Human Rights Developments

The human rights situation deteriorated markedly during the second year of Cambodia's new Royal Government, which continued to avoid punishing abuses committed by its own military and police forces and instead vigorously attacked opposition political figures and the press. The governing coalition also condoned the expulsion of dissident parliamentarians from the legislature despite worldwide protests, and encouraged the legislature to enact a series of laws that left the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the media on an insecure footing. In September, the worst political violence since the 1993 election broke out, raising the prospect of yet further violence should local elections proceed in 1996. Low-level war with the Khmer Rouge continued. In late 1994 and continuing into 1995, the guerrillas shifted tactics, directly attacking civilian settlements in an effort to exacerbate internal displacement and food shortages. A stream of defections from Khmer Rouge ranks continued even after the official amnesty period expired, and some defectors reported that in response the guerrilla leadership mounted purges and stepped up extrajudicial executions of those it deemed disloyal. The kidnaping of civilians for profit and political advantage continued to be a staple Khmer Rouge tactic, and finally came to the attention of the international community when a series of young Europeans were abducted, and in some cases, killed. The Khmer Rouge continued to engage in and endorse the planting of landmines and hidden booby traps even while the government declared a ban on the use of landmines, a ban that has not been scrupulously enforced. Both sides to the conflict engaged in instances of rape and widespread pillage, in contravention of the international laws of war. The government outlawed the Khmer Rouge in July 1994, and the first prosecutions under the law took place at the conclusion of a statutory amnesty period in February 1995 (amnesties for voluntary military defectors, however, continued). These cases, involving two men accused of laying mines in Battambang, realized fears that the law could be misused for abusive prosecutions. The accused, both returnees from a Khmer Rouge border camp in Thailand, were convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years of imprisonment each, although the govern-ment's case rested on confessions obtained by torture; the cases are now on appeal on the basis of numerous substantive and procedural flaws. The political pressures and lack of due process evident in these trials cast in an ominous light the tendency of government authorities to accuse all critics of being "Khmer Rouge," an accusation voiced by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen as recently as September 23. Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister and member of the royalist FUNCINPEC party and the most prominent political critic of the government, came in for repeated attack throughout the year, including threats to his life and safety that appeared to emanate from the highest levels of the government. In March 1995, the government withdrew his bodyguards, some of whom later left the Ministry of Interior and continued in Sam Rainsy's private employ. In May, the FUNCINPEC party expelled Rainsy in an irregular proceeding, and on June 22, the National Assembly expelled him as a parliamentarian, despite concerns raised as to the legality of such a move by the Interparliamentary Union, the U.N. Special Representative, former U.N. officials closely involved with the drafting of Cambodia's constitution and election law, and legislators around the world. On the night of July 13-14, three of Rainsy's bodyguards and another man were abducted and taken to a Ministry of Defense installation where several dozen soldiers beat one and pointed guns at their heads, demanding that they identify Rainsy as a "Khmer Rouge." The government confirms that the four men were interrogated, but denies there was any wrongdoing and claims that they spontaneously and inexplicably drove to the military base on their own accord. Sam Rainsy's expulsion opened the prospect that other independent legislators would be stripped of their position and their parliamentary immunity. In July, a rift opened in the small Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) between Ieng Mouly, currently minister of information, and Son Sann, the party's founder. Ieng Mouly called an ad hoc party congress (boycotted by Son Sann's supporters) at which his faction voted to expel Son Sann's from the executive committee and announced a vote of "no confidence" in Son San and five other BLDP members; the Ieng Mouly faction subsequently voted to expel the six in August, among them four sitting legislators. The prime ministers recognized Ieng Mouly as the new party leader and warned Son Sann not to proceed with his own party congress unless he first reconciled with Ieng Mouly. Son Sann's group went ahead with plans, asking the Interior Ministry for protection, which was denied. On the evening before the congress, September 30, grenades were thrown at a pagoda and at the party headquarters where Son Sann's supporters had gathered, injuring between thirty and fifty bystanders. The meeting proceeded anyway on October 1, with more than a thousand participants crowding the party headquarters and the street outside. Government military police, however, waited until the U.S. ambassador had left the meeting and then dispersed most of the participants on the excuse that they were blocking street traffic; the police then cordoned off the street. Although government officials strongly condemned the attacks by unknown perpetrators, these statements rang hollow in view of the government's condemnation of Son Sann's plans to go ahead with the meeting against its wishes. Both Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Information Ieng Mouly prior to the incident had predicted that were the meeting to go ahead, agitators might disrupt it by throwing "grenades." Once the attacks occurred, broadcast stations reported they were told to limit their coverage of the meeting to a government-provided script that implied Son Sann was to blame for rejecting government protection at party headquarters. In fact, BLDP members had asked the government for protection and permission to hold the meeting at the Olympic Stadium, and they moved it to party headquarters only after these requests were denied. Government efforts to control the press included criminal prosecution as well as intimidation. In February, the Phnom Penh municipal court sentenced Chan Rotana, the editor of Samleng Yu Vachon Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth) to a