Cambodian Women Lack Equality Before the Law: Report

By Richard Finney
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khmer-tepvanny3-081-18.jpg Cambodian land-rights activist Tep Vanny is shown in a holding cell in a Phnom Penh court, Jan. 18, 2017.

Despite provisions in Cambodia’s constitution abolishing discrimination against women, Cambodian women suffer unequal treatment before the law and are frequently uninformed of their rights during court proceedings, a new report says.

In a report released on Aug. 9 by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), the rights group says that while men and women face similar issues in the country’s judicial system, “the effect is disproportionately felt on women, thereby amounting to de facto discrimination.”

Especially in rural parts of the country, where there is a shortage of legal aid lawyers, women are particularly affected, the report titled “CCHR Fair Trial Rights Newsletter on Women in Cambodia” says.

Monitoring 453 trials in the Phnom Penh Appeals Court between November 2016 and June 2018, CCHR’s Fair Trial Monitoring Project found that in 76 cases involving a total of 97 women, 53 percent were held in pre-trial detention, among them pregnant women or mothers with young children from whom they were then separated.

Another 26 percent were not represented in court by a lawyer, the report says, adding that in nine of 25 of those cases, women were not informed of their right to legal representation, while in 70 percent of the cases monitored, women were not informed by the judge of their right to remain silent or did not have that right fully explained.

“In addition, 14% appeared in court wearing their prison uniform, which is contrary to the presumption of innocence,” the CCHR Newsletter said.

Citing a 2017 report by the Cambodia-based human rights group Licadho, the Newsletter also says that domestic violence is often not recognized in Cambodian courts as a criminal offense. “And many women choose not to bring charges, or drop complaints, with only 20% of cases of domestic violence monitored during the beginning of 2014 and the end of 2016 resulting in criminal proceedings.”

Underrepresentation of women in the judicial system, with women making up only 14 percent of the country’s judges and 20 percent of its lawyers, frequently contributes to a hostile and intimidating environment for Cambodian women brought to trial, the report adds.

Concluding its report, the CCHR Newsletter makes several recommendations to support fair trial rights for Cambodian women, including a review of the country’s legal-aid policy, the provision of legal and psychological support for victims of domestic violence, and better training for judges and lawyers handling “gender-specific" issues.


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