Human Rights Developments
The October 1991 peace settlement, which promised to end Cambodia's civil war and culminate in "free and fair elections," was on the verge of unravelling a year later due to the Khmer Rouge's refusal to disarm and open its bases to U.N. supervision. As a result, the three other armies-the Khmer Rouge, funcinpec (the Sihanoukist organization) and the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (kpnlf)-demobilized in only token respects, and U.N. deployment in the Khmer Rouge zones was limited to military observers whose movement was restricted. The arrival of U.N. peacekeepers did bring an end to a series of political killings and attacks in the capital, but political violence continued in the provinces along with periodic military clashes in Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces.
The U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (untac) got off to a late start, with the arrival of Special Representative Yasushi Akashi in March 1992, some five months after the accords were signed. Prior to his arrival, Phnom Penh was rocked by a series of violent demonstrations and political attacks, including the near-lynching of Khmer Rouge representative Khieu Samphan in November 1991; student demonstrations against corruption in December 1991, involving some violence, which ended with military forces firing into the crowd; the murder of Tea Bun Long, a government official outspoken against corruption, and the shooting attack on Ung Phan, a former political prisoner who intended to form a new political party in January 1992; and in March, the mysterious death of Yang Horn, another former political prisoner who suffered a blow to his head shortly afterbeing summoned with Ung Phan to an encounter with his former jailers who warned both not to engage in political activity.
The late start and the inflexible schedule culminating in May 1993 elections has forced untac into a race against time to lay the groundwork for the transition to an elected government. Critical steps for protecting human rights, such as de-mining arable land, developing legal guarantees, constructing a civilian justice system, and educating administrators and police to respect human rights, were getting started with only nine months to go before the elections. Khmer Rouge intransigence has blocked the plan to disband the various armies and disarm soldiers, vastly complicating the U.N.'s task. With all sides preparing for a possible revival of the civil war and bands of armed soldiers still at large, goals such as securing free movement in the country, reintegration of refugees and factional zones, and political neutrality are more difficult to achieve.
Despite these obstacles, significant progress toward improving human rights has taken place. The Phnom Penh government, or the State of Cambodia (soc), has been the most cooperative in opening its territory to U.N. supervision, with the ironic consequence that it has been the subject of the greatest number of complaints filed with the U.N.'s human rights administrators. After initial resistance, as described below, the central authorities have been generally forthcoming in cooperating with U.N. investigations into human rights complaints.
In late 1991, the Phnom Penh government began releasing hundreds of political prisoners, even though it resisted supervision by the International Committee of the Red Cross until January 1992. untac has now established access to both civilian and military prisons, and a Prison Control Commission has been established on untac's recommendation to oversee prison conditions and review the basis for detention of all prisoners in government custody. The government has also agreed to end abusive practices such as prolonged shackling and dark cells, and the World Food Programme is preparing to provide emergency subsistence rations to all prisoners in Phnom Penh jails. However, the discovery of several clandestine soc detention centers in and around Battambang in mid-1992 raised concerns about the soc's commitment to these reforms.
untac had no regular access to prisons maintained by the other Cambodian factions. There were widespread reports of summary executions of prisoners in the custody of the various military factions, including the kpnlf and funcinpec. The Khmer Rouge claimed to maintain no prisons, and instead to turn its prisoners over to Thai authorities, but lack of access to Khmer Rouge areas made that claim impossible to verify.
untac did not succeed in completely resolving the issue of identity cards, which are necessary for movement and employment in the soc, and which normally are issued in conjunction with the creation of political dossiers. Returning refugees could not obtain identity cards without bribes, and were forced to rely for photographic identification on old ration books that clearly reveal the faction-controlled camp from which they come. untacsettled for a plan whereby provincial authorities issue temporary cards without photographs while the government processes permanent cards (without political interviews). The issue of political dossiers keyed to identity cards for long-term residents in the soc has yet to be addressed.
untac supervision of the Phnom Penh government's legal system and the police force began in mid-1992. In the funcinpec and kpnlf zones, where untac civil administrators arrived in August, there were virtually no civilian institutions of any kind, making untac's task of establishing neutral administration of justice that much more difficult.
