Dispatch of Troops Against Protesters Unjustifiable, Group Says

Soldiers should not have been deployed in support of a warrant to arrest land dispute protesters in Kratie province in May—an operation that led to the killing of a 14-year-old girl by armed forces, a Japanese human rights group said in a new report.

In this photograph from May, an RCAF soldier, pictured in a red scarf, stops U.N. staff and rights workers from entering Broma village in Kratie province where security forces shot dead a 14-year-old girl amid a massive eviction of hundreds of families accused of being part of a secessionist movement. A Japanese human rights group said in a new report that government officials erred in dispatching armed troops to the land dispute. (Adhoc)

The report by Tokyo-based Human Rights Now, which was based on a June investigation into land conflicts in Cambodia, includes interviews conducted with Kratie provincial governor Sar Chamrong and Kratie’s Provincial Court president Din Sivuthy, who both defended the decision to deploy troops against civilians.

“However, the fact that the army was dispatched, force was used, and as a result casualties were caused, was all out of the scope of the execution of the warrant,” the rights group said, adding that the court had not acted independent of the government in its decision.

Hundreds of police and soldiers raided Broma village after the authorities accused a group called the Association of Democrats of being a self-governing anarchist movement and the provincial court issued a warrant for the arrest of its leaders.

In his interview with the Japanese rights group, Mr. Chamrong, the governor, insisted that while the shooting of the teenager, Heng Chantha, was a tragedy, Broma residents were happy to see supporters of the Association of Democrats dealt with.

“Many saw this tragic incident as a violation of human rights, but I would like everybody to understand that there are complicated issues in the background,” the governor told the rights group, adding that the decision to dispatch troops was an exception to the rule.

The court president, Mr. Sivuthy, told the group that the killing of the girl was saddening, but the military did not intentionally kill her.

There has been no investigation into the killing of Heng Chantha; government officials at all levels have said there is no need, describing her killing as a simple accident.

The Japanese investigators also found that the number of land conflicts in Cambodia is on the rise, and that many of these situations have been exacerbated by what they called illegal arrests, imprisonments, and extrajudicial killings. The group also found that laws are not being implemented properly, leaving people vulnerable to eviction.

Japan has a vested interest in the Cambodian legal system, and in the Civil Code in particular, because it is based on the Japanese model and was drawn up with the help of Japanese experts and with Japanese financial assistance.

“The number of cases like this are increasing each year, leaving people growing in frustration so deep that some of the victims of forcible removal are starting to take actions,” the Human Rights Now report states.

Though there are various provisions in the Civil Code that should protect a person’s right to possess a house or land, “in reality, the provisions of the Civil Code are completely ignored, and possessory rights have been violated by the government and private companies,” the rights group said.

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