Human Rights Developments
Daw Suu and more than 200 other political prisoners were released in 1995, but at least 1,000 people, including sixteen members of parliament elected in 1990_all representing Daw Suu's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD)_remained in jail, and there were new political arrests. In February, nine students were arrested at the funeral of former prime minister U Nu when they began singing a pro-democracy anthem and were later sentenced to seven years in prison. A month later, six more students were arrested for allegedly obstructing soldiers preparing for Armed Forces Day. In June, four veteran politicians in their late sixties were arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison. On September 27, a student, Ye Htut, was arrested for having sent information to Burmese abroad; as of November, his trial was still pending. All of these people were tried under Section 5 (j) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, for "spreading false news about the government."
The treatment of those detained remained an issue of concern. Two of the students were known to have been beaten immediately after their arrest, but the fate of the other is not known. In June, Dr. Thida, a twenty-nine-year-old medical doctor who was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment in 1993 under the 1950 Act, was reported to have contracted tuberculosis while in Rangoon's Insein jail. She was also diagnosed in June as needing surgery to remove ovarian cysts. Dr. Thida reportedly received inadequate medical treatment.
The year opened with a renewed offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU) following a split within the KNU and the formation of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which was supported by the SLORC. By January 27, the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw near the confluence of the Salween and Moei rivers had fallen, and on February 23 the KNU retreated from its base at Kawmoora. Since early November 1994, the SLORC army had arrested as many as 5,000 men from towns and villages in the Karen and Mon states and even from Rangoon to work as porters in preparation for this offensive. Although the offensive was relatively short, scores, and possibly hundreds, of forced porters are believed to have died from beatings or exhaustion compounded by lack of food. Others were caught in the cross fire during the fighting or were killed by landmines laid by both the SLORC and the KNU.
In early February the offensive took a new turn as DKBA and SLORC troops launched the first of several raids into refugee camps in Thailand. There were already more than 70,000 refugees in these camps, joined by some 10,000 people after the fall of Manerplaw. Many camps were situated along the banks of the Salween and Moei rivers, which mark the border between Burma and Thailand, and were easily accessible by the DKBA/SLORC troops. The raids, which were intended to terrify the refugees into returning to Burma, continued from February to May. They left fifteen refugees and Thai civilians dead, scores injured, and at least 1,000 houses in different camps razed. In addition, the DKBA/SLORC forces kidnaped more than twenty-five individuals and took them back to Burma at gunpoint, forcing hundreds of others to return through a campaign of fear and intimidation (see Thailand section). Following its defeat in these areas, the KNU made several offers to the SLORC to engage in cease-fire talks. While there were meetings between the two sides, at the end of October there was no sign of any progress.
Talks with other ethnic groups were more successful, but the weakness of the military cease-fires as solutions to long-term ethnic insurgencies became apparent as the SLORC failed to deliver the promises of reconciliation and economic development that formed the basis of the agreements. Moreover, the SLORC continued to refuse to discuss lasting political solutions with the ethnic groups, claiming that as a temporary, military government, it had no authority to discuss political matters.
In the Karenni State, the Karenni Nationalities Progressive Party (KNPP) signed a cease-fire agreement at a ceremony in Loikaw on March 21, making it the fourth and final armed group in the Karenni State to do so. But on June 28, the KNPP issued a statement claiming that the SLORC had broken the terms of the agreement by sending an additional 2,000 troops into its territory and continuing to take porters from the area. Two days later, fighting broke out after the SLORC launched an attack on the KNPP headquarters near the Thai border. The SLORC insisted that the offensive was launched in order to chase away illegal Thai loggers and to secure a route through the KNPP territory to that of drug warlord Khun Sa. In later addresses, the SLORC also claimed that it had positioned so many troops in the area, close to the Thai border, because of possible threats to national security during the time of the general election in Thailand.
