Women’s Group Weighs Suit Against Magazine

A women’s advocacy group called a news conference Thurs­day to counter a magazine article published last month that questioned its methods in catching and prosecuting foreign pedo­philes.

Chanthol Oung, director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, said the March 25 article in the Far Eastern Economic Review, a weekly news journal, wrongfully accuses her organization of bribing young girls to confess against suspected rapists and pedophiles.

The center is considering legal action against the magazine, which is published in Hong Kong, said Thun Saray, director of the local rights group Adhoc, and who sits on the center’s board of directors.

The article focuses on the conviction in Siem Reap provincial court of New Zealander Graham Cleghorn, who in February was sentenced to a maximum 20 years imprisonment for raping five girls of legal age and keeping weapons in his house.

Chanthol Oung’s center housed 10 girls taken from Cleg­horn’s house following his arrest, including his five accusers. The Review’s investigation quotes two girls who did not accuse Cleg­horn as saying an aid worker at the center pressured them to testify against Cleghorn. The article also quotes the girls as saying they were held involuntarily at the center, and an aid worker saying that the center pays for investigating police’s “small expenses,” such as petrol or lunch.

Collusion between some NGOs and government officials has in the past been a problem, most notably in the practice of overseas adoptions, which in 2001 prompted the US to launch an international investigation into claims that Cambodian mothers were being paid to give up their children.

Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights group Licadho, acknowledged that victims of sex crimes, mostly young, poor girls, are susceptible to bribery, and that many NGOs put funding before good practice.

But she said the published criticism of CWCC was unfounded.

“We do our jobs and we accept having a lot of enemies,” Kek Galabru said, referring to CWCC and Licadho. “Why should we do that? Because we want to protect the rights of the children.”


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