year of prison and a U.S. $2,000 fine for publishing a cartoon of First Prime Minister Ranariddh carting a bag of money on his head and an essay that criticized him as both autocratic and subservient to Hun Sen; his appeal was rejected in October but he will appeal to the Supreme Court. Thun Bun Ly, the editor of Odom K'tek Khmer (Khmer Ideal) was charged with "disinformation" for five articles and editorial cartoons that satirized government leaders; mid-trial, the prosecution added the charge of defamation over the objection of defense counsel. He was convicted of all charges, fined approximately $4,000 and ordered to spend two years in jail should he fail to pay; the court also ordered his newspaper closed pending appeal. The government confirmed it was pressing charges against at least five other newspapers that had yet to receive official notice; one was the English-language Phnom Penh Post. The government also acted during the year to confiscate print runs and suspend publication of several critical newspapers, all under dubious legal authority, and banned from the country two foreign correspondents from the French newspaper Libération who had reported on atrocities by government military personnel in the northwest. According to the Phnom Penh Post, the government has also tried to limit the influence of critical reporting by forbidding teachers to discuss politics or use newspaper articles critical of the government in teaching foreign languages. After intensive pressure from the international community and King Sihanouk, the government did free six men who had been arrested for tying petitions onto balloons at the time of U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher's visit to Phnom Penh in August. The most recent journalist to be murdered was Chan Dara, who was shot to death on the night of December 8, 1994, just after he was seen leaving a restaurant in Kampong Cham with a colonel named Sath Soeun. A correspondent with the newspaper Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace), Chan Dara had also published exposés of corrupt timber and rubber deals by government and military figures, among them Sat Soeun, in the paper Preap Noam Sar (The Carrier Pigeon). Ministry of Interior police arrested Sat Soeun, who still continued to send threats to the two papers and to Chan Dara's wife. The colonel, however, was acquitted at trial and released, although two other serious criminal charges were still pending against him. The government has not apprehended any further suspects in the case. Violence directed at journalists continued when a grenade exploded in front of the office of Damneung Pelpreuk (Morning News) on September 7, exactly a year from the date that Noun Chan, former editor of Samleng Yu Vachun Khmer, was gunned down in public by still-unknown perpetrators. Although a neighbor was hit by shrapnel, Damneung Pelpreuk editor Nguon Nonn was upstairs at the time. The threat to the press was not lightened by a new press law adopted in July that left open the possibility of criminal prosecution for material that negatively "affects national security or political stability." The government has usually prosecuted journalists under criminal "misinformation" or "defamation" charges, with judges typically refusing to make distinctions between articles purporting to report fact and opinion pieces or editorials. The new law also gives government ministries broad powers to suspend or confiscate publications. Positive features of the new law include a prohibition on pre-publication censorship and guidelines for access to official information. Other legal developments included the passage of a law establishing the Supreme Council of Magistracy, a body charged with ensuring the independence and integrity of the judiciary and supervising the appointment, promotion and discipline of judges and prosecutors. The law, however, gives the minister of justice or his representative a place on the council, which some observers feared might perpetuate the ministry's close direction of the judiciary. A council stipulated by the Cambodian constitution to rule on the constitutionality of laws and government decisions had yet to be created, although King Sihanouk had put forward his nominations two years before. The government supported programs designed to help professionalize the legal system and to improve military accountability, although the actual impact of these programs has yet to be measured. The justice system remained plagued by corruption, however, and government officials, particularly police and military, continued with rare exceptions to enjoy virtual impunity for criminal behavior. Symptomatic of this was the way an official inquiry into the behavior of military intelligence officers accused of abducting, extorting and murdering civilians in the northwest stalled this year. Following several trips by a special commission of inquiry to Battambang province that interviewed witnesses in this sensitive case in the presence of the military and a press corps, the commission concluded that the temple of Che K'mau was not being used as a "secret prison" for victims. This conclusion hardly closed the matter, as human rights monitors had alleged that imprisonment and murders had taken place in a variety of locations in Battambang over a period of at least eighteen months. Cold-blooded murder of ethnic Vietnamese civilians in Cambodia continued, with the Khmer Rouge the likely perpetrators in most instances. On May 20, approximately thirty men identified as Khmer Rouge killed four ethnic Vietnamese, one Khmer policeman, and wounded at least five others in Phat Sandai village in Kompong Thom province. In September, another band of men identified as Khmer Rouge attacked the floating village of Tonle Chhmar in Siem Reap province, killing an as yet unconfirmed number of ethnic Khmer and Vietnamese civilians. Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia also faced harassment from the government, as local officials confiscated identity documents and drew up plans for large-scale confinement of ethnic Vietnamese as "illegal aliens" pending repatriation. Although local officials sometimes hindered international delegations from gaining access to ethnic Vietnamese who were stranded at the Vietnamese border at Chrey Thom since 1993, by mid-year the government had agreed to allow a small number of these families to return to their homes in Cambodia. In September, First Prime Minister Ranariddh called for reinstatement of the death penalty in Cambodia for drug trafficking and murder during robberies and abductions. The Cambodian constitution currently forbids the use of the death penalty, and King Sihanouk went on record as opposing its reintroduction.

