Table 6: Selected Crime Rates 1996: Cambodia, Philippines and Hong Kong
Cambodia Philippinesa Manilaa Phnom Penh Hong Kongb
Murder 5.7c 9.0 5.0 4.7c 1.2
Homicide 9.3d 16.2e 12.0e n/a 1.6
Robbery 12.5 9.0 25.0 59.8 1.3
Theft 17.7 12.0 28.0 62.6 680.0
Assaultsf 12.1 19.0 21.0 14.4 27.3
Rape 1.1 4.0 4.0 0.1 1.4
All Crime 60.0 110.0 180.0 156.0 1252.0
Sources: RGC MOI Judicial Police Centre 1998; 1999 Philippines Yearbook and; 1996 Annual Report of the Hong Kong Police. Notes: (a) all rates cited for the Phillipines and Manila are event or incident based; (b) all rates for Hong Kong are victim based; (c) murder rates for Cambodia and Phnom Penh are event/incident based; (d) the homicide rate for Cambodia is victim based; (e) murder and other homicide combined; (f) assaults causing injuries only; n/a = not available. All rates are per 100,000 population and rates for all crime are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Table 6 compares select crimes recorded in Cambodia with the reported levels in the Philippines and their respective cities. Rates for the city state of Hong Kong are included to provide the contrast of a highly developed Asian economy with generally well respected, financed and able policing institutions (see Broadhurst 2001). Because crime statistics in the Philippines are incident or event based the comparisons are only roughly approximate35. The Philippine homicide rate was perhaps twice that of Cambodia and the overall rates of recorded crime nearly double that of the Kingdom. Although heightened by episodic insurgency, especially in the religiously divided southern islands, the homicide rate may be driven more by modernity induced relative deprivation than is the case of the more isolated and insulated communes of Cambodia. The incidence of murder was similar in Phnom Penh and Manila and both experienced lower risks than the countryside but Manila had a higher incidence of homicide. Incidents of assault and rape were more frequent in Manila than Phnom Penh but armed robbery was lower than in Phnom Penh. Apart from homicide, the cities were generally more at risk of crime than the countryside and attracted higher rates of armed robbery and theft. Since 1994 incidences of homicide have fallen substantially in Manila and was estimated to be 2.6 in 2000 compared to 17.0 per 100,000 in 1994. Murder and homicide has remained high in rural areas and the overall national “volume” was 14.0 per 100,000 but significant declines indicate some success in the struggle to create effective general order policing in the Republic.
For Hong Kong rates of violent crime are much lower than either Cambodia or the Philippines with the exception of injurious assaults. This may reflect situational advantages, especially medical assistance, and lack of access to lethal weapons often significant determinants of mortality. The rate for property crime was considerably higher as was overall crime. A wealth of opportunity for theft, extensive personal insurance and a sophisticated modern police presumably account for this striking difference36.
This paper has attempted to estimate the prevalence of homicide, and describe the nature of violence from the limited sources available. Cambodia was found to have a high level of homicide fluctuating between 4.8-12.9 per 100,000 population. Much of the volatility in the homicide rate appears to reflect the varying stability of the state and acute episodic disruptions to economic growth. The nature of homicide in Cambodia differs from that of developed countries and features significant levels of extra-judicial homicide, banditry and mayhem that contributed to its lawless reputation. These forms of homicide are indicative of weak formal social control. Khmer like everybody else are subject to the same emotions and desires and thus homicide reflects the full range of possibilities albeit enhanced by ready access to highly lethal means. The majority of homicides are armed robberies suggesting conflicts over scarce resources (strain) and values permissive of violence (via the mechanism of war legitimation) are compelling factors in the elevated rate of homicide. Nevertheless, we know too little about the epidemiology to be confident about probable links between social structure and cultural norms. Given the appalling trauma of the recent past, enduring political conflicts, the sheer scale of economic adversity, the rapidity of urbanisation and social changes induced by market development, the current level of homicide is consistent with expectations. More developed neighbours also appear to experience similar levels of homicide but do not share the degree of social desperation or deficits in human assets. Indeed a rate somewhat lower than would be predicted by an integrated strain and cultural theory of violence may be indicated. Communal traditions, localism and pro-social values have prevailed as potent forms of collective protection and could be reinforced by effective governance, but these are fragile shields threatened by the tendency of modernity to privilege individuality and materialism.
