, it’s very frustrating. It makes me question why we are here,” he said.
Fellow US agent Taekuk Cho described Cambodia as being where Thailand was a decade ago, before the Thai government began cracking down on such crimes.
“[Pedophiles] going to Thailand 10 or 15 years ago are now coming to Cambodia because there is no risk,” Cho said, adding that he and his colleague spend about half their time working on cases here.
“These guys know they can pay somebody off and out they go. It’s a fight we can’t win without the judicial system,” he said.
Stephanie Remion, director of NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, questioned whether the judiciary was undermining police morale.
“How can police stay motivated if [their work] isn’t followed up at the court level?” she asked.
Ministry of Interior law enforcement adviser Christian Guth acknowledged there were problems within the judiciary. But he was confident that a new generation of judges being trained at the Royal School for Judges and Prosecutors would ensure that the courts start fulfilling their responsibilities.
“We know police have made progress,” Guth said. “I am optimistic in two or three years, things will change. Each of us is doing our best to improve the judicial system.”
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana and secretaries of state Tuot Lux and Kassie Neou said they were in a meeting and would not comment.