U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Cambodia

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


Cambodia's fourth year under democratic rule was disrupted by political violence that undermined the principles of the 1991 Paris peace agreements, led to over 100 deaths, and cast serious doubt on the representative nature of the Government. Following the signing of the agreements in 1991, United Nations-sponsored elections in 1993 produced a coalition government composed primarily of the royalist FUNCINPEC (National United Front for a Neutral, Peaceful, Cooperative, and Independent Cambodia) party, which won the plurality of votes in the 1993 elections, and the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which had ruled the country since the defeat of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese army in 1979. On July 5 and 6, this coalition collapsed after months of escalating political tensions and partisan violence, when forces loyal to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen of the CPP defeated FUNCINPEC forces loyal to First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Prince Ranariddh in Phnom Penh. The CPP's decisive military victory ousted Ranariddh from power. The fighting was followed by a period in which CPP militants sought out additional FUNCINPEC security and political officials, some of whom they executed and others they detained. In a campaign of fear and intimidation throughout many parts of the country, CPP personnel searched many homes and offices and detained numerous FUNCINPEC members. This led to widespread flight by other FUNCINPEC personnel who feared further retaliation. Some leading FUNCINPEC politicians and other politicians allied with FUNCINPEC joined Prince Ranariddh, who had left the country just before the fighting began, in self-imposed exile abroad. In a process flawed by political intimidation, remaining National Assembly members in August approved the choice of Foreign Minister Ung Huot (FUNCINPEC) to replace Prince Ranariddh as First Prime Minister. King Norodom Sihanouk remains the constitutional monarch and Head of State. Most power lies within the executive branch; the National Assembly does not offer a significant check to executive power, and the judiciary is not independent. Although seriously weakened following massive defections in 1996, the Khmer Rouge continued to wage a mostly low level guerrilla insurgency against the Government. FUNCINPEC-led negotiations nearly succeeded in securing the defection of the remaining Khmer Rouge forces to the FUNCINPEC side by June, exacerbating political tensions with the CPP. Since the July violence, Khmer Rouge troops have cooperated with resistance forces loyal to FUNCINPEC against government troops in the northwest. Internal Khmer Rouge dissent appeared to increase. In June top official Son Sen was killed during a internal Khmer Rouge purge and Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot was purportedly subjected to a trial in July by a rival Khmer Rouge faction. The police have primary responsibility for internal security, but the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), including the military police, also have domestic security responsibilities. Government efforts to improve police and RCAF performance were hampered by political factionalism within the forces and by budgetary limitations. Members of the security forces committed numerous human rights abuses. Cambodia has a market economy in which approximately 80 percent of the population of 10 million engage in subsistence farming, with rice as the principal crop. Annual per capita gross domestic product is approximately $300. Foreign aid is an important component of national income. Economic growth stalled following the July violence, with decreases in business and tourist activity. The human rights situation deteriorated markedly during and after the July fighting. Military and police personnel were responsible for at least 55 extrajudicial killings in connection with the violence. In addition 16 persons were killed and more than 100 wounded in a grenade attack in March by unknown persons on an opposition political rally. No one was officially charged. There were credible reports that members of the security forces tortured, beat, and killed some detainees held after the events in July. The Government rarely prosecuted members of the security forces for human rights abuses. Prison conditions declined from already poor levels. Arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and infringement on citizens' privacy rights were serious problems, particularly during the July fighting and in the month that followed. Political factions engaged in violent attacks against journalists and intimidation of the opposition. An atmosphere of political intimidation prompted a number of the Government's opponents to flee the country, go into hiding, or exercise self-censorship. The Government lacked the political will and the resources to act effectively against persons, particularly members of the military services, suspected of being responsible for human rights abuses. Democratic institutions, especially the judiciary, remain weak. The judiciary is subject to influence by the executive branch, and is marred by inefficiency, a lack of training, a shortage of resources, and corruption related to low wages. Politically related crimes were rarely brought to court. Citizens were effectively denied the right to a fair trial. Some detainees underwent particularly egregious violations of the protections against arbitrary detention. The Government sometimes limits press freedom and fear of Government-directed violence against the press created a climate that encouraged self-censorship by some journalists. The number of newspapers critical of the Government decreased immediately after the July violence, although the number later increased and at year's end exceeded the pre-July level. Some newspapers that continued to publish muted their editorial views. A prominent opposition party, the Khmer Nation Party (KNP), was subjected to a grenade attack in March. The Government limited freedom of assembly. Domestic violence against women and abuse of children are common. The ethnic Vietnamese minority faced widespread social discrimination and some acts of violence by the Khmer Rouge; people with disabilities also faced discrimination. The Government does not adequately enforce existing legal provisions against antiunion discrimination. Forced labor, including forced labor by children, is a problem. Citizens living in areas controlled by the Khmer Rouge were denied virtually all political rights and were subject to serious abuses by its leadership. Khmer Rouge forces committed numerous extrajudicial killings and were responsible for disappearances, forced labor, and restriction of freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, and movement.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

