Police investigating the rapes and murders of two girls in Pursat province last week said they lack the resources to collect essential evidence and have had little technical training in such matters.
The bodies were superficially examined before cremation, and no physical samples were taken, giving police little to go on in their investigation, which has yielded no leads and no suspects, they said.
“We could only just examine the dead bodies, and we did not take any DNA from the bodies because we do not have high technology,” Pursat Provincial Police Chief Sarun Chanthy said. “And we did not take fingerprints from the victims’ bodies because of a shortage of equipment, and the bodies were swollen,” he said.
Nai Vinn, 11, and Phal Sophoeun, 14, were found dead and hanging from a tree Jan 6 about 5 km from their home in Krakor district’s Boeng Smuk village. They had been missing for a day and were raped and beaten severely enough to have bones broken.
When villagers found the bodies they alerted the commune police, housed in a one-room wooden house in Svay Sar commune town, several kilometers from the village.
District and commune police, who arrived at the village that afternoon, could only guard the crime scene and wait for specialists from the provincial capital, said Ben Vanna, Krakor district police chief.
“Only the technical and scientific police bureau at the provincial police has specialists [to examine the bodies of victims]. We have received some training, but it was only on paper,” he said by telephone Tuesday.
The families were allowed to take the bodies home the day they were found but not to cremate them, Ben Vanna said previously.
Provincial police examined the bodies the next morning, Jan 7, and by the afternoon they had been cremated. No DNA sample was taken, and no autopsy performed.
“We could only take some photos and some evidence around the crime scene,” Sarun Chanthy said.
Two instructors from the scientific and technical police department of the National Police in Phnom Penh, who were training Pursat police, are assisting in the investigation, Sarun Chanthy said, adding he was not planning to request more help from Phnom Penh.
Police, particularly in rural areas, often lack the skills, resources or will to investigate rape cases, said Seila Samleang, country director of child-protection organization Action Pour Les Enfants.
“Normally they’re just waiting at the office for evidence to come in,” Seila Samleang said.
“The victims have to do their best to [push the investigation forward]; if not the police will just drop out of the case. So it depends on how serious the victim is in taking the case forward for justice,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Helen Sworn, director of Chab Dai Coalition, which runs shelters for abused children, confirmed that observation.
“The only way that we’ve seen successful cases is we literally follow it every step of the way,” she said.
Families who do not have the support of an organization have a harder time getting their cases to the courts and often prefer financial compensation instead, she said.
The National Police’s new spokesman, Kieth Chantharith, acknowledged Tuesday that police have limited resources to investigate such serious crimes.
“We could not compare our technology to developed countries,” he said. “We do investigate within our capabilities.”
“We have the will to find the perpetrators, and we feel pity for [the victims of] the rape case. The police always conduct the investigation in these cases even if there is no complaint from the victim’s family,” he said.
Kieth Chantharith declined to comment on progress in the Pursat double rape-murder investigation.
Ron Dunne, director of investigations at the International Justice Mission, and Steve Morrish, executive director of Southeast Asia Investigations into Social and Humanitarian Activities, were more sympathetic concerning the abilities of the country’s law enforcement officers.
Child rapes seem more prominent in the news and statistics because police are doing a better job of investigating them, Dunne said.
And although rural police stations still have limited resources, police have made great improvements in training personnel and cooperating with NGOs, Morrish said.
“They’re doing their best,” he said.
“It’s a lot better than four years ago, that’s for sure,” he said, referring to the time when he started SISHA.
But, for Mu Sochua, SRP lawmaker and former minister of women’s affairs, the difficulties in investigating and prosecuting child rape-murder cases go to the heart of Cambodia’s longstanding culture of impunity.
“The top police, the top [officials at the] Ministry of Interior, the government [don’t give] enough value to our children. It cannot be case closed. Every murder, every rape is case closed,” she said.
“It’s not just the case of the two girls [in Pursat],” Mu Sochua said.