SIEM REAP-For inmates doing time in the Siem Reap provincial prison, the arrival
of UNTAC has meant they are no longer beaten and they now can spend most of the day
in the open-air courtyard rather than in their dank sleeping cells.
Nor are they any longer shackled in solitary confinement for their first week upon
arrival or for disciplinary breaches, and there are weekly medical visits by UNTAC
CivPol and doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres and from the provincial hospital.
Guards say this has led to a drop in escape attempts.
When the Post dropped in recently a group of prisoners were busy repairing the guards'
fishing nets. Although an hour-and-a-half visit would not be sufficient basis for
declaring a new era of harmony at the prison; for example it was unclear how often
the fish catch was shared with inmates whose main complaint now concerns food.
A World Food Program country-wide effort to supply vulnerable populations with food
will not reach prisoners because of difficulties encountered dealing with SOC officials,
partly because the prisoners are to receive a rice ration larger than the guards.
The prisoners' lot, however, is one small measure of a marginally-improved human
rights situation in the province.
"Either the authorities are being very smart or the human rights situation in
the province is fairly acceptable," says Eugenio Pollizi, an Italian lawyer
serving as UNTAC's provincial human rights director. "As far as we know there
are no major human rights violations and I always emphasize as far as we know, because
we are floating on the surface of the sea and there may be things below the surface
that we don't know about."
After several months in the area, UNTAC should have turned up any major violations,
There are roughly five murders a month in Siem Reap province but to date none are
known to have been politically motivated. "We are keeping a close eye on this,"
says UNTAC CivPol superintendent Joseph Dowling.
But as electoral activity gets underway this may change and there has been an upsurge
of reported threats. Local SOC authorities are requiring all state employees to register
as party members, local residents report, and dismissals are threatened if they don't
cast their votes correctly. While these might constitute human right violations,
UNTAC investigations are bogged down by the lack of anyone willing to go on record
to object. For most civil servants, just the request from SOC officials is enough
to get compliance.
There is a number of cases UNTAC is closely monitoring, usually backed up by their
own investigations. SOC officials have been put on notice that UNTAC is following
the case of a FUNCINPEC colonel who is accused of stealing a car and killing its
driver. According to Siem Reap police chief, Col. Chea Sophat, the military officer
was arrested recently and the car had been recovered in Battambang.
The recent assassination of an employee of the local military hospital who had threatened
to expose official corruption is another case still under UNTAC investigation. In
this case, the victim apparently had threatened to reveal illegal sales of medicines
for personal gain, either because he was not part of the scam or because he was trying
to boost his share. After a few bullet shots, a motorcycle accident was faked, according
to sources familiar with the case. Col. Chea denied there was even a military hospital
in the provincial capitol, suggesting the level of sensitivities involved.
Another matter "still under investigation" is the whereabouts of roughly
100 inmates held in a military prison that was reportedly emptied in June. The facility
was only discovered by UNTAC in October. UNTAC wants to determine whether the State
of Cambodia soldiers were actually released or merely transferred. An additional
undisclosed detention center-a hut with three soldiers-was recently discovered on
a local military base. After ten days of negotiations UNTAC persuaded officials to
transfer the prisoners to the civilian prison for trial.
The courts themselves present another layer of judicial inadequacies. The judges
are appointed by local authorities and defenders are typically under-trained state
employees and party members. Cutting the link between local authorities and the judiciary
is one of the measures recently adopted by the Supreme National Council (SNC) in
a package of 75 articles that amounts to a new penal code. Now anyone with a secondary
education can serve as a defender.
"I have asked judges to find me some [eligible defender trainees]," says
Pollizi. UNTAC has begun some training courses in Phnom Penh for various judiciary
positions, including judges to serve on Appellate Courts which have been established,
at least on paper, for each province. The new code also specifically allows foreigners
to practice as lawyers here, where just a handful of native lawyers remain, but the
foreigners may be most helpful in training.
Although the new penal code-largely modeled on the French code-reflects carelessness,
such as the definition of rape which left out the phrase "without the consent
of the other party."
Modifications are expected to be published shortly.
Traditional Khmer practice of conciliation, brokered by police or judges, keeps all
but serious crimes-murders and major robberies, etc.-out of the courts. A quick poll-from
behind prison bars-on the current quality of justice yielded a mixed opinion.
Bun Dep, 35, a former soldier is serving a 10-year term for killing a Vietnamese
soldier, a sentence he has no qualms with.
Bo Rorn, 36, a former policeman says his life sentence for killing the son of a local
militia commander is unfair. The conflict arose after Bo seized the official's son
in a sweep of forced conscription.
In a case that has yet to reach the court, Tang Tohn, 29, insists he is innocent
of the robbery charges leveled against him four months ago. He is not optimistic
about receiving a fair trial.