The UN human rights special representative released April 11 his third and final
report on the conduct of the 2002 commune elections. The report criticized the
government and the National Election Committee (NEC) for "serious underlying
problems" that afflicted the February vote.
It warned that these problems
needed to be addressed urgently, not least because the 2003 general election was
drawing near. The representative, Peter Leuprecht, said his initially favorable
impressions were "tarnished by ... events" after December 2001.
election process] exposed continuing and serious problems that cannot be
ignored," the report stated. "Chief among these has been the absence of proper
neutrality on the part of state institutions, the police, the armed forces and
individual local officials."
A key difference between the 1998 national
election and the local election held this year was the variation in violence by
region. Those areas that suffered least were those in which the CPP did well in
1998. Those which suffered worst of all were on trade routes, or former Khmer
Rouge zones, or places where the CPP had performed badly in 1998.
Edwards of UNCHR said different reasons likely applied depending on the area
involved. Some could be linked to border trade, others to the changed political
situation since 1998.
"What it does say is that the CPP has continued its
efforts since 1998 to assert political control over the country, including in
those areas where they were challenged or didn't fare well in 1998," Edwards
said. "And that is reflected in the results seen in this election, which did
play to the CPP's advantage."
On the positive side, the special
representative highlighted Prime Minister Hun Sen's call on election day
appealing against acts of revenge. This appeal had "a marked effect" and was a
"very positive" development, Leuprecht stated. He was also gratified to note
that disputes after polling day were resolved in a "manner that avoided further
Om Yentieng, personal advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen,
dismissed the report's criticisms.
"They like to paint us in different
colors: sometimes they say the government and the CPP are two, other times they
say we are one," Yentieng said. "But democracy has rules and grammar. These
people should point out what is wrong with the grammar. They cannot force
Cambodia to do their will, and should not try to increase their control over the
heads of Cambodians."
One area the report focused on was the lack of
equitable access to the media. The UN said it was concerned at the failure of
the government to ensure this "pre-requisite for a free and fair election". It
also blamed the NEC for "hindering ... voter education initiatives".
properly functioning and neutral system to inform the electorate of its choices
needs to be established well in advance of the 2003 election," the report
The report warned of the danger to democracy of the lack of
separation between the government and the Cambodian People's Party (CPP). It
also highlighted the problems in Kampong Cham province, which saw the worst of
the violence with five election-related murders.
"For weeks ahead of the
election armed gangs roamed free at night ... targeting individual Funcinpec
candidates," it stated. "These groups were organized and were mainly comprised
of members of the security forces (police and military) and their
Until now, it stated, no-one had been brought to justice for
any act of election violence in the province, whose victims were overwhelmingly
from the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec. Security force personnel, the report
noted, "were behind many of the most serious acts of violence and
"Investigations into the numerous acts of violence and
intimidation ... identified the involvement of local officials, police and
members of [the army] in a clear majority of cases."
The UN human rights
agency recorded 17 politically related killings between January 1, 2001 and the
election, which was held February 3 this year.