The repatriation to Cambodia of over 300,000 refugees from the Thai border was another task slated to be accomplished before elections. At year's end, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (unhcr) had transported over 200,000 refugees back to Cambodia safely, itself a significant accomplishment. In the process, however, the repatriation plan had been reformulated several times, weakening safeguards that were to ensure free choice of destination on the part of refugees. The diminished protection was significant because the political factions controlling the Thai border camps were seeking to maintain their control by coercing some refugees to resettle in their small "zones" near the border.
Incitement to racial violence against the ethnic Vietnamese minority in Cambodia was another problem facing the U.N. Several massacres of ethnic Vietnamese civilians occurred after untac's arrival, including a brutal attack on men, women and children at Tuk Meas, in Kampot province, in July. The attacks were attributed to the Khmer Rouge, which denied responsibility even as its radio applauded the killings. The Khmer Rouge continued to demand the expulsion of purported Vietnamese soldiers disguised as civilians, despite the U.N.'s assertion that no Vietnamese military units had been identified.
untac's response to the threat of racial violence was to criminalize incitement, defamation, insult, and false news in a new penal code for the country. This approach established serious limits on freedom of expression beyond those permitted by international law. Commonly used epithets can now subject the speaker to prison time, as can deliberately distorted reporting or mischaracterization of untac. These measures set an ominous precedent for regulation of speech under the next Cambodian government.
Efforts to remove land mines from Cambodia have been slow to start and limited in scope, although de-mining was once a precondition for the repatriation process to move forward. Several strategic routes have been cleared, including large parts of Route 5, which runs from Phnom Penh to the Thai border, but major efforts still await the establishment of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, a joint effort by untac and the Supreme National Council, the sovereign authority which includes representatives from all four Cambodian factions.
In May the Supreme National Council acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.The U.N. did not at any time recommend accession to the Optional Protocol of the Civil and Political Rights Covenant, which allows individuals to submit grievances to the Human Rights Committee, but told Asia Watch that it would make such a recommendation in the future. In September, the snc acceded to other major human rights conventions: the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; and the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and its subsequent Protocol.
The Right to Monitor
In the past, none of the Cambodian parties tolerated serious criticism of its human rights record by Cambodians under its control, and none had any mechanism to investigate or redress rights abuses.
The peace settlement and the presence of U.N. monitors dramatically changed this situation, particularly in the State of Cambodia, where cooperation and access are most advanced. untac's human rights office established an investigative unit along with the untac civil police, and as of August had received almost 200 complaints. It remains to be seen whether the kpnlf and funcinpec will cooperate in investigations in the areas that they control, and the Khmer Rouge has not granted access to its areas.
The first independent human rights organization in the State of Cambodia formed in January 1992. Composed of former political prisoners and intellectuals, The Association for Human Rights in Cambodia (adhoc) describes its mandate as "to eliminate all human rights violations in Cambodia and to try by every means available to avoid a return of the massacres and tortures and all inhuman practices that were widespread in the past."
The attack on Ung Phan, an early adhoc sympathizer, forced the group to take a low profile at first, but following the establishment of a significant U.N. presence in Phnom Penh, the group began publishing a newsletter and organized a series of seminars on human rights with the cooperation of the untac human rights component. Nevertheless, members of the group still receive threats. On May 1, an adhoc member in Prey Veng province was arrested, and the application papers and photographs of over 30 prospective adhoc members were confiscated from him by the police. The incident was resolved after untac intervention, but members in Prey Veng were warned by the authorities that if they continued to report to the U.N., they might "win for a little while, but meet with an accident later."
Other human rights groups also came into being, including the Cambodian League for the Defense of Human Rights, and Human Rights Vigilance in Cambodia. On the Thai-Cambodian border, several human rights groups began to function in the major kpnlf camp, Site 2, most of which had links to the faction. Human rights classes were held under U.N. auspices in several of the camps. In Site 8, the most open of the Khmer Rouge camps, refugees told Asia Watch that while there was great interest in human rights education, it was too dangerous to establish anindependent human rights group.
