Soy Tha, widow of Funcinpec candidate Thon Phally. He was one of 15 candidates and activists murdered prior to the commune elections.
Human Rights Watch, an international organization that monitors human rights abuses
around the world, has released its annual review of human rights developments in
Unlike in neighboring Laos and Vietnam, Cambodia has seen improved human rights
and the development of a thriving civil society in recent years.
Emerging from decades of war, Cambodia has ratified many of the main international
human rights treaties and was the first Southeast Asian country to ratify the International
Criminal Court treaty. In 2002, however, Cambodia failed to meet many of its obligations
to promote human rights.
Local elections, held in February, were marred by killings and intimidation of political
opposition members and others, and subsequent continuing violence offered a worrying
prognosis for national elections in 2003. Opposition newspapers were increasingly
subject to threats, closure and arrests of staff.
There was little progress in the negotiations to establish a tribunal for former
Khmer Rouge leaders. The judicial system remained extremely weak and generally unable
to deliver justice to those whose human rights were violated, although efforts were
made to prosecute security officials accused of torturing detainees. Prison conditions
Cambodia deported to Vietnam hundreds of asylum seekers fleeing persecution of indigenous
minorities there, in violation of its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
The government failed to adequately address trafficking in people. Many Cambodians
suffered from poor education and health services and lack of land tenure.
There was some progress in the field of labor rights, and environmentalists strengthened
advocacy efforts on behalf of Cambodia's rural poor and their right to participate
in decisions about the use of natural resources. Local authorities in several provinces
gave strong support to communities seeking to have a say in the management of community
forests, fisheries, and other natural resources.
In February Cambodia held its first local elections in more than 30 years, to
elect leaders for the country's 1,621 communes. The Cambodian People's Party (CPP)
consolidated its grip on power by taking control of 99 percent of the commune councils.
There were numerous instances of violence, intimidation, vote-buying and voter coercion,
although at a lower level than during the 1998 national elections. Fifteen prospective
candidates and activists of the political opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the
United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia
(Funcinpec), as well as the two-year-old son of a CPP candidate, were killed between
January 2001 and polling day. A local election observer was killed two days before
Political violence continued in the aftermath of the commune elections and as the
country prepared for national elections, scheduled for July 2003. The mutilated body
of Kork Khom, an SRP activist from Takeo, was found in a rice field in July. Some
of his fingers and part of his left ear had been cut off, his leg was broken, and
numerous bruises marked his body.
By the end of 2002, another eight killings had taken place that were thought to be
related to politics.
In October, just before Senator Kem Sokha resigned from the Funcinpec party, he sustained
injuries in a car accident that appeared to have been deliberately staged to warn
or harm him.
In contrast to 1998 when no one was held accountable for election violence, in 2002
authorities arrested several people suspected of political killings. In ten of 24
cases, provincial courts convicted defendants. In a move to appease donors, the Ministry
of Interior pressured court officials to speed up trials in some of these murder
cases. As a result, legal observers found that some of the accused were convicted
based on insufficient evidence.
Three girls arrested as illegal immigrants but later released, rest at an NGO shelter in July.
The National Election Committee (NEC), commissioned to organize, oversee and monitor
the election process, failed to use its authority to implement any of the penalty
provisions in the Election Law in response to acts of bribery, violence or intimidation.
Equal access to the media for parties other than the CPP was also denied during the
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in election monitoring called for
reform of the NEC, which was criticized as lacking independence. In August the National
Assembly passed a law empowering the Ministry of Interior - rather than an independent
recruitment committee advocated by NGOs - to nominate NEC members, which resulted
in a CPP-dominated committee.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression in political debate was dealt a blow in December 2001, when
Senators Chhang Song, Siphan Phay and Pou Savath were expelled by the CPP after they
expressed opinions differing from the party line during debate.
Electronic media remained under the control of persons and companies affiliated with
the CPP. The independent press affiliated with the political opposition was subject
to threats, closure and lawsuits.
