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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US view on Cambodia's human rights

US view on Cambodia's human rights

T he Post publishes excerpts from the 1995 U.S. State Department's country report

on the human rights practices in Cambodia.

CAMBODIA completed its second year under democratic rule after 20 years of undemocratic

regimes and civil war. The transition to a democratically elected government followed

the signing of the Paris Peace Accords by Cambodia's rival factions in 1991, which

led to free and fair elections administered by the United Nations in May 1993, and

the promulgation of a constitution in September 1993.

King Norodom Sihanouk is the constitutional monarch and Head of State. Most power

lies with the executive branch; the judiciary is not independent in practice. The

Khmer Rouge, which signed the Paris Accords but refused to implement them, continue

to wage a mostly low-level guerrilla insurgency against the Government.

The police have primary responsibility for internal security, but the Royal Cambodian

Armed Forces (RCAF), including the military police, also have domestic security responsibilities.

In early 1995, the Government started efforts to integrate 19,000 former FUNCINPEC

and Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) personnel into the police force. The

Government also continued to implement an ambitious reform plan to improve RCAF performance.

Members of the security forces committed human rights violations, for which they

were rarely prosecuted.

The human rights situation worsened in several respects, including tolerance for

opposition views, but it continued to be better than during previous regimes. There

continued to be reports of numerous abuses, including political intimidation and

instances of extra judicial killings. There were also credible reports that members

of the security forces beat detainees. Prison conditions remained poor, and prolonged

detention was a problem. The Government lacked the resources or the political will

to act aggressively against individuals, particularly members of the military, who

were responsible for such abuses. The Government imposed some restrictions on freedom

of expression and prosecuted several journalists critical of the Government. These

cases, as well as the removal of an outspoken member of parliament by his party and

a grenade attack at an opposition party headquarters, led to concern that the Government

was becoming less tolerant of opposing views. Emerging democratic institutions, particularly

the judiciary, still are weak. The judiciary is subject to influence by the executive

and marred by inefficiency, lack of training, a shortage of resources, and corruption

related to low wages. People were effectively denied the right to a fair trial. The

ethnic Vietnamese minority faced widespread discrimination and some violence, and

people with disabilities also faced societal discrimination. Abuse of children is

common. Persons living in Khmer Rouge zones were denied virtually all political rights

and were subject to serious human rights abuses by the Khmer Rouge leadership.

There was no evidence of a government-sponsored campaign of violence, but there was

one reported case of a killing by government agents for political reasons. In February

two local militia members from Mong Russey district, Battambang, were arrested for

killing two suspected Khmer Rouge members. They were released pending trial in May

but were never tried. There were reports that the military pressured the court to

release the suspects.

There were a number of credible reports that members of government security forces

committed extra judicial killings. The authorities made few arrests in connection

with these crimes, due to a combination of ineffectiveness of law enforcement, intimidation

of civilian authorities by the military, and in some cases a lack of prosecutorial


The Khmer Rouge continued to summarily execute civilians in areas under its control.

The Khmer Rouge also continued to carry out its policy, announced in 1994, to systematically

execute government officials in the countryside. On May 20, approximately 30 Khmer

Rouge entered a village in Kompong Thom province and fired on villagers, killing

4 ethnic Vietnamese and a Khmer policeman. In July a Sihanoukville court found a

former Khmer Rouge soldier guilty of the November 1994 murders of three foreign tourists.

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison along with five other Khmer Rouge members

who were tried in absentia.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. However, there was

one known instance in which RCAF officers abducted a farmer from Kompong Chhnang

province and then moved him to an unknown location. He has not been heard of since.

The military officials acknowledged taking the farmer into custody for suspected

links to the Khmer Rouge but claimed that he had escaped.

The Khmer Rouge often abducted people for periods of two weeks to a month, mostly

to serve as porters. In Koh Kong province, over 40 people disappeared and were assumed

to have been killed by the Khmer Rouge in a revenge attack following attacks by government


The Government does not systematically use torture, but there were credible reports

that security officials often severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during

interrogation. In one particularly egregious case, police severely beat a 15-year-old

suspected of theft, and his mother. The mother had internal injuries as a result.

