Week 3 & 4: A Supreme Court Trial

During week 3, we had the opportunity to interview two more respondents at APLE. We experienced some difficulties in terms of language barriers, yet, we received valuable information about APLE’s work! We also finished writing the compulsory parts of the thesis, as the deadline was closing in.

This week, we were invited by APLE to join a Supreme Court Trial.

Their case included a 39 year old British offender, previously convicted with “indecent assault” (e.g. sexual touching) of a 13 year old Cambodian girl (his sister in law’s daughter). He had spent 2 out of 2,5 years in prison and appealed his conviction with the wish to be freed of the allegations and return to teaching in Cambodia.

Unfortunately, the victim and her mother was not present as they decided to terminate their participation in the case. Therefore, we were only able to really understand the offender’s perspective.

The process of the trial differed a lot from the Swedish legal process that we know and, in contrast to Sweden, all offenders can appeal to The Supreme Court (the highest level of court) in Cambodia. The Supreme Court does not only handle specific praxis or evidence cases. There were 5 judges, one court clerk, one prosecutor, one child/victim lawyer, and one or several defence lawyers. There was about 15 people on trial, over only 4 hours, that were standing outside, in the doorways or sitting amongst the visitors. There were guards multiple seats behind the offenders, of which some were sleeping. Some offenders/people were on trial, or appealed their convictions, for murder and sex crimes. The hearings were short and we discussed the legal security/certainty (rättssäkerhet) of the proceedings.

We are by no means making any assumptions about the guilt or innocence of the British offender. However, we were quite surprised by the lack of legal security/certainty, e.g. in terms of the translator’s translation of the judges’ and prosecutors’ questions. The english was at times hard to understand and the offender claimed that previous translators had been even worse, at times even drunk. We were lucky to have APLE staff translating the parts in Khmer and the parts in english that we could not understand. The offender also claimed that a 6h trial in The First Instance Court only generated a 2 page court report and that the written report from the initial police interrogation was not translated correctly and excluded major parts of his statement. We also noticed that neither witnesses nor charged offenders swore under oath before witnessing in front of the judges.

An interesting question was raised in regard to cultural differences. The victim was living with her sister in the house of the offender, his wife (the victims aunty) and their own children. One part of the conviction was based on the acts of kissing the child’s cheek and forehead to comfort her when she was sad. Such acts are not considered as appropriate comforting acts by fathers in Cambodia, in contrast to western countries. This observation does not exclude the allegations of sexual touching of private parts, but, solely points out differences in cultural norms.

As a defence, the wife witnessed to her husband’s benefit, by describing the girl victim as a bad daughter, involved in ‘bad’ activities, and being outdoors until midnight. This is a recurring argument that we face in our research about stigmatisation and assigning a complete and legitimate status of being a victim of sexual exploitation and abuse in Cambodia. Daughters are seen as bad or blamed for their own victimisation because they are outdoors at late hours which is far from the western values and perceptions of victimhood.

Next week: last interview!

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