GOVERNMENT security forces in Phnom Penh killed or wounded at least one in 14 crime
suspects they attempted to arrest last year.
Municipal police officer Song Moritya said of the 1,118 people apprehended in 1997,
65 were killed and 15 others injured.
And these numbers are likely to be conservative according to human rights workers
who say the killing of suspects is often blamed on mob violence.
They have condemned the practice and doubt the justifications that police give for
"It is shocking, whether [the violence] is political or criminal," one
"It is an accepted method for police to kill civilians."
Police have generally claimed that the suspects are shot in self-defense or that
they are 'accidentally' hit by warning shots.
However one human rights worker said police often make a judgment on guilt and execute
the suspect without hesitation.
"It is permitted in this culture of violence to execute suspects... as they
are presumed to be guilty. Killing bandits and criminals is normal," he said.
"The law has no power, it is the rule of force [that reigns].
However Phnom Penh's first deputy governor Chea Sophara of the CPP said he backed
the police's claim of self defence to a lot of the killings.
"You know the police are attacked sometimes by the robbers," he said, citing
a number of incidents reported recently in Khmer-language newspapers where military
and municipal police have been shot while chasing suspects.
However a security official in the CPP said that poor discipline and security forces
with little understanding of basic laws are the real problem. "They don't understand
that if you are in uniform [and] you have a gun, [that] to shoot someone is still
a crime," he said.
"It's anarchy," he said, shaking his head. "Anarchy."
Citing numerous cases where security forces shot escapees last year, he said the
problem exists around the country.
"We try to educate them, [to let them know that] to shoot someone without a
gun is a crime."
He also lamented that corruption allows unscrupulous people to buy their way into
the police and military which then gives them the protection of their badge or military
"You can have anyone [be a policeman] - a Chinese merchant can be a policeman
- just a bit of money and you have a star, a gun," he said.
UN human rights envoy, Thomas Hammarberg, said in a Jan 27 interview that many authorities
- even high-ranking ones - appear to lack an understanding of even the most basic
rules of the law on arrests.
"I just came back from Koh Kong where two women had been arrested by military
without any authority to arrest them, without any warrant. They had not even informed
the court... We informed the court, but that was three weeks after the arrest."
He said the lack of professionalism by authorities in many parts of the country,
is compounded by the lack of a policy to prevent soldiers and police from carrying
their guns off duty.
"Guns should only be carried on duty, otherwise they should be locked up. It
is no doubt intimidating to the civilian population that there are so many uniformed
people around in society with guns. This was a very striking thing in Koh Kong but
I have also seen it in other provinces," he said.
He said another problem is the lack of effective investigations into politically-charged
violent attacks of recent years.
This sends negative signals to security forces, giving them the sense that roguish
officers will not be punished, he said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said on Jan 22 said that the
issue was being discussed with the government at the highest levels, particularly
in regards to high profile killings such as the March 30 grenade attack and the execution
of high-ranking military officials loyal to Funcinpec since July - crimes which rights
workers say set a tone for other authorities involved in similar crimes at a lower-level.
Rights workers who are looking into 30 more reports of potential executions since
August, believe they have substantiated half with seven or eight more looking likely.
One of them said: "This is the [result of the] impunity in Cambodia which has
reigned for three or four years. There is no indication that will change. We would
need a political will that does not exist. Not among Hun Sen, nor [CPP-president]
Chea Sim or [CPP-Interior Minister] Sar Kheng, nor with Funcinpec. People are used
to using [executions] to protect their people," he said.
A human rights survey of news articles published in three Khmer-language newspapers
loyal to the CPP last year, focused on 14 cases in which 16 men accused of having
committed criminal offenses ranging from armed motorcycle robbery, kidnapping and
theft were killed.
The news reports - which are generally accompanied by photographs of the dead - are
based for the most part on information compiled from police or witnesses. While 15
of the victims were killed by security forces - none of the killers were identified,
according to the rights report which was released on condition of anonymity.
While in some cases the use of armed force may have been justified, in others, "the
mere suspicion or knowledge that the suspect has a weapon seems to be considered
sufficient for the authorities to use lethal force", the report said.
"Cases involving the killing of unarmed suspects who are 'trying to escape'
whether they are already in custody or have yet to be arrested... may involve genuine
attempts to escape, [but] in most cases this appears to simply be a lame excuse for
the extra-judicial suspects once they are arrested."
The recent killing of Phon Pheap - a Khmer Rouge defector who the CPP used to justify
the July coup - as he reportedly tried to escape from a military police car when
he was shot in the back and arm on Jan 13, appears to fall in the category of such
questionable killings, according to Khmer Nation Party president Sam Rainsy.
He suggested that Pheap's death guarantees that he can never again shift alliances
and damage the CPP by changing his version of events before the July fighting.
Rainsy, himself the target of an assassination attack on March 30 which killed at
least 17 of his supporters, said extra-judicial killings and their fallout are regularly
used to shut people up.