The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has called on the United Nations to join an investigation into the beating of two CNRP parliamentarians last Monday, expressing serious doubts the Cambodian People’s Party-led government could conduct an independent inquiry into an incident it was almost immediately accused of orchestrating.
On October 26, CNRP lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sakphea were brutally beaten as they left a parliamentary session by men who had joined a pro-CPP demonstration calling for CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha to step down.
Although the CNRP quickly called the attack a “reprisal” from the CPP, the ruling party denied any ties to the incident and Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to investigate the matter in a televised address on Wednesday.
But after almost a week without anyone arrested – despite numerous accounts on social media purporting to identify the attackers – the CNRP says it wants an independent voice in the matter.
“For [the government] to be independent in an investigation that [the CNRP] can be confident in, the CNRP requests the government to invite representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR] to join the process of this investigation,” a statement released yesterday read.
Sokha, who held the position of National Assembly vice president, was stripped of that title on Friday, just days after the beatings.
The CNRP said yesterday that it had decided not to appoint a replacement to fill the role, charging that his removal violated the constitution and broke the bipartisan spirit that ended the party’s year-long boycott of parliament in 2014.
The OHCHR did not respond to questions yesterday asking if it would join an investigation into the beatings, but issued a press release on Friday on the matter.
“We welcome the establishment of an investigative commission into last Monday’s incident, but we stress that the investigation will only be credible if it is independent, impartial, thorough and prompt,” the statement read.
The OHCHR also joined the opposition and other human rights groups in suggesting the government turned a blind eye to the beatings, in stark contrast with heavy-handed government crackdowns on opposition protests in the past.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch strongly suggested the government’s involvement in the case after publishing interviews conducted with both of the beaten lawmakers – who are currently hospitalised in Bangkok – on Saturday.
The rights group noted the pair were diverted to a little-used side exit from the National Assembly and then promptly ambushed, adding that photographs and witnesses from the incident showed the assailants to be plainclothes members of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police and the prime minister’s bodyguard unit.
HRW linked the attack to a broader crackdown on the opposition as evidenced by the subsequent removal of Sokha from his position.
“One day Hun Sen says he wants to work with the opposition, the next day they are attacked and removed from their positions in parliament,” said HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams in the statement.
However, the government is standing firm that the assault of the two lawmakers and Sokha’s removal are unrelated, dismissing the attack as stirred up by a small minority of malcontents.
“[The CNRP] issuing this statement seems more politically motivated than an attempt at finding out who is wrong and who is right and bringing the perpetrators to justice,” said government spokesman Phay Siphan.
Siphan added that the choice not to appoint a new first vice president was the CNRP’s own, noting that the position did not amount to more than an “assistant” of the parliament’s president Heng Samrin anyway.