In April, the Phnom Penh court convicted the SRP-affiliated newspaper Samleng Yuvachun
Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth) of defamation and printing false information, and ordered
it to pay 71 million riel (approximately US $18,000). The paper had published an
article accusing two military generals and businessman Mong Reththy, a close ally
of Prime Minister Hun Sen, of illegal logging. After the newspaper appealed the decision,
Mong Reththy and the generals agreed to drop the complaint.
In July, Sok Sothea, a reporter for the opposition Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience)
newspaper was detained for several hours at the Ministry of Interior after he shared
a leaked document from the co-minister of interior with another paper, which published
the document. In August, the Ministry of Information ordered the 30-day suspension
of Moneaksekar Khmer for publishing an article that allegedly affected "national
The English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper was threatened with suspension when
it called January 7 - the day that the Khmer Rouge were defeated by Vietnamese troops
in 1979 - "Vietnamese Liberation Day." The Ministry of Information later
dropped the 15-day suspension order.
Montagnard refugees arrive in Phnom Penh on April 15.
In September, the editor and a reporter from Chakraval (Universe) newspaper were
arrested, allegedly without warrants, and detained overnight after a complaint by
the director-general of the National Police. The pro-government paper had reported
about the confiscation by customs officials of a car purchased by the complainant,
as well as subsequent telephone threats made against the officials. The two men were
released, reportedly after an order from the prime minister.
In October, the Ministry of Information ordered the independent radio station Sambok
Kmum (Beehive) to stop broadcasting reports from the Voice of America and Radio Free
In February, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the withdrawal of the UN
from further discussions with the Cambodian government over the establishment of
a tribunal to bring to justice former leaders of Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge).
According to the UN, the Cambodian law establishing the tribunal was unable to guarantee
the necessary independence, impartiality and objectivity. The UN had insisted the
tribunal be governed by a memorandum between the UN and Cambodia, rather than the
Cambodian law adopted in August 2001.
The law establishes a special "mixed tribunal" presided over by a majority
of Cambodian judges and co-prosecutors, along with judges and prosecutors from other
Cambodian and international human rights groups supported the UN decision, but stressed
the need for accountability for grave human rights violations committed by the Khmer
Rouge from 1975 to 1979. In July, Hun Sen expressed willingness to make amendments
to the law.
In August, Annan announced that he needed a clear mandate from either the UN General
Assembly or the Security Council to resume negotiations. In December, the UN General
Assembly passed a resolution requesting the secretary-general to resume negotiations
with Cambodia on the "mixed tribunal" formulation, which Cambodian and
international human rights groups have criticized for falling far short of internationally
Meanwhile, three former Khmer Rouge leaders - Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea
- continued to live freely in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh military court extended the
pre-trial detention of Khmer Rouge military leader Chhit Choeun (Ta Mok), and former
S-21 (Tuol Sleng) prison director Kaing Khek Iev (Duch), by adding charges of crimes
against humanity. Both were initially arrested in 1999.
Cambodia ratified the International Criminal Court treaty, thereby accepting the
court's jurisdiction beginning July 1.
Plans for legal and judicial reform stalled. Less than 1 percent of the national
budget was allocated to the justice sector, undermining the judicial system's effectiveness.
A long overdue Statute for Judges, which includes a code of conduct, had still not
been adopted as of December. The Supreme Council of Magistracy, a body commissioned
to oversee the functioning of the judiciary and guarantee its independence, itself
Lacking faith in the judicial system, villagers often resorted to summary justice
by beating and killing people suspected of committing crimes. Local human rights
groups and the UN recorded 68 incidents of mob violence from mid-1999 to August 2002.
While police intervention saved some lives, they
frequently refused to act or were complicit in the violence.
Only two persons served prison terms for their involvement in a mob killing, after
convictions by the Phnom Penh court in a September trial.