Supported by international assistance the RGC has attempted to develop a rule of law state through reforms of the policing institutions but shortages of human and social capital compel the transitional process to be fraught. The incessant need for dispute settlement and crime control consequently tends to operate to mobilise under-paid policing institutions according to market forces and not abstract notions of the rule of law. The low salaries, poor training and equipment provided police and judicial officers induces bribery and corruption and provides the thread of impunity that enables predatory corruption to thrive and challenge or even capture key elements of the state. The establishment of effective policing institutions and their role in state legitimation is crucial to the provision of order and predicability as the means of furthering rational economic development and modernisation. The current situation, therefore, is not simply a product of lawless behaviour but the absence of law reflective of indigenous morality and legitimate institutions to enforce them. In practice the lawlessness reflected in extra-judicial homicide is a product of under-policing and the perceived lack of legitimacy of judicial processes that has left communal or customary dispute resolution intact. Summary killings by mobs and police may often reflect communal solidarity and achieved justice as much as the entrenched after-effects of wartime legitimation of violence. Many of these incidences are clear and deplorable breaches of the human rights of suspects but in circumstances were crime victimisation can be devastating to livelihoods citizens actions can also reflect the need to act swiftly and sternly against predators. Police respond either sympathetically or impotently thus further weakening rule by due process of law. It is, however, naïve to imagine that appeals to “normative” legal values will be effective in compelling weak policing institutions and fearful citizens to act otherwise.
The above suggest some of the causes that generate high risks of personal violence in Cambodia and the complex role the state and modernisation may play in transforming the nature of homicide and crime. A lack of temporal data and detailed epidemiology of violence allows only speculation about the role development and policing plays in the production of homicide and crime. The data indicates an increase in property crime, sustained as the forces of economic transformation change the nature of criminal opportunities and competition for scarce resources. Thus while political stability may lead to a decrease in group-conflicts and war-legitimated lethal violence such events account for a declining fraction of homicide in Cambodia. Reduction in such violence alone is unlikely to lead to a rapid decline in the homicide rate because inter-personal conflicts arise from a multiplicity of sources that ultimately draw from the deep reservoirs of emotion and need. The cultural and structural determinants of violence and the capacities and autonomy of states to modify violence is suggested by the extreme case of Cambodia. Comparative research may provide the contrast required in identifying the most salient conditions, weighing the role of the state, and policing institutions. Continued close monitoring of homicide and violence based on sound reporting and investigative systems is one process by which a reflective state may seek to restore the sanctity of life and de-legitimate the use of violence. Combined with a determined disarmament program and a commitment to ensuring legitimate independent law enforcement agencies such an approach should also contribute to a reduction or stabilisation of homicide and other violent crime despite the economic difficulties to be endured. We can conclude with the hope that as policing institutions become professional and rule by law established that a decline in extra-judicial forms of homicide would occur. Even so unless there is an indigenous moral order that is reflected in law and, relief from desperation homicide will remain a potent symbol of Cambodia’s continued trauma.
The author is indebted to General Teng Savong, General Van Rotha, Colonel Mohn Kahn San, Ministry of Interior, Royal Government of Cambodia, Mr. Robert Bradley, Mr. Steve Woodall, Mr. John Lawrie , Mr. Meav Siravuth, Mr. Ky Bunnal, Dr. Gloria Christie, Mr. Keith Martin and Mr. Kevin Maguire (Cambodian Criminal Justice Assistance Project) for their assistance during visits to Cambodia.
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