In Cambodia, the criminal justice system faces two significant barriers when addressing gender-based violence (GBV) cases. First, many cases either go unreported, or never make it past the police investigation to the court. Second, those prosecutions which do commence have a very poor clearance rate. In 2010, the percentage of GBV prosecutions that led to a final verdict was just 16%, whereas the clearance rate for all other criminal cases in Cambodia averages more than 80%. This second problem of prosecutions dropping away is injurious to society in a number of ways: not only does it rob the courageous survivor (most of whom are minor girls) from receiving justice, it also reinforces a belief in Cambodian communities that the rule of law does not protect them.
EMWI’s USAID-funded Program on Rights and Justice 2 (PRAJ), has been assisting the monitoring of GBV prosecutions in Cambodia since 2009. A case tracking database developed with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and used to train the courts and legal aid groups, has been instrumental in this process. In February 2011, PRAJ and the MoJ discovered the abysmal 2010 clearance rate in these prosecutions – which number several hundred a year – and immediately worked with their partners at GIZ in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) to design a yearlong evidence-based training program to improve the success of the prosecutions. The very next month the nationwide program was launched, and by September 2011 over 500 justice sector officials and legal aid lawyers, from every province, had participated.
These intensive regional workshops set out to diagnose the causes of the attrition, and to design solutions. Last month, PRAJ and the MoJ returned to the database and confirmed that the clearance rate had doubled: to 32%. While the rate of successful prosecutions remains poor, hundreds of Cambodian women and girls – and thousands of their family members and neighbors – are now receiving greater care, improved due process, and final justice as a direct result of these programs. This is a good start to correcting a systemic access to justice issue.
PRAJ understands that the 2011 success must be repeated to begin to bring the GBV clearance rates and convictions up to par with other criminal cases. To that end, this year PRAJ – again with its partners from GIZ – will expand on the national training series to engage civil society organizations that provide support to rape and domestic violence victims in the provinces, improving the critical referral systems to hospitals and to MoWA investigators. Reviewing the case data from 2011 to examine procedural bottlenecks, the joint program will also offer more advanced sessions based on the assessment that accompanied the 2011 trainings. These sessions will focus in more detail on key evidentiary matters facing the male magistrates and female MoWA investigators alike: instruction on the elements required to prove GBV crimes under the new Penal Code, pertinent due process matters under the new Penal Procedure Code, and issues such as medical forensics, working with post-traumatic stress disorder, and how to conduct gender-sensitive witness interviews.