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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A report on human rights during the year 2002 in Cambodia

A report on human rights during the year 2002 in Cambodia

Soy Tha, widow of Funcinpec candidate Thon Phally. He was one of 15 candidates and activists murdered prior to the commune elections.

Human Rights Watch, an international organization that monitors human rights abuses

around the world, has released its annual review of human rights developments in


Unlike in neighboring Laos and Vietnam, Cambodia has seen improved human rights

and the development of a thriving civil society in recent years.

Emerging from decades of war, Cambodia has ratified many of the main international

human rights treaties and was the first Southeast Asian country to ratify the International

Criminal Court treaty. In 2002, however, Cambodia failed to meet many of its obligations

to promote human rights.

Local elections, held in February, were marred by killings and intimidation of political

opposition members and others, and subsequent continuing violence offered a worrying

prognosis for national elections in 2003. Opposition newspapers were increasingly

subject to threats, closure and arrests of staff.

There was little progress in the negotiations to establish a tribunal for former

Khmer Rouge leaders. The judicial system remained extremely weak and generally unable

to deliver justice to those whose human rights were violated, although efforts were

made to prosecute security officials accused of torturing detainees. Prison conditions

remained poor.

Cambodia deported to Vietnam hundreds of asylum seekers fleeing persecution of indigenous

minorities there, in violation of its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The government failed to adequately address trafficking in people. Many Cambodians

suffered from poor education and health services and lack of land tenure.

There was some progress in the field of labor rights, and environmentalists strengthened

advocacy efforts on behalf of Cambodia's rural poor and their right to participate

in decisions about the use of natural resources. Local authorities in several provinces

gave strong support to communities seeking to have a say in the management of community

forests, fisheries, and other natural resources.

Political violence

In February Cambodia held its first local elections in more than 30 years, to

elect leaders for the country's 1,621 communes. The Cambodian People's Party (CPP)

consolidated its grip on power by taking control of 99 percent of the commune councils.

There were numerous instances of violence, intimidation, vote-buying and voter coercion,

although at a lower level than during the 1998 national elections. Fifteen prospective

candidates and activists of the political opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the

United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia

(Funcinpec), as well as the two-year-old son of a CPP candidate, were killed between

January 2001 and polling day. A local election observer was killed two days before

the election.

Political violence continued in the aftermath of the commune elections and as the

country prepared for national elections, scheduled for July 2003. The mutilated body

of Kork Khom, an SRP activist from Takeo, was found in a rice field in July. Some

of his fingers and part of his left ear had been cut off, his leg was broken, and

numerous bruises marked his body.

By the end of 2002, another eight killings had taken place that were thought to be

related to politics.

In October, just before Senator Kem Sokha resigned from the Funcinpec party, he sustained

injuries in a car accident that appeared to have been deliberately staged to warn

or harm him.

In contrast to 1998 when no one was held accountable for election violence, in 2002

authorities arrested several people suspected of political killings. In ten of 24

cases, provincial courts convicted defendants. In a move to appease donors, the Ministry

of Interior pressured court officials to speed up trials in some of these murder

cases. As a result, legal observers found that some of the accused were convicted

based on insufficient evidence.

Three girls arrested as illegal immigrants but later released, rest at an NGO shelter in July.

The National Election Committee (NEC), commissioned to organize, oversee and monitor

the election process, failed to use its authority to implement any of the penalty

provisions in the Election Law in response to acts of bribery, violence or intimidation.

Equal access to the media for parties other than the CPP was also denied during the


Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in election monitoring called for

reform of the NEC, which was criticized as lacking independence. In August the National

Assembly passed a law empowering the Ministry of Interior - rather than an independent

recruitment committee advocated by NGOs - to nominate NEC members, which resulted

in a CPP-dominated committee.

Freedom of expression


Freedom of expression in political debate was dealt a blow in December 2001, when

Senators Chhang Song, Siphan Phay and Pou Savath were expelled by the CPP after they

expressed opinions differing from the party line during debate.

