A two-star general of the Cambodian police has been temporarily suspended from duty pending an investigation of sexual abuse allegations made by four junior female officers.
The allegations that hit the headlines have been described as ‘unprecedented’, as the fight for gender equality escalates in the conservative Southeast Asian nation.
Cambodia’s Interior Ministry said the major general and provincial police chief is accused of forcing officers to perform sex acts at work under the threat of career derailment in the police force.
In a letter to the Interior Minister Sar Kheng, the four women officer said previous complaints made against the police chief were met with ridicule and threats.
In a statement, the Interior Ministry said the police chief was ordered to stand down on Wednesday.
A spokesman for the ministry declined to add further comment on Friday.
The case has hit headlines in Cambodia during an escalating public debate over the treatment of women in Cambodia, where a draft law to restrict what women can wear has raised concerns of further entrenching a culture of victim blaming in sex crimes.
“This case should serve as a reminder that sexual harassment and violence against women should not be met with silence or impunity, as it has been for too long,” said Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights charity.
“These unprecedented allegations come at a time when women’s rights are making headlines in Cambodia for all the wrong reasons.”
Last week Cambodian women flooded social media with photos of themselves in swimwear to protest a proposed law that would allow police to fine women for wearing clothing deemed too skimpy and men for going shirtless.
The draft law has been billed as necessary to preserve Cambodian culture, but women’s right campaigners fear it could be used disproportionately to target women in the conservative Southeast Asian nation.
A woman was jailed in April after Prime Minister Hun Sen called for authorities to track down online vendors using “provocative” sales techniques, which he said sullied Cambodia’s culture and encouraged sexual harassment.
Advocacy groups praised the four women police officers who lodged the complaint for their courage and called for them to be protected while the investigation was underway.
The women’s affairs ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Amnesty International said accountability for sexual crimes “remains elusive in Cambodia”.
“All too often, officials accused of wrongdoing in Cambodia are removed from their posts while the issue receives public attention, only to be quietly moved on to another post when the media attention dissipates,” an Amnesty International spokesman said.
Last year, the United Nations highlighted social norms in Cambodia that “justify gender-based violence”.
It called for the elimination of the chbapsrey, an ancient code of conduct that was part of official school curricula until 2007 and teaches women to be submissive and quiet. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)