Events of 1991

Human Rights Developments

The most important human rights development in Cambodia in 1991 was the formal signing in Paris on October 23 of the Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict. The agreement was signed by the four warring parties – the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh, the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), the Sihanouk National Army (ANS) and the Khmer Rouge – as well as all of the relevant external powers, including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

The agreement is critically important to the future of human rights in Cambodia for several reasons. It contains important human rights provisions which appear to guarantee the ability of the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and domestic organizations as they emerge to monitor the human rights situation, as well as safeguards intended to prevent any recurrence of the mass killings of the Khmer Rouge period. The agreement provides for the release of prisoners of war and "civilian detainees" arrested because of their political affiliation or activities. It states the intention of the transition administration in Cambodia to abide by international human rights agreements and standards. And it recognizes the importance of clearing the land mines that have maimed and killed indiscriminately and represent a major obstacle to the safe return of the 350,000 refugees along the Thai-Cambodian border.

The momentum that led to the final agreement began on April 26, when representatives of the four parties agreed to a cease-fire to begin on May 1. A meeting was convened in early June in Jakarta but became bogged down over the question of leadership of the Supreme National Council (SNC), a body composed of six representatives of the Phnom Penh government and two representatives of each of the three resistance factions. The SNC was to serve as the supreme Cambodian authority pending elections. A meeting of all four parties held later that month in the Thai beach resort of Pattaya produced unanimous agreement on an "unlimited" cease-fire and the cessation of foreign arms supplies. In July, the four parties met in Beijing and reached agreement on a number of vexing issues including the naming of Prince Sihanouk as chair of the SNC and the appointment of a delegation to the U.N. General Assembly to be headed by the prince.11 The SNC also requested the United Nations to send a survey mission to help monitor the cease-fire and arms cutoff.

The Hun Sen government strongly opposed complete demobilization of troops, believing that the Khmer Rouge could not be trusted to comply and thus would be handed an opportunity to seize military control. In a compromise reached in Pattaya at the end of August, all factions will demobilize seventy percent of their military forces and submit the remaining thirty percent to U.N. supervision in specific "cantonment areas."12 Agreement on the remaining issue, elections, was reached on September 19 in New York, with a decision to use a system of proportional representation within regional geographic constituencies.

By October, the planned signing of the agreement had had consequences both good and bad. On the positive side, the Hun Sen government released 1,034 prisoners, including what the Cambodian government news agency described as 442 political prisoners and 483 prisoners-of-war in early October.13 Cambodia's most prominent political prisoner, Ung Phan, Cambodia's former minister of transport who was detained in May 1990 for trying to form a new political party, was released on October 17. In a special congress that met in Phnom Penh between October 16 and 19, the ruling People's Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea formally renounced Marxism-Leninism and decreed that henceforth the newly named Cambodia People's Party would pursue a multi-party system with full separation of powers and a president and national assembly elected by universal suffrage.

On the negative side, the Khmer Rouge made plans to move some 40,000 residents of Site 8, a camp along the Thai-Cambodian border which had become the Khmer Rouge's international showcase, into Cambodia before the final agreement was signed. On September 330, sixteen camp administrators who had been elected by camp residents were taken across the border into a military camp and replaced by what appeared to be Khmer Rouge hardliners. The international relief agencies on the border raised the alarm, especially when they learned that all camp residents had been told to expect to be moved between October 20 and 23. The area to which the Khmer Rouge had planned to move them was believed to be rife with malaria and ridden with land mines. International pressure succeeded in halting the move, but there was a strong belief that all three of the resistance factions intended to move as many as possible of the residents of the camps along the Thai border back into Cambodia before any election takes place. Four of the sixteen Site 8 administrators have returned to Thailand; the fate of the others remained unknown at year's end.

Even with the agreement signed, Asia Watch remained concerned about the problem caused by land mines in Cambodia. In some ways, the agreement raised the profile of that problem because, suddenly, the repatriation of some 350,000 people in Thailand seemed like a real possibility. If the mines are not located and cleared, the dangers to returning refugees will be high. Cambodia already has the highest percentage of inhabitants who are physically disabled because of mines of any country in the world. In 1990, almost as many people died as were maimed by mines, often because of lack of transport to get them to medical facilities or lack of nearby medical care entirely. Most of the casualties were civilians. The use of mines in Cambodia violates important principles of customary law relating to armed conflict, including the obligation of warring parties to minimize harm to civilians. Over the last twenty years, the parties to the conflict have not recorded or posted notices of where they laid mines and, in many cases, never removed the mines when the fighting in a particular area ceased. The United States, Vietnam, the Soviet Union and China have been the major suppliers of mines, leaving them with particular responsibility to help with mine clearance.

Another problem looming on the horizon as 1991 ended was how the Phnom Penh government would protect the lives of returning members of the resistance factions, particularly the Khmer Rouge, while at the same time moving toward the greater freedoms of expression and assembly that will be necessary if elections are to take place in accordance with the settlement. The problem was made particularly acute when Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge leader, and former Khmer Rouge Defense Minister Son Sen were nearly lynched in Phnom Penh on December 3. There was widespread speculation that a demonstration against their arrival in the capital had been quietly encouraged by the Phnom Penh government, although there was no indication that a physical attack had been foreseen.

The Right to Monitor

There are no known human rights organizations in Cambodia and, until the ruling party platform changed in October, restrictions on freedom of association made the establishment of such an organization impossible. A number of groups have emerged to study and promote human rights in Site 2, the Cambodian refugee camp run by the KPNLF.

U.S. Policy

The major goal of U.S. policy in 1991 was to forge a settlement, out of the belief that an agreement would be the best way of preventing a return to power of the Khmer Rouge. The Bush Administration promised that once the agreement had been signed and implementation had begun, the trade embargo against Cambodia would be lifted and a liaison office would be opened in Phnom Penh. Charles Twining arrived in Cambodia on November 18 as a special envoy to the SNC.

Aid allocations were directly tied to progress in the settlement. In 1990, Congress had allocated some $25 million for humanitarian and development assistance programs in fiscal year 1991, to be spent both in areas controlled by the Phnom Penh government and areas controlled by the non-communist resistance (NCR). In early 1991, there was strong concern expressed in Congress that the NCR was cooperating militarily with the Khmer Rouge. The Administration opposed any cutoff in aid to the NCR and, on February 26, submitted a report required by the terms of the 1991 Foreign Aid Appropriations bill asserting that there was no evidence to substantiate that the NCR and the Khmer Rouge "have been fighting as an integrated force." However, the report admitted that there had been some sharing of supplies between the ANS and the Khmer Rouge and that the ANS in some cases had "conducted coordinated attacks with the Khmer Rouge."

In testimony before Congress in April, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Solomon said that because of these reports of "tactical" cooperation, no funds from the total allocated for fiscal year 1991 had been delivered since January. Later that month, after an assessment team returned from Cambodia, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) authorized the release of $7 million to buy medicine, school supplies and tools and to provide training in development skills for Cambodians in areas controlled by the NCR.14 The release of aid appeared more a result of political changes and moves toward a settlement than of conclusive evidence that tactical cooperation had ended. In September, after the settlement was clearly on track, USAID gave $5 million in grants to private organizations for the care of children and war victims inside Cambodia and announced that another $10 million would be awarded in the near future.15 In mid-October, Secretary Solomon announced that over $25 million had actually been spent in 1991 in Cambodia in both government- and NCR-controlled areas, making the United States the largest aid donor in Cambodia.16

Members of Congress spoke out forcefully against Khmer Rouge plans to repatriate residents of Site 8 forcibly, and the Bush Administration joined other members of the U.N. Security Council in pushing for a public denunciation of the move. The denunciation was thwarted when China refused to make a public statement, although it did apparently respond to pressure from Security Council colleagues to urge the Khmer Rouge privately not to go ahead with the transfer.

The Work of Asia Watch

Asia Watch devoted most of its efforts on Cambodia to the question of land mines. In April, a team from Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights traveled along the Thai-Cambodian border and within Cambodia to interview soldiers, doctors, relief workers and mine victims. Its findings were published in September in a report entitled Land Mines in Cambodia: The Coward's War. The report was delivered to members of the Supreme National Council meeting in New York during the U.N. General Assembly, and based on its conclusions, Prince Sihanouk changed the prepared text of his September 26 speech at the United Nations to include a call for a worldwide ban on mines. He also sent a message to all of his followers living in camps along the Thai-Cambodian border not to return home until the mines problem had been addressed. The September report received widespread international publicity and helped to spur the allocation of additional funds from USAID for mine-clearance programs.

In October, when Asia Watch was alerted to the imminent forced repatriation of Cambodians in Site 8, it informed key members of Congress, arranged for letters to be faxed to the U.N. Missions of the five permanent members of the Security Council, and issued a news release. These efforts were part of a worldwide alert network of nongovernmental organizations and may have helped to prevent the Khmer Rouge from carrying out its plans.

The delegation to the United Nations includes Hun Sen and Hor Nam Hong of the Phnom Penh government as well as Khieu Samphan of the Khmer Rouge.

The demobilization issue continues to present difficulties. No agreement has been reached on the number of fighters in each military group to which the reductions would apply. It also appears that paramilitary forces are not included in the definition of "military forces."

SPK, October 30, 1991, as reported in Federal Broadcasting Information Service, October 30, 1991.

Bangkok Post, May 19, 1991.

The Washington Post, September 21, 1991.

Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, October 17, 1991.

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