The Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court on Thursday sentenced a disabled former senior Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officer to five years in prison for the rape and attempted rape of two underage girls, an official and lawyers for the victims said.
The defendant, Colonel Khoun Vanna, lost both of his legs and an eye to a landmine while on patrol near the Thai border before taking up charitable work as the deputy director of the local Disabled Development Center in Poipet City.
Col. Vanna was arrested on April 4 last year by provincial police after the parents of more than 20 alleged victims filed complaints with police, although only three of the victims came forward as witnesses.
“He was charged with rape and the attempted rape of minors under the age of 15…and was sentenced to 5 years and ordered to pay compensation to two plaintiffs of 10 million riel each [about $2,500],” said deputy provincial court prosecutor Keo Sokunthea, adding that the third plaintiff withdrew her complaint during the trial.
According to the child protection NGOs that initiated the investigations into Col. Vanna—International Justice Mission (IJM) and Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) —Mr. Vanna used his considerable power in Poipet City to commit abuse.
IJM lawyer Sek Saroeun, who represented the victims, said collecting the necessary evidence against him had been a long and difficult process.
“The people in the communities were terrified of him and no one dared give evidence against him,” he said.
In a statement released following Thursday’s verdict, IJM commended the judicial officials and anti-trafficking police for pushing ahead with the case despite the influence and reputation of the suspect.
“The community lived with Colonel Khoun Vanna’s insidious and undaunted abuse for years, and never thought the justice system would believe them and hold this powerful man accountable. But, they have now seen the public justice system come onto their side,” the statement says.
In its own statement, however, APLE criticized the court for failing to deliver the minimum 7-year sentence for rape, and accused it of using Col. Vann’s military record and disability to justify their decision.
“This sentencing does not provide any justice to the victims. I believe that the details of the crime permit the court to give the maximum sentence,” Chea Nara, a lawyer for APLE who also represented the victims, said in the statement.
“The fact that Vanna is a former military officer should in my eyes not be used as an excuse to give him a sentence below the minimum sentence,” he added.
“To give a sentence below the minimum sentence does not help and may even reverse the recovery process for the victims,” APLE director Samleang Seila said in the statement.