Partisanship Intimidating Voters, Threatening Fair Elections
Cambodia’s security forces are openly campaigning for Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the national elections scheduled for July 28, 2013, Human Rights Watch said today. The partisanship of the army, police, and gendarmerie has created an intimidating atmosphere for voters in many parts of the country.
“Cambodia’s armed forces and police should be nonpartisan state institutions, but during the pre-election period they have acted as the campaign arm for Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling party,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Security forces that act on behalf of one party skew election results and make the process unfair for other parties and candidates.”
Partisan activity by the security forces on behalf of the CPP, including by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the police, has been ongoing for months and continued unabated since the formal opening of the electoral campaign period on June 27.
Examples, detailed in the discussion below, include the following:
- The military supreme commander, Pol Saroeun, visited Sihanouk province on May 26 to urge voters not to be fooled by opposition propaganda and instead to ensure a CPP election by voting en masse for it;
- The military Joint General Staff chairman, Kun Kim, toured Oddar Meanchey province in late May to call on people to vote for the CPP to ensure Hun Sen would remain prime minister;
- The military Joint General Staff vice-chairman, Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s son, on June 27 visited Svay Rieng province to headline a CPP election rally at which local authorities promised he would return there many more times to campaign for the CPP; and
- The military deputy supreme commander, Hing Bunhieng, presided over meetings organized by the CPP committees in Kandal province at which he lauded Hun Sen and the CPP leadership. On May 19, for example, he met with factory workersin Kandal to call on them to support the CPP and reject opposition party efforts to gain their vote.
An April 2 speech by Hun Sen calling on all state authorities and armed forces “to make every effort to preserve a neutral political atmosphere for the whole conduct of the elections” has proved meaningless, Human Rights Watch said.
The partisan role of the security forces not only affects the voting, but also the post-election period, when the opposition parties and their supporters are vulnerable to retaliation and other abuses. The intimidating effect of security force partisanship has been heightened because Hun Sen and CPP campaigners have repeatedly warned that, for various reasons, an opposition election win could result in a “war” initiated by the CPP to protect national interests. This would include maintaining Hun Sen as prime minister to avert a situation in which Cambodia was “turned upside down.” These threats appear intended to remind voters of the orchestrated “secession” of seven eastern provinces by Hun Sen after the CPP lost United Nations-organized elections in 1993, the violent military coup he ordered in 1997, the bloody campaign before the 1998 elections, and remarks by CPP activists during subsequent elections that a CPP defeat would risk a deadly conflagration.
Opposition leaders and activists told Human Rights Watch that they live with the constant fear that if Hun Sen and the CPP perceive them as posing any real electoral threat, the military and police will again be mobilized to suppress them, including through arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings. “It’s always in the back of our minds,” one opposition candidate told Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch is unaware of opposition campaign activity for this election that was not peaceful. Many people interviewed by Human Rights Watch view the government’s decision, announced on June 26, to deploy large numbers of soldiers to provide security for the election campaign as both unnecessary and a veiled threat against opposition supporters.
Under the international treaty provisions of the October 1991 Paris Agreements, signed by Cambodia and 19 other states, peace and national reconciliation in Cambodia are to be achieved through free and fair elections. The agreements affirmed that for such a ballot to be held, national defense and public security bodies should not influence the outcome of elections and instead should ensure a neutral political environment conducive to making the elections free and fair.
It was envisaged that after the 1993 UN-organized elections, free and fair voting would be accomplished under a constitutionally guaranteed system of liberal democracy based on pluralism, genuine elections, and respect for fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and association, due process, equality before the law, and protection from arbitrary deprivation of property.
“When security forces take sides in elections, voters feel intimidated,” Adams said. “Voters should feel protected by security forces, not threatened.”
The military and police officer corps have a long history of partisanship on behalf of Hun Sen and the CPP, Human Rights Watch said. For almost three and a half decades, they have been integral to a system that has empowered elements within their ranks to arrest, torture or kill perceived opponents with impunity. Military and police officers with a history of command responsibility for the most serious human rights violations have not been prosecuted but instead promoted on account of their loyalty to Hun Sen, making impunity and its protection a defining characteristic of Cambodia’s security forces.
