Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Cambodian authorities to immediately reveal the whereabouts of a land activist who was “forcibly disappeared” in Preah Vihear province. It said it was the first time such a thing had occurred since the country was ruled by a single party.
On Wednesday last week, HRW claimed that on January 20, Sum Meun, 54, and his son were arrested by soldiers from Battalion 261 of the Army Command Intervention Division 2 of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces when they were driving a homemade truck in Oddar Meanchey province’s Trapaing Prasat district carrying goods to be sold.
HRW claimed Meun and his son were later transferred to the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary headquarters where they were detained overnight.
The organisation said witnesses reported that Meun and his son had been mistreated after their arrest.
Meun’s relatives allegedly told HRW that they had received information that soldiers struck the two with the butts of their rifle and beat them when they were arrested. A photo taken while they were in custody appeared to show bruises on Meun’s face.
Provincial authorities had previously denied that Meun was being secretly detained, saying he fled of his own accord fearing arrest over an ongoing land dispute.
Preah Vihear provincial governor Un Chanda said last Tuesday: “He managed to avoid being arrested and no legal action has so far been taken against him. The case made him fear that authorities would arrest him. That’s why he doesn’t dare come forward.
“Neighbours said he’s nearby. I allowed the district governor to meet with his wife [Phin Mao]. She spoke in a normal voice . . . his wife is helping to hide him. We no longer have measures to arrest him.”
Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams said the authorities should summon Meun to court and legally charge him or send him home so he can reunite with his family.
“There should be an immediate and independent investigation into the case with full cooperation from the army – which is commanded by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, General Hun Manet."
“Cambodia does not have a recent history of forced disappearances, but the one-party rule and an increase in land disputes have brought the situation to a point of alarm,” Adams claimed.
He said the government should swiftly reveal Meun’s whereabouts and show that it is committed to resolving the issues of human rights and alleviate the concerns of the EU and other governments.
In June 2013, Cambodia ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which defined enforced disappearances and made clear that all Cambodians must be legally protected.
‘Fearful for personal safety’
It requires the government to immediately investigate such cases, whether or not a formal complaint has been filed.
HRW’s press release stressed that authorities are also required to take appropriate action to protect relatives from any intimidation or punishment for seeking information about “disappeared” people.
Adams claimed Meun’s family were in fear of their personal safety, and his wife has had no news of her husband’s wellbeing or whereabouts since his arrest, despite repeatedly and publicly calling on the authorities to help find him.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan denied responsibility for the disappearance and said the organisation’s claim was an ill-intentioned attempt to demean Cambodia while an EU delegation was visiting the Kingdom.
Siphan referred questions about Meun’s disappearance to the Ministry of Interior, saying the matter fell under the ministry’s purview.
Meun’s and Mao’s are one of 339 families locked in a land dispute with the Metrei Pheap company on the border between Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces.
In late January, some 200 villagers came to Phnom Penh seeking intervention in the dispute after 13 people were arrested one after another.
The Post was unable to reach Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak for comment.