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Rights advocate faces slanderous denunciation charge

(CCHR/IFEX) - This fact sheet provides an overview of the issue of impunity that seems to pervade all corners of contemporary Cambodia. It focuses on one case in Banteay Meanchey province, and analyses the possible repercussions of such a corrupt application of the law. This fact sheet is written by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights ("CCHR"), a non-aligned, independent, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect democracy and respect for human rights - primarily civil and political rights - throughout Cambodia.

Case background
On 9 February 2012, Soum Chankea, Banteay Meanchey Provincial Co-ordinator for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association ("ADHOC"), was summonsed by the Prosecutor's office in Sisophon, following a complaint lodged by Oum Socheath, head of the Banteay Meanchey branch of The Cambodia Mine Action Centre ("CMAC") and Co-ordinator of the joint United Nations Development Program and CMAC mine clearance program.

Soum Chankea's summons follows ADHOC's intervention in response to a complaint by a 25-year-old waitress alleging sexual harassment, molestation and gender-based violence against Oum Socheath and another man, Pong Piseth, on 4 and 9 November 2011, respectively. Oum Socheath filed the complaint against Soum Chankea in November 2011 after Soum Chankea helped the woman to file a sexual harassment suit against the two men and urged the police and the Prosecutor's office to take action and investigate the case.

On 12 March 2012, Soum Chankea was initially questioned on a charge of slanderous denunciation under Article 311 of the Penal Code; however, the court then began asking him questions relating to allegedly coercing or inciting the woman to file the sexual harassment complaint. No charge has yet been brought and no indication given as to what the charge will be, if any.

Follow the law
Under Article 311 of the Penal Code, a person is guilty of slanderous defamation if he or she "denounces a fact that is known to be incorrect and it is so knowingly to result in criminal or disciplinary sanctions constitutes a slanderous denunciation…" (emphasis added). Aside from the fact that all Soum Chankea did was to provide legal advice, the fact remains that whatever is said must be known to be incorrect for the charge to be brought. For Soum Chankea to know that the fact was incorrect, the fact must have been incorrect in the first place. Only a court of law has the authority to determine this. Before any counter-claim from Oum Socheath can be successful, the woman's claims must be examined in a court of law. For if he were found guilty, then any claim of slanderous defamation would be seen in the harsh light of day for what it really is: a spurious claim that wastes the courts' time and fails to deliver justice.

( . . . )

Impunity alive and well in Cambodia

Instead of protecting their people and investigating allegations of human rights violations, Cambodian authorities continue to place undue restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders through the ready use of criminal charges - ADHOC reports that this is the third time in recent months that its staff have been threatened with charges of defamation or incitement following human rights education and advocacy activities. The state's priorities in any such case are clearly to suppress any expression of fact or opinion that damages its interests or those of its affiliates. In order to preserve its all-pervasive patronage network, the Royal Government of Cambodia and its local authority underlings need to keep their power base on side. In fact, allegations surfaced that the Prime Minister's younger brother, Hun San, signed a letter asking the Prosecutor to drop investigations into Oum Socheath. The authorities have allegedly not taken any action to investigate the woman's allegations.

The main problem with such cases - leaving aside for the moment the rights of the victims and those of any who try to help them - is that they encourage impunity. Any well-connected local authority representative, businessman or minister now knows that if he wants to sexually abuse or harass a young woman, he can - with impunity.

Read the full fact sheet:
Cambodia_CCHR_Impunity_in_Banteay_Meanchey.pdf (435 KB)

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