HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
CAMBODIA AT WAR
March 1995, ISBN: 1-56432-150-9
SUMMARY | RECOMMENDATIONS | TABLE OF CONTENTS
Although the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cambodia has been hailed as one of the most successful ever, Cambodia was back at war even before the last of the peacekeepers had left. The U.N.-sponsored May 1993 elections did manage to bring the former non-communist resistance armies into a single unified force with the Phnom Penh military against the Khmer Rouge, but the elections did not stop the fighting, nor did they fundamentally change Cambodias political structure. New landmines are planted daily, tens of thousands are fleeing their homes, and the civilian population is suffering abuses from both sides. Due to the weakness of basic political and legal institutions, those in power often can and do act with impunity. While Cambodia is developing some social institutions that can check human rights abuses, such as an independent press, a lively domestic human rights community, and a body of independent and critical parliamentarians, these features are under threat as the political situation deteriorates.
The Khmer Rouge continues to be a major human rights violator. Having sat out the elections and failed to win a place in the coalition government through either diplomacy or battle, the Khmer Rouge intensified its efforts to sever the northwest part of the country from Phnom Penh. To its history of presiding over the deaths of one million Cambodians between 1975 and 1978, it added a fresh record of abuse, including extrajudicial executions, abductions of villagers for ransom or forced labor, and the racially motivated slaughter of ethnic Vietnamese. Diplomatically isolated and threatened by defections, the guerrillas adopted new tactics during the 1994-1995 dry season, including the murder of civilians, the systematic destruction of civilian homes and rice fields, looting, rape and the kidnapping and murder of Westerners.
The Royal Government, for its part, has also been responsible for serious violations of humanitarian and human rights law. Its soldiers have engaged in murder and rape, and military intelligence officers in particular have operated, and may still be operating, secret detention centers where torture and executions have taken place. Military officers appear to hold ultimate authority over civilian residents, and efforts by civilian authorities to assert control over military abuses have met with stiff resistance. Soldiers have also been responsible for widespread looting and extortion.
Curbing these abuses is no small undertaking. In the aftermath of the last twenty years of war and destruction, the Royal Government faces tasks of monumental proportions. They include the economic development of one of the worlds poorest nations, the reconstitution of basic social and legal institutions, the transformation of authoritarian patterns of government into democratic ones, and the securing of basic human rights. The escalation of the war in the 1993-1994 dry season made each of these tasks immeasurably more difficult. As military objectives took priority over building civil society, the government tolerated military abuses and in some cases took reprisals against individuals for criticism of the military or political leadership.
Although individual officials throughout the Cambodian government struggled to abolish military impunity, their efforts were frequently undermined by a lack of political will at the top. The Royal Government hesitated to take action against military abusers even in cases of international notoriety, instead threatening and suing journalists who reported violations. While the countrys political leaders issued veiled threats against outspoken dissident politicians, journalists and human rights workers suffered violent attacks from perpetrators that the police sometimes failed to identify or apprehend. The governments enactment of a law against the Khmer Rouge raised the specter that accusations of association with the party could be used against the governments critics or lead to widespread arrests. The laws terms have been poorly publicized, and there are already reports of unjustifiable detentions in its name. Fears that the courts were ill-prepared to uphold the presumption of innocence in such cases were realized in the first prosecutions reported under the law.
To complicate matters still further, the country must struggle with the blight of landmines, both those left in the ground in years past and those being laid every day as the war continues. Cambodia is one of the worlds most heavily mined countries, with an estimated eight million landmines in its soil, and the highest proportion of amputees of any country. In areas of the northwest, the 1994-1995 fighting has produced an exponential increase in landmine injuries over the peacekeeping period. Landmines kill and maim indiscriminately long after any immediate military objective is past, and their prevalence has taken a terrible toll on the villagers of Cambodia, dramatically reducing the land available for agriculture and settlement, and slowing Cambodias reconstruction and development. The Cambodian government has equivocated on the issue of mines, with political leaders pledging an eventual ban, and military authorities deploying them freely in the meantime. The Khmer Rouge has no such equivocation, and has exhorted its supporters to ever greater use of landmines and booby traps. Although nongovernmental and governmental demining agencies have made significant progress in mine marking, mine awareness and mine eradication, their efforts are jeopardized by the failure of the international community to provide an ongoing commitment of funds over a sustained period of time.
Despite the deteriorating situation for human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law, foreign donors have been slow to link human rights accountability to their aid policies. Corruption and lack of discipline on the part of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces have prompted some foreign allies of Cambodia to insist on military reform as a precondition to lethal aid. Among the countries that reportedly are already providing weaponry to Cambodia without conditions are North Korea, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Israel, Seychelles and Indonesia. Other countries, such as Australia and the United States, have limited their military assistance to Cambodia to training and non-lethal aid. Yet even if Cambodias military becomes more professional, the states failure to rein in abuses and punish those responsible will continue to undermine popular support for the government and endanger the accomplishments of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. It is critical for the international community to send the message that accountability must apply in all areas, including human rights. If that signal fails to reach the government, abuses and erosion of basic freedoms may rapidly escalate.