According to one human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), during the first half of the year there were 25 reported killings. Military and police officials were implicated in approximately half these attacks. For example, in a June incident in Kompong Cham town, a soldier shot and killed a truck driver after sand from the driver's sand truck fell into his food. Another NGO investigated 3 cases involving 6 victims during the first half of the year, including a February incident involving five FUNCINPEC police officers who were arrested, then shot by troops loyal to the CPP in Rattanak Mondul district, Battambang province. The Rattanak Mondul incident took place during a period of general partisan political tension and violence in Battambang province. During a March 30 grenade attack at a KNP rally protesting the legal system, 16 protesters were killed and over 100 were wounded. Approximately 200 demonstrators had gathered in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh to join the rally, which was approved by the Ministry of Interior. Unidentified attackers threw four grenades into the crowd before fleeing on foot; security personnel stationed near the site allegedly prevented bystanders from pursuing the attackers. The U.N. Center for Human Rights (UNCHR) documented at least 55 cases of politically motivated extrajudicial killings countrywide between July 2 and year's end. The UNCHR also identified up to 19 other cases of probable, but unconfirmed, killings during the same period. Much of this information was corroborated by local human rights NGO's. Although these killings were associated with the July political violence, the figures cited exclude combat deaths. There was no evidence to indicate a systematic countrywide government campaign to purge political or military officials. However, FUNCINPEC military officials loyal to Prince Ranariddh constituted the majority of the victims. In particular, military personnel associated with the pro-FUNCINPEC Moulinaka Resistance Force, which had operated from 1979 until 1993 on the border with Thailand, appeared to be singled out for attack during the July violence. Although the Moulinaka group was absorbed into the RCAF following the 1993 elections, the majority of its members remained loyal to FUNCINPEC. Among the 41 confirmed FUNCINPEC officials killed during the July violence was Interior Ministry Secretary of State Ho Sok, who was arrested by government security forces in Phnom Penh on July 7. Sok died later that day, reportedly from two gunshot wounds while in government custody. Government officials have acknowledged that Sok's death took place while he was in government custody. Following the establishment of a government commission on the Sok case on July 14, three Interior Ministry officials were suspended for having providing inadequate security for Sok; they were later reinstated. No one has been arrested or prosecuted in connection with Sok's murder, although CPP Interior Minister Sar Kheng stated in late September that the identity of the murderer is known and that he intended to have him arrested. On June 17, local militia killed ethnic Vietnamese Huynh Van Nui, Nguyen Thi Loi, and Huynh Van Non. They had apprehended the three on their fishing boat on the Tonle Sap lake. No one was convicted in connection with the killings, due in part to historical associations linking Vietnam with the CPP. On July 8, RCAF intelligence official General Chao Samboth, Defense Ministry Secretary of State General Krouch Yoeum and approximately 30 of their staff were captured by troops from the CPP-allied 911th paracommando regiment in Oudong district, Kompong Speu province. Samboth and Yoeum, both of FUNCINPEC, were separated from the group. Military sources informed human rights groups that the two were shot and killed later that day by soldiers who acted on orders from the RCAF general staff. No one has been charged in the killings. On July 15, human rights workers discovered a cremation site in Kompong Speu containing the remains of at least 6--and possibly up to 22--FUNCINPEC soldiers killed during and after the July fighting. Ashes and manacles found at the site were determined to be those of four FUNCINPEC soldiers whose bodies had been delivered to the area by soldiers from the RCAF 44th regiment on July 11. The bodies had been cremated on July 11. Later, human rights workers discovered the freshly buried corpses of two other men at the site. Both had been handcuffed, blindfolded, and had sustained bullet wounds to the head. According to human rights groups, the 6 bodies were part of a group of up to 22 captured FUNCINPEC soldiers executed and burned by Division 44 soldiers at the site on July 9. In August provincial soldiers in Au district, Kompong Speu province, arrested four men, villagers Sok Vanthorn and Haim Bek and Khmer Rouge defectors Sou Si and Sou Sal. Only Sou Si was armed. Two days after the arrest, local residents saw Vanthorn and Sal near their village, bound and bearing marks of torture. The disemboweled and mutilated bodies of Vanthorn and Sal were located by relatives 5 days after their arrest; Bek and Si reportedly escaped and are in hiding. No one has been charged in connection with the killings. In December near Phnom Penh, human rights NGO's found the bodies of Chea Chanthoeun and Var Savath. Both were officers in the border police patrol and FUNCINPEC members. They reportedly were beaten then strangled on December 24, after being summoned to their superior's office. In December two men reportedly wearing military uniforms shot and killed police official Kong Vannak in his home in Kompong Cham province. Security and police forces were implicated in many of the July killings; however, authorities made few arrests and prosecutions in connection with these extrajudicial killings, due to a combination of ineffective law enforcement, intimidation of civilian authorities by military personnel, political intimidation and pressure, and in some cases flawed legal proceedings. Security forces also killed journalists (see Section 2.a.). In September KNP official Srun Vong Vannak and two other persons were tried and convicted of the 1996 killing of Interior Ministry official Kov Samuth, the brother-in-law of Mrs. Hun Sen. Both the arrest and the trial were characterized by numerous violations of due process (see Section 1.e.). The Khmer Rouge continued to kill civilians, including 11 of the 15 members of an official FUNCINPEC team sent to contact Khmer Rouge representatives in Siem Reap province in February.

