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Cambodia judicial system failing rape survivors: report

NGO reports most victims are minors; records flawed application of law, perpetrators paying for dropped charges, victims marrying alleged abusers to protect family honor

Cambodia judicial system failing rape survivors: report

Phnum Penh

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

Survivors of rape in Cambodia are being failed by a judicial system mired in corruption, where perpetrators can pay to have charges dropped and some victims have to marry their attackers, according to a report released Sunday.

The report by human rights NGO Licadho outlined some of the key problems, where “almost 100 percent of cases settled by compensation involved a corrupt payment” to an official.

In the absence of a centralized database to keep track of data related to reported cases of rape, Licadho manages its own, and investigated 762 cases of rape or attempted rape committed between 2012 and 2014.

The majority — 537 — were committed against minors and of these, 58 percent of victims were aged 12-17.

Of the 762 cases, a third ended before trial and another third “ended with a conviction that was in some way flawed, or with an acquittal.”

Of those that did not reach a conviction, more than half were settled out of court after compensation was paid to the victim in return for the victim dropping the charge.

Worryingly, attitudes toward women and girls — and the honor their virginity represents — mean that the rights group has documented instances where victims end up having to marry the alleged rapist in order to maintain the honor of their families.

“In seven (2.5 percent) of the cases involving children and four (3 percent) of the cases involving women, the victim ended up marrying the suspect,” Licadho said. “Whilst these cases make up a small percentage of the total, the fact that there are any at all ending in this way is shocking and disturbing.”

The report included a case study in which a 14-year-old girl, who had been gang-raped by three men, was made to marry one of her attackers who was caught after an agreement was reached between him and her family.

In addition to paying off the family, the perpetrator’s family also paid the judge “who convicted the perpetrator of rape, sentenced him to 18 months in prison and then suspended the whole sentence.”

Improper or flawed application of the law was also noted as a problem with rape cases, and “many ended with convictions for indecent assault despite an initial charge by the prosecutor of rape,” the report found.

It added “others ended with a conviction for rape but were followed by a sentence that was less than that prescribed by the Criminal Code or by a wholly or partially suspended sentence.”

Justice Ministry spokesperson Chhin Malin could not be reached.

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