The Right to Monitor

Human rights groups continued to raise concern over abuses despite the worsening political atmosphere and persistent government attempts to register and monitor their members and activities. Important work continued in prison monitoring, education, and investigations, with groups often able to interact constructively with government authorities as advocates or intermediaries. The independence and vigor of the Cambodian nongovernmental movement was reflected in a series of international conferences hosted in Phnom Penh during the year, among them an international conference on the banning of landmines, a regional conference on child prostitution, and several other conferences that raised human rights in the context of environment and development problems. However, the government's increasing intolerance of criticism produced an intimidating atmosphere for all groups. In the days following the international donors' meeting in April, the prime ministers called for the closure of the U.N. Human Rights Centre office in Phnom Penh, a request that was withdrawn under intense local and international pressure. The government, however, continued to criticize Justice Michael Kirby, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general. Justice Kirby's detailed reports on the human rights situation and his frank criticism of serious abuses led the government to complain it had been inadequately consulted; nevertheless, the prime ministers were unavailable to meet with Kirby on his most recent visit. Kem Sokha, the head of the National Assembly's human rights commission, also received death threats at various points in the year and became a target of condemnation by both prime ministers, particularly Hun Sen who in July called for his removal as commission chairman. Other members of the commission who come from the two governing coalition parties were instructed by their party leadership to cease cooperating with Kem Sokha in investigations of human rights complaints and other matters. Kem Sokha is also one of the six BLDP members who have been "expelled" from the party on the initiative of Ieng Mouly.

