The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights yesterday released a report saying that cases of mob justice continue to be reported in the Kingdom.The 25-page report noted that the government needs to address cases of “popular justice” or “people’s court” which result in the beatings or killings of people who are suspected of committing crimes.
“Popular justice” in Cambodia, as in other countries around the world, thrives on long-existing prejudices and accumulated tensions and frustration, based on a lack of trust in the rule of law and the justice system, discriminatory attitudes in society, poverty, and lack of education, in particular human rights education, it said.
OHCHR listed a total of 73 cases from 2010 to 2018 related to mob killings and accusations of practising witchcraft.
“In 57 cases, people have been killed following accusations of social misconduct, theft or other infractions, including traffic accidents [22 deaths], or following accusations of practising witchcraft with 35 deaths,” read the report. “In the remaining 16 cases, people were injured or harassed.”
“A much larger number of people suffered severe beatings. All the victims of mob killings and beatings were male and kicking in the head and lower back, punching in the abdomen, and beating with wooden sticks or stones are the most common ways to punish the people caught at the scene,” it added.
Simon Walker, representative of OHCHR in Cambodia, yesterday said that generally cases of “popular justice” involve people suspected of sorcery.
“We are very concerned about such criminal acts and we have highlighted this in the past,” he said. “If the government does not stand up and deal with this issue then we will consider it a breach of human rights.”
“We hope to raise awareness that popular justice is unacceptable in order to tackle the problem,” he added.
The report also noted that the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht, highlighted concerns of “popular justice” almost twenty years ago and that cases had been decreasing since the early 2000s.
“It is a social and legal issue that continues to be a matter of concern in Cambodia at present,” it added, listing out areas of concern such as people’s lack of trust in the police, court and prison system.
Chin Malin, vice president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee and Justice Ministry spokesman, yesterday said he agreed with OHCHR concerns over mob killings.
“I saw the report and we accept that we have to deal with most of the issues that have been highlighted, especially the need to educate the people about the Kingdom’s laws,” he said. “It is difficult to investigate cases of mob killings because people do not cooperate with the police.”
Mr Malin admitted that there are some cases where police officers do not tackle cases properly, leading people to think they are not doing their jobs.
He said that Cambodian officials have been doing a lot to address the issue, especially by educating people about the law and taking legal action against those who commit mob killings.
Soeng Sen Karuna, senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, yesterday said that a “people’s court” is considered a violation of human rights because it denies a suspect the right to receive a fair trial.
“In Cambodia, we have seen cases of people taking the law into their own hands, often resulting in mob beatings or killings, especially after traffic accidents or against those who are accused of being sorcerers,” he said.