"WE, THE PEOPLE OF CAMBODIA... stood up with a
resolute determination... to restore Cambodia into an
`Island of Peace' based on a multi-party liberal
democratic regime guaranteeing human rights and the
respect of law ..."
Such is the promise in the preamble to Cambodia's Sept
21, 1993 Constitution. But on its fifth anniversary, with
human rights workers reporting at least 26 extra-judicial
executions discovered since Sept 7, its envisioned
"island of peace" may be instead becoming a
maelstrom of strife.
"Every Khmer citizen shall have the right to life,
personal freedom and security." (Art. 32)
The UN rights office (CO-HCHR) submitted a report
documenting "26 instances of killing and other
apparent violent deaths" to the government on Sept
28, according to director Rosemary McCreery.
The total includes two men shot during the Sept 7 - 14
crackdown on street demonstrations, two exhumed near
Pochentong Airport, and one bodyguard of a Funcinpec
parliamentarian who was shot Sept 17 outside his
brother's house, McCreery said.
Of the additional 21 bodies found in and around Phnom
Penh between Sept 7 - 25, McCreery said: "We cannot
say these deaths were related to the demonstrations
because we can't identify them," adding that she
hoped the government would investigate.
The government's Cambodian Human Rights Committee, for
its part, released its first report on Sep 19, reporting
six killings during Sept 1 - 18. Two overlap with the
Like the UN report, the government's does not assess the
killings as political or not, merely noting "most of
them are difficult to make a clear conclusion of the
motive". No arrests have been made, but
investigations are ongoing.
On Sept 23 the COHCHR released a sixth report on 35
alleged executions. It concluded that sixteen people
"were killed apparently in connection with the
electoral process because of their political beliefs or
affiliation", and that six more were killed "in
cases where both political and personal aspects were
present" between May 20 and Aug 20.
Seven cases were unresolved because of lack of
information; six were deemed unrelated to the election;
fourteen more had already been investigated as
While the election-related body count is lower than that
in 1993, human rights workers say the new bodies turning
up around Phnom Penh have them very worried. They also
note that there may be hundreds of people missing since
the crackdown on demonstrations.
Many liken the rights climate to the days following the
July 1997 coup. The UN office documented over 80
extrajudicial executions of opposition supporters during
that time in two memoranda to the government; no arrests
have been made.
In addition, rights investigators themselves have been
subject to death threats. Infiltrators of the COHCHR
radio system threatened UN workers during the
"Human rights now is in a very bad position,"
said another rights worker. "The future is very
Such despair is now widespread in the rights community.
An initial period of hope for the new Cambodia stemming
from the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and the UNTAC period
saw a flourishing of human-rights and rule-of-law NGOs
But since 1997 starting with the March 30, 1997 grenade
attack on a rally led by dissident Sam Rainsy, which
killed at least 16, and following on to the coup,
election violence and now demonstration-related
violations Cambodia has, with few exceptions, regressed
in terms of human rights and impunity, experts say.
"The right to ... non-violent demonstration shall be
implemented in the framework of a law." (Art. 37)
Peaceful protesters found out how well their right to
demonstrate was protected when police descended with riot
sticks, electric batons and even guns.
Demonstration speakers did not fare so well either. Kem
Sokha, of the Son Sann Party, and Po Tey, of the
Dharmacracy, Women and Nation Party have been summoned to
the Municipal Court for questioning on their role in the
"Democracy Square" sit-in, according to
Municipal Judge Mong Moni Chariya.
The judge said summonses had been sent to their homes
asking them to appear in court on Oct 1, but that the
court had not been notified whether they had been
Meanwhile, confusion reigned over whether Rainsy was
wanted for questioning or not. Mong Moni Chariya said
Sept 28 that a Sept 7 summons for Rainsy was still in
But the Information Ministry said Sept 30: "The
court has not yet had a plan to summon Sam Rainsy."
Rainsy left for Bangkok Sept 25 and was scheduled to
depart Oct 1 on an international lobbying tour. Sakarach
said Rainsy and his wife, MP Tioulong Saumura, would
likely be gone at least two weeks.
"Citizen's freedom to travel ... shall be
respected." (Art 40)
Secretary of State for Information Khieu Kanharith has
said that opposition politicians except those with
summonses outstanding were now free to leave the country,
thus confirming the end of a quasi-official travel ban
dating from Sept 7.
Several politicians had been stopped at the airport
trying to leave the country between Sept 10 and the
convening of the National Assembly on Sept 24. After
Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh (who had left once
previously) flew out unhindered on the 25th, others have
Kem Sokha, who exposed the ban when he tried to fly out
on Sept 10, says he fears for his life. Prime
Minister-elect Hun Sen has repeatedly singled out Sokha
in reference to making arrests. Sokha has gone into
hiding and has been unreachable by telephone for several
Sabu Bacha, second vice-president of the Son Sann Party,
said on Sept 29 that Sokha was secure. "I don't know
where he is, but I know for sure he is safe because I
contacted him and he told me he was safe."
One democracy expert suggested that, while Sokha's fear
was understandable, he might have improved his situation
by dramatizing his plight.
"I cannot speak for him, but if I were Kem Sokha...
I would chain myself, padlock myself at the airport and
throw away the key to highlight the case," said Lao
Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute for