Human Rights Developments
Cambodia, in the first year of a democratically elected government, faced continued civil war, the dislocation of tens of thousands of civilians, and severe human rights abuses by both the Khmer Rouge and government forces. Local human rights activists and the burgeoning independent press were the targets of official attacks as various elements within the government vied for power. Murders of ethnic Vietnamese continued, and the Cambodian legislature approved an immigration law that failed to resolve the issue of nationality and gave little protection to long-term Vietnamese inhabitants against summary expulsion.
At the same time, there were many signs of significant change, not least the Cambodian government's willingness to acknowledge problems and to cooperate with international human rights and humanitarian bodies. Prison conditions remained poor, but local and international monitors continued to have access, and government officials took steps to relieve overcrowding in one of the worst facilities in Phnom Penh when pressed. The legislature debated and investigated human rights issues, the government sought military reform, and individuals scattered throughout the administration struggled to put in place legal and political means of enforcing accountability.
The political and military events of the year provided a difficult context for human rights progress and institution-building. Although the royalist FUNCINPEC party had won a narrow victory over the Cambodian People's Party in May 1993, it agreed to share leadership of the government after a failed secession attempt led by two CPP hard-liners in June 1993. FUNCINPEC leaders shared key offices with CPP officials at the national and provincial levels, but in practice the CPP retained control of local government as well as the bureaucracy and security apparatus. By the end of 1994, the coalition was showing signs of strain, having weathered another coup attempt by CPP elements and a Cabinet reshuffling that sidelined certain reformers.
The Phnom Penh military and the two non-communist forces integrated their military commands, and by early 1994 the combined forces had knocked the Khmer Rouge out of several logistical bases. While King Sihanouk unsuccessfully tried to end the civil war by negotiating a governmental role for the Khmer Rouge, the new Cambodian army moved against the two largest Khmer Rouge strongholds, Pailin and Anlong Veng. Both campaigns ended disastrously, with the government forces holding the two bases for a month or less before Khmer Rouge guerrillas pushed them out. Although each side's positions returned to roughly where they had been prior to the offensive, the Khmer Rouge built up forces in the north and northwest, declaring Anlong Veng their "capitol," and the security situation deteriorated, with free movement increasingly restricted in this region. Military activity also intensified in the southwest province of Kampot, where Khmer Rouge guerrillas had been kidnapping local Cambodians for ransom over the years. When the Khmer Rouge attacked a train in late July, abducting three Westerners, international attention prompted the government to respond by pouring troops into the area and periodically bombarding it. (The hostages were later killed.)
Although the world had closely followed the repatriation of Cambodians from Thai border camps during the U.N. Peace keeping mission, it largely ignored the war's continuing displacement of Cambodians within Cambodia. Over 50,000 Cambodians fled during the Pailin offensive in 1994; when they returned several months later, many found their homes pillaged and their gardens planted with fresh landmines. On the Khmer Rouge side, between 25,000 and 30,000 persons fled Pailin into Thailand as the government forces advanced. Thailand responded by sealing off access to these persons by all humanitarian organizations (and indeed, even by Thai civil authorities) and forcing them back across the border into a malarial and mined Khmer Rouge zone.
Reports of grave abuses committed by both sides during the fighting were widespread, including allegations that civilian women were raped and prisoners of war summarily executed. The Khmer Rouge used civilians for portering and frequently took civilians hostage, as well as abducting and sometimes killing civilian authorities in areas of conflict. Over eighty wounded government soldiers left behind in the Pailin clinic were reportedly executed by the Khmer Rouge when they recaptured the town. The government engaged in forced conscription and extortion of men at various points of the year, and its troops, ill-disciplined and ill-supplied, plundered territory as often as protecting it, earning the fear and enmity of the local population. Information on Khmer Rouge abuses is sporadic, due to the lack of access to areas under their control; abuses committed by the government's military against civilians are more visible, and have often been extreme.
For example, members of the B-2 military intelligence units in the northwestern provinces, authorized to arrest and interrogate resistance fighters, turned in 1993 and 1994 to abducting civilians, extorting ransom from their families and often murdering the victims. A report by the U.N. Centre for Human Rights, leaked in 1994, estimated the group murdered at least thirty-five individuals between late June and November 1993 and held others captive in secret locations in Battambang City and a remote village called Che K'mau. Some of the victims have never been located and were believed to still be detained; among the others are one man who allegedly died while his captors ate his liver and another who lost a limb and an eye when forced to perform de-mining, according to the report.
Although the crimes of these B-2 units were privately reported to political leaders during the peacekeeping period, the new government was slow to take action. An investigation by the Ministry of Defense corroborated most details of the U.N. Centre's reports, but investigators from the prime ministers' office initially denied the findings. Details of the investigations were then leaked to the press in August, and pressure from within the country and abroad forced the government to continue its inquiry. As of October, First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh and Interior Minister You Hokry, both of FUNCINPEC, had suggested that all the abuses had occurred prior to the May 1993 elections, in what appeared to be an attempt to absolve the new government of responsibility. The prime minister's office continued to conduct investigations, inviting the U.N. Centre to participate as an observer. As of this writing, no action had been taken against any of the accused perpetrators, and indeed, one of the accused, jailed for shooting at police at a checkpoint, was released for an alleged lack of evidence.
The Prime Ministers' office was expected to announce its findings in this case by the end of the year. A failure to act decisively against this military intelligence group could undercut one encouraging development: the willingness of provincial prosecutors and courts to refer cases of serious abuse by high military officers to the Ministry of Defense for investigation by the military prosecutor. Some courts had also begun to investigate and try low-ranking military offenders and their relatives. Military police were deployed in some provinces in the latter half of the year, and succeeded to some extent in diminishing abuses by renegade soldiers, but banditry, extortion, and killing by persons in military uniform remained an extremely serious problem.
The public exposure in Cambodia and abroad of military atrocities demonstrated the power of the press and the local human rights movement to mobilize public opinion, and in turn raised the specter of retaliation. An early danger signal was the inadequately investigated death of Tou Chhom Mongkol, Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Antarakhum (Intervention), on a main city thoroughfare on the night of June 11, following a March 24 grenade attack on the newspaper's office by perpetrators never identified by the police. Suspicions of official retribution were fueled by the paper's articles condemning corruption among government authorities.
The suppression of a second coup attempt on July 3, again attributed to Prince Chakrapong and Sin Song, provided a pretext for the government to rein in the press. Shortly after the coup attempt, the prime minister warned that anyone publishing "inaccurate" information with the aim of provoking "turmoil" would be treated as having committed a crime. Noun Nonn, editor of Dom Ning Pei Prek (Morning News) was the first target, arrested on July 8 for an article that suggested high officials in the Ministry of Interior were responsible for the coup. The "law" invoked in his case was a 1992 enactment of the Phnom Penh regime during the peacekeeping period, that forbade publishing "inaccurate" information with "intent to alarm the citizenry" or information "detrimental" to national security. Although Noun Nonn was released from prison in August, charges against him are still pending, and his son is under investigation for an article the newspaper published alleging corruption on the part of the governor of Svay Rieng, who since has been appointed national chief of police. The government also issued warnings it would take legal action to close half a dozen other newspapers that had published articles on the coup or criticisms of senior officials.
Another opportunity to curb the press came in early September. Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh threatened to expel foreign journalists who "exaggerate," after international newspapers exposed both the atrocities that had been committed by the B-2 units in Battambang, and the denial by the prime minister's office that secret prisons existed.
On September 7, Noun Chan, the editor of the journal Sam-leng Yuvachun Khmer (The Voice of Khmer Youth), was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle as he was driving around one of Phnom Penh's main traffic circles. The newspaper had received written warnings from the Ministry of Information for articles which criticized CPP leaders Hun Sen and Chea Sim, and senior staff members had also received death threats prior to the murder. The newspaper had also criticized FUNCINPEC security officials and controversial business figures. Several human rights organizations, that strongly condemned the slaying themselves received warnings from government officials. Television broadcasters have also been warned not to air the views of critics of government policies.