During the fighting some porters escaped into Thailand, but these were relatively few, given the total numbers believed to have been taken in Loikaw township alone. Those who did arrive in Thailand told of witnessing the deaths of fellow porters from landmines, stories which were confirmed by medical workers who reported that in just one day seven porters arrived in a refugee camp all close to death as a result of landmine injuries. These reports led observers to believe that landmines planted by both sides may have killed many porters who fled.
The fighting died down during the rainy season in August and September, though skirmishes were still reported. By October, despite the arrival of SLORC intermediaries in Thailand, there was no sign of any new settlement, and the KNPP claimed that the SLORC was preparing for a major offensive against it and had brought in a further 6,000 troops.
In the south, the New Mon State Party (NMSP) signed a cease-fire on June 29. Discussions that had started between the NMSP and the SLORC in 1993 were helped in 1995 by three intermediaries, one of whom was an elected member of parliament for the Mon National Democratic Front who had been in jail from 1991 until November 1994. While the agreement itself, like all other previous agreements, was not made public, it was known to have included the right of NMSP troops to retain their arms within twenty small circles of territory. However, the SLORC did not agree to the right of the Mon to receive developmental assistance from international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Thailand, nor were there clear decisions made on rights to the natural resources of the area, especially logging and fishing rights. The agreement did include a program to repatriate the 11,000 Mon refugees in Thailand, with no international monitoring or guarantees of safety on return, fueling speculation that Thailand had played a major part in pressuring the Mon to accept the terms.
In the northeast, fighting continued against drug warlord Khun Sa in the Shan State. In January the SLORC had announced its resolve to crush his Muang Tai Army (MTA) by the end of the year. SLORC had also made this promise in 1994, but by October the much-heralded final offensive had not materialized. However, Khun Sa suffered a major blow in August when one of his military commanders broke off to form his own Shan nationalist group, taking between 1,000 and 2,000 troops with him. Then, in September, the United Wa State Party, a group that has had a cease-fire agreement with the SLORC since 1989, joined in the attack against Khun Sa, allegedly in order to secure its own stake in the drug trafficking market.
As in other areas, the Burmese army impressed thousands of civilians to work as porters in the offensive against Khun Sa. In January, indiscriminate aerial bombardments by the SLORC forced hundreds of people to flee from villages near Kengtung, and in March and April heavy fighting forced others to seek refuge in Thailand (see Thailand section).
At the same time, inside the Karen State, thousands of villagers living in areas where the Karen had been active were forcibly relocated to areas under DKBA/SLORC control. At first these relocations were restricted to areas in Hlaingbwe township near the DKBA headquarters, but by July relocations were also reported to have taken place as far south as Kyaukkyi, Kawkereik and Pa-an townships. Relocated families either were forced to live in encampments guarded by the army, or they fled to the forests. From the camps, they were forced to work as laborers on road-building and other infrastructural projects for the army.
Indeed, forced labor was endemic in Burma. As the SLORC sought to open up the economy to international investors, it forced tens of thousands of civilians and prisoners to rebuild the country's long-neglected infrastructure. During the year, scores of people died on such projects from beatings, lack of medical care and food, and sheer exhaustion. In the southwest, at the site of the Rangoon-Kyaukpyu road in Arakan State, at least twelve people died during December 1994 and January 1995 from untreated fevers. In the far north, some 3,000 people were taken from Putao, Kachin State, in late 1994 to work at a remote site on the Putao-Sumprabum road. After walking for six days to reach the site, they found that the rice supplies that had been promised by the army had not arrived, and they had to walk back. Many died on the journey from malaria and other diseases, exacerbated by lack of food. In the northwest, soldiers supervising the work killed a woman working on the Pakokku-Kalemyo railway line in Chin State after she had stopped working twice to feed her young baby. In the south, in Mon State, two to three families each week fled from the site of the Ye-Tavoy railway to refugee camps in Thailand.
In Arakan, Burma's most western state, refugees who had fled into neighboring Bangladesh in 1992 returned to Burma. Of the 270,000 refugees, only 40,000 remained in camps by October, though it was unclear how many of these would eventually be accepted by the Burmese authorities. Despite the presence of fifteen UNHCR staff in Arakan and two NGOs running programs to reintegrate the refugees, reports continued of abuses of Muslims, especially of those Muslims who had not left Burma in 1992. In their Bulletin of June, the UNHCR claimed that it had succeeded in getting an agreement to limit the amount of forced labor for returnees to one day a week. However, the government had plans to build more than 1,200 miles of road in the area, and it was unclear how the UNHCR would be able to monitor the many forced labor sites in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. Muslims who remained in 1992 were also subject to forced relocations and forced labor and religious persecution, and villages in Mro Haung and Myauk Oo townships were forced to move to Buthidaung, forming a Muslim enclave on the border with Bangladesh.
Following Daw Suu's release from house arrest in July, members of her party, the NLD, were able to visit her freely. Among her first visitors were former chairmen of the NLD, U Tin Oo and U Kyi Maung, who had been released from jail in March. She was also able to meet foreign journalists, ambassadors and other international representatives, including the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright, who visited in early September. Daw Su's international profile was enhanced by the showing of a videotaped speech she gave to open the NGO Forum of the U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing. Daw Suu also held regular Sunday morning gatherings outside her home, at which up to 200 people would come to hear her speak. She made her first trip outside Rangoon on October 4, visiting the famous Thanmanyat monk in the Karen State. In press interviews Daw Suu continued to take a reconciliatory line, calling on the SLORC to begin dialogue with her. On October 11, the NLD re-elected Daw Suu, U Tin Oo and U Kyi Maung as general secretary and vice-chairmen of the party respectively. This was a move intended to deprive the SLORC of their main justification for not talking to her: she was not just an ordinary individual, but re-instated as a party representative.
The National Convention, the SLORC's constitutional assembly, had begun deliberations on a new constitution in January 1993, sat for six months from September 1994 to March 1995 and was then suspended for six months until October 24. Nearly 600 of the 700 delegates were hand-picked by the SLORC. During this session, the question of representation at the local and national level for ethnic groups was discussed, including representation for those groups that were not included under previous constitutions_the most contentious issue for Burma's political future. Despite strong statements opposing the government proposals by ethnic representatives and members of the NLD, the National Convention approved the formula of 'self-administered zones' entitling groups to one representative in the House of Nationalities. In early October the convention was again postponed for a further month, leading analysts to suggest that the SLORC feared an NLD walk-out if Daw Suu was not invited to attend the convention.
The Right to Monitor
U.N. bodies, however, were given limited access. In January the International Labor Organization conducted a preliminary mission to investigate the government's compliance with Article 87 of the ILO Convention concerning freedom of association. By the end of the year, however, the ILO had not decided to conduct a formal mission. In October, U.N. Special Rapporteur to Burma Prof. Yozo Yokota went to Burma for the fourth consecutive year and met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time; his previous requests to see her had all been denied.
At the same time, the government refused to allow international monitoring of prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced on June 16 that it would close its office in Rangoon the following month due to the failure of negotiations with the SLORC on allowing the ICRC regular and confidential access to prisoners.
The Role of the International Community
The efforts of the secretary-general's office failed to receive adequate support from the international community. No governments took concerted action to exert pressure on the SLORC to ensure that the resolution's recommendations were implemented. Indeed, when the SLORC launched its attack against the KNU, just days after the resolution was passed, only the U.S. government reacted with a strong statement, condemning the use of civilian porters in the January offensive. In mid-February, the European Union issued a similar statement, but days later the German Deputy Foreign Minister, Helmut Schaefer visited Rangoon to continue the policy of "critical dialogue" adopted by the European Union in 1994.
