Civil society groups have called on the government to amend Cambodia’s domestic violence law, saying authorities have failed to protect victims’ rights since its passage in 2005.
Since 2014, local rights group Licadho has recorded more than 400 cases of domestic violence, which have led to 40 deaths.
The Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence was drafted in the mid-1990s and finally passed in 2005. But advocacy groups say the law has not gone far enough.
A group of NGOs has since 2013 been reviewing the legislation, which led to a study produced by one of the groups, Gadnet, in collaboration with Royal Holloway University, London, which found that the law failed to cover all aspects of domestic violence.
Ros Sopheap, head of Gadnet’s general secretariat, said that both cultural norms and political factors were at play.
She said nearly all articles in the law placed the burden on the victims and did not adequately punish perpetrators.
“This law can not be implemented since we see that there is discussion with victims, legal experts and the men who work in the communities. They raised some issues suggesting that the law could not be implemented.”
Last week, more than 60 NGOs met to discuss a draft of proposed changes to be sent to the government. According to the draft, despite a pledge to review the national action plan to combat violence against women, no such review has taken place.
“[E]ven after 12 years it [the law] is rarely implemented fully and many people, including police and local authorities do not understand it well,” the concept note reads.
“Most authorities consider it necessary to act only in ‘serious’ cases, which they choose to define as maiming or death because the law itself does not provide guidance,” it continues.
Pung Chhiv Kek, chair of the committee reviewing the law, said it was dated and lacked social context.
“I think the law is still not fully completed as we see that some men and women do not marry and they live separately, so we also want the law to cover these people,” she said.
She added that the law is also not suited to dealing with violence in same-sex relationships. “We’re worried that those who execute the law think it’s not stipulated by law so won’t execute it,” she said.
“We hope that the government will accept our request, pay attention on our suggestion, and send this law to the national assembly to be amended as we request.”
A woman’s affairs spokeswoman declined to comment on specifics, saying only that the government was open to minor amendments to the law.
Overall, Licadho reports of domestic violence incidents have declined since a high of 163 in 2014, to 125 last year. However, more of the incidents led to deaths in 2016 -- 11 compared to eight in 2014.