(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

Scores of people were extrajudicially executed and hundreds detained without charge or trial following a coup in July. Dozens of the detainees were tortured. Prison conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were reported. At least 16 people were killed and scores injured in a grenade attack on an opposition party demonstration in March. An armed opposition group reportedly committed serious human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings.

Low-level hostilities between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea, commonly known as the Khmer Rouge, continued in the first part of the year. Political tensions between Cambodia's two Prime Ministers, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen, became increasingly acute as the year progressed. In February fighting broke out in Battambang province between forces loyal to funcinpec (Prince Norodom Ranariddh's party) and those loyal to the Cambodian People's Party (cpp, Hun Sen's party). The tense political climate heightened with the news in June that the National Solidarity Party (nsp) – the latest name for the political wing of the Khmer Rouge movement – had overthrown their leader Pol Pot. In negotiations with a senior funcinpec General, Nhek Bun Chhay, the Khmer Rouge leadership said they would hand Pol Pot over for trial in a third country, on charges relating to gross human rights violations during the period when the Khmer Rouge was in power in the 1970s. Since the split in the Khmer Rouge movement in 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997), both funcinpec and the cpp had been attempting to attract Khmer Rouge defectors, in the run-up to elections planned for 1998

On 5 July forces loyal to Hun Sen launched sustained and violent attacks against forces loyal to Prince Ranariddh in the capital, Phnom Penh. Prince Ranariddh was abroad at the time; many others followed him into exile, including politicians from funcinpec, the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party and the Khmer Nation Party (knp). funcinpec politicians who remained in Cambodia selected Foreign Minister Ung Huot as the new First Prime Minister, and his appointment was confirmed in a National Assembly vote in August

Following the coup, Cambodia's planned entry into the Association of South East Asian Nations was suspended by the organization, and its seat at the UN General Assembly was left vacant

In March the UN Special Representative on the situation of Human Rights in Cambodia submitted a report to the UN Commission on Human Rights, condemning continuing government and Khmer Rouge abuses. In September he made public a memorandum to the government about summary executions, torture and missing persons following the coup. In November the Special Representative submitted a report to the UN General Assembly, which adopted a resolution expressing grave concern about numerous instances of violations of human rights detailed in the Special Representative's reports. The resolution also requested that a group of experts be appointed to evaluate evidence about serious human rights violations committed in Cambodia while the Khmer Rouge was in power, with a view to addressing individual accountability

Scores of people were extrajudicially executed following the cpp-led ousting of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his supporters. Victims included senior funcinpec military personnel, and those linked to them. Hor Sok, Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior and a senior funcinpec official, who was close to Prince Norodom Ranariddh and General Nhek Bun Chhay, was arrested on 7 July while attempting to find a country which would offer him asylum. He was taken to the Ministry of the Interior compound and was executed later that day. His body was taken to a temple in Phnom Penh by uniformed, heavily armed men, who ordered an immediate cremation, although they did not have the necessary official permit

General Krauch Yeuam, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence and a senior funcinpec member, fled Phnom Penh with Chao Sambath, a funcinpec General, and a group of soldiers. They were captured by soldiers loyal to Hun Sen on 8 July in Kampong Speu province. The two were separated from their subordinates and were executed later that day. Krauch Yeuam's body was exhumed by human rights workers in October. His hands had been cut off and he had been shot dead. Chao Sambath's body was also exhumed in October. He too had been shot in the head. In addition to the known extrajudicial executions, dozens of people were hastily cremated in Phnom Penh in the immediate aftermath of the fighting, often without the necessary documentation. Some of them may have been extrajudicially executed. In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the government maintained that only one person – Hor Sok – was unlawfully killed, and that all other deaths around the coup occurred during the fighting.

Hundreds of people, mainly funcinpec soldiers loyal to Prince Ranariddh, were detained in the immediate aftermath of the fighting. In Kandal province which surrounds Phnom Penh, more than 600 people were detained in different districts, while several hundred more were held in other provinces. The majority were released after short periods, although some were detained without charge or trial for weeks after the fighting. Access to some prisoners for human rights monitors was eventually granted by the Cambodian authorities, although not to all places of detention.