The police later returned to the home of the 15-year-old, beat and tortured him,

including use of electric shock, and took him into police custody, where he was held

for three days without food and water. Police denied wrongdoing in connection with

the case and the authorities took no action against the perpetrators.

The Government continued efforts to improve prison conditions albeit with limited

financial resources. Conditions in many prisons remained poor. The U.N. Human Rights

Center, the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative for Human Rights, and

an international non governmental organization (NGO) cited a number of serious problems

including overcrowding, food and water shortages, and poor security. Human rights

workers reported that the practice of using shackles and holding prisoners in small,

dark cells, widespread in the State of Cambodia period but virtually eliminated by

the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), had resumed in some prisons.

However, the Government allowed human rights groups to visit prisons and to provide

human rights training to prison guards.

No legal system is known to exist in Khmer Rouge zones. Khmer Rouge forces often

seize hostages in order to intimidate villagers into cooperating with them.

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. However, in practice the

Government does not ensure due process and an independent judiciary. The courts are

subject to influence by the executive, and there is widespread corruption among judges

who do not receive a living wage. Civilian courts are often unable to try members

of the military.

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 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 investigating officials, and illiterate defendants are often not informed

of the content of written confessions they are forced to sign. In cases involving

the military, military officers often exert pressure on judges to have the defendant


Defendants are legally entitled to a presumption of innocence and the right of appeal.

However, because of extensive corruption, defendants are often expected to bribe

the judge for a favorable verdict and therefore are effectively denied the presumption

of innocence.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

Fighting between government forces and the Khmer Rouge insurgency continued. As in

previous years, many civilians were killed or wounded by indiscriminate shelling

and by land mines laid by both sides. villages were subjected to burning and looting

by the Khmer Rouge. These attacks escalated following an October 1994 Khmer Rouge

policy decision to harass local officials and terrorize the local population.

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

Large, organized political demonstrations are rare, although small demonstrations

by villagers in front of the house of the two Prime Ministers were tolerated by the


The Government requires indigenous NGOs to register with the Ministry of Interior.

The Government delayed the registration of some NGOs in 1995 on the grounds that

it was in the process of drafting legislation regulating NGOs. However, no action

has been taken to date against unregistered NGOs

In Khmer Rouge-controlled areas, freedom of assembly and association do not exist.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based

on religion. The Government respects this right in practice.

The Government does not restrict travel outside Cambodia or within parts of Cambodia

it controls, although the presence of land mines and bandits makes travel in some

areas perilous. 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.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese fled Cambodia in early 1993 due to racial

violence directed at Vietnamese. Many returned after the elections. However, the

Cambodian authorities stopped and forbade reentry to several thousand boats on the

Mekong River. Although most of these people have been allowed to return and others

reentered quietly over land, some remain stranded in the border area.

The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to change their government, and

most citizens exercised this right by participating in the 1993 U.N. administered

elections. In those areas of the country controlled by the Khmer Rouge, citizens

cannot exercise this right.

Cambodia's large international and indigenous human rights community, which first

began operating under UNTAC, remained active and engaged in diverse activities. Numerous

indigenous and international human rights organizations and the U.N. Human Rights

Center conducted highly effective human rights training for civil servants, members

of the security forces, villagers, and other groups. There are 40 Cambodian human

rights NGOs which carried out investigations of human rights abuses. The National

Assembly's Human Rights commission, headed by a former NGO leader, served as a liaison

between the Assembly and the human rights community. According to NGO leaders, communication

between human rights NGOs and the executive branch of the Government improved in

1995. Most human rights NGOs reported little overt intimidation, although many felt

that the sensitive issues they covered required them to exercise caution in carrying

out their activities.

The Khmer Rouge do not permit any investigation of human rights violations within

their zones.



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