The Ministry of Justice is preparing new commentary to accompany the anti-human trafficking law that took effect in February 2008, a ministry official said this week.
Secretary of State Chan Sotheavy said Tuesday that a draft version was finished but needed to be reviewed before it could be distributed. She declined to estimate when it would be ready.
“We need to look again and add more information before we disseminate, so how can we promise when?” she said, declining to provide further details.
NGOs familiar with the matter said they expected the commentary to provide judges, prosecutors and lawyers with guidelines on how and when each of the statute’s articles should be applied.
The Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation took effect in February 2008, replacing UNTAC-era laws that gave 10- to 20-year prison sentences for “debauchery,” the charge for almost all child sex crimes. The new law codifies a range of sex offenses, ranging from a minimum of one year for indecent acts with a minor to a maximum of 15 years for purchasing sex with a child prostitute.
Shawn Kohl, deputy director of International Justice Mission in Cambodia, welcomed the commentary as a way to help mitigate what he said was were existing problems with the law.
“We look forward to the commentary coming out so that there can be a more consistent application of the law,” he said. “We do see varying sentences…. It would be nice to have a more definite range.”
Mr Kohl said he also hoped the commentary would help courts charge perpetrators under the appropriate articles.
“According to our own assessments, more cases have been incorrectly charged than correctly charged,” he said. “Multiple times we’ve seen charges for the easiest thing to prove.”
Plang Samnang, a judge in Preah Sihanouk province, had not heard about the forthcoming commentary, but defended the law.
“The amount of sentencing is based on the situation, the crime and the psychological logic,” he said. “Even if in some cases the sentence is less than with the old law, it is still an effective deterrent.”