Human Rights Developments
The ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council or SLORC continued to be a human rights pariah, despite its cosmetic gestures to respond to international criticism. Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, was permitted visits from her family but remained under house arrest for the fifth year. SLORC announced the release of nearly 2,000 political prisoners, but it was not clear that the majority had been detained on political charges, nor could most of the releases be verified. At least one hundred critics of SLORC were detained during the year, and hundreds of people tried by military tribunals between 1989 and 1992 remained in prison. Torture in Burmese prisons continued to be widespread. Foreign correspondents were able to obtain visas for Burma more easily, but access by human rights and humanitarian organizations remained tightly restricted. A constitutional convention met throughout the year, but over 80 percent of the delegates were hand-picked by SLORC.
Professor Yozo Yokota, the Special Rapporteur to Myanmar appointed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, issued a report in February on his December 1992 visit to the country. The report documentedsystematic violations of basic personal freedoms and physical intergrity and concluded that "serious repression and an atmosphere of pervasive fear exist in Myanmar." It also noted the lack of cooperation from SLORC and the intimidation and harassment of individuals wishing to provide testimony.
The human rights commission passed a resolution on March 10 which called on SLORC, among other things, to end torture, forced labor, abuse of women, enforced disappearances and summary executions; allow investigations of violations; improve prison conditions; cooperate with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the safe return of refugees; and release Aung San Suu Kyi unconditionally. It also extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for one year.
To respond to international condemnation of its refusal to allow the National Assembly elected in May 1990 to meet, SLORC convened a national constitutional convention in Rangoon on January 9. Of some 700 delegates who attended, only 120 were elected parliamentarians. It was chaired by a fifteen-member commission, all of whom were active military officers, and delegates were divided into eight groups by occupation and background, such as peasants, workers and "national races." Each group was chaired by a military officer.
The convention met on and off throughout the year, and in September, six out of the eight groups agreed to a constitution that gave the military continued control of the government. The two groups that opposed it were the elected parliamentarians and representatives of political parties.
Many SLORC opponents were arrested in connection with the convention meetings. On August 4, Dr. Aung Khin Sint, a convention delegate and elected representative of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), and Than Min, alias Tin Tun Aung, an NLD executive committee member for Mingla Taungnyunt township, were arrested for distributing leaflets. They were accused of political agitation and intent to undermine the national convention. On October 15, they and nine others were sentenced to twenty years in prison. All were detained in Insein Prison in Rangoon.
Fighting between the Burmese military and various ethnic insurgencies along the Thai-Burmese and other borders was minimal during the year, in part because of a concerted effort by SLORC to negotiate cease-fires with different minority groups. In April, for example, a cease-fire was negotiated between SLORC and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and on October 1, SLORC signed a cease-fire agreement with the Kachin Independence Council (KIC). Thailand and China pressed insurgents based along their borders to negotiate or else lose their ability to shelter and mobilize on their respective territories.
Despite the low level of conflict, however, refugees continued to stream into Thailand. In June, NGOs estimated that 1,000 Burmese were crossing the border every day. The Thai government and international agencies were quick to refer to the newcomers as illegal immigrants, but many reported fleeing forced relocations, forced labor and forced conscription.
The state of Arakan in northwest Burma, home to the Rohingya Muslim minority, remained off-limits to outside observers, raisingconcerns about the possible repatriation of almost 300,000 Rohingyas who had fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 1991 and 1992. More than 13,000 refugees were repatriated in late 1992 and early 1993 without adequate screening procedures to determine if they were returning voluntarily or adequate monitoring mechanisms on the Burmese side. On January 31, UNHCR staff were allowed to interview refugees scheduled for repatriation in one transit camp in Bangladesh and found that nearly all were there against their will. In May, a memorandum of understanding was signed between UNHCR and the Bangladesh government ensuring UNHCR full access to all camps, and in July, Sadako Ogata, the head of UNHCR, reached an agreement in principle that her agency would be allowed a monitoring presence in Arakan. Details of the agreement were still being negotiated as of November.
