Despite a nationwide decrease, mob killings are on the rise in Phnom Penh and nearby Kandal province, according to reports from police and local human rights groups.
More than a dozen extrajudicial killings occurred in Phnom Penh last year, said Chan Soveth, a monitor with the human rights group Adhoc, while 102 such killings were recorded in the provinces.
Though killings in the provinces appear to be declining, Chan Soveth said a disturbing number of cases involve violence by local officials against victims supporting communal election candidates.
“There was a lot of killing that was politically motivated,” Chan Soveth said. Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy routinely reports incidents of violence against party members he says are commune election candidates. Also, a Funcinpec candidate and his wife were fatally shot earlier this year. The government, however, has down-played election-related violence in the countryside, instead dismissing the deaths as “personal disputes.”
Observers say it is often hard to differentiate between political and personal killings, making the tracking of election-related violence difficuly and subject to interpretation.
Extrajudical killings in Phnom Penh and the surrounding suburbs are easier to explain, Chan Soveth said, but still represent an alarming trend toward mob violence. Victims in the city are mostly suspected thieves caught by residents who, with a growing distrust of Cambodia’s legal system, decide to take justice into their own hands.
Phnom Penh Governor and Chief Municipal Prosecutor Uk Savuth acknowledged last week that there are weaknesses in the judiciary that could encourage mob violence.
“Previously the court did not do its job well. Nearly all the people in Phnom Penh lost their faith in the court system,” Chea Sophara said.
But tentative legal reforms have at least laid the groundwork for the court’s being able to regain the public’s trust, Chan Soveth said, though there is still an inability to implement the law properly.
Public officials on all levels, including King Norodom Sihanouk, spoke out last year against extrajudicial killings, which have been held up by the international community as a particularly brutal example of Cambodia’s failure to protect human rights.