Gov’t to Give ‘Donations’ To Sister of Sex Worker

The sister of a sex worker who drowned in the Tonle Sap river after being chased by Daun Penh district security guards will receive monthly “donations” from the government to support her orphaned nephew.

Pen Meng Ky initially said she intended to file a criminal complaint against the guards for pursuing her sister and making no attempt to rescue her when she struck her head on a tourist boat and fell into the water below.

Pen Kunthea about three years ago in a photograph supplied by her family.

However, she said on Tuesday she had decided not to file a complaint after the district governor, during a meeting on Friday, said the state would financially support her sister’s 5-year-old son, who has polio.

Pen Kunthea was among a group of about five sex workers who fled toward the boats during a raid on the riverside near Wat Phnom on January 1.

Authorities denied any wrongdoing in refusing to help Pen Kunthea, even after her body was found in the Tonle Bassac river last Tuesday.

Kim Vutha, chief of the district security guards, who has defended the guards’ actions, confirmed Ms. Meng Ky would receive financial assistance.

“Our district governor has helped support the victim’s son because he felt pity, so he will give about $300 every month for 13 years,” he said.

Ms. Meng Ky said she accepted the money because she could not afford the costs of filing a complaint, and did not trust that anything would come of it.

“I think if I file a complaint against them, I will spend money for it, and I have no power like them,” she said. “I know it’s unjust to my sister, but I have to decide for my nephew.”

Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent legal expert, said district governor Sok Penhvuth’s efforts should have been concentrated on reforming his guards, rather than ending a scandal.

“The municipality would be better to take action to stop the security guards’ abuse, and apologize to the public,” he said.

Chak Sopheap, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, agreed that the settlement left too many important questions unanswered.

“It appears that the authorities are simply attempting to make this embarrassing issue disappear, without having to address their abject failure to protect a citizen in need, or explain how they came to show such a shocking disregard for the value of Ms. Kunthea’s life and her rights,” she said in an email.

“Such untransparent behavior does not provide an adequate remedy for violations of human rights, will not help to establish the truth of what took place that night, and will not help to change discriminatory attitudes and practices to ensure such a tragedy is not repeated.”

As to whether the guards had a legal basis for chasing sex workers in the first place, Billy Chia-Lung Tai, a human rights and legal consultant previously based in Phnom Penh, said specific laws, evidence or even reasons for such arrests were rarely cited.

“It is often very frustrating that the authority in Cambodia would assert a ‘right’ to do something, but fail completely to provide a source of that ‘right’ and ‘power,’” he said.

Mr. Vutha, the security guard chief, said his forces raided areas where sex workers were known to operate because they had a duty to keep “public order.”

“We are enforcing these raids on the sex workers under the public order law, which says we have to make sure the public [space]is beautiful,” he said.

Mr. Chia-Lung Tai said the explanation had a shaky legal foundation.

“I would challenge what exactly ‘public order’ falls under,” he said. “It seems like a general, vague, go-to phrase because they don’t really have anything else to say.”

odom@cambodiadaily.com, hawkins@cambodiadaily.com

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