On the positive side, the Human Rights Commission of Cambodia's National Assembly took an active role in investigating complaints submitted to it and raising human rights issues pertaining to proposed legislation, and after a slow start, the National Assembly increasingly became a forum for genuine discussion of draft laws. The government's proposal to outlaw the Khmer Rouge occasioned hot debate in July in the parliament, which added measures to clarify the definition of forbidden acts and to punish those who use the law to accuse others maliciously. A proposed law on the press was withdrawn from legislative consideration in May following criticism by both foreign and local nongovernmental organizations, including the Khmer Journalists Association.
A new immigration law, however, passed the assembly in August without serious objection, despite the fact it neither defined nationality nor explicitly protected the rights of refugees. The law was widely perceived as facilitating the possible expulsion of ethnic Vietnamese residents of Cambodia, who are estimated to number between 200,000 and 500,000. It empowered the government to summarily expel foreigners who cannot produce proper documentation, and to close areas of the country off to alien residents. Prior to the law's enactment, the Ministry of Interior had inquired whether the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would approve the use of centers it built to house aliens pending deportation. Ethnic Vietnamese in certain parts of the country had also had their identity documents temporarily confiscated by government authorities conducting a rough "census" of aliens.
Attacks against ethnic Vietnamese continued, with reports of at least forty civilians killed and another thirty injured since the beginning of the year in eight separate incidents. Although the Khmer Rouge were suspects in most of the massacres, in at least three of these instances the political identity of the murderers could not be established, although there were some signs that government military may have been involved. In the worst case, thirteen Vietnamese in Peam So village, Sa-ang district Kandal province were murdered in cold blood, among them nine children. Government authorities apprehended but then freed suspects who had confessed, and whose voices were recognized by victims, on the grounds of "lack of evidence." Approximately 5,000 ethnic Vietnamese, some of them with documents proving residency in Cambodia since the 1960s, continued to languish on houseboats in the middle of the Bassac river at Chrey Thom, the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. These people had fled their homes on the Tonle Sap lake in 1993, at the height of a wave of Khmer Rouge attacks against Vietnamese fishing settlements, and have been acknowledged as citizens by neither Vietnam nor Cambodia.
The Right to Monitor
A wide variety of NGOs, including human rights groups, operated in Cambodia, and their efforts in popular education and human rights monitoring were beginning to have an impact, at least gauged by signs of an official backlash against their activities. Mid-year, the interior minister issued a series of new regulations for NGOs, including requirements that they give the authorities lists of their members, reports on their activities, and advance notice of all meetings; officials justified these requirements as necessary for maintaining public order. But authorities in at least two provinces relied on these directives to deny permission to established human rights groups to carry out their activities. Following criticism by human rights organizations and other NGOs, the Ministry of Interior proposed to "clarify" these directives, but no formal repeal or revision of the directives was issued. The CPP minister of interior did explain that existing NGOs do not have to ask permission to conduct educational activities, though they must report them. Following the murder of Noun Chan, NGO leaders in Phnom Penh were also given direct warnings by government officials to tone down their criticism of the government or be shut down. As of this writing, no human rights NGO had yet been closed despite the warnings.
The U.N. Centre for Human Rights opened its first field office in Phnom Penh in late 1993, and the U.N. Secretary-General appointed a special representative for human rights in Cambodia, whose mandate was due to be reviewed in March 1995. Bureaucratic obstacles delayed the transfer of funds to the U.N. center's office for many of its planned technical assistance programs. Yet despite funding problems, the center's small staff performed superbly, providing educational services and legal advice, and investigating military abuses and prison conditions. The U.N.'s special representative, Justice Michael Kirby visited three times since the field office's establishment in late 1993, raising a wide range of human rights concerns with the Cambodian government and publishing comprehensive reports on the human rights situation.
But the superior work in highlighting abuses drew attention to the U.N. Center, and possibly retaliation. In September, the five-year-old daughter of one employee was deliberately abducted and shot in the leg when gunmen waiting in front of the family's home hijacked their car as it arrived. Government investigations had not produced results by November, and there was evidence that the attack may have been retribution against the U.N. center for its role in exposing abuses.
