Human Rights Developments
Despite major advances in international efforts to bring about a settlement to the Cambodian conflict, including an important shift in US policy, the war continued, and with it, human rights abuses by all sides. The State of Cambodia based in Phnom Penh and the armed forces of the three resistance factions, the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), the Sihanouk National Army (ANS) and the Khmer Rouge, were all responsible for avoidable civilian deaths, some caused by deliberate targeting, some by the choice of indiscriminate weaponry. The government, the Khmer Rouge and the ANS engaged in arbitrary forced conscription, and the latter two forced noncombatants living in camps under their control in Thailand to "porter" ammunition and supplies into Cambodia, thereby turning the civilian porters into military targets. Both the Khmer Rouge and the ANS were reported to use children under the age of 15 in the war effort, frequently as porters. Relief workers reported the torture of captured prisoners by all parties to the conflict. The access of these prisoners to some kind of fair judicial process appeared to be nonexistent or minimal on all sides.
Severe restrictions on political and civil liberties remained in Cambodia, where important legal reforms made in 1989 were stalled in their implementation. Controls on freedom of opinion and expression were highlighted in May and June with the arrest of at least six senior officials for their alleged advocacy of a multiparty system and the sacking of Khieu Kanarith, the editor of Kampuchea Weekly known for his pragmatic and sometimes critical political stance. Abuse of detainees and substandard prison conditions remained cause for concern in Cambodia.
Displaced Cambodians in Thailand faced an array of human rights violations, from lack of fundamental freedoms inside the guerrilla-controlled camps to being forced back into Cambodia against their will. A plan announced by the Thai government in April to provide some measure of protection for the refugees by establishing a "neutral" camp inside Thailand -- administered by the United Nations rather than the resistance factions -- was moribund by September. With the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the four parties to the conflict apparently reaching agreement on a framework for peace in September, repatriation of the refugees seemed like a real possibility. By December, however, hopes for peace were dimming and, with the onset of the dry season in Cambodia, the war had resumed.
The war was the context for serious violations by all sides. The year began with a major guerrilla offensive already underway to capture towns in northwest Cambodia as part of an effort to expand and hold the "liberated zone" there. As part of that offensive and under pressure from the Thai military, thousands of Cambodians (30,000, according to one estimate in the Thai press) were moved from camps inside Thailand to new sites across the border in Cambodia. Many of these appeared to have been moved against their will. In one notorious case, the United Nations Border Relief Operation (UNBRO) sent trucks in late January to move all residents of the "closed" Khmer Rouge camp in Borai to the Site K camp where they would have access to UN services. Instead, UNBRO officials found that the Khmer Rouge had secretly moved 4,000 of the 4,400 residents across the border to secret Khmer Rouge camps around the mining town of Pailin.
All parties failed to take measures to protect civilians during the fighting, in violation of international humanitarian law. Cambodian government forces used long-range artillery to try to dislodge the KPNLF from the towns of Svay Chek and Thmar Puok, apparently without warning the population to evacuate and without choosing specific military targets. The result was unnecessary civilian casualties, destruction of homes and schools, and thousands of displaced residents. (The towns were retaken by the government in February; an attempt by the guerrillas to recapture them in April failed.)
In May and June, intense fighting between Khmer Rouge guerrillas and government forces took place around Kompot, Kompong Speu, Kompong Chhnang and Kompong Thom. The government again engaged in indiscriminate shelling. Attacks on civilians by the Khmer Rouge were more targeted: the Khmer Rouge reportedly executed local political officials and, on July 15, attacked a train in Kompong Chhnang, killing 53 and wounding over 100.
In an effort to strengthen its defensive capability, the government organized and armed a civilian militia but failed to provide adequate training or supervision. Members of the militia were given antipersonnel mines which they laid around bridges and roads to keep out the Khmer Rouge but failed to keep track of; civilian casualties were one result. Militia members also used their weapons to engage in petty extortion along Cambodian highways.
There were widespread reports during the year of arbitrary conscription by the government's regular forces. Young men were picked up off the streets or in video parlors in Phnom Penh and other cities.
The level of fighting diminished during the height of the rainy season but resumed again as the dry season approached. In late September and continuing through October, government forces attacked the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin, and many Khmer Rouge fighters reportedly tried to flee to the nearby KPNLF-controlled camp of Sok Sann in Thailand. Reuters reported that the Sok Sann commanders refused to take in the escapees, for fear of offending the KPNLF's Khmer Rouge allies -- despite the severe punishment, including torture and possible execution, that would await the men if they were caught by their own officers after having fled combat.4 The renewed fighting led to further forced relocations of refugees from Thailand into Cambodia.