After Hun Sen’s July 1997 coup, carried out by senior military, gendarmerie, and police officers loyal to him, the prime minister has used his increasing political dominance to enhance the political partisanship of the military and police officer corps.
Military and police generals Ke Kimyan, Pol Saroeun, Kun Kim, Meas Sophea, and Net Savoeun are members of the CPP Standing Committee. Many other military and police generals are Central Committee members, such as Prum Din, Chea Dara, Ma Chhoeun, Mao Chandara, and Sao Sokha. Many of these are among those named in a November 2012 Human Rights Watch report about institutional and individual responsibility for serious human rights violations in Cambodia since the early 1990s.
Since at least December, it has been CPP policy for all members to participate in preparations for the July 28 elections. An Extraordinary CPP Congress resolution of March 13 called upon the CPP “at all levels to contest for victory,” specifying that that all its committees and work teams must combine their efforts to achieve this.
“The fact that the Cambodian security forces act as a de facto wing of the CPP has disastrous effects on human rights and democratic processes,” Adams said. “The UN and member countries, especially those long supporting elections in Cambodia, should make it clear that the security forces’ role is inconsistent with a free and fair election.”
Cambodian Security Forces and Political Partisanship
A “Study on common challenges facing States in their efforts to secure democracy and the rule of law from a human rights perspective” presented by the UN high commissioner for human rights to the Human Rights Council in December 2012 reaffirmed the relationship between human rights violations and threats to democracy. The report identified “an autocratic executive, an inefficient or non-accountable Parliament, attempts to manipulate the constitutional order and the outcome of elections, a military subservient to political interest instead of national security, and the corrosive effects of corruption” as threats to respect for human rights and the establishment of democracy.
It said that the role of security forces is particularly crucial in instances in which human rights and democracy are threatened by structures rooted in “a former authoritarian regime” whose members include people with a history of responsibility “for serious and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
Military and Party Structure
The RCAF comprises the Army, Gendarmerie, Navy and Air Force. Although the Gendarmerie is part of the RCAF, its personnel are by law under the direct command of Hun Sen and have law-enforcement powers vis-à-vis the civilian population as well as the military, making the Gendarmerie parallel to the National Police. Provincial and municipal governors and their subordinates in districts and communes are also officially part of the security forces, as the Cambodian penal code gives them judicial police powers.
The CPP Central Committee is in charge of making all important CPP decisions. Above it in the CPP hierarchy is the Central Committee’s Standing Committee, which is in charge of party affairs between Central Committee plenaries. CPP committees subordinated to its central leadership organs exist within all public institutions, which include the military and police. The CPP also consists of work teams organized at the party’s central and subordinate levels, where they are sometimes known as “grassroots strengthening committees.” Every party member is required to make every effort to carry out party policies and propagate them among the people.
As illustrated below, pro-CPP and other media monitored since late 2012 by Human Rights Watch have reported on the political activism by RCAF, gendarmerie and police on behalf of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP.
The CPP Standing Committee member Ke Kimyan is a deputy prime minister and chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, while still serving as an army general. He is also chairman of the CPP Central Committee Work Team for Going Down to Help in Banteay Meanchey Province, where he is running for election as a CPP member of the National Assembly. He has visited Banteay Meanchey often in his work team capacity and is responsible for achieving a “100 percent” CPP victory there. To that end he gives instructions on how to strengthen the party organization to win more votes for the party.
Ke Kimyan also presides over the enrollment of defectors from opposition parties into the CPP ranks. On June 23, he met with teachers in Banteay Meanchey to urge them to ensure that the CPP wins. On June 27, he participated in CPP campaign events in Banteay Meanchey, which included a party procession of 40,000 people in the provincial capital, and he also led local rallies as part of a drive to achieve an 80 percent or even 85 percent CPP vote in at least some places.
A CPP Standing Committee Member, General Pol Saroeun is the military’s supreme commander. He is also chairman of the CPP Central Committee Work Team for Going Down to Help in Sihanouk Province, in which capacity he campaigned for the CPP on May 26, admonishing voters to disregard opposition propaganda and instead to ensure a CPP election by voting en masse for it. He also visited Takeo province, where he was once party chief, to endorse Hun Sen and other top CPP leaders, acclaiming their achievements for Cambodians.