Worse yet, governments did not back up their rhetoric on Burma by denying the SLORC the benefit of bilateral aid and investment. Instead, at the end of February, the British embassy in Rangoon launched the second "British Week" aimed at encouraging British business in Burma. On March 18_as the SLORC-backed DKBO attacks on refugees in Thailand were at their height_Japan announced an agreement to give Burma an $11 million grant for "agricultural development." In April, Tokyo also granted Burma debt relief worth $4 million.
Following the release of Daw Suu in July, the attitude of some governments toward the SLORC further softened_notably Japan, which had previously maintained support for the international consensus on Burma. Differences in approach emerged even on the day of her release, with Western countries reacting in a spirit of "cautious optimism" and Asian governments, such as Japan and Thailand, welcoming the move as "substantive progress." Later, Tokyo indicated it planned to resume some Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects suspended in principle since 1998 (see Japan section). South Korea also rewarded the SLORC with a government loan of $16.8 million in October.
China continued to be a key supporter of the SLORC. The relationship was enhanced by the visit to Rangoon of Chinese Premier Li Peng in December 1994, followed by a flurry of diplomatic trips between the two countries during the year, including a delegation of 150 Burmese officials and businessmen who took part in the Yunnan trade fair in August. Arms supplies remained a crucial element of the Sino-Burmese relationship. Throughout the year, arms shipments arrived in Rangoon from a November 1994 deal reportedly including $400 million worth of helicopters, armored vehicles, rifles and parachutes. Several Chinese naval vessels, purchased with a $40 million interest-free loan, also arrived in June.
The ever increasing closeness between China and Burma was disquieting for Burma's other neighbors, notably India, and prompted India to reopen official border trade in April for the first time since the 1962 military coup. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) also sought to increase its economic influence in Burma, and by March Singapore had become the second largest investor, with projects totaling $294 million.
However, relations with Thailand, which had been the originator of ASEAN's "constructive engagement" policy, soured during the year. When DKBA/SLORC troops attacked refugees, Thai police and villagers in Thailand, the Thai government maintained a policy of appeasement, barely even criticizing the SLORC for the attacks. The SLORC, on the other hand, showed no such restraint in condemning what it saw as Thailand's un-neighborly acts. It accused Thailand of supporting Khun Sa by allowing his forces to seek medical care and obtain food supplies in Thailand, and in August the SLORC condemned the murder of a Burmese fisherman by his Thai bosses, who were also illegally fishing in Thai waters. The construction of the Mae Sot-Myawaddy "Friendship Bridge" was suspended in June, and by September all border crossings between the two countries were closed.
Nevertheless, Thailand still supported the SLORC in its bid to become a member of ASEAN. Bangkok's position was made public at the ASEAN Ministerial Conference in July when Foreign Minister U Ohn Gyaw acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, the first step towards membership. During the ASEAN meeting, Australia and the European Union urged the ASEAN countries not to grant Burma membership too rapidly, insisting that the SLORC needed to do much more than release Daw Suu. But the ASEAN governments ignored this warning and arranged for a special conference to take place in December to assess ways in which they could facilitate Burma's and Cambodia's entry into the forum in the shortest possible time. In the U.S., the Clinton administration faced congressional pressure to respond to the "further deterioration of human rights in Burma," as described by sixty-one members of the House of Representatives in a letter to President Clinton on June 1, 1995. On June 21, the administration announced that it would reward SLORC's cooperation in allowing the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to undertake a joint opium yield survey by stepping up some forms of anti-narcotics assistance to Burma. This included an agreement to provide limited in-country training for SLORC's anti-narcotics enforcement agencies as well as an exchange of information on anti-drug operations.This decision contradicted earlier administration statements that without progress on each of the three fronts of human rights, democratization, and narcotics control, an upgrading of U.S. cooperation could not take place. In June, the House of Representatives adopted by a decisive 359-38 vote an amendment to the fiscal year 1996 foreign appropriations bill prohibiting anti-narcotics assistance to Burma, including training. As of the end of October, the bill was still awaiting final approval by Congress.