SLORC took no steps to address the large-scale trafficking of Burmese women into forced prostitution in Thailand. Instead, it appeared to be arresting many women deported from Thailand on charges of illegally leaving the country and engaging in prostitution. It also routinely tested returning women for AIDS without their consent and without regard for confidentiality.
The Right To Monitor
No indigenous human rights groups were allowed in Burma, and passing information to outside groups was considered subversive.
The International Committee of the Red Cross had access neither to Burma's prisons nor to displaced populations along the border with China, Thailand and Bangladesh, although it did have a delegate based in Rangoon to run its prosthetics program for amputees.
SLORC tried to divert criticism of its refusal to allow access to prisoners by permitting individual foreign delegations highly controlled meetings with a few detainees.
The Clinton administration continued to be harshly critical of SLORC, and all economic assistance remained frozen, but the administration made no effort to discourage investment by U.S. companies. On May 19 and July 20, President Clinton publicly called on SLORC to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, respect the 1990 elections and undertake genuine democratic reform.
Following a meeting with a group of Nobel laureates in July, President Clinton ordered a high-level interagency review to determine how the U.S. could increase pressure on Burma to address human rights abuses. As of November, the review was ongoing. No decision had been taken about such outstanding issues as whether to send an ambassador to Rangoon or to advocate corporate disinvestment in Burma.
At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Post-Ministerial Conference in Singapore on July 26, Secretary of State Christopher repeated Clinton's statements of May and July, but took no action to encourage new initiatives by ASEAN towards Burma. Privately, U.S. officials acquiesced in ASEAN's "constructive engagement" policy.
Congress remained active on Burma. On June 22, more than forty members of the House of Representatives wrote to Prime MinisterChuan to urge Thailand to actively promote specific steps to improve human rights conditions in Burma. The Senate passed a resolution on April 19 calling for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the transfer of power to those elected in May 1990 and an arms embargo to be effected through a resolution of the U.N. Security Council.
The Senate passed a resolution on April 19 calling for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the transfer of power to those elected in May 1990 and an arms embargo to be effected through a resolution of the U.N. Security Council.
Administration policy was reflected in international agencies as well. The U.S. representative to the fortieth session of the governing council of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on June 9 announced that the U.S. would not support infrastructure development projects which could enhance SLORC's legitimacy in the eyes of the Burmese people. The U.S. contribution to UNDP for Burma was $7 million, to be used only for projects that promoted human rights and did not benefit SLORC.
The foreign operations bill adopted on June 10 by the House Appropriations Committee pledged $1 million for Burmese students displaced by civil conflict. The committee also called on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support assistance to Burmese refugees and displaced people.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) continued a low-level liaison with SLORC, although direct assistance to counter narcotics production remained suspended. An April report by the State Department on narcotics strategy concluded that while Burma accounts for over 50 percent of illicit opium production, there were few signs that SLORC would commit itself to serious law enforcement in this area.
The Work of Asia Watch
Asia Watch sent missions during the year to Thailand and Bangladesh to interview Burmese refugees and victims of human rights abuses, including women trafficked over the Thai border. The missions to Thailand were jointly undertaken with the Jesuit Refugee Service.
A major report on the trafficking of Burmese women into Thailand was scheduled for release at the end of the year. A short report examining abuses of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh was published in September, and Asia Watch issued several press releases during 1993 calling for the release of detainees in Burma and better protection for Burmese refugees.
Burma was a key issue in meetings Asia Watch held with Japanese officials in April. Asia Watch helped coordinate and circulate a letter issued jointly on June 22 by the U.S. Congress and the Japanese Diet. The letter was addressed to the prime minister of Thailand and requested his assistance in implementing the recommendations of the March resolution on Burma of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Asia Watch, in cooperation with the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights and the Jesuit Refugee Service, also held regular roundtable meetings on Burma in New York and Washington.