Torture by security officials of detainees continued to be a problem. The Criminal
Procedure Code was amended in November 2001 to extend the maximum period in police
detention - the time when torture commonly is used by police to extract confessions
- from 48 to 72 hours.
Five guards accused of torturing prisoners were acquitted in August by a Kampong
Cham provincial court despite witnesses, one of them a prison guard, and medical
records corroborating the torture. Without clarifying his decision, the judge found
the five prison guards not guilty of torture, but ordered administrative action,
acknowledging that the guards had been at fault.
A more positive ruling came in April, when a Svay Rieng provincial court sentenced
three policemen to suspended prison terms for torture.
In many of Cambodia's prisons overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, inadequate food,
and excessive pre-trial detention continued to be reported. In three prisons, shackles
were used to restrain prisoners.
The trials during the year of around 100 persons accused of
involvement with the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF), a group that claimed responsibility
for violent attacks in Phnom Penh in November 2000, had serious shortcomings. Defendants
were arrested without warrants, and denied a prompt trial.
One lawyer represented eighteen suspects, who gave testimonies incriminating each
other, making a proper defense for each of them impossible. The judge denied requests
by some of the defendants' lawyers to summon witnesses, and ignored claims by the
accused of physical or mental pressure during interrogation.
A high-ranking military intelligence official, summoned by the court after one of
the defendants claimed the official had hired him to infiltrate the CFF, failed to
appear. Most of the accused were convicted and sentenced to terms varying from suspended
sentences to life imprisonment.
The Cambodian government created a military anti-terrorism unit, reportedly to provide
protection during November meetings in Phnom Penh of leaders of the Association of
South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The soldiers belonged to Battalion 911, which,
according to the UN, was implicated in killings, illegal detention and torture of
Funcinpec soldiers after the 1997 coup by Hun Sen, then second prime minister.
In October, 30 high-ranking police officers completed a three-month training on fighting
terrorism, conducted in Vietnam
In January, Cambodia, Vietnam and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
signed a tripartite agreement on the voluntary, UN-monitored repatriation of approximately
1,000 asylum seekers from the Central Highlands of Vietnam (Montagnards) who were
sheltered at two UNHCR sites in Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces.
The agreement crumbled in March after Vietnamese officials barred UNHCR monitoring
teams from the Central Highlands. On March 21, refugees and UNHCR staff were threatened
and attacked when a delegation of more than 400 people, including as many as 100
Vietnamese government agents, overran the Mondolkiri camp and conducted house-to-house
searches of the refugees' huts.
At the end of March, in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Cambodian government
announced that any new Montagnard asylum seekers would be considered illegal migrants
and summarily deported without being given an opportunity to claim asylum.
More than 400 Montagnards were deported to Vietnam during April and May. In mid-April
UNHCR's two provincial refugee camps were closed, and their 900 residents transported
to Phnom Penh, where they were processed for resettlement to the United States. The
first group of Montagnard refugees left for the US in June. As of the end of the
year, 124 refugees remained in the Phnom Penh refugee camp, awaiting security clearances
from the US government.
On July 25, Thich Tri Luc, a Vietnamese monk belonging to the banned Unified Buddhist
Church in Vietnam, disappeared in Phnom Penh after being granted refugee status by
UNHCR. As of November, Cambodian authorities had not responded to requests by human
rights groups for information on his whereabouts.
In August, Cambodian authorities arrested and deported Guojun Li and his wife, Zhang
Xinji, two Falun Gong members under the protection of UNHCR, to China.
SRP member Sok Yoeun remained in detention in Thailand since his arrest in December
1999 for illegal immigration, while hearings continued into the Cambodian government's
request for his extradition as a suspect in a 1998 rocket attack on a motorcade carrying
Hun Sen. This was despite an apparent lack of evidence linking Sok Yoeun to the attack,
and also despite his having been under the protection of UNHCR since shortly after
his escape to Thailand in 1999.