Following the release of Daw Suu, President Clinton issued a statement welcoming the news but expressing "concern about a number of serious and unresolved human rights problems in Burma." The White House then dispatched Ambassador Albright to visit Daw Suu and senior members of the SLORC in early September. She delivered a tough message, calling for "fundamental progress toward democracy and respect for human rights" before relations with the U.S. could be improved or the U.S. would consider lifting the ban on World Bank loans to Burma imposed since 1988.
However, while the State Department did not rule out the possibility of further economic sanctions, such as prohibitions on private U.S. investment, the administration took no moves to implement this option. By 1995, the U.S. was the fourth largest investor in Burma, with investment primarily in the oil sector, totaling some $203 million. An abortive attempt to impose comprehensive sanctions, including a ban on all U.S. investment in Burma, was led by Senator Mitch McConnell, who introduced legislation in July. But he failed in his attempt to insert the bill as a last minute amendment to the 1996 foreign aid legislation.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Asia
Human Rights Watch/Asia published three reports on Burma during the year. The first, Burma/Thailand: The Mon_Persecuted in Burma, Forced out by Thailand, was published in December 1994 and documented abuses by the Burmese army of forced laborers on the Ye-Tavoy railway and the history of the treatment that refugees from the area received in Thailand. A second report released on March 27, Abuses since the Fall of Manerplaw, was based on research in Thailand in January and February and included testimony from more than fifty men who had been taken to work as porters for the army. The third report, Entrenchment or Reform?: Human Rights Developments and the Need for Continued International Pressure, released on July 26, assessed the human rights situation in light of the release of Daw Suu.
Human Rights Developments
Low-level war with the Khmer Rouge continued. In late 1994 and continuing into 1995, the guerrillas shifted tactics, directly attacking civilian settlements in an effort to exacerbate internal displacement and food shortages. A stream of defections from Khmer Rouge ranks continued even after the official amnesty period expired, and some defectors reported that in response the guerrilla leadership mounted purges and stepped up extrajudicial executions of those it deemed disloyal. The kidnaping of civilians for profit and political advantage continued to be a staple Khmer Rouge tactic, and finally came to the attention of the international community when a series of young Europeans were abducted, and in some cases, killed. The Khmer Rouge continued to engage in and endorse the planting of landmines and hidden booby traps even while the government declared a ban on the use of landmines, a ban that has not been scrupulously enforced. Both sides to the conflict engaged in instances of rape and widespread pillage, in contravention of the international laws of war.
The government outlawed the Khmer Rouge in July 1994, and the first prosecutions under the law took place at the conclusion of a statutory amnesty period in February 1995 (amnesties for voluntary military defectors, however, continued). These cases, involving two men accused of laying mines in Battambang, realized fears that the law could be misused for abusive prosecutions. The accused, both returnees from a Khmer Rouge border camp in Thailand, were convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years of imprisonment each, although the govern-ment's case rested on confessions obtained by torture; the cases are now on appeal on the basis of numerous substantive and procedural flaws. The political pressures and lack of due process evident in these trials cast in an ominous light the tendency of government authorities to accuse all critics of being "Khmer Rouge," an accusation voiced by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen as recently as September 23.
Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister and member of the royalist FUNCINPEC party and the most prominent political critic of the government, came in for repeated attack throughout the year, including threats to his life and safety that appeared to emanate from the highest levels of the government. In March 1995, the government withdrew his bodyguards, some of whom later left the Ministry of Interior and continued in Sam Rainsy's private employ. In May, the FUNCINPEC party expelled Rainsy in an irregular proceeding, and on June 22, the National Assembly expelled him as a parliamentarian, despite concerns raised as to the legality of such a move by the Interparliamentary Union, the U.N. Special Representative, former U.N. officials closely involved with the drafting of Cambodia's constitution and election law, and legislators around the world. On the night of July 13-14, three of Rainsy's bodyguards and another man were abducted and taken to a Ministry of Defense installation where several dozen soldiers beat one and pointed guns at their heads, demanding that they identify Rainsy as a "Khmer Rouge."
