The Cambodian People’s Party has more than tripled the number of members on its powerful Central Committee that have operational command over state security forces, according to an analysis by Human Rights Watch.
The watchdog yesterday said in a statement that last weekend’s CPP nationwide congress – notable for an unprecedented expansion of the central committee – saw the number of members with such authority increase from 36 to at least 116.
“The party congress appointed virtually every important national, regional and provincial officer and official with command authority over security forces as members of the Central Committee,” HRW said.
The new members include army, military police and police officers, along with all provincial and municipal governors in the Kingdom, who chair “unified command committees” that are in charge of mixed forces.
HRW, a frequent critic of the ruling party which the government has accused of taking a skewed view of Cambodia, said many units commanded by the new members have long histories of human rights violations.
“Holding a senior post in Cambodia’s ruling party has proven to be a handy way for human rights abusers to escape justice,” the group’s Asia director Brad Adams said.
“Lower-level police officers, prosecutors and judges are afraid enough of the security forces, but now they also have to worry about retaliation from the CPP if they do their jobs.”
He added that it would be impossible for Cambodia to have “impartial, rights-respecting security forces so long as their commanders are beholden to the ruling party”.
But Mok Chito, a deputy national police commissioner and one of those recently elected to the Central Committee, said that members of the security forces have the right to be given positions in a political party.
“We, public functionaries, are well aware of our profession, work and legal matters. I don’t think that [being members of the CPP central committee] has any bearing on decisions we make,” he said.
“We only implement the law, and anyone doing wrong will face the law.”
Chito added that the CPP did not support civil servants or members of the armed forces undertaking party duties during their working hours.
“But if they do it outside working time, it is their right,” he said.
Chito added that, nonetheless, HRW’s reports were worthless because they just “pick up bad reports from the streets and jungle to talk about”.
“I have no belief in the reports of Human Rights Watch because their reports come from a group of people that don’t want Khmer people to have happiness.”
Last weekend’s CPP congress, called explicitly to prepare the party for its 2018 election run, also saw a number of young politicians elected to the central committee, which more than doubled in size to 545 members.