In November, over the objections of human rights groups, Thailand approved Sok Yoeun's
extradition, clearing the way for his forcible return and trial in Cambodia.
Trafficking of human beings to, within and from Cambodia, for purposes of forced
labor including prostitution, begging and adoption remained a major problem. In some
cases, suspected traffickers were arrested.
However, in several instances trafficking victims were arrested and subsequently
deported to Vietnam on charges of illegal immigration. In August, the Phnom Penh
court convicted ten Vietnamese girls, most of them minors, who allegedly had been
trafficked into prostitution in a Phnom Penh brothel. The girls were sentenced to
two to three months in prison for illegal immigration.
In January, Cambodia ratified the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights
of the Child (CRC) on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
It also ratified the optional protocol to the CRC on the involvement of children
in armed conflict.
Labor conditions improved in some workplaces, due to the strengthened capacity
of labor unions, improved relations with factory management, and intensive monitoring
in many of Cambodia's garment factories by the International Labour Organization.
Problems remained with pay, forced overtime, and discrimination of workers who joined
labor unions. In September the Phnom Penh Appeals Court overturned a ruling by the
Kampong Speu court ordering the reinstatement of seven workers who had been fired
after organizing union activity.
Khim Sam On and Sok Bona, leaders of the Cambodian Federation of Independent Trade
Unions, were arrested on July 15 allegedly for inciting violence at a Phnom Penh
factory in 2001. Although they were released from prison in November, their case
was still pending as of the end of the year.
Implementation of the second phase of Cambodia's 'Demobilization and Reintegration
Project' was delayed after concerns about the project's first phase prompted the
World Bank to call for a thorough evaluation. The US $42 million pilot project, largely
funded by the World Bank and Japan, was aimed at downsizing and disarming the military
and cutting the military's budget. The project was hampered by divergent estimates
of the size of the armed forces, with credible report that thousands of "ghost
soldiers" were collecting compensation packages.
The government allocated more money for education and health in 2002, but delays
in disbursement of education funds meant that teachers were not paid and students
had to pay unofficial fees to their teachers. Slow disbursement of funds to the health
sector coupled with low wages for health personnel meant that many Cambodians lacked
access to adequate health care.
In June, the National Assembly passed a law on the prevention and control of the
spread of HIV/AIDS, criminalizing discrimination against people living with the disease.
Insecurity of land tenure contributed to landgrabbing, often by soldiers or companies
with connections to local officials. Legal Aid of Cambodia represented more than
8,000 families, or about 43,000 people, in land cases, most of which involved military
and local officials.
In a significant case that was first brought to court in March 2001, indigenous villagers
in Ratanakkiri province launched a legal appeal against a military general who fraudulently
obtained title to their ancestral lands, putting some 900 villagers at risk of landlessness.
In March 2002, Hun Sen instructed the Ministry of Land Management to purchase the
land from the general and return it to the villagers, in exchange for the villagers
dropping their lawsuit.
Resource use rights
While some steps were taken during the year to protect Cambodia's natural resources,
environmental degradation and harassment and threat of legal action against local
communities and environmental activists remained a serious concern.
Activists welcomed a logging moratorium put into effect in January, and the government's
cancellation of two Malaysian-owned concessions for illegal logging in June. Despite
these measures, extensive small- and medium-scale logging continued throughout the
year, and law enforcement in the forestry sector remained poor.
Environmental groups expressed concerns about a Forestry Law passed by the National
Assembly in July, which lacked guarantees for local communities to continue using
non-timber forest products such as resin and rattan to sustain their livelihoods.
There were numerous reports of intimidation by concessionaires in the provinces to
stop local villagers from accessing forests. In June, security guards of the Tumring
rubber plantation company in Kampong Thom province fired gun shots to intimidate
local villagers attempting to prevent the company from further clearing trees they
used to collect resin.
