Systematic extra-judicial killings were directed and executed for decades by death squads established under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime and run by men who are now some of the highest-ranking members of government, a report released yesterday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleges.
The report, Tell Them That I Want to Kill Them, unearths hundreds of cases of political killings investigated by the United Nations, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, rights groups and the media that are linked to individuals including chief of the Ministry of Interior’s criminal department Mok Chito and Central Security Directorate chief Sok Phal.
From the “A-teams” or death squads established in the 1980s to the grenade attacks on opposition parties in the 1990s, the bloody 1997 coup d’etat to the killing of Chut Wutty this year, the report outlines how alleged murderers have been promoted in the Cambodian People's Party-led government rather than prosecuted.
The government has said the report is a baseless, politically timed stunt intended to try and derail the ASEAN summit that begins on Thursday.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the farcical explanation for the death of fierce anti-logging activist Chut Wutty — an official investigation revealed he was shot by a military police officer who was then, accidentally, killed with his own gun by a man trying to disarm him — showed murders were rewarded by the Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
“The fact that, for instance, Mok Chito is tapped to go down to lead the investigation and come up with a story to try to explain away the Chut Wutty murder shows that these people are still the go-to people for the CPP,” Robertson said.
“Somebody like Mok Chito, who is known to have a long association with the most senior people in the government and is known to have a reputation as someone who has repeatedly got their hands dirty for the CPP as an enforcer type, this is the type of person that... when this person says what the story is, everybody salutes.”
Wutty was killed on April 26 while investigating illegal logging in the Cardamom Mountains.
The report quotes a senior operative under the State of Cambodia, the regime that ruled Cambodia immediately after the Khmer Rouge, detailing how a secret death squad called A-92 was directed by Sok Phal and Mok Chito.
“When [senior police officer] Mok Chito or my unit discovered something or a target, we first had to make a report to our superiors. They take the decision to kill. Mok Chito was involved in lots of killings,” the anonymous operative is quoted as saying.
“Sok Phal was in charge of internal security, while Luor Ramin was responsible for foreigners. A-teams reported to Sok Phal, who reported to Sin Sen. Sometimes they went directly to Sin Sen.”
Sok Phal said yesterday he was very surprised to hear of the allegations against him.
“It is the first time that I heard people accuse me; I am always helping people,” he said, requesting a copy of the report before he could comment further.
Mok Chito, who, according to the report, was referred to by one US diplomat as “the ultimate fox in the chicken coop”, said he was at the gym yesterday and then switched off his phone.
Many others who were subsequently promoted to high-level positions in the CPP and government are named as having been involved in extrajudicial killings or death squads.
They include You Sin Long, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs; Heng Pov, who became Phnom Penh police chief and an adviser to Hun Sen until he was jailed on a slew of charges including extortion and murder; and Luor Ramin, who has also been promoted to the upper ranks of the NACD.
None of them could be reached yesterday, and Sin Sen died in 2008.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said on the sidelines of a meeting on Tuesday morning that Human Rights Watch was just trying to make noise ahead of ASEAN, and called such attempts standard practice for rights groups and protesters operating during international meets.
“First of all, he must give the proof to say that [these men] are responsible for all these things. I think for Human Rights Watch, it is just a personal vendetta between them and the present prime minister,” he said.
HRW references, among many other sources, a September 1993 United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia human rights report, which found 39 incidents of “killing political opponents” that resulted in 26 casualties and 25 killings intended to intimidate the public.
The death squads that HRW said performed these operations were dissolved after a failed 1994 coup attempt and eventually reintegrated into the police, today operating as two distinct units, Kamlang la’or (good forces) and Kamlang samngat (secret forces).
Time and time again, the report points to murders conducted with complete impunity. There were no subsequent arrests, instead, authorities frequently devised ludicrous conclusions, including outlandish claims of suicide, a trend the report suggests continues today.
When investigating the death of senior Funcinpec General Chao Sambath, who the UN reported was shot three times in the head by soldiers immediately following the 1997 coup d’etat, authorities concluded the deceased had committed suicide “by biting his own tongue”, the report states.
In another case, Khmer Krom monk Eang Sok Thoeun – who was found dead with his throat slit three times amid an official crackdown on monk protests – was also deemed to have committed suicide by police.
They then ordered his immediate burial and prohibited monks from conducting funeral proceedings.
The report highlights a speech in which Hun Sen suggests that an infamous 1997 grenade attack at a rally held by an opposition party led by Sam Rainsy, which left 16 dead and more than 150 injured, had been orchestrated by party leadership in order to blame the CPP.
Most recently, HRW points to the farcical and contradictory official accounts of how Chut Wutty and military police officer In Rattana were killed, a narrative that was finally settled by none other that Mok Chito.
The intimidation is also shown to have stretched to the media in cases such as the killing of journalist Khim Sambo, a reporter with the opposition-affiliated newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer, who was gunned down with his son in a drive-by shooting.
The grisly details of how bullets were extracted from the dead body of outspoken newspaper editor Thun Bun Ly’s body by a gloved soldier in 1996, almost immediately after he was killed in a crime that never led to a single arrest, are also recounted.
“It is not my job to hold the testicles of the co-prime ministers [Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen],” Bun Ly is quoted as having told an amused courtroom during a trial instigated against him because of critical articles he published.
Human Rights Watch also quoted Hing Bun Heang, former deputy head of the notorious Brigade 70, who told the Post after the 1997 grenade attack that he wanted to kill journalists who alleged Hun Sen’s bodyguards were involved.
“Tell them that I want to kill them... publish it, say that I, chief of the bodyguards, have said this. I want to kill... I am so angry,” Bun Heang is quoted as saying.
Hing Bun Heang is now commander of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.