The Role of the International Community

The U.S. administration expressed concern about the government's abuses through private diplomatic channels but publicly tended to downplay the Cambodian government's dismal human rights performance, urging the swift passage of legislation that would grant Cambodia Most Favored Nation trading status and celebrating "progress" as gauged from the darkest years of Cambodia's recent history. Mid-year the administration certified Cambodia as an "emerging democracy" for the purpose of eligibility for agricultural credits, a designation that by law requires a country to be taking steps toward respect for internationally recognized human rights. In August, Warren Christopher was the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Cambodia in forty years, signing aid agreements and hosting a lunch that included government officials, NGO representatives, and dissident politicians. Christopher praised Cambodia's democracy, but warned that "elections are not enough" and suggested that U.S. aid levels would depend on the government's human rights performance. As usual, Congress was less reticent in publicly voicing dismay at the deteriorating state of human rights, with Senators Thomas, Feinstein and Roth and Representatives Neal, Frank and Rohrabacher among others offering strong statements and letters of concern. The ASEAN countries that were investors in Cambodia, particularly Malaysia, assumed more prominent influence as the government concluded major deals with them, such as logging concessions, a casino project, and an airlines contract; this support was especially important as an alternative source of government revenue apart from international aid. International donors, on the other hand, expressed concerns regarding the government's accountability and transparency at the 1995 donors' conference, and a proposal for a special working group to address these concerns was aired, but at years' end not implemented. Japan, Cambodia's largest aid donor, protested the government's request to close the Phnom Penh office of the U.N. Human Rights Centre, but otherwise kept a low profile on human rights issues. Thailand continued to play a pivotal role in the Cambodian conflict, diplomatically supporting the Royal Government on the one hand, while continuing to allow trade in logs and gems across its borders, a critical and vast source of revenue for the Khmer Rouge. According to the London-based environmental monitor Global Witness, Thailand was still issuing import permits for logging businesses operating in Cambodia that inevitably pay the Khmer Rouge protection money for safe passage of their haul. The summary of the U.S. administration's report to Congress on Thai military support for the Khmer Rouge (the only unclassified part of the document) acknowledged "unofficial" contacts between Thai military personnel and the Khmer Rouge, "generally in the context of business transactions." In its March 1995 report Cambodia at War, Human Rights Watch documented gross violations of the international laws of war committed by both sides and called on all nations to halt aid and trade in arms and military equipment to the parties. Among the nations that have supplied arms to the Khmer Rouge in the past were China and Thailand; the guerrillas still draw on these stockpiles and buy current supplies from local arms brokers who sometimes deal in weapons intended for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). The RCAF, in turn, has purchased military supplies and upgrades from North Korea, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Israel, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia since 1994. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution expressing concern about the continuing serious violations of human rights and requested Special Representative Michael Kirby to present a report to the General Assembly and to the 1996 session of the commission.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Asia

In March, on the eve of the Paris donors' meeting, Human Rights Watch/Asia issued a major report titled Cambodia at War. The book-length report detailed grave military abuses on both sides and the increasing constraints placed upon the press. It called upon participants in the donors' meeting to insist on accountability and transparency in Cambodia's justice system, and called on all nations to cease supplying the warring sides with weapons. Human Rights Watch/Asia also sent numerous letters and press releases concerning the press law and legal actions against journalists to the Cambodian authorities throughout the year. In September, the organization followed up with a short report on the government's actions against the press and published an English translation of Cambodia's new press law. Human Rights Watch/Asia staff met with visiting Cambodian officials and explained its concerns on these issues. Throughout the year, Human Rights Watch/Asia urged U.S. and other government representatives to protest human rights abuses. The organization provided extensive information on Cambodia's human rights situation to the U.S. House and Senate committees considering bills that would grant Cambodia Most Favored Nation Trading status and urged that any grant be accompanied by a requirement that the president report at least once a year on human rights developments, in addition to the annual report on human rights prepared by the State Department.
This report covers events of 1995

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