The government confirms that the four men were interrogated, but denies there was any wrongdoing and claims that they spontaneously and inexplicably drove to the military base on their own accord.
Sam Rainsy's expulsion opened the prospect that other independent legislators would be stripped of their position and their parliamentary immunity. In July, a rift opened in the small Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) between Ieng Mouly, currently minister of information, and Son Sann, the party's founder. Ieng Mouly called an ad hoc party congress (boycotted by Son Sann's supporters) at which his faction voted to expel Son Sann's from the executive committee and announced a vote of "no confidence" in Son San and five other BLDP members; the Ieng Mouly faction subsequently voted to expel the six in August, among them four sitting legislators. The prime ministers recognized Ieng Mouly as the new party leader and warned Son Sann not to proceed with his own party congress unless he first reconciled with Ieng Mouly. Son Sann's group went ahead with plans, asking the Interior Ministry for protection, which was denied. On the evening before the congress, September 30, grenades were thrown at a pagoda and at the party headquarters where Son Sann's supporters had gathered, injuring between thirty and fifty bystanders. The meeting proceeded anyway on October 1, with more than a thousand participants crowding the party headquarters and the street outside. Government military police, however, waited until the U.S. ambassador had left the meeting and then dispersed most of the participants on the excuse that they were blocking street traffic; the police then cordoned off the street.
Although government officials strongly condemned the attacks by unknown perpetrators, these statements rang hollow in view of the government's condemnation of Son Sann's plans to go ahead with the meeting against its wishes. Both Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Information Ieng Mouly prior to the incident had predicted that were the meeting to go ahead, agitators might disrupt it by throwing "grenades." Once the attacks occurred, broadcast stations reported they were told to limit their coverage of the meeting to a government-provided script that implied Son Sann was to blame for rejecting government protection at party headquarters. In fact, BLDP members had asked the government for protection and permission to hold the meeting at the Olympic Stadium, and they moved it to party headquarters only after these requests were denied.
Government efforts to control the press included criminal prosecution as well as intimidation. In February, the Phnom Penh municipal court sentenced Chan Rotana, the editor of Samleng Yu Vachon Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth) to a year of prison and a U.S. $2,000 fine for publishing a cartoon of First Prime Minister Ranariddh carting a bag of money on his head and an essay that criticized him as both autocratic and subservient to Hun Sen; his appeal was rejected in October but he will appeal to the Supreme Court. Thun Bun Ly, the editor of Odom K'tek Khmer (Khmer Ideal) was charged with "disinformation" for five articles and editorial cartoons that satirized government leaders; mid-trial, the prosecution added the charge of defamation over the objection of defense counsel. He was convicted of all charges, fined approximately $4,000 and ordered to spend two years in jail should he fail to pay; the court also ordered his newspaper closed pending appeal. The government confirmed it was pressing charges against at least five other newspapers that had yet to receive official notice; one was the English-language Phnom Penh Post. The government also acted during the year to confiscate print runs and suspend publication of several critical newspapers, all under dubious legal authority, and banned from the country two foreign correspondents from the French newspaper Libération who had reported on atrocities by government military personnel in the northwest. According to the Phnom Penh Post, the government has also tried to limit the influence of critical reporting by forbidding teachers to discuss politics or use newspaper articles critical of the government in teaching foreign languages.
After intensive pressure from the international community and King Sihanouk, the government did free six men who had been arrested for tying petitions onto balloons at the time of U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher's visit to Phnom Penh in August.
