Amnesty International Report 2000 - Cambodia
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2000 - Cambodia , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa0e4.html [accessed 24 May 2013]|
Kingdom of Cambodia
Head of state: King Norodom Sihanouk
Head of government: Hun Sen
Capital: Phnom Penh
Population: 10.4 million
Official language: Khmer
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Impunity remained at the heart of Cambodia's human rights problems in 1999. A UN Group of Experts produced a report in March recommending the formation of a special international tribunal to bring to justice those suspected of responsibility for gross human rights violations during the period of Khmer Rouge rule (17 April 1975 to 7 January 1979). The Cambodian authorities rejected the report and stated their intention to hold trials in Cambodia under domestic law; there were concerns about standards of fairness and judicial independence. Two Khmer Rouge suspects were arrested and remained in pre-trial detention at the end of the year. Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the rearrest of hundreds of people released by the courts. Two human rights workers were brought to trial on politically motivated criminal charges. Torture in police custody was reported, and excessive use of force during arrests caused a large number of deaths in police custody.
The coalition government formed by the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) in November 1998 remained in power, headed by CPP Prime Minister Hun Sen. Stated government priorities included a crack-down on crime, suppression of illegal firearms, military and police reform, judicial reform and poverty alleviation. Amendments to Cambodia's 1993 Constitution allowed the formation in March of an unelected Senate, as agreed in the 1998 coalition negotiations. Cambodia became a full member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April.
The final collapse of the last remnants of the Khmer Rouge political movement brought an end to civil war, although there were reports of "armed bandits" launching attacks in remote rural areas. The proposed trials for former Khmer Rouge (see below) were a major focus of national and international attention.
In the vast majority of cases where agents of the state were implicated in involvement in human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment no action was taken against them. Numerous cases which were brought to the attention of the authorities throughout the year by local human rights workers were not investigated.
The governmental Cambodian Human Rights Committee, established in June 1998, was mandated to investigate UN reports of political killings during and after the July 1997 coup. Details of some investigations were made public, but no one was held to account for the vast majority of these crimes. The government reported that three people were tried, convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment for involvement in two cases of extrajudicial executions reported by the UN in 1998. No details were available about the conduct of these trials. Trials usually fell far short of international standards for fairness, undermining public confidence in the judicial system.
- Nuon Paet, a former Khmer Rouge commander accused of ordering the murder of three Western hostages in 1994, was tried in June. He was convicted after a one-day hearing, on a raft of charges, some under laws which were no longer in force and breached international standards. The judgment referred to facts and evidence which were not presented in the court. Two other former Khmer Rouge commanders gave evidence against Nuon Paet; they were then also charged with involvement in the murders, but had not been arrested or brought to trial by the end of 1999.
Khmer Rouge cases
There was widespread public disquiet at the official welcome to Phnom Penh of two senior members of the 1975 to 1979 Khmer Rouge administration who defected to the government side in December 1998 Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea. On 1 January, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a statement saying that the government would wait for the views of the UN Group of Experts before deciding on whether the two men should be tried. Both men remained at liberty throughout 1999.
In March, Chhit Chhoeun (commonly known as Ta Mok), the last senior member of the Khmer Rouge still in opposition to the government, was arrested and detained at the Military Prosecution Detention Facility. The authorities announced that he would be tried by a Cambodian court. The UN Group of Experts report, made public in March, advised against such a trial and advocated the establishment of an ad hoc international tribunal, in order to ensure a fair hearing. The government rejected the report, arguing that Cambodian courts should hear any trials of Khmer Rouge leaders. In April Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote to the UN Secretary-General reiterating that any trial would take place in Cambodia in an existing court, but adding that the participation of foreign judges and prosecutors would be invited, to uphold standards for fairness, and that a law to allow for this would be drafted and presented to the National Assembly. In May former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kang Kek Ieu (also known as Duch) was arrested in Battambang province after giving interviews to Western journalists about his past. Detained in the same prison as Ta Mok, the two were assigned lawyers but were denied access to independent human rights workers and medical personnel.
Negotiations continued throughout 1999 between the government, the UN and other parties over the trials of these two men, and others suspected of involvement in grave human rights violations under the Khmer Rouge government. Senior delegates from the UN Office of Legal Affairs visited Cambodia in August for talks over the possible establishment of a mixed Cambodian and international tribunal. Significant differences remained between the two sides at the end of the talks, with the Cambodians undertaking to present a proposal to the UN for comment. In October the USA proposed a compromise plan whereby trials would take place in Cambodia under Cambodian law with a majority of Cambodian judges and a minority of international judges. In November, the government stated that a UN tribunal was unnecessary as the government was committed to bringing the Khmer Rouge to justice domestically.
