The research on this subject was undertaken following the reports received from civil society organizations and other stakeholders working with the community about an increase in cases of gender-based violence against indigenous women. Sporadic incidents of sexual violence including rape had been reported in the past but their frequency was limited. Domestic violence is common among the indigenous community, with local authorities reporting multiple cases in their villages. Survivors and their families are reporting to local authorities cases of rape, including incestuous rape, attempted rape, rape followed by the killing of the victim, as well as cases of sexual harassment. Despite consistent reoccurrence, standardized and comprehensive data on the number of cases of gender-based violence does not exist, as different government institutions have their sources of information. There is no compilation of data, disaggregation by ethnicity, or central registry.
The study indicates that the root causes of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, are unequal power relations between men and women in the public and domestic spheres, which are perpetuated by discriminatory social norms, poverty, and a dysfunctional and sexist rule of law. Poverty is also a root cause in Cambodia and contributes to the continued existence of gender-based violence. However, awareness on these root causes and measures to prevent such violence seems to be low, including among provincial and local authorities. Likewise, persistent discriminatory gender and racial stereotypes among various stakeholders appear to hinder effective responses and prevention measures. In order to effectively prevent and respond to gender-based violence against indigenous women in Cambodia, it would be crucial to develop a fair and clear understanding of the root causes among all stakeholders and to address discriminatory stereotypes against indigenous women.
Survivors of gender-based violence have reported that they are stigmatized and marginalized. While prevention measures are put in place by authorities, the survivors themselves also seem to blame themselves, suggesting changes in women’s behavior, rather than holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. As noted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in its 2019 concluding observations, social and cultural stigma is a barrier to access to justice. Interviews with survivors also suggest that stigma has negative effects on survivors’ mental health and hinders their education and social life.
The legal and policy framework in Cambodia has some gaps and should be amended to ensure compliance with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations. Existing laws are also not always correctly and consistently implemented. The study further found that there is a lack of effective guidance from higher authorities to local authorities when advice is sought. It is worrisome that some cases are settled at the commune/district judicial police posts without referring them to courts. There is also a lack of support for survivors and their families who are not able to pursue a criminal case and go to court without financial and legal assistance. This limits access to justice for survivors and families of victims/survivors. The documented cases demonstrate that traditional dispute resolution measures do not use a victim/survivor-centered approach, and instead focus on what is believed to be for the good of the community. This was because the perpetrators were asked to pay compensation instead of facing legal consequences for their acts.
Some racial stereotypes still exist, which indicate biases and discrimination against indigenous persons based on generalizations, which in turn demonstrate a lack of understanding of indigenous tradition and culture. Support to survivors of gender-based violence needs to be strengthened and improved, so that they receive comprehensive services, including medical and psycho-social assistance, livelihood assistance, skills training and legal aid. It is encouraging that the police have added police posts in villages so that it is easier for survivors or their families to report cases of gender-based violence. It is also encouraging that police have requested more training so that they can better understand gender, and further assist communities.
This study has three key interrelated objectives:
a. To identify cross-cutting issues and patterns of gender-based violence against indigenous women.
b. To analyze data collected to assess the effectiveness of local authorities’ and the justice sector’s responses to these cases.
c. To assist survivors of rape and victims/survivors’ families to obtain legal representation and gender-responsive public services.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sweden and the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the Cambodian Indigenous Women’s Association (CIWA) and Klahaan and may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, Sweden or the European Union.
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