b. Disappearance

There were at least 13 credible reports of politically motivated disappearances during and following the July 5-6 fighting in Phnom Penh. This group included six Khmer Nation Party provincial activists and two student leaders. In cases of disappearance, some persons are believed to have been killed; others are believed to be in hiding or to have escaped to the FUNCINPEC stronghold of O'smach near the border with Thailand. Those missing include General Chea Rithy Chhuth, a FUNCINPEC official who served as governor of Kep city. Rithy Chhuth was arrested with other FUNCINPEC officials on July 7 in Oudong district, Kompong Speu province, and has not been seen since (see Section 1.a.). The UNCHR considers Chhuth's disappearance a "presumed execution." On July 7, FUNCINPEC Generals Ly Seng Hong and Maen Bun Thon and from 30 to 40 of their staff were captured by provincial army troops loyal to the CPP in Oudong district, Kompong Speu province. The generals were subsequently transferred to the provincial military subdivision headquarters in Kompong Speu and have not been seen since. The UNCHR classifies the two as victims of "presumed execution." Six KNP officials, including provincial activists Put Som Ang and Sam Sophan, disappeared after being arrested by troops loyal to the CPP in Kandal Stoeng, Kandal province, on July 4. In September the Government reported that a total of 105 FUNCINPEC police officials disappeared following the July violence. The Government's information was based on reports from approximately one-half the provinces. For example, 66 policemen were removed from police rolls in Kampot province after the July fighting; 50 of these were FUNCINPEC members, while 9 were from the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party. The Government list includes officials previously identified as missing by the UNCHR and other human rights groups (see above). Human rights workers believe that some of the 105 may have either left the police force or fled the country following the fighting. Others may have been killed or remain in hiding. The UNCHR listed 199 persons as missing at year's end.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture and physical abuse of prisoners; however, there were credible reports that military and police officials used torture and severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. One human rights NGO received credible reports of 30 incidents of torture or beatings in Battambang province police stations during the first half of the year. Based on interviews with victims in Battambang province, one NGO identified 8 persons who had been tortured while in police custody in Battambang from June through December. The UNCHR investigated 32 cases of torture committed by security officials in Battambang province, 28 in late 1996 and 4 in 1997. Police interrogation of suspected criminals often included torture, beatings, blows with rifle butts, and whippings. Another NGO documented 10 cases of torture during the 6 months ending September 1. A human rights NGO said that 18 inmates of the Koh Kong provincial prison reported that they had been tortured by police or prison officials, either in police custody or in prison. The primary form of torture was beating. In May police arrest and beat four residents of a dormitory at a Phnom Penh garment factory (see Section 6.a.). After being arrested by local police for a traffic violation in Kompong Speu province, auto mechanic Leang Kephal was detained in a 1.5-meter square outdoor cage for over a month between March and May. He was subsequently released from the cage and reportedly set free. In the aftermath of the July violence, 33 FUNCINPEC soldiers were captured by paratroopers aligned with the CPP; they were from RCAF special forces 911th Regiment in Oudong district, Kompong Speu province (see Section l.a.). The soldiers were taken to Regiment 911 headquarters, where they were confined in a 2-by-6 meter storage room for 10 days. The prisoners were allowed to leave the room twice a day to bathe and use the toilets. Because of their unsanitary confinement in close quarters, many of the prisoners contracted a skin disease. While imprisoned, individual soldiers were interrogated by Regiment 911 in an effort to extract signed confessions. Many of the soldiers reported various forms of torture inflicted by Regiment 911 soldiers during the interrogations, including beatings by belt, plank, and wooden table-leg, kicking with combat boots, punches, and an iron vice used on hands and fingers. There were also credible reports that FUNCINPEC military personnel arrested during and after the July violence were tortured by royal gendarmerie forces at their Phnom Penh headquarters. One FUNCINPEC official was severely beaten to elicit a forced confession; he remains in military custody. One human rights NGO estimated that as of August 1 there were approximately 2,200 prisoners taken during or after the July fighting. This group was composed of soldiers, provincial officials and staff, party activists, and others. Police used force to break up strikes in January and in March (see Section 6.a.). Already-poor prison conditions deteriorated during the year. Government efforts to improve prison conditions have been hampered by lack of funds. Human rights organizations cited a number of serious problems, including overcrowding, food and water shortages, malnutrition, and poor security. One human rights NGO reported that Phnom Penh's judicial police prison, built to accommodate 30 prisoners, normally houses approximately 100 inmates. Use of shackles and the practice of holding prisoners in small, dark, cells continued in some prisons. At the Stung Treng prison, some prisoners are held in 2-by-2 meter metal cages inside the prison building. Government ration allowances for purchasing prisoners' food are inadequate, exacerbating their malnutrition. One human rights group reported that at least four prisoners were killed by prison authorities in escape attempts during the first half of the year. Police shot and killed two inmates and wounded another following their escape from Kompong Thom prison in April. Although the Government continued to allow human rights groups to visit military prisons on a selective basis, one NGO reported that access to some military prisons was denied after July. It is unclear if this was centrally directed; one NGO reported that access was denied for a short time because of the assignment of a new prison director. Some prisons did not allow guards to participate in human rights training provided by NGO's. There was a reliable report that an illegal detention facility existed near Phnom Malai in the Khmer Rouge defector zone in the northwest.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces continue to arrest and detain citizens arbitrarily. A penal code drafted by the U.N. Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC), and approved by the interim Supreme National Council, remains in effect, as does a criminal procedure law dating from the State of Cambodia period. The criminal procedure law in principle provides for adequate protection for criminal suspects; however, in practice the Government frequently ignored these provisions. One human rights NGO reported 17 cases of illegal detention and arrest committed by police, military, or local government authorities during the first half of the year. While lengthy detention without charge is illegal, suspects are often held by authorities for long periods before being charged. Accused persons are legally entitled to a lawyer, although in practice they often have no access to legal representation. Many judges believe that lawyers must be appointed only in criminal felony cases. In family cases, parties are frequently not informed about their legal rights by the courts. Prisoners are routinely held for several days before gaining access to a lawyer or family members. Although there is a bail system, many prisoners, particularly those without legal representation, often have no opportunity to seek release on bail. The introduction into the legal system of a corps of defenders who work without fee, and who are trained by NGO's, resulted in significant improvements for those defendants who were provided with counsel, including a reduction in their pretrial detention period and improved access to bail. According to one human rights NGO, at least 200 provincial FUNCINPEC officials were arbitrarily arrested and detained by government authorities allied with the CPP during and after the July violence. The U.N. Center for Human Rights (UNCHR) confirmed the arrests of at least 100 persons, including 31 in Prey Veng, 20 in Kompong Speu, and up to 100 in Siem Reap. For example, FUNCINPEC Colonel Som Saroeun and his bodyguards Sim Sienh Vinh and Sotr Vuth were arrested by security forces loyal to the CPP in Kompong Chhnang province on July 8. The bodyguards were released on July 10, while Saroeun was set free on July 28. In Battambang province, FUNCINPEC police commissioner Vorn Chun Ly and 12 other policemen were arrested during the July violence, but were subsequently released. All the FUNCINPEC officials detained during and after the July violence were reportedly released within 2 weeks. Over 600 troops loyal to FUNCINPEC were arrested and held in six locations in Kandal province following the fighting. Most were reportedly well treated, and all were subsequently released within 3 weeks. The timing of at least one criminal imprisonment was politically motivated. On July 23, FUNCINPEC General Sok Chantoeun and his wife were arrested by Phnom Penh police and accused of having plotted the murder of CPP Interior Ministry official Mom Vuda in May. Chantoeun's wife was later released, but General Chantoeun remains in prison and had not been brought to trial at year's end. Despite a Constitutional ban on exile, the atmosphere of political fear and intimidation fostered by