Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Report to gov't as PM rounds on rights staff

Report to gov't as PM rounds on rights staff

Report to gov't as PM rounds on rights staff

HUMAN rights workers came under fire from Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, just days

before the United Nations Center for Human Rights (UNCHR) submitted a comprehensive

report to the government detailing rights abuses in the wake of the July 5-6 fighting.

Hun Sen charged that human rights organizations - and the UNCHR in particular - had

made allegations of violations by government forces, including summary executions

and torture, without proof.

"They cannot just accuse us without evidence," Hun Sen said Aug 18. He

also accused UNCHR workers of frightening people into fleeing the country, and said

he would request the UN to change some of their staff in Phnom Penh.

UNCHR officials said they were "surprised" by the Second Prime Minister's

outburst as they had been in regular liaison with one of Hun Sen's advisors during

their investigations of abuses.

They submitted a report to the government Aug 25 detailing the results of their investigations.

"This kind of report we have submitted is nothing new. For the most part government

officials have been appreciative of our bringing to their attention of abuses we've

verified," said David Hawk, UNCHR officer-in-charge.

Hawk said he had requested a meeting with Hun Sen "to discuss his concerns in

detail", and noted that UNCHR have held regular meetings with Om Yien Tieng,

a senior Hun Sen aide.

"He would have known where we were going and what we wanted to do. We were doing

the investigation with the cooperation of the government authorities," said

Hawk.

The UNCHR report details 41 cases of extra-judicial killings of senior Funcinpec

military leaders and soldiers loyal to them and over 50 instances of "cremations

of individuals in suspicious circumstances", according to a UNCHR official.

Among those alleged killed while in government custody are Interior Secretary of

State Ho Sok, Defense Ministry intelligence officials Chao Sambath and Lak Ki, Defense

Undersecretary of State Kroch Yoeum, and deputy chief of staff of military Region

5, Thlang Sovannarith.

Ly Seng Hong, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) deputy chief of general staff,

and Maen Bun Thon, a senior Defense Ministry official, are listed as missing and

presumed executed.

The report also contains gruesome photographs of executed Funcinpec soldiers, some

of whom investigators unearthed from shallow graves.

UNCHR investigators uncovered evidence of torture of Funcinpec soldiers detained

after the fighting. At the elite army Division 911 base in Kambol, Kampong Speu province,

30 prisoners were held in a windowless two-by-six meter cell for 10 days. The detainees

were forced to drink sewage water and were beaten until they confessed to being specially

recruited to fight Hun Sen.

Human rights officials attribute many of the killings to a situation of "institutional

impunity" which arose after the fighting, and described the murders as "political".

"They were killed because they belong to the opposition," said one rights

worker.

Hun Sen's aides said that the government would continue to cooperate with the UNCHR,

but confirmed that the CPP leader remained firm on the need for personnel changes

at the UN Center.

"We don't want some people here who have made accusations without evidence..."

said Prak Sokhon, a senior advisor to Hun Sen.

Human rights officials said they were ready to answer charges that they had caused

people to flee the country and said that their evidence of abuses was "very

strong."

Nevertheless, some officials are now concerned that the Prime Minister's remarks

could impact on the safety of human rights investigators, particularly local staff.

"We've pointed out that the comments of Hun Sen create a context for retaliation

to happen," said one human rights worker.

Human Rights Watch/Asia sprang to the UNCHR's defense in a report which alleged "a

protracted campaign of intimidation by Hun Sen's forces".

The report called on the government to "end all harassment and threats"

against the UNCHR field office and provide explicit guarantees that the office could

"continue to operate without restriction."

"The burden should be on Hun Sen to explain the exact circumstances under which

leading Funcinpec figures and their bodyguards were killed and arrest those responsible

for murder," said Human Rights Watch/Asia executive director Sidney Jones.

The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia, Thomas

Hammarberg, is due to arrive in the capital Aug 31. During the visit, he is scheduled

to discuss the report with Hun Sen and government leaders.

But human rights officials acknowledged that the government had a poor track record

in bringing to justice those responsible for abuses.

"There's been a long-term problem with investigations not leading to the identification

of suspects and the prosecution of perpetrators," said UNCHR's David Hawk, citing

as examples the March 30 grenade attack, the execution of Ho Sok and "political

violence" against Cambodian journalists which has claimed the lives of four

since 1993.

"These failures in the past have created a climate of impunity," said Hawk.

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