Electronic media remained under the control of persons and companies affiliated with

the CPP. The independent press affiliated with the political opposition was subject

to threats, closure and lawsuits.

In April, the Phnom Penh court convicted the SRP-affiliated newspaper Samleng Yuvachun

Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth) of defamation and printing false information, and ordered

it to pay 71 million riel (approximately US $18,000). The paper had published an

article accusing two military generals and businessman Mong Reththy, a close ally

of Prime Minister Hun Sen, of illegal logging. After the newspaper appealed the decision,

Mong Reththy and the generals agreed to drop the complaint.

In July, Sok Sothea, a reporter for the opposition Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience)

newspaper was detained for several hours at the Ministry of Interior after he shared

a leaked document from the co-minister of interior with another paper, which published

the document. In August, the Ministry of Information ordered the 30-day suspension

of Moneaksekar Khmer for publishing an article that allegedly affected "national


The English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper was threatened with suspension when

it called January 7 - the day that the Khmer Rouge were defeated by Vietnamese troops

in 1979 - "Vietnamese Liberation Day." The Ministry of Information later

dropped the 15-day suspension order.

Montagnard refugees arrive in Phnom Penh on April 15.

In September, the editor and a reporter from Chakraval (Universe) newspaper were

arrested, allegedly without warrants, and detained overnight after a complaint by

the director-general of the National Police. The pro-government paper had reported

about the confiscation by customs officials of a car purchased by the complainant,

as well as subsequent telephone threats made against the officials. The two men were

released, reportedly after an order from the prime minister.

In October, the Ministry of Information ordered the independent radio station Sambok

Kmum (Beehive) to stop broadcasting reports from the Voice of America and Radio Free


KR tribunal


In February, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the withdrawal of the UN

from further discussions with the Cambodian government over the establishment of

a tribunal to bring to justice former leaders of Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge).

According to the UN, the Cambodian law establishing the tribunal was unable to guarantee

the necessary independence, impartiality and objectivity. The UN had insisted the

tribunal be governed by a memorandum between the UN and Cambodia, rather than the

Cambodian law adopted in August 2001.

The law establishes a special "mixed tribunal" presided over by a majority

of Cambodian judges and co-prosecutors, along with judges and prosecutors from other


Cambodian and international human rights groups supported the UN decision, but stressed

the need for accountability for grave human rights violations committed by the Khmer

Rouge from 1975 to 1979. In July, Hun Sen expressed willingness to make amendments

to the law.

In August, Annan announced that he needed a clear mandate from either the UN General

Assembly or the Security Council to resume negotiations. In December, the UN General

Assembly passed a resolution requesting the secretary-general to resume negotiations

with Cambodia on the "mixed tribunal" formulation, which Cambodian and

international human rights groups have criticized for falling far short of internationally

recognized standards.

Meanwhile, three former Khmer Rouge leaders - Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea

- continued to live freely in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh military court extended the

pre-trial detention of Khmer Rouge military leader Chhit Choeun (Ta Mok), and former

S-21 (Tuol Sleng) prison director Kaing Khek Iev (Duch), by adding charges of crimes

against humanity. Both were initially arrested in 1999.

Cambodia ratified the International Criminal Court treaty, thereby accepting the

court's jurisdiction beginning July 1.

Weak judiciary

Plans for legal and judicial reform stalled. Less than 1 percent of the national

budget was allocated to the justice sector, undermining the judicial system's effectiveness.

A long overdue Statute for Judges, which includes a code of conduct, had still not

been adopted as of December. The Supreme Council of Magistracy, a body commissioned

to oversee the functioning of the judiciary and guarantee its independence, itself



Lacking faith in the judicial system, villagers often resorted to summary justice

by beating and killing people suspected of committing crimes. Local human rights

groups and the UN recorded 68 incidents of mob violence from mid-1999 to August 2002.

While police intervention saved some lives, they

frequently refused to act or were complicit in the violence.

