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Amnesty harsh in criticism

Amnesty harsh in criticism

A MNESTY International has blasted Cambodia's government for failing to bring to

justice police and soldiers who abuse and terrorize the populace.

"In

some of these cases, the weight of evidence against the perpetrators is

overwhelming and yet they remain free to continue with their illegal activities,

" says an upcoming annual report from the London-based human rights group,

obtained by the Post.

In the strongly-worded report, Amnesty says the

Royal Government "has become less tolerant of any criticism of its policies in

the media and by human rights groups" since the attempted coup last

July.

"Journalists, editors and human rights workers have increasingly

operated in a climate of unease, victims of veiled or open threats from people

in authority."

The report chronicles numerous cases of

politically-motivated killings, torture, forced conscription, intimidation of

the judiciary, arbitrary harassment of civilians and attacks on ethnic

Vietnamese.

It says government and military authorities are well aware

of the abuses, however, official investigations "appear to be designed to refute

the findings of human rights investigators, rather than to search for the

truth."

In particular, Amnesty criticizes the Special Investigation

Commission assigned to probe the operation of the S-91 military intelligence

unit in Battambang, accused of running an illegal detention centre near Wat Cheu

Kmau where at least 35 prisoners were tortured and murdered and 19 others

illegally held.

So far, no arrests have been made by the nine-person

commission, appointed last July and made up entirely of members of the Cambodian

People's Party (CPP), putting several commissioners in "a clear conflict of

interest."

"Amnesty International fears that elements within the

military and political hierarchy of the CPP and its former army, the CPAF, have

been able to prevent any action being taken against the perpetrators of these

crimes," reads the report.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian government is suing

two French newspapers for defamation, over articles which made reference to

killings and mutilation of corpses at Cheu Kmau.

"Publication of facts is

not defamation. Attempting to cover up human rights violations because it is

politically expedient to do so is a crime," the report states.

Amnesty

also condemns the Khmer Rouge for deliberate arbitrary killings, the taking of

civilian hostages and the forcible eviction of whole villages - as well as

continued attacks on ethnic Vietnamese.

However, it warns: "Abuses

committed by this group - which Amnesty International condemns - should never be

used as a means to divert attention from, and still less to justify, human

rights violations committed by the government side."

As it has in

previous reports, Amnesty also denounces the continued persecution and

discrimination against the country's ethnic Vietnamese minority by government

authorities.

While it does list a few "positives" - such as the

establishment of the Cambodian Court of Appeals and the Commission on Human

Rights and Reception of Complaints of the National Assembly - the report warns

several new or proposed laws, such as the draft press law, could easily lead to

human rights abuses.

Criminal penalties proposed for the defamation and

humiliation of individuals would be "an infringement of international human

rights standards and should be replaced by civil sanctions, such as fines,"

Amnesty suggests.

It also recommends the government:

  • Immediately investigate human rights abuses, bring perpetrators to justice

    and provide financial compensation to victims;

  • Instruct security forces to protect basic human rights and promptly

    investigate any reported violations during armed conflict - in particular the

    beheading of a KR prisoner of war in Battambang in May 1994;

  • Provide equal rights and protection for ethnic minorities;
  • Ensure the end of harassment and threats against journalists, editors and

    human rights workers.

"Failure to act now to stop violations and to change laws and practices which

allow them to occur, will lead to more violence and may further compromise the

fragile restoration of normality in Cambodia."

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