Human Rights Developments
The human rights situation continued to worsen in the third year following the withdrawal of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). Political tensions rose between the two partners in the coalition government; political violence increased, as did restrictions on freedom of the press; and a pattern of impunity continued to favor those responsible for human rights abuses, including former Khmer Rouge officials.
In March, the ruling coalition partners, the royalist party Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendent, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif (Funcinpec) and the Cambodian People=s Party (CPP), accused each other of failing to honor power-sharing agreements. Some CPP leaders also charged that the ambivalence of Funcinpec soldiers was responsible for the failure of the 1996 dry season offensive against the Khmer Rouge, which resulted in high casualties for the government soldiers, largely from landmine injuries. The war of words escalated further amid reports that both parties had moved troops into the capital, with CPP leader Hun Sen, at one point moving tanks near his residence to fend off what he claimed was a plot to assassinate him.
In one of the most dramatic developments of the year, former Khmer Rouge Deputy Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, along with two of his generals and between 1,000 and 3,000 soldiers, split with the main Khmer Rouge leadership headed by Pol Pot and entered into peace negotiations with the government. Ieng Sary had been tried in absentia in 1979 by an ad hoc tribunal called the People=s Revolutionary Court of Phnom Penh for the political killings perpetrated under Khmer Rouge rule. He was found guilty and sentenced to death, along with Pol Pot. Nevertheless, King Sihanouk, under pressure from Co-Prime Ministers Hun Sen and Prince Ranarridh, granted Ieng Sary an amnesty on September 14 following negotiations between his faction of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian government. Ieng Sary made a public case for his pardon, claiming at a press conference on September 9 that he had no responsibility for the deaths of Cambodians under Khmer Rouge rule. The amnesty was one more illustration of the pattern of impunity that has characterized Cambodia=s post-UNTAC history.
A law passed on October 26, 1994 that all but grants immunity from prosecution to government employees, including police, who commit abuses was used increasingly during the year. Under Article 51 of the Law on Civil Servants, a judge wishing to prosecute senior civil servants must file a request through the minister of justice to seek authorization from the Council of Ministers before the prosecution can proceed. Authorization from the head of the ministry involved is necessary for the prosecution of lower-ranking civil servants. An exception to the authorization process is made for civil servants who are arrested while in the act of committing a crime. The cumbersome authorization process all but ensured that government officials who abused human rights would go unpunished.
Article 51 drew criticism from the Ministry of Justice as well as from some provincial judges. However, it appeared from internal government documents that the government was not only committed to retaining this law, but that it was also proposing a similar provision for a draft law on military personnel.
The rising level of politically motivated violence was threatening to affect the local elections planned for 1997 and national elections in 1998. The opposition Khmer Nation Party (KNP), headed by former Finance Minister and National Assembly representative Sam Rainsy, opened its first offices outside of Phnom Penh in May despite government statements suggesting the party was illegal. In early May, a KNP official in Siem Reap province was fatally beaten and robbed of the registration forms of over 2,000 KNP party members, strongly suggesting a political motive for the killing. On May 17, three KNP officials were arrested by provincial police while traveling in Ang Snoul district in Kandal province to collect membership applications. The three were held for two days before they were released. Other KNP offices in Kompong Som and Prey Veng provinces and elsewhere in Kandal province were also subject to harassment, including intimidation by provincial officials and police.
On May 18, 1996, in another incident that may have been related to the attacks on the KNP, prominent journalist and KNP steering committee member Thun Bun Ly was murdered in Phnom Penh, in what appeared to be a politically motivated assassination. As of this writing there were no public results from the Ministry of Interior=s investigation into the killing. Thun Bun Ly=s death marks the first killing of a journalist in Cambodia since December 1994. He had been convicted in 1995 on charges of defamation and disinformation in two separate trials on the basis of articles published in his newspaper. He had lost his initial appeals but had appealed to the Supreme Court and was awaiting a decision. On the day that he was murdered, he had published an article in his newspaper Oudamkati Khmer (Khmer Ideal) about overhearing a threat on his life made by an officer in the anti-terrorist unit of the army.
Some officials of Funcinpec were also intimidated. Local newspapers reported in early
June that in two Siem Reap districts, Funcinpec leaders were going into hiding each night for fear of attacks after being harassed by local police. First Prime Minister Prince Ranariddh, the senior Funcinpec leader, made specific references to incidents in which Funcinpec signboards had been torn down from provincial offices and to reports that the police in Kandal province (which surrounds Phnom Penh) had tried to prevent people from watching the Funcinpec television station. Ranariddh=s public statements immediately drew a response from Second Prime Minister Hun Sen of the CPP, who, while not mentioning Ranariddh or Funcinpec by name, criticized in a speech those raising allegations of political violence.
Extrajudicial killings and torture of civilians, particularly those living in areas contested by the government and the Khmer Rouge, increased during the year. Abuses were particularly common in Battambang province, where the Khmer Rouge sought to cut Route 5, the major land route to Phnom Penh. Incidents included the arrest and torture in Battambang province of eight men in May on suspicion of carrying out activities for the Khmer Rouge. Each of these men was tortured during interrogation, resulting in the death of one of the eight. The Battambang police commissioner claimed that the man had killed himself in his cell after his interrogation by hanging himself with his own shirt and tying one end around a metal bar that was so low that he would have had to lift his legs off the ground in order to strangle himself. There were also at least five extrajudicial executions by police and soldiers in Battambang province. The victims were typically farmers who lived in villages in zones contested by the government and the Khmer Rouge.