Human Rights Developments
With peaceful elections carried out in May, the promulgation of a new constitution in October and the restoration of Norodom Sihanouk to the throne as a constitutional monarch, Cambodia became the crown jewel of United Nations' peacekeeping efforts. But the success of the elections obscured the very real human rights problems that remained, including the failure to hold officials accountable for abuses, the treatment and status of ethnic Vietnamese, the continued presence of the Khmer Rouge, and the weakness of the legal system. The achievements of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) on the political front pushed to the background but did not resolve the tensions inherent in the eighteen-month UNTAC mission between peace-keeping and human rights protection.
UNTAC struggled unsuccessfully to contain an explosion of political violence from January through May that threatened to undermine the elections. The Phnom Penh government (State of Cambodia or SOC) engaged in a series of attacks against political opponents, particularly those belonging to FUNCINPEC, the party headed by Norodom Ranariddh, Sihanouk's son. The Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) also came under attack. For example, on January 3, armed men attacked the FUNCINPEC headquarters in Sisophon, Banteay Meachay province, killing Roeun Sopheap, aged twenty-one, a security guard. The next day, two grenades were thrown at a house in Moung Russei district, Battambang province, owned by a BLDP official. One woman was injured. On the night of January 31, soldiers from the Fifth Division of the Cambodian People's Armed Forces (CPAF), the army of the State of Cambodia, detained six people in Sangke district, Battambang. Two were released, but four, who were all FUNCINPEC members, were taken to the Takok military camp and never seen again.
In the same period, the Khmer Rouge carried out numerous attacks on ethnic Vietnamese residents of Cambodia, including four in the month of March alone. By September, over one hundred ethnic Vietnamese had been murdered since the beginning of the UNTAC mission.
In January, UNTAC head Yasushi Akashi authorized the creation of a "special prosecutor" to bring criminal charges against human rights violators and empowered UNTAC police to arrest them. The effort came to little after the Phnom Penh government in February refused to allow its courts to try the case of Em Chan, a policeman accused of murdering a FUNCINPEC party officer. By the time UNTAC departed in September, it had arrested a total of four men, one of whom had died of natural causes. The other three were turned over to the new government for further proceedings.
In February and March 1993, UNTAC conducted a series of raids on police and military officers that yielded evidence showing the Phnom Penh government had set up undercover units to infiltrate and attack political opposition groups. Those raids were not made public until after the election when the Washington Post disclosed the existence of a secret UNTAC report, which Asia Watch subsequently published.
The extent of political violence by April was such that many people believed that the "neutral political environment", a prequisite for the holding of elections according to the 1991 Paris peace accords, was lacking. But confounding all skeptics, almost 90 percent of registered voters went to the polls from May 23 to May 28. FUNCINPEC won 45.46 percent of the vote, taking fifty-eight out of 120 seats in the constituent assembly, with the Phnom Penh government's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) winning 38.22 percent and taking fifty-one seats.
After the election, Vice-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Chakrapong, National Security Minister Sin Song and Gen. Bou Thang led a short-lived secessionist movement centered in the eastern provinces of Kompong Cham, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng. It lasted only a few days and collapsed by June 15.
Sihanouk brokered an interim power-sharing arrangement between FUNCINPEC and the Hun Sen government which was carried over into the new government, with two Prime Ministers and two ministers of national security. Non-communist military units were incorporated into the Phnom Penh army, and towards year's end, there was speculation that the new government would launch a dry season offensive against the Khmer Rouge, which still controlled zones around Pailin. Although Prince Sihanouk in early July suggested that the Khmer Rouge might be allowed to play an unspecified role in the new government as "counselors", he cancelled scheduled talks with the party on July 20, citing interference from the United States. The U.S. had expressed hesitation at providing aid to the new government if the Khmer Rouge were included.
