UN officials and women’s advocates are urging court authorities to prosecute a rape case stalled for more than a year, since the alleged 14-year-old victim dropped her complaint.
The case involves a Vietnamese housemaid, who said her employer, a 49-year-old Belgian national, raped her Feb 7, 2000.
The accused, Rudy Demasure, admitted having sex with the girl, but said it was consensual and said the girl told him she was 18.
The case, which involves allegations the accused paid the victim to drop the charges, sheds light on one of the weakest areas of Cambodia‘s criminal justice system, some observers say.
It’s an area that Prime Minister Hun Sen said last week needs reform. He demanded a Kompong Cham rape suspect who had been released be re-arrested after the victim’s family pleaded with the premier for justice.
The Demasure case seemed strong at the outset, authorities said.
“We arrested him because we had all the evidence,” Municipal Penal Police Chief Khuon Sophon said in June 2000, three days after Demasure’s arrest.
The chief said the evidence included witnesses who said “that man tried to pay the girl off many times…but was not successful in getting her to drop the charges.”
According to Ith Phum, lawyer with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, the charges were dropped when the victim and her family withdrew the complaint, not long after Demasure’s arrest.
Subsequently, the girl fell ill and her family asked the women’s center and the Ministry for Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs for help. In August of 2000, they filed an appeal of the decision dropping the charges, Ith Phum said, but last April the girl and her family abandoned the complaint again. Women’s rights advocates do not want the matter dropped.
The investigation is continuing, with the help of the UN Human Rights office, the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee.
In Cambodia, cases are often dropped once a cash settlement has been negotiated between victim and accused.
But Mu Sochua, the Minister for Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, said that’s not what the law requires, and her ministry is working to get that message across to the court system.
“In any criminal case, it is the responsibility of the prosecutor—the state—to proceed with the case, on behalf of the victim,” she said.
Mu Sochua said her ministry had asked the former minister of justice, Uk Vithun, to investigate why the prosecution dropped charges in the Demasure case. Uk Vithun was replaced last month amid complaints that the pace of court reform was too slow.
She said she will renew efforts now that Neav Sithong has been named minister of justice.
Demasure’s lawyer, Ang Udom, said Wednesday his client is out of the country and could not comment on renewed efforts to prosecute him.
“We are going to remind the new minister of our concerns,” Mu Sochua said. She said her ministry has a list of five cases to refer to Justice involving sexual crimes, trafficking or domestic violence.