WASHINGTON, D.C. - Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy and three other
individuals sued Prime Minister Hun Sen and members of his bodyguard corps Sept.
9 in US courts for human rights abuses in Cambodia dating back to the
Backers of the court action say that regardless of the outcome,
the suit is important because it draws public attention to Cambodian human
The 19-page complaint charges that Hun Sen and members
of his bodyguard corps played a major role in planning the March 30, 1997,
grenade attack on demonstrators that killed at least 16 and injured dozens of
Also joining the suit as plaintiffs were Ron Abney, then
representing the International Republican Institute, a US pro-democracy group
funded by the US Congress, and Chan Thou Lay and Heun Huon, both Cambodians
living in exile in France. All three were wounded during the attack.
suit was filed under the US Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victims Protection
Act, which allow victims of major human rights abuses in other countries to
obtain compensation in US courts.
The suit states that, to the
plaintiffs' "knowledge and belief," Hun Sen and members of his bodyguard corps
"were directly responsible" for the 1997 grenade attacks "and the acts of
torture, extrajudicial execution and attempted extrajudicial execution carried
out in those attacks."
According to the complaint, Chan Thou Lay, one of
the plaintiffs, was visited before the demonstration by members of Hun Sen's
bodyguard unit "and was told by them that a grenade attack would take place if
she and her union participated in and supported the demonstration."
complaint also charges that Hun Sen is liable for "numerous acts of torture,
genocide, extrajudicial executions and attempted extrajudicial executions, and
arbitrary arrests and detentions" starting in the 1970s, "when he was a military
officer during the campaign of genocide carried out by the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge
According to Morton Sklar, executive director of the World
Organization for Human Rights U.S.A., which brought the action, the suit is
important regardless of whether the plaintiffs win.
The point, he said,
is more "to try to establish accountability and to give the victims of torture
and other abuses the chance to raise these problems in an independent judicial
"It's much more important that the case gets public attention
and pressure is put on the government of Cambodia about these problems than it
is that there be a final victory in a lawsuit," he said in a phone
Hun Sen has not responded to the complaint, Sklar said, but he
predicted a motion to dismiss the case, based on a claim of immunity as head of
state, would be filed either by Hun Sen himself or on his behalf by the U.S.
government, "if he can convince them to do it."
"It won't be easy to
convince a court that the head of state immunity claim should be denied; it
frequently has been accepted by U.S. courts, however, there have been cases
where it hasn't been accepted," he said.
Sklar said it is "touch and go"
whether the Bush administration is likely to go into court on Hun Sen's
"I do not think they support the human rights violations that are
going on in that country under his regime and I think they've been very critical
of them," he said.
Abney also cited the value of the suit, despite its
Reached by email in Kampala, Uganda, where he is doing civil
society work, he said the value of the suit, "whether won or not, is that this
week Hun Sen was sued in America and France and the suit in the U.S. was filed
by a human rights organization for sins beyond the grenade attack."
goes to his criminal activity since the '80's. Maybe this activity brought on
the world stage will get some donor attention," he said.
A court hearing
on jurisdictional and immunity issues could be expected around the beginning of