the July violence prompted about 40 politicians either to flee the country or remain abroad in a state of self-imposed exile. These politicians include ousted first Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh (FUNCINPEC), KNP president Sam Rainsy, BLDP leader Son Sann, and a number of FUNCINPEC, BLDP, and KNP parliamentarians and officials. While some of those politicians who fled later returned and resumed their political activity, others find government assurances of their security unconvincing and remain abroad. A total of 14 FUNCINPEC-allied parliamentarians, including Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Prince Norodom Sirivudh remained outside the country at year's end. At least 25 additional FUNCINPEC-allied political and military figures were in self-imposed exile at year's end. However, two groups of FUNCINPEC-allied politicians visited the country in December. They were assisted by U.N. monitors and did not encounter security problems. Most chose to leave the country following their stay. Also in December, a group of 57 FUNCINPEC-allied party members and their families returned with the assistance of the UNHCR. All reportedly chose to remain in the country. Khmer Nation party leader Sam Rainsy conducted political activities, including a peace march and other public demonstrations following his return in December. Former foreign minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh left the country in 1995 rather than face a prison sentence for plotting to assassinate second Prime Minister Hun Sen. Prince Sirivudh's April attempt to return to Cambodia ended when staff of a commercial airline denied him permission in Hong Kong to board his Phnom Penh-bound flight, based in part on concern for the security of Sirivudh and other passengers on the flight. The Government has stated that Sirivudh is free to return and face his prison sentence. No legal system is known to exist in Khmer Rouge zones. Khmer Rouge forces often seize hostages in order to intimidate villagers to cooperate with them.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the Government does not respect this provision in practice. The courts are subject to influence by the executive, and there is widespread corruption among judges, virtually none of whom receives a living wage. The court system consists of lower courts, an appeals court, and a supreme court. The Constitution also mandates a constitutional council, which is empowered to review the constitutionality of laws, and a supreme council of magistrates, which appoints and disciplines judges. Establishment of these two bodies has been delayed by protracted political wrangling between the two major parties over their composition. The 1994 law on civil servants requires the courts to seek Ministry of Justice permission to prosecute a member of the civil service, which includes the police. The Ministry of Justice is required, in turn, to forward requests for prosecution to the relevant ministry. Although the military forces are not covered under this law, a 1995 letter from the Council of Ministers states that the civil servants' procedure may also be followed for members of the military forces. Human rights groups indicate that, in practice, ministries often decline to respond to the courts, or refuse their requests for prosecution. Delays in responding to the courts' requests sometimes allow those accused of crimes to flee or otherwise escape prosecution, leading to de facto legal impunity for most government officials who commit crimes. Although the Minister of Justice and other senior government officials have expressed an interest in reforming the law to make it easier for the courts to prosecute civil servants, the Government has not taken any action. Trials are public. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney, to confront and question witnesses against them, and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. However, trials are typically perfunctory, and extensive cross-examination usually does not take place. The serious shortage of attorneys is somewhat alleviated by the provision of nonlawyer defenders trained by international human rights organizations. Defendants are also legally entitled to the presumption of innocence and the right of appeal. Because of extensive corruption, however, defendants are often expected to bribe the judge for a favorable verdict and are therefore effectively denied the presumption of innocence. A serious lack of resources and poor training contribute to inefficiency in the judicial branch, and in practice the Government does not ensure due process. For example, judges often lack copies of the laws on which they are expected to rule. As a result of these weaknesses, citizens were often effectively denied the right to a fair trial. Ongoing cooperation between the Government, foreign donors, and NGO's to improve the legal system was hampered by the July violence and subsequent suspension of some assistance programs. In September Khmer Nation Party official Srun Vong Vannak and two others were tried in Phnom Penh for the 1996 killing of Interior Ministry official Kov Samuth, the brother-in-law of Mrs. Hun Sen (see Section 1.g.). Although all suspects are required to be charged within 48 hours of arrest, Vannak was not charged in court until more than 2 weeks following his mid-February arrest by police. In a violation of the criminal code, Vannak's trial was held after he had already been detained for more than 6 months. In other legal violations, Vannak was arrested without a warrant, detained in hotels and other private locations, threatened and forced into making a confession, and denied access to a lawyer for over 20 days after his arrest. During the trial, the judge did not allow Vannak's lawyer to cross-examine a key witness. Vannak received a 13-year jail sentence. The courts often pressure victims of crimes to accept small cash settlements from the accused. When a case does make its way to court, the verdict is often determined by a judge before the case is heard, sometimes on the basis of a bribe paid by the accuser or the defendant. Sworn, written statements from witnesses and the accused are usually the extent of evidence presented in trials. Often these statements result from beatings or threats by investigation officials, and illiterate defendants are often not informed of the content of written confessions that they are forced to sign. In cases involving military personnel, military officers often exert pressure on judges to have the defendant released. The military court system suffers from deficiencies similar to those of the civilian court system. There was at least one political prisoner. In a flawed September trial, Khmer Nation Party official Srun Vong Vannak and two others were sentenced to prison for their alleged roles in the November 1996 murder of Kov Samuth, the brother-in-law of Mrs. Hun Sen.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution contains provisions protecting the privacy of residence and correspondence and includes a provision against illegal search. However, there were credible reports that the Government monitored private electronic communications, including during police investigations of suspected criminal activity. The police routinely conducted warrantless searches and seizures. In the aftermath of the July violence, police and military forces made numerous warrantless searches for weapons in private homes. Police engaged in house-to-house searches for journalists (see Section 2.a.). Beginning during the July fighting, there were many unconfirmed reports that government officials and security personnel used threats to discourage citizens from listening to Voice of America Khmer-language radio broadcasts. The 1997 narcotics law included a provision allowing government authorities to open private mail without a warrant if they suspected that the contents were connected with illegal drug activity. In August Phnom Penh municipal authorities decreed that residents were required to report all out-of-town guests to local officials. There were no punitive measures associated with the regulation, however. Citizens were largely free to live where they wished. There were, however, several reports of land disputes involving residents, local authorities, and business people. For example, in January local officials reportedly forced some farmers off their land by selling 77 hectares of village farmland to private businessmen. Since the forced collectivization and genocide of Khmer Rouge rule, and the return of thousands of refugees, land ownership is often unclear. In September military officials carried out a policy of forced conscription in Siem Reap province (see Section 1.g.). The Government does not systematically coerce or forbid membership in political organizations. However, there were credible reports that government officials used intimidation and threats to force FUNCINPEC members to sign oaths of loyalty to the CPP. Membership in the Khmer Rouge, which is conducting an armed insurgency against the Government, is illegal. Membership in political parties formed after the UNTAC era, including the opposition Khmer Nation Party (KNP), was technically illegal, but tolerated in practice (see Section 2.b.). In December the KNP applied to the Interior Ministry for registrartion under a process outline in the Political Parties Law promulgated in November. Since the KNP did not receive a written rejection from the Ministry within 15 days of its application, it is legally registered under the law. After registration, however, all parties must provide the National Election Commission with another application endorsed by 4,000 signatures. Submission of the signatures to the National Election Commission is required before a party is allowed to participate in an election. The Commission had not been established by year?s end.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