It was difficult to assess how the different parties treated prisoners captured in combat. International agencies had no access to such prisoners held in camps on the Thai side of the border. In September, the government in Phnom Penh granted the International Committee of the Red Cross access to those it termed "prisoners of war." There were unconfirmed reports of torture meted out to captured Vietnamese nationals near or in Site 2, the largest KPNLF camp.
The Khmer Rouge routinely denied residents of camps they controlled access to food and medical care, sometimes as a method of forcing compliance with orders to porter supplies or move into Cambodia, sometimes as an effort to prevent exposure to Western influence. When Phnom Penh government forces in January shelled hidden Khmer Rouge camps inside Thailand on the northern border with Cambodia, wounding scores of noncombatants, the Khmer Rouge did not permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to evacuate the victims.
In addition to violations of the laws of war, all sides also engaged in violations of political and civil rights. In Cambodia itself, a new Constitution passed in 1989 included important limits on detention and guarantees of the rights of the accused, and a committee of the National Assembly reviewed cases of all those detained without trial since 1979, releasing most of them. But real progress was prevented by a combination of factors: a legal system that was just beginning to be rebuilt after the destruction of the Khmer Rouge period; an almost total absence of trained lawyers and judges who had survived that period; and resistance to the reforms on the part of hardliners in the Ministry of the Interior. As of an Asia Watch visit in late May, the Supreme Court had not held a single formal hearing.
Freedom of expression, association and opinion continued to be tightly controlled. While some articles on corruption or the abuses of the civilian militia were allowed to appear in the United Front newspaper Kampuchea Weekly, or the state news service, direct criticism of the government remained off limits. The May arrest of senior government officials, including Ung Phan, the Minister of Transport, Communications and Posts, for trying to form an independent party called the Liberal Social Democratic Party was an indication of the limits that were still in place. At least six people and perhaps several dozen were arrested in the crackdown; all six were believed still in detention at the end of the year. Shortly after these arrests, Khieu Kanharith, editor of Kampuchea Weekly and a member of the National Assembly whom many believed to be sympathetic to efforts to open the political system, was fired.
Freedom of religion, by contrast, made significant gains. Buddhism was much more openly practiced and the authorities allowed younger men to become monks. On Easter, the first Catholic mass was celebrated since 1975.
Violations of civil liberties also occurred in the resistance-controlled camps in Thailand. None of the camps allowed residents the freedom to move to a different camp, so each faction effectively had a captive population under its control. By the end of the year, there was a rudimentary justice system in place in the largest KPNLF and ANS camps to handle criminal cases, but abuses by camp commanders, police and the Thai military were beyond its capacity to handle. The absence of civil liberties was most notable in the Khmer Rouge camps, where even marriage was controlled by the camp commanders.
US policy on Cambodia took a dramatic turn on July 18 when Secretary of State James Baker announced in Paris that the United States would no longer support the seating at the United Nations of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea -- composed of the three resistance factions -- and that the Bush administration would permit $5 million in humanitarian aid voted by Congress to be given to the Phnom Penh government. The US also inched toward opening direct talks with the Phnom Penh government, with contacts in September between the US chargé d'affairs in Vientiane and his Cambodian counterpart and between US Ambassador to Indonesia John Monjo and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during negotiations the same month in Jakarta. At the same time, the Bush administration, torn between the hawks of the National Security Council staff and a more pragmatic State Department, announced that aid to the non-Communist factions (the KPNLF and ANS) would continue despite strong pressure from some congressional leaders to cut it.
The shift in policy was related more to the progress of the talks on Cambodia among the five permanent members of the Security Council than to the situation on the ground, but Secretary Baker acknowledged for the first time the seriousness of the military threat posed by the Khmer Rouge. Likewise, US attention to human rights in Cambodia focused more on the future than the present. The Bush administration supported the broad and vaguely worded section on human rights in the "Perm 5" agreement signed on August 28 in Paris but made little attempt to address ongoing abuses by the parties to the conflict that were receiving US aid or to take steps to ensure that there was no military cooperation between the non-Communist forces and their Khmer Rouge allies.
In March, for example, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) renewed funding for what is named a "Military-Oriented Youth Center" run by the ANS forces where boys aged 12 to 16 received training in marching, drills and "basic acts of combatants." While the USAID aid letter specifically stated that US funds should not be used for the military training, the aid obviously freed other funds to be used for that purpose. The US appeared to be encouraging the ANS to violate provisions of humanitarian law prohibiting children under 15 from serving as soldiers. Use of child soldiers by the ANS was reported to Asia Watch by aid workers along the Thai-Cambodian border in May and again in November.
