|dc.description.abstract||In March 2013, the organization UN Women declared “an historic global agreement [had been] reached …to prevent and end violence against women and girls” (UN Women, 2013). Its “global blueprint” is said to provide a “roadmap” for redress by framing violence against women as a human rights violation that requires a rule of law response. In much of the western world, these ideas dominate the international community’s response to sexual violence in fragile and post-conflict countries: funds should be directed to “rule of law” and “best practice” reforms. Although framing violence against women as a human rights violation has gathered momentum, rule of law responses to violence have also been challenged.
In the last decade, we see a shift in thinking by the scholarly community and donor bodies—away from conventional criminal justice responses towards customary dispute resolution mechanisms—at least for some offences (Chirayath, Sage, & Woolcock, 2005; Samuels, 2006; World Bank, 2012). This shift does not include responses to rape, which is considered too serious for informal justice (Harper, 2011; Wojkowska, 2006). We examine how this dynamic is unfolding in Cambodia in the responses by international and local nongovernment organisations (NGOs) to everyday rape. (By everyday rape, we mean rape not occurring as part of war or conflict, although many recognize a continuum between everyday and extraordinary violence against women [Arthur, 2010, p. 10]). The criminal justice system in Cambodia is dysfunctional and beyond the reach of most citizens, but it is promoted as the optimal response by international and local NGO staff. Why do NGOs hold steadfastly to this position when most Cambodians prefer customary justice practices, even for rape? What constraints, limitations, and opportunities are operating on NGOs in the local environment that emphasize criminal justice and discourage informal justice? Drawing on interviews with NGO staff, we address these questions and their implications for rape survivors’ access to justice.
Our analysis draws from Weinstein, Fletcher, Vinck, and Pham (2009, p. 28), who consider dilemmas in responding to “atrocity crime” in Iraq, Cambodia, and Uganda. It is well-known that trials in transitional justice contexts are limited, both as a deterrent and in building peace, although they are preferred by the international community. In Uganda, for example, Weinstein et al. (2009) suggest that both the government and many people wanted to see peace negotiations and amnesties, rather than trials. The authors ask, “do we abandon victims if we argue for a response that addresses the greater good of a community?” (p. 32). They raise questions about the “beneficiaries [and] priorities [of international criminal law], and the reactionary, if not parochial nature of the human rights field” (p. 28). Although our focus is on everyday violence, similar questions are raised about the role and priorities of the international community and the impact of human rights on framing response to violence against women. Added to this mix, is government and NGO dependence on international donors.||