At least 41 officials allied to FUNCINPEC were killed by forces loyal to the CPP during the July 5-6 fighting and its immediate aftermath (see Section l.a.). Following massive Khmer Rouge defections in 1996, skirmishing between government and regular Khmer Rouge forces diminished during the first half of the year. Following the July violence, however, fighting increased as Khmer Rouge soldiers cooperated with FUNCINPEC troops loyal to First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh in opposing government forces in the northwest. Civilians were killed or wounded by indiscriminate shelling and by land mines deployed by all sides. The Khmer Rouge burned and looted villages. Both troops loyal to FUNCINPEC and to the CPP engaged in widespread looting in Phnom Penh during and after the July 5-6 military actions. There were several credible reports that the Government used boys as soldiers in combat. In July human rights and other observers identified boy soldiers in Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey provinces, including a 13-year-old who said that he had been in the army for 3 years. There were reports of children being used in paramilitary situations, including carrying ammunition. Provincial militia forces reportedly recruited children. In September military officials enforced a policy of forced conscription in Chikreng and Bakong districts, Siem Reap province. Conscripts were sent to fight FUNCINPEC resistance and Khmer Rouge forces in the northwest. There were other credible reports of forced conscription in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces.

Section 2 Respect For Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech And Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression, press, and publication, but the Government sometimes limits press freedom in practice. The Constitution implicitly limits free speech by requiring that speech not adversely affect public security. The Constitution also declares that the King is "inviolable." A press law in effect since 1995 provides journalists with a number of rights, including a prohibition on prepublication censorship and protection from imprisonment for expressing opinion. However, the press law also includes a vaguely worded prohibition on publishing articles that affect national security and political stability. In November the Government allowed the opposition Khmer language Neak Prayuth, Antarakum, and Sangros Khmer newspapers to continue to publish after their editors apologized to the Ministry of Information for reporting alleged violations of the Press Law?s national security clause. Neak Prayuth and Antarakum had already been suspended by the Government for the alleged violations, while the Government had threatened Sangros Khmer with suspension. The press remained highly partisan, with most newspapers receiving financial support from political parties. Following the July violence, many newspapers ceased publication. According to government reports, roughly 80 percent of the staff from the 19 non-CPP newspapers left Phnom Penh during and after the fighting. Before July 5, approximately 40 Khmer-language newspapers were regularly published in Phnom Penh. Of these, 19 were not affiliated with the CPP. These included 12 pro-FUNCINPEC newspapers, 6 supported by the KNP, and 1 allied with the FUNCINPEC-led National United Front political alliance. At year?s end, 43 Khmer language newspapers were available, including 9 that were critical of the Government. Some of the others occasionally criticized the Government. In December the Information Ministry announced that journalists were required to cite at least two government sources in reports dealing with issues that could affect national security or political stability. Also in December, a government official publicly accused an expatriate journalist of biased reporting and threatened to revoke his press credentials and residency visa. There was no legal basis for the threat. The matter was resolved quietly, and the journalist was allowed to continue his work. Early in the year, the Government denied a radio broadcasting license to the Son Sann faction of the BLDP, stating that the frequency that the party wished to use was already assigned to another station. After the BLDP station began broadcasting without a license on the disputed frequency in March, the Government ordered the station to stop broadcasting on two occasions. The BLDP station continued to broadcast until the July fighting, but has since gone off the air. A FUNCINPEC-controlled radio station was surrounded by troops loyal to the CPP during the July fighting. After the FUNCINPEC soldiers guarding the station surrendered and were disarmed, local residents looted the radio station, which has not begun rebroadcasting. Also in July, FUNCINPEC-owned Channel 9 television began receiving its news broadcasts from National Television of Cambodia, which is now aligned with the CPP and operates with reduced broadcast hours. The KNP, which was illegal prior to the passage of the political parties law in October began the registration process. It had earlier been denied permission by the Government to establish its own radio station. The Government stated that it will allow opposition parties, including the KNP, to establish radio stations. None had been established, however, at year?s end. In September the Government used the press law to suspend publication of a newspaper affiliated with the KNP. The Government suspended the Prayuth newspaper, known as Neak Prayuth before July 5, for 30 days. The Government claimed that the Prayuth had incorrectly inflated RCAF casualty figures in the ongoing fighting with resistance forces in the northwest loyal to the FUNCINPEC. There were reports of several violent attacks against journalists. In January Leng Sam Ang, editor of the Komnit Kon Khmer newspaper, was beaten, shot, and wounded by 11 men in military uniform while walking home from a party in Phnom Penh. No convictions have been made in the case. There were no arrests. In the March grenade attack against a KNP demonstration in Phnom Penh, 25 journalists were killed or wounded (see Section 1.a.). Chet Duong Dara, former editor of Neak Prayuth and a member of the KNP steering committee, died of wounds incurred during the attack. The first two of the four grenades thrown during the attack landed near the press pool reporting on the KNP rally, resulting in a disproportionate number of victims who were journalists. In May television technician Pich Em was killed, and two other persons wounded, when a group of armed men fired two rockets at the provincial television station in Sihanoukville. No suspects have been identified in the case. Reports at the time alleged that FUNCINPEC official Serei Kosal planned the attack because the station refused to broadcast a speech by KNP president Sam Rainsy. On July 7, Cambodian-Canadian newsreader Dok Sokhun, also known as Michael Senior, was shot and killed by two soldiers while photographing government troops looting in Phnom Penh. There were several reports of threats or harassment against journalists. In February deputy governor of Battambang province Serey Kosal threatened to shoot the directors of the provincial information and television services if they did not change their editorial viewpoint. Also in February, Chum Chan Nan, son of the President of the League of Cambodian Journalists, was threatened with death by 4 men in military uniform on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. While reporting on violence in Phnom Penh, journalist Than Vutha of the pro-FUNCINPEC Sangkhro Khmer newspaper was arrested by troops loyal to the CPP on suspicion of participating in the fighting. He was later released from custody and reportedly left the country. Also in July, former Voice of America reporter Som Sattana of Radio Free Asia left the country after receiving reports of threats against him. During the July violence and through mid-August, there were numerous credible reports that government security personnel attempted to intimidate journalists through house-to-house searches for illegal possession of weapons. However, there were no reports that any journalists were arrested or injured during these searches. Based in part on a 1996 government directive instructing teachers, including private school teachers, not to talk about politics in class, the authorities inhibited discussion of some political issues at the University of Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge do not allow freedom of speech or press in zones that they control.