The 33 nations attending the Tokyo Conference on Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, which convened in June, pledged $880 million toward Cambodia's development, but not without expressing "serious concern" over the Khmer Rouge's refusal to cooperate with the peace plan. On July 21, the U.S. joined in a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution forbidding the Khmer Rouge to benefit from any of this promised development aid should it continue to withhold its cooperation with the U.N. This sanction is not expected to have much effect, given the considerable wealth that the Khmer Rouge has accumulated, and continues to amass, from logging and gem-mining concessions in the enclaves it controls. The U.S. has so far been reluctant to pressure Thailand to seal its borders to the lucrative trade between the Khmer Rouge and Thai military and business leaders. In November, the co-chairmen of the Paris Conference on Cambodia (the foreign ministers of France and Indonesia) sponsored talks in Beijing with the Khmer Rouge in a final effort to gain their cooperation. The Khmer Rouge did not yield, and on November 30, the U.S. joined the Security Council in barring the delivery of oil to and the export of gems and timber from areas under Khmer Rouge control. However, enforcement of the sanctions depends entirely on Thailand, which opposes the presence of untac on its side of the border to monitor sanctions.
Following the signing of the Paris Accords, the United States dropped its embargo of Cambodia, and by the end of the year, major development institutions such as the World Bank and the U.N. Development Program preparing to commit funds. The World Bank sent a team to Cambodia in March and April 1992, which recommended a financial rehabilitation program of at least $350 million for 1992-94, not including technical assistance and humanitarian aid. The team's report, published in June, noted that in light of the current situation in Cambodia, "preventing a further deterioration of basic public services and gradually improving their operations within the next two to three years would itself constitute a major achievement."
The United States, which financed the non-communist resistance armies (kpnlf and funcinpec) since 1979, continued to allocate money to these parties through the U.S. Agency for International Development (usaid). According to a March 1991 usaid "strategy document," one of the Bush administration's long-term objectives was to "prepare the non-communists to govern Cambodia." The U.S. provided administrative subsidies to the kpnlf and funcinpec and paid for their administrative costs in participating in the Supreme National Council, including the rent for their Phnom Penh headquarters. Proposed fiscal year 1992 allocations included $3 million to support "democratic groups and projects" and $5 million in direct aid to the kpnlf and funcinpec. Traditionally, the U.S. has considered these parties more inclined toward democratic development than the others, their lack of democratic institutions notwithstanding.
usaid allocation requests over the last two years show ashift toward balancing the funds allocated to resistance areas with those provided throughout the rest of Cambodia. In fiscal year 1991, $10 million was allocated to nongovernmental agencies for general humanitarian projects in Cambodia, $5 million for programs supporting women and children, and $10 million for the resistance. The fiscal year 1992 budget included $5 million in continued support for women and children and $11 million for rural road reconstruction throughout Cambodia. The administration continued to refuse to provide direct aid to the Phnom Penh government, even while recognizing that some form of administrative subsidy was essential to keep basic services running.
The foreign aid bill adopted in October for fiscal year 1993 included $20 million for humanitarian and development assistance through international relief groups, U.N. agencies, and private and U.S. voluntary organizations to meet priority needs as recommended by usaid, together with an additional $5 million to provide humanitarian assistance to children and war victims in Cambodia. The legislation required the administration, within 120 days of the bill's passage, to conduct an on-site assessment of the needs for economic development as well as the eradication of land mines. The law also mandated a cutoff of aid to any Cambodian organization cooperating the Khmer Rouge military operations, and required a report from the President by May 1, 1993 on all violations of the U.N. peace agreement by the Khmer Rouge and the U.S. response.
The Work of Asia Watch
In September 1992, Asia Watch published Political Control, Human Rights, and the U.N. Mission in Cambodia, a 73-page report based on a mission to Cambodia and the Thai-Cambodian border camps in April and May 1992. The report discusses the means by which each Cambodian faction has maintained political control over Cambodians, and the obstacles the U.N. faces as it tries to loosen that control, establish respect for fundamental human rights, and create a politically neutral atmosphere for elections.
While in Cambodia, members of the Asia Watch delegation met with diplomats, U.N. officials, representatives of the four Cambodian parties, human rights activists, ordinary Cambodians, and refugees. The delegation also brought to the attention of the U.N. a Phnom Penh municipal order permitting house-to-house searches by the police for "election registration," which was being used to harass members of opposition parties. Asia Watch also opposed a restrictive press law passed by the State of Cambodia's National Assembly which subjected publishers, printers and distributors to close government supervision. Both regulations were suspended by untac.