When two Kompong Thom province women were raped and brutally killed in May 2005, authorities began searching for three men they believed to be responsible.
Buth Khet, 21, and Chan Sath, 20, had had their eyes hacked out—a superstitious practice often followed by killers who believe their reflection remains on the pupils of their victims. Police also believed that the rapists were from the same commune as the two young women.
Though one suspect was eventually arrested on suspicion of carrying out the crime, a judge at Kompong Thom Provincial Court threw the case out last month, citing a lack of evidence.
Huth Hy, provincial court prosecutor, appealed the judge’s decision and now it’s up to the Appeals Court to decide whether the case against the suspect is strong enough to stand in court.
As with so many other cases, the Kompong Thom killings lack what is often missing from Cambodian criminal investigations: solid evidence, and a reliable means of obtaining it.
Whether in the form of computer code-cracking or DNA testing, advanced forensic technology is largely unavailable in Cambodia.
Authorities have no laboratories in which to carry out scientific procedures such as DNA tests-which could have been administered to the villagers in Kompong Thom to confirm whether the brutal attackers of the women were among their own neighbors.
Autopsies, which can confirm causes of death, are seldom conducted and must be ordered by court officials.
The world of crime scene forensics could bridge the investigative gaps in many Cambodian court cases that are dropped due to a lack of evidence.
Most projects currently in place to train police and court officials focus on procedures, such as how to gather evidence, document investigations or conduct medical examinations.
There are scientific technical police in Cambodia, but they have resources to perform only very basic investigative tasks, such as fingerprinting and taking photographs, said law enforcement adviser Christian Guth.
“Many police [unintentionally] destroy evidence at the crime scene,” because they have not received adequate training, Guth said.
Training is currently being provided by the Ministry of Interior and several partners to improve police technical capacity, Guth added.
Among those partners are the UN Children’s Fund and World Vision, which fund a ministry project that teaches authorities how to recognize child exploitation and how to protect children during the investigation process, said Guth, who advises the project.
Beatrice Magnier, director of anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, said APLE has jointly organized a Phnom Penh training program with British police planned for October.
The British Embassy jointly funded a 2005 basic computer training workshop designed by Microsoft’s Asia-Pacific branch for police in Phnom Penh, said John Mitchell, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy.
The Cambodia Criminal Justice Assistance Project is another main source for specialized training programs of police and prison officials, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said.
Forensics could help the police and courts investigate crimes like the Kompong Thom double rape and murder, but rights workers say that the path to justice is being blocked by much more basic needs.
Many doubt that forensic technology alone can save investigations where officials have, knowingly or unknowingly, not followed the proper procedures, or could bring justice to those contending with corrupt judges and prosecutors.
Chan Soveth, an investigator with local rights group Adhoc, said that more forensic capacity in Cambodia would help to bring “real justice.” But he added that more basic tools available to investigators could suffice if those investigators were reliable, unbiased and honest.
“The problem is about independence of investigations,” Chan Soveth said.
(Additional reporting by Kim Chan and Kuch Naren)