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Following the March grenade attack on a KNP rally in Phnom Penh (see Section 1.a.), however, the Interior Ministry cited security concerns in issuing a temporary ban on public demonstrations. The ban was never implemented. In August a peace march sponsored by religious figures took place in Phnom Penh without incident. In December the KNP sponsored several large public events, including a party congress, a peace march, and a march to Kompong Cham province. All took place without security problems. In January Phnom Penh police officials and other security personnel disrupted a strike outside the Tack Fat garment factory in Phnom Penh. KNP secretary general Khieu Rada and the bodyguard of KNP president Sam Rainsy were both injured by police during the strike. In March municipal authorities used water cannon to break up a union-organized demonstration at Phnom Penh's Supreme Garment factory. In February four local militia soldiers beat Suong Sun with an ax in retaliation for his recent participation in demonstrations involving a land dispute in Prek They, Saang district, Kandal province. Other protests, including a February march by workers from Phnom Penh's United Faith garment factory, were tolerated by authorities, and took place without incident. In May a group of citizens led by provincial officials destroyed a FUNCINPEC party office in Ke Chong commune, Rattanakiri province. The Constitution provides for freedom of association; however, the Government imposed some limits on this right. There were credible reports that government officials forced FUNCINPEC members to sign oaths of loyalty to the CPP (see Section 1.f.). Following the July violence, there were multiple reports that FUNCINPEC, KNP, and Son Sann BLDP party offices had their signboards removed. Various motives were reported for these actions, including harassment by political opponents, intraparty disputes, and party officials' fear of being identified with FUNCINPEC and its allies. Membership in the Khmer Rouge is illegal. The National Assembly passed the Political Parties Law on October 28.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Government respects this right in practice. Buddhism is the state religion. The Khmer Rouge have traditionally banned or discouraged religion, and continued to do so.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not restrict international travel to or within the parts of the country that it controls, although the presence of land mines and bandits make travel in some areas perilous. There were credible reports that the Government urged Thai authorities to curtail visa services for Cambodians wishing to travel to Thailand following the July 5-6 fighting, an action that the Thai government took in August. In August and September, the Government removed many of the illegal security checkpoints along major highways. Following partisan fighting in the north and northwest, approximately 50,000 refugees left the country for temporary refugee camps in Thailand. There were no reports of refugees being involuntarily forced by Thai authorities to return to Cambodia. There were reports of approximately 5,000 people internally displaced by fighting near Samlot in September. Internally displaced persons were allowed to resettle in other areas, while others crossed the border into Thailand. In October the UNHCR agreed to facilitate the repatriation of Cambodians who fled to Thailand. At year?s end, approximately 3,100 refugees had been voluntarily repatriated by the UNHCR, and there were no reports of persecution or discrimination against those who returned. Tens of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese fled Cambodia in early 1993 due to racial violence directed against Vietnamese. Many returned after the elections of that year, although 42 individuals still remain stranded on the border at Svay Rieng, awaiting final resolution of their cases. The Government allows noncitizens to apply to the UNHCR for refugee status. The Government did not provide first asylum during the year and has failed to take action on UNHCR requests to issue refugee travel documents. The Government has not yet fully formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum. There were no reports that the Government forced any persons to return to another country where they feared persecution. The Khmer Rouge, who refused to comply with the Paris Accords by opening the areas they control, continued to restrict access to, from, and within these zones.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to change their government, and most citizens exercised this right in 1993 by participating in the U.N.-administered elections. Citizens cannot exercise this right in areas controlled by the Khmer Rouge. National elections are scheduled to take place in July 1998. The Political Parties law was passed in October, and the National Elections Law was passed in December. The legislature was weak in comparison with the executive branch All legislation considered or adopted by the National Assembly originated in the ministries. The Government appointed the provincial governors and their deputies, who are generally divided between the two former coalition parties. District and commune officials are also appointed by the executive branch; most of these officials are appointees from the previous regimes, the People's Republic of Kampuchea and the State of Cambodia. FUNCINPEC had complained that district chief positions were not equally divided between the to major coalition parties. The Interior Ministry sent the communal election law to the Council of Ministers, but at year?s end it had not been sent to the National Assembly. Traditional cultural practices inhibit the role of women in government. There are 7 women among the 120 members of the National Assembly. Six of the seven are in Cambodia. Although there are no female governors or cabinet ministers, there are a few women at the state secretary level. There are several members of ethnic and religious minorities in the Cabinet and the National Assembly.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The international and domestic human rights community, which first began operating under UNTAC, operated in an environment of fear and apprehension following the July violence. Human rights organizations conducted human rights training for military officers, villagers, the legal community, and other groups. These activities continued after the July violence. There are approximately 40 NGO's involved in human rights activities, but only a small portion of these were actively involved in organizing training programs or carrying out investigations of abuses. Several human rights NGO provincial employees reported that government security personnel followed them after the July fighting. An atmosphere of intimidation, combined with an unsettled security situation, prompted many human rights workers to restrict their activities in the immediate aftermath of the July events. There were credible reports that some humanitarian organizations encountered bureaucratic obstruction in gaining access to emergency detention sites established after the July violence. On July 13, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a public statement encouraging respect for human rights and called on opposition newspapers to begin publishing again. Hun Sen's office cooperated with human rights workers in performing their investigations. However, in August, Hun Sen threatened to remove some officials at the UNCHR office in Phnom Penh; he claimed that they had frightened officials allied with FUNCINPEC into leaving the country following the July fighting. He dropped this threat after a September meeting in Phnom Penh with Thomas Hammarberg, the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative for Human Rights, in Phnom Penh. Hun Sen met with a group of human rights NGO leaders in September, and called for the creation of a government commission to investigate an August UNCHR report. The Government later assigned an interministerial commission to investigate the Hammarberg Report. At year?s end, the commission had not presented any of its findings. The national human rights commission had not been established by year's end. One NGO reported that in some provinces its workers were no longer allowed to talk with pretrial detainees. Legal officials stated that allowing the detainees to speak with the NGO could interfere with the investigation in progress. In August soldiers from RCAF Division 44 fired automatic weapons into the air in an attempt to intimidate a UNCHR team investigating extrajudicial killings at Pich Nil pass, Kompong Speu province (see Section 1.a.). The NGO law, in preparation since 1996, has not been presented to the National Assembly.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religious beliefs, or political views. Although the Government does not systematically engage in discrimination, if often fails to protect these rights in practice.


