Two international human rights groups Friday condemned the violence and intimidation leading up to Sunday’s poll, and one of them warned of retribution once the election is over.
Human Rights Watch, based in New York, expressed fears that once the international sportlight is removed, “there may be reprisals against provincial- and district-level party activists.”
The group called on the international community to closely monitor the post-election period until the next National Assembly is seated, and to “respond strongly to any post-election abuses or violence.” The group said the election process was “flawed” and urged the international community not to give its approval.
London-based Amnesty International, meanwhile, blasted the climate of impunity that it says allows people in positions of authority to commit crimes without fear of punishment.
“The human rights situation in Cambodia has become so twisted that victims are blamed for their suffering, and investigators are condemned for their efforts to protect the victims,” Amnesty said in a statement. “Much of the international community plays down the level of violence, sanitizes the trauma of victims and ignores the impact of human rights violations on freedom of association and expression.”
Leading opposition candidates Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh have easily drawn large crowds. But grassroots campaigners have been subjected to harassment or violence, rights groups say.
The UN’s human rights office in Cambodia is investigating 23 killings since mid-May that are suspected to be politically related.
Human Rights Watch said the presence of international monitors is crucial, but decried the lack of foreign monitors to cover every polling station.
The group denounced the CPP’s membership recruitment campaign, which included getting voters to give their thumbprints on pledges of loyalty and conducting “mock” elections in which people were instructed how to vote for the party.
The tactics have created “serious doubts among the rural electorate as to whether this Sunday’s ballot will indeed be secret, with many people fearing repercussions or violence if they vote for opposition parties,” Human Rights Watch stated.
One foreign human rights investigator predicted a large amount of fraud, but said it would be hard for observers to detect.
“My guess is there’s going to be very little visible violence, but a fair amount of intimidation,” he added.