The Run-Up to Cambodia's 2003 National Assembly Election
Political Expression and Freedom of Assembly under Assault

A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, June 12, 2003


  • The Cambodian government should issue clear written instructions to government officials at all levels calling for an end to political violence, intimidation, coercion, and other human rights violations, and setting out the penalties for transgressions. These instructions should be delivered at national election security meetings, broadcast repeatedly on national television and radio, and closely followedup by government, civil society, and the international community. All violations must be investigated and promptly prosecuted.

  • The MOI and NEC should ensure that political violence and other electoral violations are promptly investigated, prosecuted and punished according to article 124 of the National Assembly Election Law and Cambodian criminal law.

  • The Cambodian authorities must respect the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression in the pre-election period. If national and local authorities fail to authorize organizations and political parties the right to hold peaceful meetings or demonstrations, there will be no basis for considering the election to be genuine.

  • The NEC-MOI joint directive of May 27, which places arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions on political party meetings, should be repealed immediately. Parties should not have to notify authorities of private meetings outside the campaign period; moreover, only in extraordinary circumstances should the parties' public meetings during that period be restricted.

  • The Cambodian government must immediately stop denying its political opponents access to the broadcast media and immediately grant licenses to those who have applied for them properly.

  • The NEC and all its subordinate agencies must implement a thorough and impartial complaints process with respect to violations of electoral procedures. The NEC should continue to build on its administrative improvements by preparing and publicizing its procedures well in advance and making sure that parties and observers understand the process. Election monitoring NGOs have already expressed concerns that the NEC's legal unit is not yet adequately staffed or trained to handle party complaints. A failure by the NEC to address complaints could once again lead to post-election violence.

  • Given the possibility of post-election demonstrations, the government's security forces should improve their competence in professionally monitoring rallies and public gatherings and, if absolutely necessary, dispersing such gatherings with non-lethal force.

  • Before and during the campaign period, all parties must respect the laws governing their activities. The parties should refrain from violence, racist rhetoric, and vote buying.

  • Donors should actively consider funding a permanent, independent national television and/or radio station that features impartial coverage of current affairs, public interest programming, and political party information. The coverage that is currently made available to voters on state-run TV and radio during the brief campaign period once every five years before national elections is wholly inadequate.

  • The international community should widely disseminate the information gathered by its long- and short-term monitors. In addition, it should continue its long-standing support to civil society and human rights organizations.

  • States and non-governmental organizations that intend to make public assessments of the election must not focus exclusively on the conduct of Election Day. Their analyses must also take into account the full context of the election and long-standing problems with violence, intimidation, media access, and the fears of voters, activists, and candidates. Final judgments about the election should not be made until the entire process, including investigations and prosecutions of political violence, have been completed.