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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights groups too swamped to celebrate award

Rights groups too swamped to celebrate award

WORTH 1,000 WORDS

The corpse of Funcinpec electoral observer Thong Sophal was found June 27 in

Kandal. His head and face were smashed; his eyes, ear, fingers and the flesh on

his legs from mid-thigh down were missing. A local official suggested the death

was a suicide.

TWO local human rights groups have had little time to celebrate winning a prestigious

international award for their work in Cambodia.

Reports of suspected political murders, attacks, arrests and intimidation are keeping

ADHOC and LICADHO - which together won the $25,000 Robert Baldwin Medal of Liberty

Award July 20 - fully occupied in the lead-up to Sunday's polls.

At Post press time, human rights groups were trying to get medical attention for

Danh Teuv, who was allegedly tortured in police custody.

Teuv, an Interior Ministry official, was arrested with his wife Ly Rosamy, a Sam

Rainsy Party (SRP) candidate, in Phnom Penh on the evening of July 20, according

to an SRP statement.

Rosamy was released after two hours and was not allowed to see her husband until

late next morning. She feared for his safety because when he asked to see a warrant

during their arrest, police punched him in the head, the statement said.

He was bruised and could not stand unassisted when she saw him. He asked in a weak

voice for medicine, according to the statement.

Rights workers say they believe Teuv has been tortured. He was seen on July 22 at

the Phnom Penh Municipal Court "in very bad shape", still needing help

to stand up, they said.

A medical team has been trying to gain access to Teuv since then, but it was still

being denied at press time, 48 hours after his arrest.

Khourn Sophan, chief of the municipal penal police, admitted his deputies had turned

the doctor away but strongly denied Rosamy's allegations of police beatings in PJ

Prison.

"This is completely not true," he said.

Sophan said he did not have an arrest warrant but instead had a prosecutor's order

to arrest Teuv for conspiring to murder businessman Vinh Hong.

The order was issued after a confession from a suspect already in custody, Sophan

said. "I have already arrested the hired criminal [who] said he was hired by

Danh Teuv to kill the victim." The Cambodian Office of the UN High Commissioner

for Human Rights (UNHCHR), in a report covering May 20-July 17, said it was investigating

"13 killings, 4 alleged killings, 3 attempted killings, 7 illegal arrests and

detention, 6 instances of physical abuse, 1 attempted abduction, and over 150 credible

allegations of harassment and intimidation related to the election process."

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia said on July 20 that it noted

"with serious concern the recent spate of political killings", including

the deaths of two activists working for the Sangkum Thmei party and Liberal Democratic

Party in Banteay Meanchey - plus an alleged spy - and a Funcinpec member in Pursat.

The SRP has reported the murders of one party activist in Takeo on July 7, two in

Siem Reap on July 14 and 15, one killing July14 in Battambang and a disappearance

on July 16, and one July 18 killing in Pursat.

The recently-established National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) is charged with investigating

such reports.

Member Svay Sitha said: "I can assure you that no crime will go uninvestigated."

Independent human rights workers say however they have seen no serious commitment

from the NHRC in the six weeks it has been functioning.

Half the NHRC has just returned from a lobbying trip to Washington, DC.

"As far as I know, they haven't come very far; I haven't seen any signs of any

real work done," said UN Special Representative for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg.

ADHOC and LICADHO won the Robert Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award on July 20, given

every two years by the New York-based Lawyers Committee For Human Rights and the

American Civil Liberties Union.

Hammarberg, who nominated the groups, said the award carried "quite a lot"

of prestige. "I think they are good models for human rights in the civil sector

in whatever country. They try to be as impartial as possible, and they try to build

on facts."

LICADHO President Kek Galabru said the award money would go toward medical care for

staff members who suffered injuries in their work, such as one man who was beaten

into a coma last year "because he made too many investigations".

She added the prize was a welcome sign that the often-dangerous work by LICADHO and

ADHOC employees is recognized.

"It comes at the right moment to encourage human rights work," she said.

"We are not very welcome by local authorities, so it's good to have support

from abroad."

ADHOC president Thun Saray agreed: "This kind of award is a thing that pushes

my staff to work even harder," he said.

"It will encourage my staff, make them brave and struggle even more with their

work."

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