XVII. CASE STUDY: ARREST AND TORTURE OF HIGHLANDERS DEPORTED FROM CAMBODIA
They beat us over our whole body, including our heads. They beat our fingers, hands, arms, and necks-everywhere. There was no blood because they used a rubber truncheon. After beating us they took our photographs again.
-Buon Ea Sup resident, October 20, 2001
During the last week in March 2001, Cambodian provincial authorities arrested two groups of highlanders who had fled from Dak Lak to Mondolkiri. One group of twenty-four ethnic Ede was transported by helicopter on March 24 to Phnom Penh, where they were eventually screened by UNHCR and resettled in the United States.494
A second group of nineteen Jarai men was deported on the night of March 25-26 to Vietnam, where they were subsequently arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.
On March 24, during the time both groups were seeking asylum in Cambodia, Sao Sokha, commander of the Royal Gendarmerie, conducted a meeting at the Mondolkiri Police Commissariat to address the issue of "illegal immigrants." According to one person in attendance at that meeting Sokha-who was in Mondolkiri to coordinate the transfer of the twenty-four Ede to Phnom Penh-reportedly ordered provincial authorities to immediately deport any Vietnamese nationals entering Cambodia: there was no need to consult with immigration or other central authorities first.495
The difference between the fates of the two groups lay largely in the fact that foreign diplomats and Cambodian and international press quickly learned of the existence of the first group. The second group, from Buon Ea Sup, was silently and secretly deported back to Vietnam. This was in violation of the fundamental principle of non-refoulement-the obligation of states such as Cambodia, which are party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, not to return any person to a country where his or her life or freedom may be threatened. 496
Buon Ea Sup: Why People Fled
Buon Ea Sup is a village of some 900 ethnic Jarai located eighty kilometers north of Buon Ma Thuot in Dak Lak. Residents of Buon Ea Sup joined the February 3 demonstrations for similar reasons to villagers from dozens of other ethnic minority hamlets in the highlands. The government's response in Buon Sup duplicated the response in scores of other hamlets. It was not long before the first group of villagers prepared to flee.
The trigger came in early March, when Ea Sup villagers heard that arrests were to be carried out on March 18. Several villagers had already fled to their farm fields or the forest to evade the police sessions. Over a period of days others slipped out of the village. By the third week in March, nineteen men had gathered at one spot near the border, where they crossed over to Cambodia on March 21. After only a few days in Koh Nhek district in northern Mondolkiri, local Cambodian police spotted the group. They were sent to the commune headquarters for a night and then escorted on foot by thirteen Cambodian police and soldiers to Koh Nhek district town. The police confiscated the men's watches, money and other belongings and then handcuffed each man and put them in a dilapidated pickup truck.
Documents obtained by Human Rights Watch show that on March 25, the First Deputy Police Commissioner of Mondolkiri province, accompanied by the commander of the provincial gendarmerie, transported the nineteen men from Koh Nhek district to the Bou Praing border crossing, where the group was sent back to Vietnam in the early morning hours of March 26. The third deputy governor of Mondolkiri province signed a document authorizing the transfer, which was also signed by Vietnamese authorities as the "receivers." The Mondolkiri Police Commissioner subsequently issued an official report to Hok Lundy, the Director General of the Cambodian National Police, dated March 29, on the "transfer and delivery of nineteen Vietnamese illegal immigrants" into the hands of the provincial governor, military commander, and police chief of neighboring Dak Lak province in Vietnam.497
At the Post 10 border checkpoint, Vietnamese police took photographs of the group and interrogated and beat them. "They asked us why we were so hard headed and stubborn," one of the nineteen Jarai said later. "They said we had lied to the authorities and opposed the government. `You've signed the pledges already,' they told us, `but your attitude is the same.'"498
Torture and Detention
At the Vietnam border the group was transferred to a windowless police van and transported to Buon Ma Thuot in Dak Lak. "There wasn't any water at all in the van," said one of the group. "We couldn't tell if it was day or night." In Buon Ma Thuot the group was videotaped and photographed again, each holding a card with an identification number. In Buon Ma Thuot the group was beaten even more severely than at the border post:
They used a rubber truncheon to beat us over our whole body, including our heads. They pried open our eyes and pinched and twisted our eyelids and ears. They asked different people different questions. They accused me of being stubborn and hard headed and of being the leader of the group; the one who prepared the escape plan.499
The beating went on for three or four hours, until 4:00 p.m. when the detainees were handcuffed, put into a police van, and transported to Ho Chi Minh City, a journey that must have taken at least seven hours.