A CPP Standing Committee Member, General Kun Kim is chairman of the military’s Joint General Staff and a deputy supreme commander. He is also a “high representative” of Hun Sen and chairman of the CPP Central Committee Work Team Group for Going Down to Help in Oddar Meanchey Province, where many military units are stationed. On May 4, it was announced that he was running to become a CPP member of the National Assembly for Oddar Meanchey province. He has been intensely campaigning for election while continuing to exercise command authority over the military.
Kun Kim was one of the senior military officers who presided over a CPP rally in Oddar Meanchey in January and extolled the party’s virtues and Hun Sen’s leadership. On another occasion, Kun Kim went with another member of the CPP Standing Committee to Oddar Meanchey to visit party chairpersons at the district and sub-district levels, providing them with instructions about CPP grassroots work team activities. On May 2, Kun Kim went to the province to preside over a meeting between his work team and the provincial CPP at which he declared that increasing the CPP vote was a matter of strategic importance for the party. Kun Kim again toured Oddar Meanchey in late May to urge people to vote for the CPP and support Hun Sen to ensure that he would remain prime minister.
On June 24, he engaged in CPP party and campaign work in Kandal province alongside his son, Kim Rithy, who is a CPP candidate in Kandal for the National Assembly. The next day, he returned to Oddar Meanchey to preside at the CPP office in the province over a ceremony to appoint a tourism tycoon, Va Chhouda, as the vice-chairman of his CPP work team to help finance the CPP election campaign in Oddar Meanchey. He presided over a CPP election rally in the provincial capital on June 29, which media reports said 7,000 partysupporters attended. Kun Kim also joined in CPP party work in his native province of Kampong Cham.
A Standing Committee member, General Meas Sophea is commander of the Army. He is also chairman of the CPP Central Committee Work Team for Going Down to Assist in Preah Vihear Province, representing Hun Sen. In his work team capacity, Meas Sophea works with provincial-level CPP authorities on election-related matters and presides over the construction of CPP offices. He discussed the results of the March CPP congress at a public party gathering in Preah Vihear at the end of that month, stressing the congress resolution to keep Hun Sen as prime minister.
A CPP Standing Committee member, General Net Savoeun, is National Police commissioner. At a police gathering in early March, Net Savoeun warned that there would probably be many problems in connection with the elections, because “foreigners are aiming and amassing in order to strengthen the contrary or opposition parties vis-à-vis the power-holding party.” He oversees a CPP work team assigned to three districts of Prey Veng province and explained at one meeting there that it is the duty of all CPP higher-ups such as he to engage in such grassroots action.
Pin Pisit, chairman of the Immigration Directorate of the National Police and the leader of this work team, noted that such units provided reports on the local situation to superiors like Net Savoeun. Net Savoeun also dispatched other subordinates to do CPP election work. One is Kiet Chantharit, chairman of the General Staff of the Supreme National Police Commissariat and national police spokesman. Kiet Chantharit also does CPP election-related organizational work in Kanchriech district of Prey Veng province, providing the party there with advice about how to counter opposition party activities and increase CPP membership.
Another such Net Savoeun subordinate is Ben Roat, a Phnom Penh Municipality deputy police commissioner. He is also the chairman of a CPP work team responsible for a sub-district in Prey Veng, where he has met with party activists to review their work and provide them with party publicity materials. On April 12, acting on Net Savoeun’s instructions, Ben Roat attended aceremony in Prey Veng at which he praised the CPP and its leadership. Ben Roat returned to the province in late April and appealed to the population to vote CPP while disseminating the resolutions of the party’s March congress and specifying that Net Savoeun had called for everyone to vote in the elections. On June 27, another CPP delegate acting on Net Savoeun’s instructions presided over a CPP election campaign rally attended by 1,500 people in Kanhchriech district.
A CPP Central Committee member, Sao Sokha, is commander of the National Gendarmerie. He acts as patron and provider of assistance to the local population via a CPP work team responsible for grassroots party work in Svay Rieng province. He is chairman of a CPP work team assigned to a district of Svay Rieng, which he visited on May 14, as part of a high-ranking CPP delegation that came to the province to praise the CPP and Hun Sen and criticize the opposition. On May 18, he did similar CPP campaign work in Preah Vihear province together with the CPP financier Try Pheap.