The Khmer Rouge continued to engage in attacks against the ethnic Vietnamese as some of the Vietnamese who had fled earlier assaults attempted, just after the elections, to return to their homes on Cambodia's great lake, the Tonle Sap. Ethnic animosity of Cambodians against Vietnamese remained a potent force, and it was unclear whether any ethnic Vietnamese would be granted citizenship under the new constitution. The new government moved cautiously to establish a technical committee with Vietnam on issues of citizenship and borders.
The continuing war with the Khmer Rouge also meant continued laying of landmines in a country that already had the highest proportion of amputees in the world. UNTAC trained and deployed forty teams of Cambodian demainers, but progress was slow. Land that had been de-mined was mined again by opposing armies, and it was widely believed that as many new mines were laid as were cleared during the peacekeeping period.
In October, the Cambodian Mine Action Center, a joint U.N./government body that was to coordinate de-mining efforts after UNTAC's departure, was almost bankrupt and planned to close in mid-November. The U.S., which had offered $2 million to purchase UNTAC's de-mining equipment for Cambodia, had still not reached agreement with the U.N., which had valued the equipment at over $3 million. On October 8, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution stressing the urgency of de-mining worldwide and requesting the Secretary-General to advise on the establishment of a trust fund for mine clearance.
The situation of some repatriated refugees remained cause forconcern. Over 360,000 Cambodians returned from Thailand in 1992 and 1993 under the auspices of UNTAC and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. They had been promised land, but a shortage of mine-free land led to most receiving small cash grants instead. Although the repatriation in general went smoothly, it was too early to assess how the returnees would fare when U.N. rice subsidies ended. The one UNHCR experiment in supervising repatriation to a Khmer Rouge-administered area ended disastrously when the settlement became a war zone after the elections, forcing hundreds of refugees to flee to neighboring areas.
UNTAC made important progress in its efforts to rebuild a civil society in Cambodia. By the end of the year, more than a dozen independent newspapers were publishing regularly and non-governmental organizations, including five human rights organizations and several professional associations, were operating more freely than at any time in Cambodia's history. UNTAC supervised Cambodia's accession to seven international human rights treaties, trained officials and ordinary citizens in basic principles of human rights, and drafted a new criminal law for the transition period that contained basic guarantees of procedural fairness. The law, however, was rarely enforced, given the weakness of the judicial system and the deep politicization of the police and military.
The Right to Monitor
Four Cambodian human rights organizations emerged during UNTAC's tenure in addition to the Association de Droits de l'Homme au Cambodge (ADHOC) which was formed in January 1992. The new organizations were LICADHO (Cambodian League for Human Rights); Outreach; Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia; and LCDHC (Cambodian League for Human and Citizens' Rights). With support from UNTAC, they began to teach human rights, monitor the elections, report abuses and publish magazines. In the period leading up to the elections, some local human rights activists became targets of violence and intimidation, and the Phnom Penh government discouraged Buddhist temples from allowing human rights offices on their premises. SOC authorities viewed the human rights organizations as political opponents in another guise, and monitors often reported being followed by government agents.
In general, however, the ability to carry out human rights monitoring was better than at any other period in Cambodian history. After the election, eight Cambodian human rights and development organizations made a bold statement on granting citizenship to long-term ethnic Vietnamese residents. They also urged that citizenship and residency rights be resolved according to humanitarian principles. The local organizations also played a critical role during the drafting of the constitution, pressing to open the process to public comment. They lobbied for specific human rights provisions, including independence of the judiciary and judicial review of executive acts as well as strong protections for the rights of women and children.
The Buddhist church, previously under complete state control, also showed signs of becoming more independent, and monks led several peace walks and public demonstrations.
During UNTAC's presence, international human rights organizations enjoyed free access to all areas of Cambodia except those controlled by the Khmer Rouge, and two international conferences were convened by UNTAC's Human Rights Component.
The Clinton administration firmly backed the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cambodia and expressed support for a limited U.N. presence once UNTAC was withdrawn.
