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Hammarberg bothered by "impunity"

Hammarberg bothered by "impunity"

ALTHOUGH he sounded notes of cautious optimism during his

last visit here, the UN human rights envoy, as well as

local rights workers, say they remain concerned at the

continuing culture of impunity in Cambodia.

"Serious crimes with a political connotation,

including assassinations, have still not been

clarified," Thomas Hammarberg, Special

Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Human

Rights in Cambodia, told the General Assembly Nov 6 in a

prepared statement.

The UN has documented 34 killings in August and September

of this year, according to a report Hammarberg released

as he concluded his 11th visit to Cambodia Oct 30. The 34

new deaths make a total of nearly 200 that the UN has

investigated, documented and reported to the government

in the past 20 months (see box).

Rights workers say none have been seriously and

thoroughly investigated by authorities; only a handful of

arrests have been made and none have resulted in

convictions.

The new UN report includes two persons killed during the

demonstrations, and 24 mostly unidentified bodies found

in or near Phnom Penh "part of a surge that

coincided with the suppression of opposition protests by

the security authorities".

Although the UN said it could not link the 24 deaths

mostly violent ones to the crackdowns, it noted that up

to 75 people have been missing since demonstrations ended

Sep 17.

"Our main concern is those unaccounted for,"

said one rights worker. "There are people out there

that still don't know what happened to their loved

ones."

The report noted that 47 named persons remained missing

and not known to be arrested, including four monks, while

six people were arrested but never accounted for. In

addition, the UN says that 22 cases of unidentified

persons being arrested as "highly credible".

The report also details injuries sustained during that

period: at least 77 injured, including at least 18 monks

and one nun. Sixteen people sustained bullet wounds,

including two monks. About half those injured by bullets

were hit in the upper body.

Yet despite the alarming figures in his report,

Hammarberg was upbeat about his recent meetings with the

government at his Oct 30 press conference.

"The atmosphere was positive," he said. "I

hope this more constructive atmosphere will

continue."

He noted an encouraging accomplishment: the National

Human Rights Commission signed a memo with the UN rights

office here pledging closer cooperation, including a

visit from two independent UN experts to improve criminal

investigation methodology.

NHRC chair Om Yienting said he welcomed the memo and the

spirit of cooperation. He said the experts would

"work with my committee to first, reform and

strengthen the system of justice in Cambodia, and second,

to improve the efficiency of crime investigation".

However, two other independent UN experts have already

concluded that the government could undertake proper

investigations; political considerations, not technical

ones, appears to be the problem.

"The existing system itself is capable of dispensing

objective justice, provided it functions independently...

it is clear that the Judiciary, the Public Prosecutor's

Branch and the Police have not been displaying...

functional independence," the report read.

The two international experts visited Cambodia in April

1998, releasing their report in May. They assessed

government investigations of the March 30, 1997 grenade

attack on a political rally and the executions of

opposition officials after July 1997's coup.

"The United Nations experts were struck by the fact

that political homicide engendered no serious attempts at

investigation," they wrote.

The government maintains that efforts at investigation

are still continuing. "We have never closed any

case," Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak

said.

"Every investigation is still open... sometimes the

criminal

investigations take 10 or 15 years, even in the US,"

he noted, pledging: "Criminals will not escape from

the net of law."

"The investigation of past crimes is very slow

because we want to work on the basis of the rule of law

and want the cases to be completed before [bringing them

to] the court," Om Yienting explained. "We want

the work to be done perfectly."

Hammarberg has repeatedly pressed the government to give

more concrete signals that crimes must not go unpunished.

"[T]here is... a need for the Government to give

higher priority to this problem [impunity]," he told

the General Assembly.

However, local rights workers worry that the flip side of

impunity might be hasty prosecutions or even coerced

confessions. Hammarberg's annual written report to the

General Assembly notes ominous findings on police

torture.

"[I]nterviews with several hundred detainees and

prisoners indicate that at least one suspect out of five

or six appears to have been beaten or tortured during

interrogation in police custody. The data also indicate

that 92 percent of the interviewees who were interrogated

in police custody had confessed their imputed offense...

The courts rely heavily on the police reports which are

based primarily on these confessions."

Om Yienting acknowledged the problem, noting: "Now

we are trying to give advice to work hard on the issue

and... advise the police not to get false confessions

from the people they interrogate. If we get a false

confession it is another violation of human rights."

Hammarberg's written report, which was released Nov 6 and

will form the basis for a General Assembly resolution on

Cambodia in December, also covers prison conditions;

workers', women's, children's and minority rights; and

political violence and human rights related to the July

election.

He wrote that the election campaign was marked by a

"pattern of discrimination against ethnic

Vietnamese" and that "equitable access to the

broadcast media did not exist in Cambodia".

And he noted that up to 17 killings and two attempted

killings in the pre-election period appeared to be

political; however, local rights workers say that serious

investigations are still altogether lacking.

But Hammarberg also told the General Assembly:

"Statements on this point [impunity] during my

recent visit by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen were

encouraging."

Hammarberg acknowledged that government promises may not

always translate into action.

"I'm not naive; I make a distinction between words

and deeds," he said Oct 30, but added: "It's my

job to be hopeful and constructive."

TALLY OF RECENT

UNINVESTIGATED DEATHS:

Grenade attack March 30, 1997: 16

Extrajudicial executions, July 97-Apr 98: 83

Election-related violence, May-Aug 98: 49

Post-election violence, Aug-Oct 98: 34

TOTAL: 182

Virtually all remain

uninvestigated. Not one has resulted in a conviction.

Reports and figures from the Special Representative of

the UN Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia

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