Only two persons served prison terms for their involvement in a mob killing, after

convictions by the Phnom Penh court in a September trial.

Torture by security officials of detainees continued to be a problem. The Criminal

Procedure Code was amended in November 2001 to extend the maximum period in police

detention - the time when torture commonly is used by police to extract confessions

- from 48 to 72 hours.

Five guards accused of torturing prisoners were acquitted in August by a Kampong

Cham provincial court despite witnesses, one of them a prison guard, and medical

records corroborating the torture. Without clarifying his decision, the judge found

the five prison guards not guilty of torture, but ordered administrative action,

acknowledging that the guards had been at fault.

A more positive ruling came in April, when a Svay Rieng provincial court sentenced

three policemen to suspended prison terms for torture.

In many of Cambodia's prisons overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, inadequate food,

and excessive pre-trial detention continued to be reported. In three prisons, shackles

were used to restrain prisoners.

The trials during the year of around 100 persons accused of

involvement with the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF), a group that claimed responsibility

for violent attacks in Phnom Penh in November 2000, had serious shortcomings. Defendants

were arrested without warrants, and denied a prompt trial.

One lawyer represented eighteen suspects, who gave testimonies incriminating each

other, making a proper defense for each of them impossible. The judge denied requests

by some of the defendants' lawyers to summon witnesses, and ignored claims by the

accused of physical or mental pressure during interrogation.

A high-ranking military intelligence official, summoned by the court after one of

the defendants claimed the official had hired him to infiltrate the CFF, failed to

appear. Most of the accused were convicted and sentenced to terms varying from suspended

sentences to life imprisonment.

The Cambodian government created a military anti-terrorism unit, reportedly to provide

protection during November meetings in Phnom Penh of leaders of the Association of

South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The soldiers belonged to Battalion 911, which,

according to the UN, was implicated in killings, illegal detention and torture of

Funcinpec soldiers after the 1997 coup by Hun Sen, then second prime minister.

In October, 30 high-ranking police officers completed a three-month training on fighting

terrorism, conducted in Vietnam

Refugee protection

In January, Cambodia, Vietnam and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

signed a tripartite agreement on the voluntary, UN-monitored repatriation of approximately

1,000 asylum seekers from the Central Highlands of Vietnam (Montagnards) who were

sheltered at two UNHCR sites in Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces.

The agreement crumbled in March after Vietnamese officials barred UNHCR monitoring

teams from the Central Highlands. On March 21, refugees and UNHCR staff were threatened

and attacked when a delegation of more than 400 people, including as many as 100

Vietnamese government agents, overran the Mondolkiri camp and conducted house-to-house

searches of the refugees' huts.

At the end of March, in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Cambodian government

announced that any new Montagnard asylum seekers would be considered illegal migrants

and summarily deported without being given an opportunity to claim asylum.

More than 400 Montagnards were deported to Vietnam during April and May. In mid-April

UNHCR's two provincial refugee camps were closed, and their 900 residents transported

to Phnom Penh, where they were processed for resettlement to the United States. The

first group of Montagnard refugees left for the US in June. As of the end of the

year, 124 refugees remained in the Phnom Penh refugee camp, awaiting security clearances

from the US government.

On July 25, Thich Tri Luc, a Vietnamese monk belonging to the banned Unified Buddhist

Church in Vietnam, disappeared in Phnom Penh after being granted refugee status by

UNHCR. As of November, Cambodian authorities had not responded to requests by human

rights groups for information on his whereabouts.

In August, Cambodian authorities arrested and deported Guojun Li and his wife, Zhang

Xinji, two Falun Gong members under the protection of UNHCR, to China.

SRP member Sok Yoeun remained in detention in Thailand since his arrest in December

1999 for illegal immigration, while hearings continued into the Cambodian government's

request for his extradition as a suspect in a 1998 rocket attack on a motorcade carrying

Hun Sen. This was despite an apparent lack of evidence linking Sok Yoeun to the attack,

and also despite his having been under the protection of UNHCR since shortly after

his escape to Thailand in 1999.

