The UN has issued a report on the July 27, 2003 national elections, concluding they
were an improvement on previous elections with less political violence, better and
more equal access to media and greater freedom of expression than prior polls.
But Peter Leuprecht, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Human
Rights in Cambodia, said in his report that there was still a long way to go. "Significant
obstacles remain to the exercise by Cambodia's citizens of their rights to freely
express their views and to engage in political activities," he said.
The report criticized the continued political violence and intimidation surrounding
the National Assembly elections, and noted that 13 political activists from the three
main political parties were murdered between the commune elections in February 2002
and July 25, 2003. It also pointed to voter coercion by village chiefs, including
forced oath-taking ceremonies.
Leuprecht also condemned interference from international bodies: "The Special
Representative notes with regret the unacceptable interference in the electoral process
from sources outside Cambodia," he wrote.
He told the Post, "There have obviously been cases of outside interference in
the electoral and post-electoral process, some more discrete, some less."
Leuprecht said one of the more striking examples of outside interference was a statement
by US Senator Mitch McConnell before the US Senate on October 28, which boldly supported
the Alliance of Democrats while condemning the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
"I can appreciate [the Alliance leaders'] refusal to allow Hun Sen to continue
to mislead that country," Senator McConnell had said.
Leuprecht's report noted that in Cambodia restrictions on freedom of political expression
and assembly also continued to blight the electoral process, with police and officials
frequently complicit in this violence and intimidation.
"The damaging effect on the general political climate of the murders and suspicious
deaths of political party activists should not be underestimated, and is compounded
by the failure of law enforcement authorities and the courts to respond effectively.
The problem of impunity continues to adversely affect the ability of Cambodians to
engage in political life without fear," Leuprecht said.
There was also a lack of fair access to broadcast media, andmedia monitors reported
coverage on public service broadcast media was"almost exclusively" about
the CPP and government.
The report noted that the National Election Committee (NEC) and other commune electoral
bodies were too weak, and failed to appropriately address complaints, impose fines,
or refer criminal cases to courts.
Leuprecht said he met with the Chair of the NEC, Im Suosdey, who requested assistance
in reviewing the complaints procedure.
Sousdey told the Post, "We are doing our best. We do what the law allows us
Hang Puthea, director of election monitoring body Nicfec, said reviewing the NEC
was the first step in improving the electoral system because the political influences
in the NEC prevented it from being impartial. "By law theNEC should be neutral
but in reality it is not."
The UN report called for an end to political violence and intimidation; active steps
to allow freedom of expression, assembly and association; an end to impunity for
those who commit serious crimes; and improved law enforcement and judicial systems.
Leuprecht urged the Cambodian government to end the political deadlock. "There
should be no sliding back as far as respect for human rights is concerned.... In
order to make progress in solving its many problems, Cambodia urgently needs effective,
transparent and accountable state institutions including a properly functioning parliament
and government," he said.