PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA – In one of our biggest cases of the year, a retired colonel from Cambodia’s army was convicted for raping three girls between 9 and 14 years old. The conviction brought closure to the children and their families more than four years after the horrific abuse, but it also reveals a brand new future for a community that once lived in utter terror of this powerful man.
A Retired Military Colonel Abuses His Power
IJM first heard about this powerful retired military official in 2010. The man living with a physical handicap had become the caretaker of an entire community in a rural village in Cambodia. But in addition to providing land, housing and food to the very poor families, he used his bodyguards and others to procure girls he could abuse inside his home.
The stories shared by brave survivors are shocking and paint an awful picture of repeated and sadistic sexual assault.
“Because of his position, wealth, and power over the community, this man thought no one could touch him,” explains IJM lawyer Sarouen Sek.
Documenting evidence and finding victims and witnesses who were willing to speak out against such a powerful man took IJM and other NGOs working in the area about two and a half years. “The victims and their families thought no one would believe them,” Sarouen explains.
Courageous Survivors Speak Out
Last year, the powerful criminal was finally arrested. Calling out this kind of corruption and making accusations against such a high-ranking man was a brave act for the local police who broke strong cultural norms by taking the criminal into custody for the trial.
This year, he was finally brought to trial. Two courageous survivors took the witness stand.
One of the girls was 14 when she was abused. She explained why she stayed committed to the trial, even though it took such a long time: “I cannot withdraw my case because then [the criminal] will get freedom and there will be no justice for all the victims of [my community].”
A mother of a 12-year-old witness added that getting justice was a way of helping her whole community, not just her daughter: “I am here to seek justice for all children in the community so that [this man] will not abuse any more children.”
The Cambodian Court Tips The Scales of Power
On October 30, 2014, the retired high-ranking military official was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
Sarouen commended the young Cambodian judge who ruled with integrity, the mid-level officials and police who successfully arrested a man who far out-ranked them and was perceived as “untouchable,” and the survivors’ families who resisted bribes and intimidations because they were determined to seek justice through their country’s system.
“The community used to not believe in the work of law enforcement. This criminal could not be touched. They didn’t expect this happening—that he would be arrested, and now convicted. Law enforcement did a good job to protect the community.”