A Working Group was established in August with responsibility for cooperating with international experts to organize the procedures under which Khmer Rouge cases should be tried. A draft law was made public in December.
Throughout the year Cambodian lawyers, human rights groups and opposition politicians all called for the establishment of an international tribunal, expressing concern about standards of fairness and judicial independence in Cambodia.
The Military Court
Following the arrests of Ta Mok and Duch and the assignment of their cases to the Military Court, a precedent was set whereby politically sensitive cases were automatically referred to the Military Court, regardless of its competence. The Military Court has legal jurisdiction only over military offences involving military personnel charged with breaches of military discipline or harm to military property. Judges in the Military Court retain military ranks and are accountable to the Ministry of Defence; the court is not independent of the executive branch of government.
- Mong Davuth and Kong Bun Hean members of the Sam Rainsy Party were arrested in September and remained in detention at the end of the year in the Military Prosecution Detention Facility, under investigation by the Military Prosecutor on suspicion of plotting to kill Prime Minister Hun Sen in September 1998. Neither were serving members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the fact that the case was assigned to a court which was not competent to hear it underlined already serious concerns about the rule of law and political interference in the judicial system. Access to the Military Prosecution Detention Facility for human rights monitors, medical personnel and family members was severely restricted.
In August the National Assembly and the Senate adopted an amendment to the 1994 Law on Civil Servants. Article 51 of this law had effectively provided institutional impunity for agents of the state accused of committing crimes, as it required prosecutors to request permission from the relevant ministry or in some cases the Council of Ministers before bringing charges against a civil servant. In practice this rendered prosecutions of civil servants almost impossible. The new amendment requires the prosecutor to inform the relevant government department within 72 hours of deciding to bring charges against a civil servant, and to inform the senior official of a department immediately in the case of arrest or detention. Although the amendment was a step forward, ambiguities in the wording could still cause problems in upholding the law.
In August the National Assembly and the Senate adopted a law extending the maximum length of pre-trial detention from six months to three years, in cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. This law raised serious concerns including that genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are not yet recognized criminal offences under Cambodian law. Such a long period of pre-trial detention also violates international standards for fair trial.
In December the Prime Minister issued an order for the rearrest of anyone released by the courts who had been charged with armed robbery, kidnapping or drug trafficking and the Minister of Justice suspended two senior court officials, effectively imposing executive authority over the judiciary. More than 50 people were rearrested in Phnom Penh within days of the order, including juveniles.
At the UN Commission on Human Rights in April, AI highlighted ongoing impunity in Cambodia and government inaction on previous recommendations made by the UN. Cambodia's initial report to the UN Human Rights Committee was discussed in July. The Committee made a series of strong recommendations to the government to tackle impunity, a weak and corrupt judiciary, torture and ill-treatment. The government agreed to a two-year extension of the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, until March 2002. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Human Rights in Cambodia resigned his post in November; his report to the UN General Assembly identified ongoing serious human rights problems.
Torture and ill-treatment
Torture and ill-treatment in police custody particularly during the first 48 hours of detention, when access to detainees was routinely denied continued in 1999. Conditions in police cells and in prisons remained poor, with prisoners frequently being denied adequate food and medical care.
- Three prisoners were killed following a mass escape from Sihanoukville prison in June. Available evidence suggested that at least two were extrajudicially executed by prison officers after being recaptured.
A growing trend of mob justice, sometimes facilitated by local police, became apparent. There were reports that police captured criminal suspects and then allowed them to be killed by angry bystanders. As many as 19 such cases were identified during 1999.
Human rights defenders
Prisoners of conscience Kim Sen and Meas Minear, employees of the local human rights group the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO), who were arrested in December 1998 following riots in Sihanoukville, were released on bail in January. They were brought to trial in July, on politically motivated criminal charges, but the case collapsed owing to lack of evidence against them. They and their co-defendants were released and all charges dropped.
AI country reports and visits
- Kingdom of Cambodia: No solution to impunity the case of Ta Mok (AI Index: ASA 23/005/99)
- Kingdom of Cambodia: Open letter to the Royal Government on the jurisdiction of the Military Court (AI Index: ASA 23/015/99)
AI delegates visited Cambodia in March and observed the trial of Kim Sen and Meas Minear in July. In December an AI delegation held talks with representatives of the government.