In November, over the objections of human rights groups, Thailand approved Sok Yoeun's

extradition, clearing the way for his forcible return and trial in Cambodia.

Trafficking of human beings to, within and from Cambodia, for purposes of forced

labor including prostitution, begging and adoption remained a major problem. In some

cases, suspected traffickers were arrested.

However, in several instances trafficking victims were arrested and subsequently

deported to Vietnam on charges of illegal immigration. In August, the Phnom Penh

court convicted ten Vietnamese girls, most of them minors, who allegedly had been

trafficked into prostitution in a Phnom Penh brothel. The girls were sentenced to

two to three months in prison for illegal immigration.

In January, Cambodia ratified the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights

of the Child (CRC) on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

It also ratified the optional protocol to the CRC on the involvement of children

in armed conflict.

Labor rights

Labor conditions improved in some workplaces, due to the strengthened capacity

of labor unions, improved relations with factory management, and intensive monitoring

in many of Cambodia's garment factories by the International Labour Organization.

Problems remained with pay, forced overtime, and discrimination of workers who joined

labor unions. In September the Phnom Penh Appeals Court overturned a ruling by the

Kampong Speu court ordering the reinstatement of seven workers who had been fired

after organizing union activity.

Khim Sam On and Sok Bona, leaders of the Cambodian Federation of Independent Trade

Unions, were arrested on July 15 allegedly for inciting violence at a Phnom Penh

factory in 2001. Although they were released from prison in November, their case

was still pending as of the end of the year.

Implementation of the second phase of Cambodia's 'Demobilization and Reintegration

Project' was delayed after concerns about the project's first phase prompted the

World Bank to call for a thorough evaluation. The US $42 million pilot project, largely

funded by the World Bank and Japan, was aimed at downsizing and disarming the military

and cutting the military's budget. The project was hampered by divergent estimates

of the size of the armed forces, with credible report that thousands of "ghost

soldiers" were collecting compensation packages.

The government allocated more money for education and health in 2002, but delays

in disbursement of education funds meant that teachers were not paid and students

had to pay unofficial fees to their teachers. Slow disbursement of funds to the health

sector coupled with low wages for health personnel meant that many Cambodians lacked

access to adequate health care.

In June, the National Assembly passed a law on the prevention and control of the

spread of HIV/AIDS, criminalizing discrimination against people living with the disease.

Insecurity of land tenure contributed to landgrabbing, often by soldiers or companies

with connections to local officials. Legal Aid of Cambodia represented more than

8,000 families, or about 43,000 people, in land cases, most of which involved military

and local officials.

In a significant case that was first brought to court in March 2001, indigenous villagers

in Ratanakkiri province launched a legal appeal against a military general who fraudulently

obtained title to their ancestral lands, putting some 900 villagers at risk of landlessness.

In March 2002, Hun Sen instructed the Ministry of Land Management to purchase the

land from the general and return it to the villagers, in exchange for the villagers

dropping their lawsuit.

Resource use rights

While some steps were taken during the year to protect Cambodia's natural resources,

environmental degradation and harassment and threat of legal action against local

communities and environmental activists remained a serious concern.

Activists welcomed a logging moratorium put into effect in January, and the government's

cancellation of two Malaysian-owned concessions for illegal logging in June. Despite

these measures, extensive small- and medium-scale logging continued throughout the

year, and law enforcement in the forestry sector remained poor.

Environmental groups expressed concerns about a Forestry Law passed by the National

Assembly in July, which lacked guarantees for local communities to continue using

non-timber forest products such as resin and rattan to sustain their livelihoods.

There were numerous reports of intimidation by concessionaires in the provinces to

stop local villagers from accessing forests. In June, security guards of the Tumring

rubber plantation company in Kampong Thom province fired gun shots to intimidate

local villagers attempting to prevent the company from further clearing trees they

used to collect resin.