A CPP Central Committee member, General Prum Din, is the commander of the Special Military Region, deputy army commander, and advisor to Hun Sen. He is also chairman of two CPP “grassroots strengthening” committees in his area of operations. In these capacities, he has planned election campaign activities for the CPP in meetings with local authorities and made public speeches urging voter support for the CPP.
A CPP Central Committee Member, Police General Ma Chhoeun, is head of the National Police Academy. He is also chairman of a CPP “grassroots strengthening” committee assigned to party work in Choeng Prey district of Kampong Cham province, where he is a candidate to become a CPP member of the National Assembly. He presided over a February gathering of local CPP propagandists and other party members there, during which he urged them to convince the population not to believe in what he characterized as the “lies” of opposition parties and instead support the continuation of Hun Sen as prime minister. He presented a CPP policy of “safe villages and sub-districts” as directly linked to the nurturing of the CPP, including by recruiting new members and criticizing opposition parties in order to maintain a CPP advantage in elections.
A CPP Central Committee member, General Chea Dara is a military deputy supreme commander, head of intelligence for the Defense Ministry, and chairman of the Unified Command Committee for the Military Region IV Front Battlefield. He is also chairman of a work team for one of the districts in Oddar Meanchey province, working closely with Kun Kim in both his military and CPP electioneering capacities, including by publicly extolling CPP virtues and Hun Sen’s leadership. For example, on May 26, Kun Kim and Chea Dara carried out CPP campaigning activities together in Oddar Meanchey, along with the CPP financier Leum Heng. In a speech, Chea Dara dismissed opposition election themes as political “incitement.” He stood alongside Kun Kim at a CPP election rally in Banteay Meanchey on June 29.
Police General Mok Chito is chairman of the Central Justice Directorate of the National Police. He is also chairman of a CPP work team assigned to Kien Svay district of Kandal province. He has dispatched police officers under his authority, such as the vice-chairman of the National Police Criminal Directorate Chea Bunthol, to join this work team in campaigning for CPP and Hun Sen.
General Hing Bunhieng is a military deputy supreme commander, Hun Sen’s personal chef de cabinet, and commander of the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit. He is also vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the Kandal Province Committee for Grassroots Strengthening. Hun Sen is running for re-election to the national assembly from Kandal and personally presides over meetings of this CPP committee, which are held at the headquarters of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit in Tuol Krasang in Kandal.
In his CPP “grassroots strengthening” capacity, Hing Bunhieng presides over meetings organized by the CPP district committees at which he lauds Hun Sen and the CPP leadership. On May 19, he met with workers in Kandal province to urge them to support the CPP and reject opposition party campaign efforts. Hing Bunhieng also does CPP campaigning in Phnom Penh, where he publicly denounced opposition parties during a public seminar on national development, lambasting them for refusing to recognize Hun Sen’s economic and other achievements; in Kampong Chhnang province, where he publicly praised the CPP record in leading Cambodia and attacked the opposition for having done nothing for the country; and in Takeo province, where he addressed CPP activists and called on people to vote for the party.
In addition, he dispatched subordinates to call on the population to vote for CPP and support Hun Sen’s continuing tenure as prime minister, such as the bodyguard unit general, Iem Samay, who did such election campaign work as Bunhieng’s representative in Kratie province in late April.
Hun Sen’s eldest son, General Hun Manet, is vice-chairman of the RCAF Joint General Staff, deputy army commander, and commander of the national headquarters of the Special Anti-Terrorism Forces. He is also a “high representative” of his father and vice-chairman of the CPP Center-Level Work Team for Kampong Cham Province, doing CPP election work with other central CPP officials responsible for party activities there.
Hun Manet is extremely active in enrollment of party members. During a CPP organizational trip to Koh Sautin district on April 19, Hun Manet gave advice about how CPP work teams should cooperate with local authorities to achieve the party’s goals. In late April, Hun Manet made a trip to Chamkar Loe district during which he praised the CPP and criticized opposition parties, urging people to vote for the CPP. He did the same in Srey Santhor district on May 19.