The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to monitor government prisons, but did not have a formal arrangement to monitor prisons operated by the Khmer Rouge. The UNHCR maintained a presence in Cambodia, and field protection staff closely monitored the welfare of those who returned from the border in 1993 and persons newly displaced by the continuing war. The UNHCR was considering plans to close down its field office in Battambang by the end of the year, a move that Human Rights Watch/Asia viewed with concern in light of the continuing prospects for dry season warfare and expulsions of Vietnamese residents under the new immigration law.
The Role of the
Pledges from the international community for Cambodia's development remained strong, but so did concerns about the government's ability to absorb and account for aid, and its political instability. At the March 1994 donors' conference, where a total of $773 million in pledges were confirmed overall, the U.S. pledged $29.4 million for programs under the Agency for International Development (USAID) for fiscal year 1994 and $37 million for fiscal year 1995; it also pledged an additional $6 million for de-mining activities and support.
Ambassador Charles Twining made the U.S. interest in human rights known through gestures such as attending a court hearing in the case of imprisoned editor Noun Nonn, and the embassy on several occasions expressed concern privately over serious human rights violations. USAID funded a range of democracy and human rights programs, including training of Cambodian criminal defenders and technical support for the National Assembly. Among the visitors to the U.S. that Washington sponsored were various legislators and human rights activists, but also Sar Kheng, the CPP minister of interior who is widely perceived as Hun Sen's rival and who later was suspected of complicity in the July coup attempt.
The United States and most other countries approached for military aid remained wary of providing weaponry, but considered other programs to train and professionalize the government's forces. American soldiers trained both the Cambodian Mine Action Center and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in de-mining and construction engineering. Australia began an assistance program to the fledgling Cambodian navy, and France began training a military police force that would answer directly to the prime ministers. Indonesia and Malaysia planned to train specialized military units. Countries negotiating to supply military equipment or ammunition to the Cambodian military included North Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Israel. The Khmer Rouge reportedly still have access to ample military supplies delivered before the 1991 peace accords, and have bought further weaponry on the open market and from Cambodian military forces.
Thailand continued to maintain that the government's policy was to support the elected government, not the Khmer Rouge. However, it opposed arms sales to the Cambodian government on the grounds that it would only delay the prospect of reconciliation and negotiation with the Khmer Rouge, and did not cooperate with Cambodian requests to bar access by Khmer Rouge leaders to Thailand, much less to freeze Khmer Rouge assets or extradite Khmer Rouge leaders under the new Cambodian legislation outlawing the group.
The discovery in December 1993 of a major arms cache in Thailand guarded by Khmer Rouge soldiers, some of whom had just accompanied a delivery to the border, caused a major scandal, and raised the question of whether the Thai military supported logistical aid for the guerrillas. Although no other major instances of arms supply came to light, the Khmer Rouge continued to retreat tactically into Thailand, and on some occasions appeared to attack Cambodian positions from Thai soil. Thailand has maintained an official policy of disarming and repatriating Cambodians who are displaced into Thailand.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Asia
Human Rights Watch/Asia continued to broadly assess human rights conditions in this first year of the new Cambodian government, with a particular focus on military abuses, a field in which Cambodian NGOs were less able to safely probe and report. Researchers visited Cambodia in March and August 1994 to conduct field investigations in Phnom Penh and five other provinces.
In March, Human Rights Watch/Asia investigated allegations that secret prisons continued to operate in Battambang province under the direction of military intelligence units. In view of the extreme nature of the abuses and the difficulty in gathering evidence and protecting witnesses, the organization urged international groups based in Cambodia to pursue the inquiry; the U.N. center for Human Rights field office ultimately produced a comprehensive report on the abuses. Human Rights Watch/Asia wrote privately to the prime ministers on July 6, urging that action be taken against the military officials responsible for the abuses in these secret prisons. Human Rights Watch/Asia planned to publish a report in conjunction with the Arms Project of Human Rights Watch at the close of the year on military abuses on the part of both the government and the Khmer Rouge.
The organization also produced a series of public letters to Cambodian executive and parliamentary authorities on human rights problems with proposed laws and directives, including the press law, the immigration law, the law banning the Khmer Rouge, and regulations on the registration and activities of NGOs. It also protested the arrest and imprisonment of editor Noun Nonn in July. Human Rights Watch/Asia staff participated in several conferences assessing the U.N. performance in Cambodia.