The Appeals Court of Phnom Penh has intentionally stalled finding a verdict in the case of a woman accused five years ago of trafficking at least nine underage girls in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, a human rights official claimed Wednesday.
The alleged brothel owner, who has yet to be formally charged by any court with a crime, is still at large.
The case, which started in 1998, was first brought to the Kandal provincial court, but was transferred to the Appeals Court because the defendant was a “powerful” person, Chan Soveth, lead investigator of the human rights group Adhoc, said on Wednesday.
“In 1998, I went to Kien Svay district and got nine underage girls out of a brothel,” Chan Soveth said. “The police also helped, and the nine girls confirmed to the [Kandal provincial] court that the brothel owner trafficked [them].”
Although the Kandal court investigated the girls’ accusations, the case was transferred from the provincial court to the Appeals Court, where it has languished without resolution for five years, he said.
Although no Appeals Court official was available for comment on Wednesday, Kandal court Judge Chheng Phat said the case was sent to the Appeals Court “long ago” and therefore he could not comment on the case.
Chan Soveth charged, however, that the accused brothel owner, who remains unidentified, influenced the Appeals Court to accept the case.
Since the Appeals Court has taken the case and has not released the documents to the provincial court, no legal action has taken place, Chan Soveth said.
The long-standing case comes to light at an especially sensitive time for the country’s judiciary. On June 20, police in Phnom Penh executed an arrest warrant issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal court and arrested 14 young girls who were allegedly victims of trafficking.
Though court officials acknowledged the girls were most likely brought to Cambodia against their will, the warrant was issued anyway because the courts charged that the girls were illegal immigrants. Cambodia’s legal and judicial system has been strongly criticized—most recently from international donors—for its alleged corruption, ineffectiveness and executive interference.