The UN human rights office on Wednesday said it had not received a single report of a politically motivated killing since the July 26 election, and credited Second Prime Minister Hun Sen for a dramatic drop in intimidation since Aug 2.
But the agency, which has been highly critical of the government’s human rights record, reported a climate of “widespread verbal intimidation and threats” during the week after the polls. Rights workers interviewed 75 people who claimed to have been subject to post-election intimidation and violence.
The fifth election-related report of the Cambodian Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also concluded that of more than 30 deaths investigated during the pre-election period, “fewer than half a dozen of these cases may be politically motivated.” In another dozen cases, no clear political motives could be found, the UN said. The remaining killings, it said, were difficult to assess.
The latest report, covering July 26 through Tuesday, said many of the widespread threats of physical violence and death against opposition party activists were made by “local officials, including village and commune chiefs or their subordinates, members of local militia, police and the army.”
But the UN office praised Hun Sen for appealing to national and local authorities and members of parties to refrain from violence.
“A statement by the second prime minister on Aug 2 calling on people not to seek retribution against their election opponents appears to have a positive effect on reducing the problem,” the report said.
The report said Hun Sen’s statement led to a “significant decline” in threats.
Prak Sokhonn, an adviser to Hun Sen, declined to comment, as did chief government spokesman Khieu Kanharith. Both said they had not seen the report.
Sam Rainsy said he agreed that post-poll intimidation has decreased, but said it was because the CPP had convinced the populace there is no political freedom in Cambodia.
“The victims are still afraid…the CPP has shown them that power is in [the CPP’s] hands,” he said.
Between the election and the Aug 2 statement, several hundred Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party supporters fled the countryside to Phnom Penh or provincial capitals because of threats or intimidation, the report said.
The numbers of those who fled are difficult to document because many are in hiding or staying with relatives.
Some threats were accompanied by the use of violence, the report said, citing one case in Prey Veng province on July 27 where seven armed soldiers shot in the air above the house of a Funcinpec party observer who had been lodging complaints about the electoral procedures.
On July 28, six soldiers slapped a Kandal man wearing a Sam Rainsy Party T-shirt, and said if they had seen him at night, they would have shot him. On Aug 2, the same group intercepted him on his way to Phnom Penh, confiscated his party membership and voter registration cards and slapped and kicked him, the report said. The man was sent home and told to “wait for the time to die.” That night, armed soldiers came to his house, but the man had already fled.
The report said intimidation complaints were spread throughout the country and directed at Funcinpec members, with 43 cases, and the Sam Rainsy Party, with 31 cases. A Republican Coalition Party member lodged one complaint.
The UN said its impression was “that the intimidation was more likely a spontaneous reaction on the part of local authorities to the election process and outcome than a campaign coordinated at the provincial or central levels.”
A Western historian, present during the 1993 elections, said political violence also dropped off after the Untac-organized polls, although exact numbers were not readily available. She noted that the atmosphere now is totally different than in 1993, when Funcinpec was a clear winner and the CPP came in second.
In the run-up to the 1993 polls, at least 100 Funcinpec supporters were killed or wounded, human rights workers say.
Sam Rainsy said he will continue to press for investigations of political intimidation.
“I deplore the total impunity…it is why we continue to push for investigations,” he said.
The historian said, “Given that the CPP’s general attitude is that political opposition is not legitimate, [the intimidation] is almost predictable.”