The Bush administration repeatedly denied that there was any "systematic" cooperation between its non-Communist clients and the Khmer Rouge, despite some evidence to the contrary. In September, for example, the Bangkok press reported that the Khmer Rouge had joined the KPNLF in a four-hour attack on a government military base. On June 28, the Senate Intelligence Committee, concerned that the $10 million in "non-lethal" covert aid to the KPNLF and ANS was directly or indirectly benefiting the Khmer Rouge, voted to end that aid. The House Intelligence Committee did not go along. In October, over administration objection, the Senate passed an amendment to the foreign aid appropriations bill, largely replacing the covert aid program -- a small amount of covert aid reportedly remained through January 1991 -- with $25 million in humanitarian and development aid to Cambodia, only some portion of which would go to non-Communist resistance forces as "non-lethal" assistance.5 Enacted into law, the provision required the President to produce a public report by January 1, 1991 detailing how the aid would be allocated as well as describing the extent of military cooperation since 1986 between the Khmer Rouge and any group or faction of the non-Communist resistance.
During a hearing on September 12 before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Undersecretary of State Robert Kimmitt argued that any cut in aid would have "tragic humanitarian consequences" and would "severely and adversely" affect the ability of the non-Communists to win concessions from the Phnom Penh government at a crucial stage in the negotiating process. On the question of the non-Communists' cooperation with the Khmer Rouge, he said that "there has been a degree of contact that is expected when forces operate in proximity to one another," but that this contact was "still below the threshhold of the law," referring to legislation that bars cooperation with the Khmer Rouge as a condition of US aid to the non-Communist resistance.
It was not clear that the Bush administration had the will or the capacity to accurately assess the nature of cooperation among the resistance factions; instead, the administration appeared prepared simply to accept assurances from top non-Communist field commanders that there was no coordination.
But if the administration was concerned about the growing strength of the Khmer Rouge forces, it was strangely silent about the complicity of others in assisting them. Not only did the Thai military actively encourage the forced relocations from Khmer Rouge-controlled camps back into Cambodia, but in June, Bangkok newspapers revealed that six Thai timber companies were offering the Khmer Rouge cash and equipment in exchange for logging concessions around Pailin. One of those companies was partly owned by a Thai cabinet minister. In addition, despite the delivery of Chinese-supplied tanks and heavy equipment to the Khmer Rouge in October, President Bush still welcomed Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen to the White House in November (see chapter on China, infra).
The Bush administration also made no comment when, during the meeting of the four Cambodian parties in Jakarta in September, the Khmer Rouge included Son Sen as one of their participants in the Supreme National Council. A close aid of Pol Pot, Son Sen was responsible for the administration of the notorious torture center in Phnom Penh, Tuol Sleng. In the September 12 hearings before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Undersecretary Kimmett merely said that Son Sen's name did not appear on the list that the State Department had prepared of the Khmer Rouge leadership.
The Work of Asia Watch
In January, Asia Watch sent a mission to the Thai-Cambodian border to interview Cambodian refugees and aid workers about the human rights situation. One result was a newsletter on "Violations of the Laws of War by the Khmer Rouge."
In May, Asia Watch visited Phnom Penh at the invitation of the government, the first strictly human rights organization to be so invited.6 While the delegation was able to meet with officials of the Foreign Affairs and Justice Ministries, its efforts to meet officials from the Defense and Interior Ministries got nowhere. As a result, Asia Watch was not able to visit the main Phnom Penh prison, T-3, where it had hoped to interview political prisoners and corroborate reports suggesting that there had been some improvement in prison conditions since 1985 and 1986 when torture, the use of dark cells, shackling, and prolonged deprivation of food and water were common. (Information received after the visit from recently released detainees indicated that dark cells, at least, were still in use.)
In early June, with the help of an Asia Watch representative in Phnom Penh, Asia Watch was the first organization to verify the names of the six officials arrested for trying to form a new political party.
On July 20, two days after Secretary Baker announced the policy change, Asia Watch testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the human rights situation in Cambodia. While noting that it did not oppose a continuation of humanitarian aid, Asia Watch testified that any assistance that would further the non-Communists' objective of "neutralizing" Cambodian security forces would leave the Phnom Penh government all the more vulnerable to Khmer Rouge attack.
On September 11, Asia Watch met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kenneth Quinn and Charles Twining, Director of the State Department's Office for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodian Affairs, to discuss US policy on Cambodia. Following that visit, Asia Watch wrote to Quinn suggesting ways in which the human rights section of the Perm 5 agreement could be made more specific.