Hun Manet also does CPP mobilization elsewhere, such as among students at universities in Phnom Penh. On April 9, he went to Preah Net Preah district of Banteay Meanchey province, where he extolled CPP leadership and policies during a meeting with the population. He also condemned opposition parties for “inciting” national disunity and thereby threatening to create a situation in which Cambodia would be plunged into war. On June 24, he presided over a student get-together in Phnom Penh at which he urged the students to vote for the CPP.
The next day, he accompanied a CPP work team to the inauguration of a development project in Svay Rieng province at which he urged the population to express its gratitude by electing CPP candidates. On June 27, Hun Manet headed a work team that visited Svay Tiep district of the province to headline a CPP election rally there at which local authorities promised he would return to Svay Rieng many more times to campaign for the CPP. He went on to Me Mut district of Kampong Cham province the next day to lead a CPP election procession of that the media reported attracted more than 10,000 people. On July 4, Hun Manet organized a CPP vote-gathering festival in Me Mut. On July 14, he organized a CPP campaign parade in Prey Chhor district of Kampong Cham province.
Hun Sen’s second son, Colonel Hun Manit, is deputy chief of the Intelligence Department of the National Defense Ministry and a deputy chief of his father’s cabinet. He coordinates his father’s politicized land titling campaign, which is designed to win votes in the elections, while serving as the deputy secretary general of the General Secretariat of the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes. He is also a member of the CPP Grassroots Strengthening Committee for Kandal Province. He led a CPP delegation to the province as part of efforts to strengthen the party there, making a speech extolling CPP achievements in development. On May 26, he also did CPP campaign work in Phnom Penh, prevailing on the population to vote CPP and condemning the opposition as “charlatans and swindlers.”
General Kim Bunthan is a military deputy supreme commander and a deputy chief of Hun Sen’s cabinet. He is also vice-chairman of the CPP Work Team for Going Down to Help Oddar Meanchey Province, where he instructs party members about how to organize themselves effectively to defeat the opposition.
In March, Kim Bunthan convened a meeting at the CPP office in Banteay Ampil district to discuss electioneering plans and in particular the local party’s implementation of instructions from his military and party superior Kun Kim on election campaign preparations. He also presided over another meeting of the CPP organization in Banteay Ampil at which he gave detailed instructions about how to increase the CPP vote. Within days of Hun Sen’s April declaration that the armed forces should preserve a neutral political atmosphere, Kim Bunthan carried out public and publicized CPP organizational activities in Oddar Meanchey, again acting under instructions from Kun Kim. On June 29, he gave the headline speech at a CPP campaign parade in Banteay Ampil.
Other Top Military: Chea Man, Bun Seng, and Huy Piseth
General Chea Man, a deputy army commander and commander of Military Region IV, is a personal advisor to Hun Sen and chairman of the CPP Center-Level Work Team Group for Going Down to Assist Trapeang Prasat District of Oddar Meanchey Province, where he does CPP campaign work.
General Bun Seng, in his dual capacities as deputy army commander and commander of RCAF Military Region V, has called on the troops of army units and police forces under his authority to support the CPP policy of keeping Hun Sen as prime minister. On March 30, Bun Seng distributed CPP policy materials during a get-together with party members in Trapeang Prasat district, and advised them on how best to achieve a CPP election victory. On June 26, he appeared at a religious ceremony in Battambang at which he promoted voting for the CPP.
General Huy Piseth, an under-secretary of state at the National Defense Ministry, is also chairman of a grassroots work group for CPP election activities in a part of Kandal province, to which he dispatches representatives to carry out this task. For example, on May 26, his representative Ky Tech, former chairman of the Cambodian Bar Association, attended a CPP rally there at which he urged a mass voter turnout in favor of the party on election day.
Other National Police: Mao Chandara, Suos Angkear, Touch Narot, Dy Vicchea, Keo Vanthan, and Dul Koeun
A CPP Central Committee member, Police General Mao Chandara, is a personal advisor to Hun Sen and deputy national police commissioner. He is also the vice-chairman of a CPP work team assigned to Sihanouk province.