International and domestic NGO workers report that violence against women, including rape and domestic violence, is common. There were reports of rape, but there were no statistics available on this problem. Previous studies made by international NGO's estimate that one in six wives is physically abused by her husband, and half of those are injured. Authorities normally decline to become involved in domestic disputes. There are some indications that stress and other psychological problems originating during the Khmer Rouge period of the 1970's contribute to the problem of violence against women. Prostitution and trafficking in women were serious problems. Due in part to lack of resources, the Government has not adequately enforced a 1996 law against prostitution and trafficking in women. In March, however, Phnom Penh police arrested seven brothel operators in a crackdown on the capital's prostitution trade. According to NGO reports, women comprise 55 percent of the population, 60 percent of agricultural workers, 85 percent of the business work force, 70 percent of the industrial work force, and 60 percent of all service sector workers. Women are often concentrated in low-paying jobs in these sectors and are largely excluded from management positions, which remain dominated by men. The Constitution contains explicit language providing for equal rights for women, equal pay for equal work, and equal status in marriage. In practice women have equal property rights with men, have the same status in bringing divorce proceedings, and have equal access to education and some jobs. However, cultural traditions continued to limit the ability of women to reach senior positions in business and other areas. The Government's Secretariat of State for Women's Affairs is responsible for women's issues. There are a large number of women's NGO's, which concentrated on training poor women and widows and addressing social problems such as spousal abuse and prostitution.


The Constitution provides for children's rights, and ensuring the welfare of children is a specific goal of the Government's political program. However, the Government relies on international aid to fund most social welfare programs targeted at children, resulting in only a modest flow of funds to ameliorate problems affecting children. Children frequently suffer from the inadequacy of the health care system. Infant mortality is reported at 115 per thousand, and nearly 20 percent of children do not live to the age of 5. Child mortality from preventable diseases is high. Children are also adversely affected by the inadequate educational system. Despite an extensive government school construction program, schools are overcrowded and short of equipment. Less than 5 percent of primary school teachers have completed high school. The Government does not deny girls equal access to education, but in practice families with limited resources often give priority to educating boys. Child abuse is believed to be widespread, although there are no statistics on the extent of the problem. Child prostitution remained a serious problem. Although sexual intercourse with a minor under the age of 15 is illegal, child prostitution was common, due in part to a cultural preference for sex with virgins. There were reliable reports that children were kidnaped in several provinces and forced into the illegal sex trade, both in Cambodia and abroad. There were credible reports that young boys served as soldiers (see Section 1.g.).

People With Disabilities

The Government does not require that buildings or government services be accessible to people with disabilities. According to the Government, approximately 1 in 246 citizens is missing at least one limb. This figure reflects the continuing effects of land mines on the population. Programs administered by various NGO's have brought about dramatic improvements in the treatment and rehabilitation of amputees. However, amputees face considerable societal discrimination, particularly in obtaining skilled employment.

