Cambodia's culture of impunity starts with the fact that no Khmer Rouge leader has been called to account for crimes against humanity committed from 1975 to 1979, atrocities which are beyond the scope of this report.
Impunity in Cambodia is prevalent in all phases of the law enforcement and judicial processes. It has been called the single most important obstacle to efforts to establish the rule of law in Cambodia.170 Governmental institutions such as the judiciary, military, and the police force face huge challenges caused by the devastation of the Khmer Rouge years and ensuing civil war, as well as the lack of resources and funds allocated to criminal justice. However, the lack of accountability of state agents for human rights violations and crimes cannot be solved solely by an infusion of material resources and funds for technical training.
A key problem is the lack of political will and determination by the government to prosecute known perpetrators of human rights violations and criminal offenses, cases that have been extensively documented by local and international human rights organizations and the United Nations. Investigations by the government's Human Rights Committee have resulted in few arrests or prosecutions in regard to more than 130 killings and "disappearances" reported to the committee by the Cambodia Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (COHCHR) since March 1997.171
In fact, the U.N. special representative for human rights in Cambodia stated in his February 1999 report to the United Nations Human Rights Commission that "powerful elements within the police and military" have blocked investigations into political killings and other abuses. The problem of impunity will not be resolved, he said, "until the political leadership clearly demonstrates that no one is protected."172
Others point to the lack of long-range vision by political leaders, who they say are largely acting in the interest of short-term profit to themselves. "The leadership of this country does not have a long vision," said one NGO leader. "People here are only trained to address the present and never put the past together with the future. The political culture is based on the fact that we have had five different regimes in twenty years. Each time we go back to the starting point, everything completely changes, and we have a new group of people in charge who don't continue the work of the previous team. Instead they operate based on their own sense of materialism and greed."173
Citizens and members of civil society also bear part of the responsibility to demand an end to impunity, thereby holding public officials accountable. The Cambodian NGO leader commented: "It seems that Cambodia has a very short memory — it's rare that we talk about the  grenade attack anymore, or the street demonstrations of 1998. Even a recent case in Phnom Penh where two girls were raped, beaten and killed by a perpetrator who had high-level connections — today, that case doesn't exist anymore; it's like it disappeared into thin air. It's only the international community who brings these incidents up. We should be the ones to remember these incidents every month, to recall that the government hasn't come up with any solutions, any investigations. The major donors should be aware that they are funding a country with such a long list [of violations]; a place where the government says they are `working on it.'"174
In order to ensure that all citizens are equal before the law and that everyone must be equally accountable should they commit crimes, it is crucial that governmental bodies maintain their neutrality. "The judiciary, army, civil administration, and police must all be independent from politics," said Prum Sokha, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior. "The politicians should not be able to direct or dictate the process. Everything must follow the regulations, the law. In Cambodia they often confuse policy with politics. A politician gives a speech stating his own opinion and the next day it's perceived as policy, a new law. The administration must be neutral and independent to insure that impunity is stopped."175
Cambodia's criminal justice system clearly bears the scars of decades of warfare, the devastation of the Khmer Rouge regime, and economic isolation by the international community. However, impunity cannot be attributed to these factors alone. With the end of the civil war, now more than ever it is incumbent upon the government to provide more leadership, vision, and action in order to bring violators to justice. This will help end the cycle of impunity by clearly demonstrating to the public that offenders cannot expect to continue evading justice.170 "Situation of human rights in Cambodia: Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia," Commission on Human Rights, February 26, 1999. 171 See "Situation of human rights in Cambodia: Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia," Commission on Human Rights, February 26, 1999. 172 "Situation of human rights in Cambodia: Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia," Commission on Human Rights, February 26, 1999. See also Joe Cochrane, "Probes into killings `blocked,'" South China Morning Post, April 23, 1999. 173 Human Rights Watch interview with NGO leader who requested anonymity, Phnom Penh, April 1999. 174 Human Rights Watch interview with NGO leader who requested anonymity, Phnom Penh, April 1999. 175 Human Rights Watch interview with Prum Sokha, secretary of state, Ministry of Interior, Phnom Penh, April 1999.
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