Phnom Penh must do more against rape & sexual violence: Amnesty | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 08.03.2010
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Phnom Penh must do more against rape & sexual violence: Amnesty

On International Women's Day, Amnesty International called on the Cambodian government to take steps to combat a rise in rape and acts of sexual violence against Cambodian women and children.

Poor people have little chance of pursuing justice in Cambodia

Poor people have little chance of pursuing justice in Cambodia

Amnesty International says the Cambodian government must act against the growing problem of rape and sexual violence against women and children.

Amnesty’s report, titled "Breaking the Silence", says bribe-taking, impunity and a lack of services for rape victims in Cambodia worsen the problem.

It adds that widespread corruption in the police, judiciary and medical services means that victims – most of whom are poor – have little chance of pursuing justice.

Impunity is the main problem

Brittis Edman, Amnesty’s country’s specialist, says the system as it stands allows most perpetrators to walk free and even to commit more crimes. And that shows others that they too can get away with rape.

She says the government must denounce rape, since society needs to see that crimes involving sexual violence are not acceptable.

Prostituierte in Kambodscha

Victims of sexual violence are ostracized by Cambodian society

"The most important recommendation is that we ask the government to speak out and condemn publicly and repeatedly rape", Edman explains. "This is to show that it’s not tolerated. They have to do it because of the lack of social sanction."

Number of cases appears to be rising

Edman echoes other human rights workers when she says that the number of rapes against women and children seems to be increasing.

"What’s clear is that the number of reports reaching police and NGO workers is increasing. Whether that reflects an increase in reality or just that victims are more prone to report, we don’t know. But you can see the increase everywhere."

Amnesty’s report focuses on the problems victims encounter when they try to pursue justice. It found that three-quarters of those whose cases were investigated first had to pay bribes.

"As so many victims told me, if their perpetrator is not brought to justice he will be a role model for others potentially, and that will risk escalate violence further", says Edman. "That is a clear risk for Cambodia."

Amnesty interviewed 30 victims for the report - many of whom were under 18, she adds:

"Half of the victims we interviewed are children, and that’s not what we set out to do. It’s because those were the people who were at the NGOs that helped us coordinate the interviews."

Victims face further difficulties because Cambodia’s conservative society – which emphasises that women must retain their virginity until marriage – ostracises those who have been raped.

Widespread reforms needed

In five pages of recommendations, Amnesty calls for wholesale reform of the process by which victims report crimes of sexual violence.

It says the government should recruit more female police officers, and should revamp the courts to make them more victim-friendly.

Author: Robert Carmichael (Phnom Penh)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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