Religious Minorities

Muslims are the largest religious minority, and experience little or no discrimination in practice. Cambodia's small Christian community has not experienced serious or systematic discrimination. Although there were some reports of tensions between Cambodian Christians and non-Christians at the local level, these disputes have not resulted in physical violence. Christian missionary groups have not encountered significant difficulties in performing their work.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Citizens of Vietnamese and Chinese ethnicity have long comprised the largest ethnic minorities. Ethnic Chinese are well accepted. However, fear and animosity continue toward ethnic Vietnamese people, who are seen as a threat to the Cambodian nation and culture. The rights of minorities under the 1996 nationality law are not explicit; constitutional protections are extended only to "Khmer people," that is, Cambodians. There were credible reports that both security personnel and ordinary citizens singled out Vietnamese citizens for petty harassment. Many Vietnamese received verbal death threats and other harassment from security personnel and ordinary citizens in the aftermath of the July violence. The Khmer Rouge, as well as some mainstream politicians, continued a calculated campaign of inflammatory propaganda directed against ethnic Vietnamese and Vietnamese nationals resident in Cambodia.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

In January the National Assembly passed a new labor law drafted with the assistance of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Asian American Free Labor Institute. Although the new law provides for internationally accepted labor rights, including the right to organize and bargain collectively, the Government has not ensured all of these rights in practice. The Government's enforcement efforts were hampered by a dearth of qualified labor inspectors familiar with the new labor legislation. Three female garment workers associated with the Free Trade Union of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Yung Sok Neuv, Yung Srey, and Yuos Seam were killed in the March 30 grenade attack on a KNP rally in Phnom Penh (see Section 1.a.). Other union members were wounded in the attack. Although the Government allowed several union-organized protests and rallies to take place without incident, others were marred by violence. Police broke up strikes at two garment factories, in January and in March (see Section 2.b.). According to the Labor Law, workers have the right to form professional organizations of their own choosing without prior authorization, and all workers are free to join the trade union of their choice. Membership in trade unions or employee associations is not compulsory, and workers are free to withdraw from such organizations. There were credible reports that management in some enterprises discouraged employees from participating in partisan politics or joining unions. In May, four police officers, accompanied by a management official, entered an employee dormitory at a Phnom Penh garment factory. The police officers threatened dormitory residents and arrested 4 of the workers, claiming that they had stolen company property. The police beat one of the four with their rifle butts; all 4 workers were later released. In September union leader Sou Rotana was beaten and stabbed repeatedly in the head with a screwdriver by company security personnel while coordinating a job action at a Phnom Penh garment factory. The security personnel involved in the incident were detained by local police and later released. Article 268 of the Labor Law requires labor unions and employer organizations to file a charter and lists of officers with the Ministry of Social, Labor, and Veterans Affairs. Since the law's promulgation in March, the Ministry has refused to register at least three unions on technical grounds. There were 19 registered trade unions, although many had close ties with the Government or company management and were not independent in practice. The majority of salaried workers are employed by the State, although there is a growing services sector. A large proportion of the urban population is engaged in low-level commerce of self-employed skilled labor. The labor law does not apply to workers in the public sector. Unions may affiliate freely, but the law does not explicitly address their right to affiliate internationally.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The new labor law gives all unions representing companies with more than eight employees the right to appoint a shop steward from the ranks of the worker representatives. The steward represents the union to the company director, and has the right to sign the company's collective bargaining agreement. In practice very little collective bargaining takes place. Some unions allowed political figures to negotiate collective bargaining agreements on their behalf during the first half of the year; many of these agreements are no longer honored. At least one Phnom Penh garment factory refused to honor an existing collective bargaining agreement following the July fighting. The Government sets wages for civil servants. Wage rates in other sectors are based largely on market conditions and are set by employers. Mechanisms for enforcing provisions against antiunion discrimination exist, but are not adequately enforced by the Government. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including forced labor by children, in accordance with international convention. The Government does not adequately enforce this prohibition. There were credible reports of mandatory overtime, as well as reports of women and girls being forced to work as prostitutes. The most recent survey of this problem, made by a human rights NGO in 1995, indicated that 31 percent of female prostitutes were between the ages of 12 and 17. Half the girls involved were sold into prostitution by their families and forced to work as prostitutes. There were also reports that children were kidnaped and force into the illegal sex trade (see Section 5). Military officers also implemented force conscription (see Section 1.g.). In December human rights workers investigated a forced labor operation in Koh Kong province. With the complicity of some local officials and police, its operators smuggled young men out of the country for forced labor in Thailand and Cambodia. Interior Ministry officials in Phnom Penh and some local police assisted human rights workers during the investigation. There were credible reports of bonded labor in the wood-processing, rubber, and brick manufacturing industries, although the institution of bonded labor did not appear to be a systematic practice.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Labor Law prohibits labor by children under 15 years of age, but the Government may authorize exceptions, and enforcement is lax (see Section 6.c.). The minimum age for work deemed hazardous to the health, safety, or well-being of an adolescent is 18 years. However, the Ministry of Social, Labor, and Veterans Affairs reserves the right to authorize employment of children as young as 15 years of age in hazardous jobs if their well-being is "fully guaranteed." Children as young as 14 years of age may be authorized to perform "light work" under certain conditions. The Government has not established an apparatus to enforce this provision of the law. Children under the age of 15 routinely engage in a variety of jobs, including street trading, construction, agriculture, and manufacturing. According to an ILO study, 9.2 percent of Cambodian children between the ages of 5 and 14 may be classified as "economically active." More than 90 percent of working children live in rural areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Law requires that a minimum wage be established without distinction between different jobs. In January, for example, a Ministry of Social, Labor, and Veterans Affairs decree established a minimum wage of $40 (139,400 riel) per month for the garment industry. This provision is not adequately enforced, and many workers receive less than the minimum wage. This wage is not sufficient to provide a worker and family with a decent standard of living. The Labor Law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed 8 hours per day. The law stipulates time-and-a-half overtime pay, and double overtime pay if the overtime hours are worked at night or on the employee's day off. The Government does not enforce these standards, and workers commonly work more than 48 hours per week. Some workers incur salary deductions if they do not perform overtime or holiday work. The law states that the workplace should have health and safety standards adequate to ensure workers' well-being. However, the Government has not yet set specific standards, and work-related injury and health problems are common. Penalties are specified in the law, but there are no provisions to protect workers who complain about unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Conditions in factories and small-scale industries are generally poor and often do not meet international standards.

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