The Cambodian government continued efforts to restrict the press. On June 28 Chan Rottana, the editor of Samleng Yuvachon Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth) and a KNP member, was imprisoned upon losing his appeal to the Supreme Court of a February 1995 conviction for disinformation under the UNTAC press law for a satirical piece he published titled ARanariddh is More Stupid than Hun Sen Three Times a Day.@ The Supreme Court also ordered that Samleng Yuvachon Khmer be shut down. Chan Rottana was released after serving one week in T-3 prison when he was pardoned by King Sihanouk. His arrest marked the first time since the U.N.-sponsored elections in 1993 that a journalist was imprisoned for the nonviolent expression of his opinions.
In another case involving a journalist, the editor of Serei Pheap Thmei (New Liberty News), Hen Vipheak, was imprisoned on August 23, when the Supreme Court upheld his conviction for disinformation. He was convicted in May 1995 for an article he published headlined ACambodia: Country of Thieves@ and for a cartoon showing Hun Sen holding a gun to Ranariddh's head. The Supreme Court ruling upheld both the decision and the municipal court=s penalty of a one-year jail term and a fine of five million riels ($US2,000), while reversing the Appeal Court's ruling that the newspaper be shut down as well. Hen Vipheak was jailed in T-3 after the Supreme Court ruling, but he too was released after a week in prison under a pardon issued by King Sihanouk, with the prior approval of the two prime ministers. Like Thun Bun Ly, Hen Vipheak was a KNP steering committee member.
The government=s disregard for press freedoms, as well as for other fundamental rights, was also demonstrated by its treatment of several ethnic Vietnamese living in Phnom Penh who were affiliated with an anti-Hanoi Vietnamese-language newspaper published in Phnom Penh called Tu Do (Freedom). In March 1996, the government deported to Vietnam three ethnic Vietnamese men affiliated with Tu Do, resulting in the closure of that newspaper. The Cambodian Ministry of Interior alleged that these men were engaged in an attempt to destabilize and overthrow the government of Vietnam but provided no supporting evidence. It was not clear whether the men were Cambodian citizens illegally expelled to Vietnam or whether they were Vietnamese citizens whom the Cambodian government sent back to certain persecution in Vietnam. In early August, there were unconfirmed reports that one of the three had been released due to serious illness; the whereabouts of the other two men were unknown as of late 1996.
The Right to Monitor
Cambodian human rights groups continued to conduct investigations into abuses around the country. In addition, they conducted human rights training courses for government employees as well as for other nongovernmental organizations.
The United Nations Human Rights Centre, which maintains an office in Phnom Penh, was able to carry out its activities without threats from the government, marking an improvement in relations between the government and the center over 1995. The term of the center was extended for two years by agreement with the Cambodian government. Justice Michael Kirby stepped down as the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for human rights in Cambodia and was replaced by Thomas Hammarberg.
The Role of the International Community
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution expressing concern over continuing abuses, including violence and intimidation directed at political parties and the press.
The U.S. and the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) criticized the increasing levels of drug trafficking in Cambodia and urged steps to control it, some of which raised human rights concerns. Among other things, the UNDCP drafted a stringent drug control law that includes provisions granting the police broad powers which, given current police practices, would increase the likelihood of arbitrary detention. Both the UNDCP and the U.S. government lobbied the Cambodian government heavily to pass the draft law, which as of late 1996 was before the National Assembly and was expected to pass easily.
Several governments, including Australia and the U.S., along with U.N. Special Representative Hammarberg, raised concerns about the increase in trafficking into prostitution of women and girls.
The European Union, meanwhile, began the process of negotiating a trade agreement with Cambodia. This first trade and cooperation agreement between the E.U. and Cambodia will include a reciprocal application of most-favored-nation treatment, development cooperation targeted on the poorest sections of the population, and protection of the environment. The agreement will be conditioned on respect for human rights and democratic principles and will require approval by the European Parliament. In June, however, following a visit to China, Cambodian First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh told the press that Cambodia will not accept conditional aid from the E.U.
The Consultative Group (CG) on Cambodia, comprising Cambodia=s major donors, met in Tokyo on July 11-12, convened by the World Bank and the Japanese government. Prior to the CG meeting and in a separate meeting the day before with the two Cambodian prime ministers, representatives of the U.S. and Australian governments raised concern over the absence of accountability for government abuses, including for human rights violations. The U.S. delegation specifically noted that Aepisodes of violence and intolerance of political expression in the past year have raised concerns about the direction Cambodia may be heading.@ The donors pressed for assurances that the 1997 and 1998 elections would go forward and be free and fair. The International Monetary Fund raised concerns that money from the sale of state forestry assets was not finding its way to the coffers of the Ministry of Finance. However, Cambodia=s main donors once again granted unconditional aid to the Royal Government of Cambodia. These pledges amounted to US$501 million, some 44 percent of the total national budget for 1997.
Prior to the CG meeting, the European Parliament passed a resolution criticizing Cambodia=s record on human rights, press freedom and the continuing destruction of forests.
The Clinton administration continued to address human rights issues largely in private. Publicly, the U.S. downplayed its concerns over the human rights situation in Cambodia, emphasizing instead that conditions represented an improvement over the period of Khmer Rouge rule. The U.S. Congress, on the other hand, was more vocal. In March, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution expressing concern about deteriorating human rights conditions in Cambodia; it urged that the issue be raised both at the donor meeting and during consideration of World Bank and Asian Development Bank projects in Cambodia. The Senate passed a similar resolution in September, focused on the projected elections and the need for continued U.N. human rights monitoring; it also sharply criticized King Sihanouk for giving Ieng Sary an amnesty that might allow him to form a political party and participate in the elections.
The U.S. Senate held up consideration of a bill granting Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status to Cambodia for several months, mainly due to concerns about human rights. Unconditional MFN was finally signed into law by President Clinton on September 25.