The U.S. contributed $517 million to UNTAC's total budget (approximately 30 percent). Additional funding for fiscal year 1994 was devoted primarily to economic development and de-mining, including $1 million pledged to HALO Trust, a de-mining group, plus another $700,000 to the Cambodia Mine Action Center; $2 million was also committed to help keep UNTAC's de-mining equipment in Cambodia. Another $2 million was contributed towards the expenses of the transitional administration.
At the 1992 donors conference in Tokyo, the U.S. had pledged $880 in development assistance; at the Paris International Conference on Reconstruction of Cambodia in September 1993, it reported that over $135 million had been provided in fiscal year 1992 and 1993.
The administration put considerable emphasis, particularly in the lead-up to the elections, on supporting human rights and democratization projects, including training political parties and election observers.
State Departments officials described progress on human rights under UNTAC as "impressive," citing the release of political prisoners, accession to international human rights conventions, and formation of indigenous human rights groups. While studiously avoiding any public criticism of UNTAC's human rights activities, administration officials acknowledged in testimony before Congress on June 16 and October 27 that serious human rights problems remained. The U.S. backed the decision by the U.N. Human Rights Commission to appoint a Special Representative on Human Rights for Cambodia and to establish a field office to continue monitoring abuses.
While acknowledging the ongoing threat posed by the Khmer Rouge, the State Department maintained that encouraging economic development and rebuilding the country's communications and transportation infrastructure offered the most effective long-range strategy for denying the Khmer Rouge a base of political support.
The foreign aid appropriations bill for fiscal year 1994 contained explicit prohibitions on direct or indirect aid to the Khmer Rouge and "Cambodian organizations" cooperating militarily with them. The administration estimated commercial military sales to Cambodia of $22,000 in fiscal year 1994.
The administration gave mixed signals on the issue of whether U.S. aid to the new Cambodian government would be withheld if the Khmer Rouge were given a role. The State Department expressed the view that the new constitution effectively prohibited appointment of Khmer Rouge officials to ministerial or sub-cabinet level positions. The U.S. declined to call for Pol Pot or other high-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders to be put on trial by an international tribunal for atrocities committed during their rule, leaving thisquestion for the new Cambodian government to decide.
The Senate's fiscal year 1994 State Department authorization bill (yet to be enacted by mid-November), contained a provision originally introduced by Sen. Charles Robb requiring the State Department to set up an office in Cambodia to investigate and gather documentation on "crimes against humanity" committed by Khmer Rouge leaders from 1975 through 1979, and to develop a proposal for an international tribunal.
The administration confirmed that cross-border smuggling and leakage of goods across the Thai border to the Khmer Rouge persisted as of mid-June, despite U.N. sanctions. But the State Department publicly praised Thai civilian authorities for trying to enforce the sanctions and defended Bangkok against Congressional criticism.
The chief U.S. representative in Phnom Penh, Charles Twinning, received wide praise for his public denunications of killings of ethnic Vietnamese and other human rights abuses.
The Work of Asia Watch
Asia Watch closely monitored human rights in Cambodia. A month-long fact-finding mission to Cambodia in February and March 1993 provided material for three published reports: "Cambodia: Human Rights Before and After the Elections;" the Cambodia chapter of The Lost Agenda: Human Rights and UN Field Operations; and "An Exchange on Human Rights and Peace-Keeping in Cambodia." Asia Watch also met with UNTAC officials in Washington to discuss its concerns and findings.
Asia Watch testified before Congress twice during the year on safeguarding human rights in Cambodia, the first time before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 16, and the second before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on October 27. Among its recommendations were immediate funding for continued de-mining in Cambodia, the conditioning of any international aid to Cambodia's police or military on measures for strict accountability for human rights abuses, continued support for building a justice system in Cambodia, and the establishment of a human rights commission or ombudsman to investigate and expose human rights abuses.
Asia Watch invited Srey Chanphallara, a unique leading woman in the Cambodian human rights field, to be honored by Human Rights Watch at its observance of Human Rights Day, December 10.