UN report: Deadly mob justice thrives in Cambodia

Police officers stand guard at the Supreme Court during a hearing to decide whether to dissolve the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 16, 2017. — Reuters pic
Police officers stand guard at the Supreme Court during a hearing to decide whether to dissolve the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 16, 2017. — Reuters pic

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PHNOM PENH, July 18 — Deadly mob justice is a “chronic social disease” in Cambodia, a justice official said today at the launch of a UN report which highlights the fatal consequences stemming from Cambodians’ distrust of the justice system.

Cambodia has undergone rapid development in the past decade, but its judicial and police system remains rife with corruption, leaving people believing they cannot go to the authorities with their grievances.

Perpetrators of mob violence are also rarely arrested or convicted.

“The killings outside of a court system is a challenging problem,” said Chin Malin, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, at the launch of the report by the UN’s rights arm (OHCHR).

“We consider it to be a chronic social disease of Cambodia... that we all have to work together to resolve,” he said.

The report, titled “People’s Court”, detailed 73 cases of so-called “popular justice” from 2010 to 2018, with 57 cases resulting in death.

Of those, 35 cases occurred because victims were believed to be “witches or sorcerers” and seen as “scapegoats for a variety of problems” in rural provinces — where belief in black magic remains strong.

In a 2014 case, a group of 600 stoned to death a traditional healer, accusing him of witchcraft.

Other cases occur because of hit-and-run traffic accidents — common in Cambodia — where the crowd will chase down an offending driver who attempts to escape.

The actual figures are likely higher since there is no comprehensive data, the report added, with the practice persisting because mob killings often go unpunished — showing an “implicit acceptance of this practice by state authorities.”

Authorities have “to be very clear that it is a criminal act... and it is not acceptable,” said OHCHR representative Simon Walker, addressing police officers and officials at the report’s launch.

One especially gruesome case in 2014 left a man decapitated, hacked to death with axes by at least six attackers.

He was believed to have magic powers, and villagers had got suspicious of him when his ex-wife’s new husband died soon after their marriage, police said. — AFP

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