A police general and deputy supreme national police commissioner, Suos Angkear, is also an advisor to Hun Sen and chairman of a CPP work team assigned to “grassroots strengthening” at the village and sub-district level of Thmar Korl district of Battambang province, where he gives instructions to local authorities and security forces and CPP members with a view to ensuring a CPP election victory.
Police General Touch Narot, chairman of the Interior Ministry’s BodyguardDirectorate, is also vice-chairman of a CPP work teamfor strengthening the party in the Peareang district of Prey Veng province, which he visited in March and where he praised CPP’s leadership of the country. In June, he presided over the enrollment of new CPP members in the district.
Police GeneralDy Vicchea is vice-chairman of the Central Security Directorateof the Interior Ministry, having previously worked in its intelligence and immigration directorates. He is also vice-chairman of the CPP Federal Youth Union and chairman of its Svay Rieng province organization. In those capacities, he does CPP youth work with local authorities, while continuing to exercise the authority of a senior police official, such as investigating alleged incitement of labor unrest in the province.
He is a CPP candidate for the National Assembly from the province. On June 22, he presided over an election preparation meeting with CPP youth organization members in Svay Rieng. On June 27, he was one of the leaders of a CPP campaign parade there. He is also vice-chairman of a CPP work team responsible for party activities in parts of Battambang province, and on June 24, he urged students at a gathering in Phnom Penh to cast their ballots for the CPP.
Police General Keo Vanthan, chairman of the InternationalDirectorate of the Interior Ministry and thus chief of Cambodia’s INTERPOLNational Central Bureau, is also vice-chairman of a CPP work team for election campaigning in Svay Antor district of Prey Veng province. He has visited Svay Antor to preside over CPP work to seek defectionsfrom the opposition to its own ranks, condemning the opposition as “useless demagogues”while praising Hun Sen’s leadership of the CPP and calling on the electorate to vote for the CPP. On July 13, Keo Vanthan went to Svay Antor to lead a CPP campaign processionthere as part of what Khmer media said was a “special effort” to increase the party’s vote in the district.
Police General Dul Koeun is an advisor to Hun Sen and director-general of the InteriorMinistry’s General Directorate for Logistics and Finances. He is also a vice-chairman of a CPP grassroots strengthening committee for Kandal province, where he campaigned on July 19, calling for a landslideCPP victory to demonstrate what he declared was the “feebleness” of the opposition.
Local Army and Gendarme Commanders: Rat Sreang, Heng Bunhieng, and Men Siborn
The deputy commander of the National Gendarmerie and its commander for Banteay Meanchey province, Rat Sreang, is also a member of the CPP Standing Committee for Banteay Meanchey and responsible for “party strengthening” in localities in its Mongkolborei district. He spends much of his time carrying out CPP activities in Mongkolborei, such as on May 2, when he called on the population there to vote for the CPP. He also toured the area on June 25, urging people to vote CPP.
Heng Bunhieng is deputy commander of Infantry Brigade 52 and vice-chairman of a CPP work team assigned to Samlautdistrict in the brigade’s Battambang province area of operations, where he enrolls CPP members, campaigns against opposition parties, and calls on people to vote for the CPP.
The Kampong Speu province Gendarmerie commander Men Siborn is openly active in praising the CPP and criticizing the opposition leadership in public CPP meetings at the provincial chief town.
Local Police Commanders: Chuong Seanghak, Eav Chamraoen, and Chhay Keumson
Kratie province Police Commissioner Chuong Seanghak is at the same time a member of the provincial CPP Standing Committee and chairman of a party work team for strengthening its organization in Prek Prasap district, where he has urged the population to vote CPP.
The Kandal province Police Commissioner, Eav Chamraoen, who is a personal assistant to Hun Sen, is also chairman of a CPP grassroots strengthening committee repeatedly doing electioneering and party organizing in S’ang district of the province, while in charge of election security throughout Kandal. He was hailed by the local CPP organization for his “party strengthening” activities during an election campaign event in S’ang on June 27.
The Kampong Cham province Police Commissioner, Chhay Keumson, is also chairman of a CPP work team operating in Steung Trang district of the province, where he provides material support to local CPP organizations.