Community representatives from half a dozen provinces where logging concessions are

located pushed for months for the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW) to allow

public review of forestry concession management plans, as called for in the sub-decree

on Forest Concession Management.

On December 5 approximately 50 security officials, including commune police, military

police, Ministry of Interior intervention police, and "Flying Tiger" motorcycle

police, broke up a gathering of about 150 community representatives from the provinces

at the DFW offices in Phnom Penh. Community representatives had been waiting all

day for a response from DFW to their request for a workshop on logging concession

management plans.

Witnesses stated that at around 6:00 p.m., police surrounded and then descended on

the crowd, kicking and shoving people and hitting them with electric shock batons.

Eleven community representatives were later treated for injuries, including five

who said they had been shocked by electric batons.

In December, DFW and provincial officials questioned community forestry advocates

in Kratie, Kampong Thom, Stung Treng, Mondolkiri, and Preah Vihear provinces about

their activities with environmental groups in Phnom Penh. In several provinces, forestry

officials convened meetings in which villagers were pressured to thumbprint documents

that they could not read, expressing support for the logging concessions.

In early December, the offices of Setrey Santepheap Daembei Parethan (SSDP, or Peaceful

Women for Environment), a grassroots environmental organization in Kratie, were broken

into while project staff were in Phnom Penh. SSDP focuses on communities located

within forest concessions in Kratie, Stung Treng, and Mondolkiri provinces. Two boxes

of files, maps, photographs, video equipment and a television were taken.

On December 17, 18 policemen, accompanied by a forestry official, arrived to make

an appointment with the organization's director. The next day, the police interrogated

the director for an entire day not so much about the break-in, but about the organization,

its staff, and what they had been doing in Phnom Penh. Detailed biographical data

was recorded about the director and her family.

Defending human rights

Dozens of Cambodian human rights groups operated in the country, conducting advocacy,

training and monitoring activities, counseling victims, and providing legal services

to Cambodia's poor.

There was ongoing violence, threats and intimidation against human rights defenders

in 2002. In several cases, criminal proceedings that appeared to be without foundation

were initiated against human rights groups in an apparent attempt to intimidate.

In February, the Phnom Penh court dropped criminal charges filed against the deputy

director of the League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho). These

charges had been sought by the adoptive parents of a seven-year-old girl, angered

by Licadho's request to local authorities to act to stop abuse of the child; after

police intervention, Licadho had been granted temporary legal custody of the child.

The adoptive parents appealed the court decision. In April the Phnom Penh municipal

court ordered Licadho to pay damages of five million riel (US $1,250) to a Phnom

Penh orphanage, without specifying the basis for the fine. Licadho had earlier filed

a complaint against the orphanage for trafficking in babies.

In August, the Cambodian military filed charges of defamation against members of

the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) in Kampong Cham province. The

complaint concerned a CHRAC report sent to different government institutions in March,

requesting the resolution of 18 human rights abuses by soldiers between 1997 and


Police and local officials in Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces bordering Vietnam

threatened villagers with arrest if they assisted Montagnard refugees. Authorities

forced villagers in both provinces to thumbprint statements pledging not to help

the refugees.

On May 16, police arrested a fisherman in Mondolkiri province because of his alleged

assistance to Montagnards seeking refuge. After three months in prison, charges of

human trafficking were dropped and he was released on August 12. On July 5, police

arrested another man in Mondolkiri and detained him in prison on charges of hiding

illegal immigrants. He was released on July 27, after charges were dropped.

In April, several unidentified men physically attacked the director of Global Witness,

the government's official forestry monitor, after the group uncovered evidence of

illegal logging. The government quickly deplored the act, but had not apprehended

any suspects by the end of the year.

On December 30, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the government was pursuing legal

action against Global Witness for allegedly fabricating claims that police used excessive

violence in breaking up a December 5 demonstration at DFW in Phnom Penh. Despite

objections from the World Bank, the government also said that it wanted to terminate

Global Witness's role as the official logging monitor.



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