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Mob justice still an issue: UN rights body

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
Motorists attempt to drag professor Suy Sareth out of his SUV in Phnom Penh last year. DAP News

A UN human rights body in Cambodia on Monday issued part of a report highlighting cases of extrajudicial killing in the Kingdom, prompting the government to say that officials are working hard to eliminate the problem.


According to a partial report published on Facebook by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, 73 cases from 2010 to 2018 were recorded. The full report is due next month.

“From 2010 to 2018, OHCHR listed 73 cases of popular justice. Fifty-seven people were killed and others were beaten or harassed by ordinary people following accusations of theft, social misconduct or practising witchcraft,” it said, adding that the numbers could be far below the real figures since cases are rarely reported. “If you witness a mob violence, don’t join or post on social media.”

The most widely known case happened in Phnom Penh last year where Suy Sareth, a professor with the University of Cambodia, was badly beaten after he struck motorists in the city with his SUV after a traffic accident.

Simon Walker, an OHCHR representative, said the OHCHR officials have undertaken research into the issue and interviewed people affected by mob justice.

“They have indicated to us that the main reasons are a lack of trust in the police, court and prison system, including perceptions of corruption that might affect any investigations into complaints of criminal acts; and poverty, as losing money or a possession, such as a motorcycle can have disastrous effects on peoples’ daily lives,” Mr Walker said.

He added that the main challenge is the need to ensure “effective investigation and prosecution of criminals”.

“This will help build trust in the authorities, and therefore encourage people not to take justice into their own hands,” he said. “UN Human Rights Cambodia has been working with the government to strengthen the legal and judicial infrastructure, and this is fundamental to eliminating popular justice.”

“The authorities have a role to build trust in the community and part of doing this will be to demonstrate commitment to carry out investigations and prosecutions when criminal acts occur, and to provide an effective remedy to any victim of such acts,” Mr Walker added. “Preventing acts of popular justice by intervening in a timely manner is also important.”

San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia, agreed that lack of faith in the judicial system causes mob justice.

Mr Chey said people who use violence against a suspected criminal must face the law.

“Violence against a suspect is also an offence, but in some cases, we have noted that even some officials were at the scene [of the crime] still failed to intervene to save the lives of the victims,” he said.

Chin Malin, vice president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee and spokesman for the Justice Ministry, yesterday said he does not have mob justice statistics, but noted that the government is working hard to handle the issue by cooperating with partners, including the OHCHR.

“We are working on this issue with all relevant partners, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, in order to reduce and eliminate all forms of popular justice, or mob killings, through the use of the mechanism of education and the dissemination of the principles of human rights to the people,” Mr Malin said. “We are strengthening our law enforcement officers so they can do their duties; which means that they need to bring perpetrators to face charges, in accordance with the law.

“Previously, we could not catch perpetrators [of mob killings] because it is hard to identify suspects due to the crowds that gather, but in some cases, we have brought perpetrators to court,” he added.

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