Foreign support for the Khmer Rouge, while reduced, is still an issue. Despite the U.N. Security Councils imposition of sanctions against the Khmer Rouge during the peacekeeping mission for failing to abide by the Paris Peace Accords, and the formal outlawing of the group by the Cambodian government, Thailand has failed to cut off all support. Throughout the peacekeeping period and the 1993-1994 dry season, the Thai Government permitted weapons, trade, and Khmer Rouge political and military figures to flow back and forth across the Thai-Cambodia border. Only insistent criticism from the West persuaded the Thai military to disassociate itself from the group, a process that only began after the 1993-1994 dry season. While there are signs that Thailand has increased its commitment to halt weapons flows to the guerrillas, trade continues to cross the Thai-Cambodian border through Khmer Rouge areas from the town of Pailin to the south. This trade includes logging and gem mining, enormous sources of revenue for the guerrilla force.
An immediate end to violence against civilians by both sides, and respect for the laws of war and international human rights norms. This would require the Khmer Rouge to put an end to its deliberate campaign of razing entire villages, destroying crops, and taking whole communities hostage, and to abandon the use of starvation, rape and terrorist attacks on civilian targets as weapons of war. On the Royal Governments side, it would require the prosecution of those who commit extrajudicial executions, assaults, indiscriminate bombardment, abduction, illegal detention, extortion, pillage and other abuses.
The prosecution in civilian courts of military authorities who commit abuses against civilians. The government must ensure the independence of judges and lawyers from political influence, and make legal representation available to all defendants.
The end to official reprisals against the press and threats against others for the expression of opinions or reporting of facts that reflect negatively on government bodies, official policies or government figures. Freedom of expression must be assured through a law that fully complies with international standards.
Scrupulous monitoring of the implementation of the governments law against the Khmer Rouge by judges, defenders and human rights advocates, who must be protected from accusation and reprisal. The full text of the law must be widely disseminated, and all arrests under its authority be made public. Persons who have been unjustifiably detained must be released without delay.
The abolition of the use, acquisition and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines by the Cambodian parties as well as all other nations, and the financial support of demining efforts by international donors over a sustained period of time.
A full stop to Thailands support of the Khmer Rouge, particularly the cessation of trade which provides the guerrillas immense financial resources. A mechanism for international monitoring of support for the Khmer Rouge, whether in the form of military equipment, logistical assistance or trade, should be established.
The guarantee that refugees who flee hostilities will not be forcibly repatriated into a situation of danger, and that international organizations will have access to monitor such refugees and supervise any voluntary repatriation.
No further provision of arms or military equipment to the warring Cambodian parties by any nation, in view of the disproportionate suffering of civilians at the hands of each military force.
The inclusion of training in human rights and humanitarian law as a primary component of any effort to assist the Cambodian government with reform of its military.
Human Rights Watch also calls on international donors who are considering further budgetary support and assistance for the Cambodian government to insist that the government hold its officials, civilian and military, accountable for gross violations of human rights. Such accountability is an indicator of good governance, together with factors such as transparency of governmental processes, commitment to the rule of law, and the practice of holding government officials responsible for their actions.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TABLE OF POLITICAL PARTIES AND ACRONYMS
THE 1994 DRY SEASON OFFENSIVES
III. HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES BY THE KHMER ROUGE
ABDUCTION AS A BUSINESS AND TACTIC OF WAR ATTACKS ON INFRASTRUCTURE AND FAMINE AS A WEAPON
IV. ABUSES BY GOVERNMENT FORCES
ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS
PILLAGE AND DESTRUCTION OF CIVILIAN PROPERTY FORCED CONSCRIPTION
MILITARY DETENTION OF CIVILIANS AND SECRET PRISONS
Abuses During the Peacekeeping Era and the Transitional Government Abuses of S-91/B-2 Continuing Under the Royal Government Government Inaction
Other Instances of Military Detention of Civilians
DISCRIMINATORY TREATMENT UNDER THE LAW
V. MEANS OF IMPOSING ACCOUNTABILITY FOR GROSS ABUSES
THE OFFICE OF THE MILITARY PROSECUTOR
CIVIL AUTHORITY OVER MILITARY PERSONNEL
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
THE ROLE OF THE PRESS
THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY POLITICAL DEBATE WITHIN THE GOVERNMENT
THE ROLE OF NONGOVERNMENTAL AND INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
VI. THE LAW AGAINST THE KHMER ROUGE
VII. MINING AND DEMINING
GOVERNMENT USE OF MINES
RISING MINE CASUALTIES AND FRESH DISPLACEMENT DEMINING: EFFORTS AND OBSTACLES
VIII. FOREIGN SUPPORT FOR THE KHMER ROUGE
FORCED REPATRIATION OF REFUGEES TO KHMER ROUGE-HELD
THAI POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS
IX. FOREIGN SUPPORT FOR THE ROYAL CAMBODIAN ARMED FORCES
ARMS FROM EUROPE AND ASIA
MILITARY ASSISTANCE FROM THE FIVE FRIENDS
X. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
THE ROYAL GOVERNMENT
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
APPENDIX I: INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW AND THE LAWS OF WAR
WHO IS PROTECTED
THE LEGAL STATUS OF THE KHMER ROUGE
APPENDIX II: THE LAW AGAINST THE KHMER ROUGE
APPENDIX III: STATEMENTS BY HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/ASIA ON DRAFT LAWS
Human Rights Watch March 1995 ISBN: 1-56432-150-9
To order the full text of this report click HERE.
For more Human Rights Watch reports on Cambodia click HERE.
To return to the list of 1996 publications click HERE.
Or, to return to the index of Human Rights Watch reports click HERE.