We had never seen Ho Chi Minh City and did not know where we were. We were not sure what place we had been taken to but later we learned it was called "Bo An Ninh" and that it was a secret place.500 They stuck us in dark cells there; two people each in tiny cement rooms. There were no windows, only a small slot for air near the ceiling. There were many mosquitoes. We spent seven days there. They didn't let us out during that time other than for interrogation. All water [for drinking, bathing] was inside the cell, as was the bucket for our excrement.501
During their time in prison, the men were interrogated four or five times. Some were not beaten during the questioning while others were slapped or hit; overall, however, the beatings were not as harsh as in Buon Ma Thuot.
In the sessions they pressured us to agree to abandon politics and religion. We agreed verbally, but not in our hearts. We agreed because we were afraid of being killed. The Vietnamese police wrote up a report about our agreement, which they asked us to read into a tape recorder. The ideas were from the Vietnamese police, not us. They forced us to read it. The report said that Kok Ksor had no ability to help the ethnic minorities, that we accepted our wrongdoings and didn't want others to repeat our mistakes. Ethnic minorities should be one together with the Vietnamese and should not oppose the government. Finally, it said we should abandon politics and religion.502
After seven days in prison in Ho Chi Minh City, the police handcuffed the group and sent them by bus to Dak Lak, where they spent two nights in the provincial prison. Again, police interrogated the group and forced them to sign confessions: "They wrote it up and forced us with two hands to sign it," said one of the Jarai.
Afterwards, all but four of the nineteen Jarai were released, on condition that their families vouch for them in writing. Once back in the village, members of the group were not allowed to leave the village to work in their fields without advance permission, and they were prohibited from gathering in groups of more than three people. Religious repression increased throughout the village, with authorities confiscating guitars and electric organs used in church services as well as Bibles and hymnals.
The police presence in the village continued strong. In early August the police issued official "letters of invitation" to the forty villagers who had participated in the demonstrations to attend a mandatory "goat's blood ceremony" on August 18. At the time, provincial authorities were already conducting such ceremonies not only in Ea Sup district but also in neighboring Ea H'leo district.
To evade further repression, small groups of men from both Ea Sup and Ea H'leo districts began to slip out of the villages again. On August 24, seventy-eight men from both districts gathered at a spot near the Cambodian border, where they hid in the forest for more than a week without food. On September 1, the group was finally able to cross the border and reach the UNHCR facility in Mondolkiri. They were exhausted, frightened, and close to starvation. But at least they were safe for the time being.
494 Srei Neat, "Hun Sen Orders sending arrested Vietnamese rebels to Phnom Penh," Rasmei Kampuchea (Light of Cambodia) newspaper, March 26-27, 2001.
495 Interview with a participant in the March 24 meeting with Sao Sokha, April 7, 2001.
496 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, art. 33(1), adopted July 28, 1951. G.A. Res. 429(V). 189 U.N.T.S. 137 (entered into force April 22, 1954 and accessioned by Cambodia on October 15, 1992).
497 See Appendices H and I, pages 200-202: "Report on the Transfer and Delivery of 19 Illegal Vietnamese Immigrants," sent from the Police Commissioner of Mondolkiri Province to the Director General of the Cambodian National Police, March 28, 2001, and "Minutes of the Transfer of Illegal Immigrants," signed by Cambodian and Vietnamese provincial officials, March 27, 2001.
498 Human Rights Watch interview with a resident of Buon Ea Sup, October 20, 2001.
500 "Bo An Ninh" means "Ministry of Security" in Vietnamese and is used to refer to prisons. Undoubtedly the group had been sent to Chi Hoa, the main prison in Ho Chi Minh City.
501 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents of Buon Ea Sup, October 20, 2001.
502 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents of Buon Ea Sup, October 20, 2001.