A UN report on human rights in Cambodia in 2003 noted there was less political violence around July’s elections than previous ones and more equitable access to broadcast media for political parties.
The 16-page report, scheduled to be delivered by UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht on Monday to the UN’s Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, also stated that “the restrictions of freedom of assembly and association outside the official campaign period, the murders and intimidation that surrounded the election, particularly in rural Cambodia, and the failure to bring those responsible to account are longstanding problems.”
Regarding election violence, the report said convictions have been obtained for 10 of the 17 murders and suspicious deaths of political activists that took place around 2002’s commune elections.
But poorly handled investigations have rendered those convictions questionable, it said.
Between the commune elections and last July’s election, there were 13 more murders “of special concern.”
“As of [Dec 19, 2003] only four convictions, all questionable, had been secured. And since July several more political party figures were attacked or murdered,” according to Leuprecht, who is the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Cambodia.
The government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee did not address political violence in its report issued last week. Its president, Om Yentieng, a longtime adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said he had seen no evidence to indicate political violence occurs in Cambodia.
Cambodia’s corruption, poor law enforcement and weak judiciary are problems obstructing development that extend beyond the election, the report said.
“A transparent, independent, competent and effective judiciary is of primary importance for securing human rights under the rule of law. Low levels of professionalism and problems with judges who are too ready to accommodate and too weak to withstand outside interference are part of the problem,” Leuprecht reported.
He noted that judicial reform has been a “preoccupation” of successive special representatives and called its progress “painfully slow.”
However, Leuprecht hailed the Royal School for Training Judges and Prosecutors, which opened last November, as a commendable investment “that should not be squandered.” He reported being impressed with the student judges he met there and complimented their understanding of professional ethics.
Leuprecht also addressed the problem of mob killings, reporting 88 assaults and killings by angry crowds occurring since the middle of 1999, as of Dec 1, 2003, and says their frequency is increasing.
With only a few exceptions, the police response had been inadequate or reluctant, resulting in death or injury, the report said.
Leuprecht renewed his 2002 call for the establishment of an independent and transparent panel to study these attacks and why they continue.
A number of problems surround the penal system, the report said. Prisons are overcrowded and the health of inmates is in jeopardy. Pre-trial detainees account for 1,838 of Cambodia’s 6,092 prisoners, and the report recommends that the government find an alternative to these custodial sentences.
Excessive pre-trial detentions remain a constant problem, with the number of infractions numbering, at different times during the year, between 48 and 118.
Regarding natural resources, Leuprecht reported that Prime Minister Hun Sen on Dec 1, 2003, conceded his biggest political mistakes had been land policies and forestry policies.
The special representative went on to say that land concessions, such as rubber plantations, create only a few, low-paying jobs. Plus, the operations rarely pay required fees to the state budget, making their benefits to the country dubious. “Ownership details remain opaque and other basic information, such as contracts and maps, is not accessible to public scrutiny. For a country in which corruption is endemic, this fact alone ought to register as a worry,” Leuprecht said.
a topic that Om Yentieng concentrated most of his page-and-a-half quarterly report on.
Leuprecht also expressed concern that lawyers and human rights workers are having more difficulty accessing prisons.