The most recent journalist to be murdered was Chan Dara, who was shot to death on the night of December 8, 1994, just after he was seen leaving a restaurant in Kampong Cham with a colonel named Sath Soeun. A correspondent with the newspaper Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace), Chan Dara had also published exposés of corrupt timber and rubber deals by government and military figures, among them Sat Soeun, in the paper Preap Noam Sar (The Carrier Pigeon). Ministry of Interior police arrested Sat Soeun, who still continued to send threats to the two papers and to Chan Dara's wife. The colonel, however, was acquitted at trial and released, although two other serious criminal charges were still pending against him. The government has not apprehended any further suspects in the case. Violence directed at journalists continued when a grenade exploded in front of the office of Damneung Pelpreuk (Morning News) on September 7, exactly a year from the date that Noun Chan, former editor of Samleng Yu Vachun Khmer, was gunned down in public by still-unknown perpetrators. Although a neighbor was hit by shrapnel, Damneung Pelpreuk editor Nguon Nonn was upstairs at the time.
The threat to the press was not lightened by a new press law adopted in July that left open the possibility of criminal prosecution for material that negatively "affects national security or political stability." The government has usually prosecuted journalists under criminal "misinformation" or "defamation" charges, with judges typically refusing to make distinctions between articles purporting to report fact and opinion pieces or editorials. The new law also gives government ministries broad powers to suspend or confiscate publications. Positive features of the new law include a prohibition on pre-publication censorship and guidelines for access to official information.
Other legal developments included the passage of a law establishing the Supreme Council of Magistracy, a body charged with ensuring the independence and integrity of the judiciary and supervising the appointment, promotion and discipline of judges and prosecutors. The law, however, gives the minister of justice or his representative a place on the council, which some observers feared might perpetuate the ministry's close direction of the judiciary. A council stipulated by the Cambodian constitution to rule on the constitutionality of laws and government decisions had yet to be created, although King Sihanouk had put forward his nominations two years before. The government supported programs designed to help professionalize the legal system and to improve military accountability, although the actual impact of these programs has yet to be measured.
The justice system remained plagued by corruption, however, and government officials, particularly police and military, continued with rare exceptions to enjoy virtual impunity for criminal behavior. Symptomatic of this was the way an official inquiry into the behavior of military intelligence officers accused of abducting, extorting and murdering civilians in the northwest stalled this year. Following several trips by a special commission of inquiry to Battambang province that interviewed witnesses in this sensitive case in the presence of the military and a press corps, the commission concluded that the temple of Che K'mau was not being used as a "secret prison" for victims. This conclusion hardly closed the matter, as human rights monitors had alleged that imprisonment and murders had taken place in a variety of locations in Battambang over a period of at least eighteen months.
Cold-blooded murder of ethnic Vietnamese civilians in Cambodia continued, with the Khmer Rouge the likely perpetrators in most instances. On May 20, approximately thirty men identified as Khmer Rouge killed four ethnic Vietnamese, one Khmer policeman, and wounded at least five others in Phat Sandai village in Kompong Thom province. In September, another band of men identified as Khmer Rouge attacked the floating village of Tonle Chhmar in Siem Reap province, killing an as yet unconfirmed number of ethnic Khmer and Vietnamese civilians. Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia also faced harassment from the government, as local officials confiscated identity documents and drew up plans for large-scale confinement of ethnic Vietnamese as "illegal aliens" pending repatriation. Although local officials sometimes hindered international delegations from gaining access to ethnic Vietnamese who were stranded at the Vietnamese border at Chrey Thom since 1993, by mid-year the government had agreed to allow a small number of these families to return to their homes in Cambodia.
In September, First Prime Minister Ranariddh called for reinstatement of the death penalty in Cambodia for drug trafficking and murder during robberies and abductions. The Cambodian constitution currently forbids the use of the death penalty, and King Sihanouk went on record as opposing its reintroduction.
The Right to Monitor
Human rights groups continued to raise concern over abuses despite the worsening political atmosphere and persistent government attempts to register and monitor their members and activities. Important work continued in prison monitoring, education, and investigations, with groups often able to interact constructively with government authorities as advocates or intermediaries. The independence and vigor of the Cambodian nongovernmental movement was reflected in a series of international conferences hosted in Phnom Penh during the year, among them an international conference on the banning of landmines, a regional conference on child prostitution, and several other conferences that raised human rights in the context of environment and development problems.
