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April 2002 Vol. 14, No. 3 (C)






IV. Case Study: Political Violence and Intimidation in Tbong Khmum 66

Appendix A: Killings of Funcinpec and SRP party members 1616


On February 3, 2002, Cambodia held its first local elections in more than thirty years. While the general level of violence declined in comparison with the national elections of 1993 and 1998, the pre-election period was still marred by political killings, intimidation, voter coercion, and vote-buying.

The February 2002 commune elections will serve as a curtain raiser for Cambodia's next National Assembly elections, scheduled for May 2003. Given the human rights violations committed in relation to the polling, when Cambodia's Consultative Group of international donors meet in Phnom Penh on June 19-21 they should insist on a minimum set of reforms and conditions for the electoral process. Donors should not support the electoral process by providing aid or technical assistance for the national elections until the Royal Government of Cambodia takes concrete steps to reform the National Election Committee, ensure the safety of candidates and voters, end impunity for perpetrators of political violence, and take steps to ensure that the voting cannot be manipulated.

This report summarizes the major human rights issues in the commune elections, and makes recommendations for the conduct of future polls. It is based on research conducted in Cambodia by Human Rights Watch in Phnom Penh and several provinces before and after the elections, from December 2001 to April 2002.1 Human rights violations committed in conjunction with the elections included the following:

    · Threats, intimidation, arbitrary detention, and killings of activists and commune council candidates running against the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) as well as property violations against the offices and signboards of those parties.

    · Intimidation and coercion of voters, primarily through confiscation of voter registration cards and pressure to take oaths of loyalty to the CPP.

    · Denial of fair access to the state media by the parties running against the incumbent CPP.

    · Failure by the National Election Committee, the Central Security Office for the Defense of the Elections, and other governmental mechanisms with the responsibility to do so to address and penalize violations of the electoral law such as bribery, intimidation and violence.2

The report includes a detailed case study that examines two politically motivated killings that took place in Kompong Cham province in November 2001, which were followed by a sustained campaign of intimidation against opposition candidates and supporters. The case study shows the clear impact of political violence in Cambodia upon the democratic process, not just in the immediate locality of the incidents, but in the surrounding areas and beyond. It also demonstrates the continuing impunity enjoyed by members of the security forces and local officials suspected of human rights violations, and the continued importance of international pressure on national and local authorities to take action against perpetrators.


To the Cambodian government:

    · Take all possible steps to ensure the security of all elected national and commune-level officials, irrespective of party affiliation, and the security of all candidates and their supporters during election campaigns.

    · Ensure that all persons implicated in political violence or human rights abuses are brought to trial promptly and receive fair trials as guaranteed under Cambodian law and international human rights treaties to which Cambodia is a state party.

    · Reform the composition and functions of the National Election Committee (NEC), together with its provincial and commune-level subcommittees, before it commences its new five-year mandate in September 2002. Reforms should include:

          · Revising committee memberships to prevent control by any political party;
          · Improving and strengthening procedures for the NEC and its subcommittees to investigate and penalize electoral offenses;
          · Improve the NEC's internal reporting mechanisms and transparency, and its coordination with local and international monitors.

    · Guarantee effective exercise of the right to freedom of expression for all candidates and their supporters during election campaigns.

    · Establish new mechanisms, whether within the NEC or a separate body, to ensure full and unfettered access to broadcast media to all political parties during election campaigns.

    · Establish and implement a fair and transparent system for the allocation of radio and television broadcast licences.

    · Ensure that the sanctions provided under Cambodia's election law are imposed promptly on any political parties that coerce or otherwise unduly pressure citizens to join or pledge to vote for them.

    · Ensure that those responsible for the killings of Thon Phally and Phoung Sophat in Tbong Khmum district of Kompong Cham, cited in this report, are brought to justice promptly and fairly. In doing so, the relevant authorities should, in particular:

          · Assume responsibility for summoning witnesses to the court;
          · Intensify efforts to apprehend the remaining suspects in the killings, and ensure that they are not receiving protection from individuals within the Cambodian military;
          · Take necessary measures to ensure the safety of witnesses in these cases and other victims of ongoing intimidation in Tbong Khmum;
          · Ensure the security of Kompong Cham and Tbong Khmum political activists in the run-up to the 2003 national elections.

To Cambodia's international donors and others in the international community:

    · Continue to support Cambodian civil society organisations, in particular independent nongovernmental election monitoring and human rights groups, in order to assist them to effectively monitor and report on post-commune election violence, intimidation, reprisals and the run up to the 2003 national elections; and to press for investigations into alleged violations and prosecutions.

    · Call on the Cambodian government to guarantee fair access to the broadcast media by all political parties, particularly during election campaigns, as an essential prerequisite for ensuring that voters have access to the widest possible range of information when determining how to exercise their democratic choice.

    · Press the Cambodian government to ensure the prompt prosecution of any persons implicated in political violence or human rights abuses.

1 Provinces visited during the election campaign included Battambang, Kandal, Siem Reap, Kompong Cham and Pailin municipality.

2 Cambodia's National Election Committee (NEC) is mandated by the election law to organize, oversee and monitor all aspects of the elections from registration of voters, parties and candidates to ultimately verifying the accuracy of the final tally. The government established the Central Security Office for the Defense of the Commune Elections in August 2001, after receiving heavy criticism from donors, human rights groups and the U.N. about a rash of political killings from donor countries. Presided over by Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, it includes representatives from the interior and defense ministries, national police, military and the NEC.

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