A 100-page set of guidelines for the legal protection of the rights of women and children was launched by the Ministry of Women's Affairs in Phnom Penh on Thursday in a bid to address shortfalls in how the judicial system handles cases such as rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment.
Their publication, with funding from the German and Spanish governments, comes eight months after Women's Minister Ing Kantha Phavi told the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women that there have been no documented cases of women taking violence and abuse cases to court.
This prompted the U.N. body to call on the Cambodian government to do more to ensure perpetrators of violence and abuse against women are brought to justice.
“According to a recent survey undertaken by four UN agencies in Cambodia, 25 percent of women have experienced sexual or physical violence (or both) at least once from an intimate partner,” Ms. Kantha Phavi said in a statement.
“The guidelines are to be used by the Judicial Police Agents of the Ministry of Women's Affairs as well as by any state and non-state service provider assisting women survivors of gender-based violence.”
The plan now is for judicial police to fan out and pass on the training they received from a team of lawyers last year to other judicial police around the country.
According to a copy of the guidelines, which detail specific criminal and civil procedures relating to cases that involve women and children, “women who want to stand up for their rights often find it difficult to access justice.”
“Victims of rape rarely get to see their day in Court. Usually the perpetrator settles on a civil compensation out of the Court and the matter is unlawfully dismissed by the police/Royal Prosecutor.”
In response to this, the guidelines note that such behavior from the prosecutor is misconduct, and recommend action from the Justice Ministry and Supreme Council of Magistracy.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders' Project, said such guidelines from ministries can be useless when the system itself is deeply flawed.
“Non-flagrant crimes such as rape must be investigated by one judge,” he said. “But often these cases stop and they can't touch these cases, because the judge sits in his office, reads a police dossier and if it doesn't mention any witnesses, it gets dropped.”