However, the government's increasing intolerance of criticism produced an intimidating atmosphere for all groups. In the days following the international donors' meeting in April, the prime ministers called for the closure of the U.N. Human Rights Centre office in Phnom Penh, a request that was withdrawn under intense local and international pressure. The government, however, continued to criticize Justice Michael Kirby, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general. Justice Kirby's detailed reports on the human rights situation and his frank criticism of serious abuses led the government to complain it had been inadequately consulted; nevertheless, the prime ministers were unavailable to meet with Kirby on his most recent visit.
Kem Sokha, the head of the National Assembly's human rights commission, also received death threats at various points in the year and became a target of condemnation by both prime ministers, particularly Hun Sen who in July called for his removal as commission chairman. Other members of the commission who come from the two governing coalition parties were instructed by their party leadership to cease cooperating with Kem Sokha in investigations of human rights complaints and other matters. Kem Sokha is also one of the six BLDP members who have been "expelled" from the party on the initiative of Ieng Mouly.
The Role of the International Community
The ASEAN countries that were investors in Cambodia, particularly Malaysia, assumed more prominent influence as the government concluded major deals with them, such as logging concessions, a casino project, and an airlines contract; this support was especially important as an alternative source of government revenue apart from international aid. International donors, on the other hand, expressed concerns regarding the government's accountability and transparency at the 1995 donors' conference, and a proposal for a special working group to address these concerns was aired, but at years' end not implemented. Japan, Cambodia's largest aid donor, protested the government's request to close the Phnom Penh office of the U.N. Human Rights Centre, but otherwise kept a low profile on human rights issues.
Thailand continued to play a pivotal role in the Cambodian conflict, diplomatically supporting the Royal Government on the one hand, while continuing to allow trade in logs and gems across its borders, a critical and vast source of revenue for the Khmer Rouge. According to the London-based environmental monitor Global Witness, Thailand was still issuing import permits for logging businesses operating in Cambodia that inevitably pay the Khmer Rouge protection money for safe passage of their haul. The summary of the U.S. administration's report to Congress on Thai military support for the Khmer Rouge (the only unclassified part of the document) acknowledged "unofficial" contacts between Thai military personnel and the Khmer Rouge, "generally in the context of business transactions."
In its March 1995 report Cambodia at War, Human Rights Watch documented gross violations of the international laws of war committed by both sides and called on all nations to halt aid and trade in arms and military equipment to the parties. Among the nations that have supplied arms to the Khmer Rouge in the past were China and Thailand; the guerrillas still draw on these stockpiles and buy current supplies from local arms brokers who sometimes deal in weapons intended for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). The RCAF, in turn, has purchased military supplies and upgrades from North Korea, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Israel, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia since 1994.
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution expressing concern about the continuing serious violations of human rights and requested Special Representative Michael Kirby to present a report to the General Assembly and to the 1996 session of the commission.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Asia
In March, on the eve of the Paris donors' meeting, Human Rights Watch/Asia issued a major report titled Cambodia at War. The book-length report detailed grave military abuses on both sides and the increasing constraints placed upon the press. It called upon participants in the donors' meeting to insist on accountability and transparency in Cambodia's justice system, and called on all nations to cease supplying the warring sides with weapons. Human Rights Watch/Asia also sent numerous letters and press releases concerning the press law and legal actions against journalists to the Cambodian authorities throughout the year. In September, the organization followed up with a short report on the government's actions against the press and published an English translation of Cambodia's new press law. Human Rights Watch/Asia staff met with visiting Cambodian officials and explained its concerns on these issues. Throughout the year, Human Rights Watch/Asia urged U.S. and other government representatives to protest human rights abuses. The organization provided extensive information on Cambodia's human rights situation to the U.S. House and Senate committees considering bills that would grant Cambodia Most Favored Nation Trading status and urged that any grant be accompanied by a requirement that the president report at least once a year on human rights developments, in addition to the annual report on human rights prepared by the State Department.