Dozens of those detained were tortured. Thirty-three funcinpec soldiers captured in July by soldiers from Special Forces Regiment 911 were taken to the regiment's base at Kambol; they were detained for over a week in a small storage room, where they could not all sit down at the same time. The prisoners were taken out of the room for interrogation. Almost all were tortured by their interrogators to force them to confess to connections with the Khmer Rouge. The prisoners were variously blindfolded, beaten with belts, a wooden table leg and a plank, kicked, punched or had their hands crushed in a vice. They were threatened with death, with knives held to their necks or guns pointed at their heads. Prisoners detained by the military police at their headquarters in a Phnom Penh suburb were also beaten and tortured

At least 16 people were killed and over 100 injured in March in a grenade attack on a peaceful, authorized knp demonstration. The demonstrators were calling for reform of Cambodia's judicial system and the release from custody of senior knp member Srun Vong Vannak, who was arrested and held in incommunicado detention in February on charges of murdering Hun Sen's brother-in-law, Koy Samouth, in November 1996. Demonstrators had gathered outside the National Assembly building when four grenades were thrown into the crowd. knp leader Sam Rainsy escaped injury but one of his bodyguards was among the dead. Journalists gathered around Sam Rainsy were seriously injured and one, Chet Duong Daravuth, was killed. Heavily armed soldiers standing 200 metres behind the demonstrators allowed two people who were seen throwing grenades to run past them and escape, but prevented demonstrators from pursuing them. Police at the scene did not help the victims, some of whom lay dying in the sun for up to an hour. A team from the us Federal Bureau of Investigation visited Cambodia to investigate the attack, as a us citizen was among the injured. Its report was not made public, but a us newspaper claimed that it laid the blame for the attack on members of Hun Sen's bodyguard unit. Srun Vong Vannak was convicted of involvement in the murder of Koy Samouth after an unfair trial in September, on the basis of a confession obtained under duress while in incommunicado detention and later retracted. He was sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment. He appeared to be a prisoner of conscience. Two other men were convicted at the same time. They subsequently retracted their confessions which were obtained under similar circumstances. All three remained in prison at the end of the year

There was no progress in calling perpetrators to account for human rights violations committed in previous years

Prison conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were reported during the year. Prisoners frequently died in prison from untreated diseases, exacerbated by malnutrition and overcrowding. In one prison, shackling prisoners at night was standard practice to prevent potential escapes due to the dilapidated condition of the building. In Stung Treng prison, 10 prisoners serving long sentences were held in two metal cages, with inadequate light and ventilation.

Khmer Rouge forces were believed to be responsible for attacks on ethnic Vietnamese villagers in May in which at least three people were killed. In June Khmer Rouge Defence Minister Son Sen, his wife Yun Yat and 10 other people believed to include family members were shot dead, apparently on the orders of Pol Pot. Days later, Khmer Rouge radio announced that they had "brought the treason of Pol Pot to an end". On 25 July, a so-called "People's Tribunal" in the nsp stronghold of Anlong Veng denounced Pol Pot for ordering the death of Son Sen and sentenced him and three other men to life imprisonment. A foreign journalist who witnessed the event reported that the charges against Pol Pot related solely to his involvement in the killing of Son Sen and others in July, and not to the crimes committed when the Khmer Rouge was in power. Pol Pot and his co-defendants were not able to speak during the proceedings, which amounted to a public denunciation rather than a real trial. The fate and whereabouts of a British man and his Cambodian interpreter believed to have been taken hostage by the Khmer Rouge in March 1996 remained unknown at the end of the year

In March Amnesty International published a report, Kingdom of Cambodia: The children of Krang Kontroul – still waiting for justice, about the killing of six children in 1996. In March and April the organization published reports about the grenade attack on the knp demonstration and its aftermath, calling for those responsible to be brought to justice. In June Amnesty International called on the Cambodian authorities and the international community to seize the opportunity to bring to justice those suspected of responsibility for gross human rights violations in Cambodia during the 1970s

In July the organization published Kingdom of Cambodia: Arrest and execution of political opponents, about human rights violations committed during and after the coup. An open letter was sent to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen in July, calling for improvements in the human rights situation. A planned visit to Cambodia to discuss human rights concerns with the government in July was postponed when the airport was closed following the coup. Amnesty International met the then Foreign Minister, Ung Huot, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the end of July and presented him with a list of recommendations to improve the grave human rights situation in the country. Following an official invitation, an Amnesty International delegation visited Cambodia in September. In spite of the official nature of the visit, only one government minister met the delegation

In October Amnesty International published Kingdom of Cambodia: Time for action on human rights, outlining the catalogue of commitments broken by the government and calling on the international community to maintain pressure on the authorities to improve the human rights situation and put an end to impunity

There was little direct response from the Cambodian authorities. King Norodom Sihanouk acknowledged and thanked the organization for its work on Cambodia, but Second Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly condemned Amnesty International for its monitoring activities, while failing to address any individual cases of extrajudicial executions and torture

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.