Community representatives from half a dozen provinces where logging concessions are
located pushed for months for the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW) to allow
public review of forestry concession management plans, as called for in the sub-decree
on Forest Concession Management.
On December 5 approximately 50 security officials, including commune police, military
police, Ministry of Interior intervention police, and "Flying Tiger" motorcycle
police, broke up a gathering of about 150 community representatives from the provinces
at the DFW offices in Phnom Penh. Community representatives had been waiting all
day for a response from DFW to their request for a workshop on logging concession
Witnesses stated that at around 6:00 p.m., police surrounded and then descended on
the crowd, kicking and shoving people and hitting them with electric shock batons.
Eleven community representatives were later treated for injuries, including five
who said they had been shocked by electric batons.
In December, DFW and provincial officials questioned community forestry advocates
in Kratie, Kampong Thom, Stung Treng, Mondolkiri, and Preah Vihear provinces about
their activities with environmental groups in Phnom Penh. In several provinces, forestry
officials convened meetings in which villagers were pressured to thumbprint documents
that they could not read, expressing support for the logging concessions.
In early December, the offices of Setrey Santepheap Daembei Parethan (SSDP, or Peaceful
Women for Environment), a grassroots environmental organization in Kratie, were broken
into while project staff were in Phnom Penh. SSDP focuses on communities located
within forest concessions in Kratie, Stung Treng, and Mondolkiri provinces. Two boxes
of files, maps, photographs, video equipment and a television were taken.
On December 17, 18 policemen, accompanied by a forestry official, arrived to make
an appointment with the organization's director. The next day, the police interrogated
the director for an entire day not so much about the break-in, but about the organization,
its staff, and what they had been doing in Phnom Penh. Detailed biographical data
was recorded about the director and her family.
Defending human rights
Dozens of Cambodian human rights groups operated in the country, conducting advocacy,
training and monitoring activities, counseling victims, and providing legal services
to Cambodia's poor.
There was ongoing violence, threats and intimidation against human rights defenders
in 2002. In several cases, criminal proceedings that appeared to be without foundation
were initiated against human rights groups in an apparent attempt to intimidate.
In February, the Phnom Penh court dropped criminal charges filed against the deputy
director of the League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho). These
charges had been sought by the adoptive parents of a seven-year-old girl, angered
by Licadho's request to local authorities to act to stop abuse of the child; after
police intervention, Licadho had been granted temporary legal custody of the child.
The adoptive parents appealed the court decision. In April the Phnom Penh municipal
court ordered Licadho to pay damages of five million riel (US $1,250) to a Phnom
Penh orphanage, without specifying the basis for the fine. Licadho had earlier filed
a complaint against the orphanage for trafficking in babies.
In August, the Cambodian military filed charges of defamation against members of
the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) in Kampong Cham province. The
complaint concerned a CHRAC report sent to different government institutions in March,
requesting the resolution of 18 human rights abuses by soldiers between 1997 and
Police and local officials in Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces bordering Vietnam
threatened villagers with arrest if they assisted Montagnard refugees. Authorities
forced villagers in both provinces to thumbprint statements pledging not to help
On May 16, police arrested a fisherman in Mondolkiri province because of his alleged
assistance to Montagnards seeking refuge. After three months in prison, charges of
human trafficking were dropped and he was released on August 12. On July 5, police
arrested another man in Mondolkiri and detained him in prison on charges of hiding
illegal immigrants. He was released on July 27, after charges were dropped.
In April, several unidentified men physically attacked the director of Global Witness,
the government's official forestry monitor, after the group uncovered evidence of
illegal logging. The government quickly deplored the act, but had not apprehended
any suspects by the end of the year.
On December 30, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the government was pursuing legal
action against Global Witness for allegedly fabricating claims that police used excessive
violence in breaking up a December 5 demonstration at DFW in Phnom Penh. Despite
objections from the World Bank, the government also said that it wanted to terminate
Global Witness's role as the official logging monitor.