The two prime ministers signed a subdecree Monday forming a committee to investigate human rights abuses, including scores of extrajudicial killings after July’s factional fighting and the deadly March 30, 1997, grenade attack.
The four-person Cambodian Human Rights Committee is made up of two close advisers to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and two advisers to First Prime Minister Ung Huot, according to Svay Sitha, one of its members.
“We will begin work very soon,” the CPP insider said. He couldn’t say exactly when the committee could begin its work, but he said it would have to be before the elections.
“We cannot wait; we have to do something,” he said.
A second CPP insider and close aide to Hun Sen, Om Yienteng, is president of the committee, which will have the authority to establish subcommittees to investigate individual cases, according to the document. The two Ung Huot advisers named to the panel are Sandemong Tero and Ouk Vanrith.
It is the first investigative committee made up of civilians.
Tol Lah, Funcinpec secretary-general, said Monday he did not want to make specific comments on the committee until he had examined the document.
“It’s long overdue, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said, adding he would wait to see how the panel worked and whether it had any power.
Funcinpec members made up the majority of the victims of extrajudicial killings in the aftermath of last year’s fighting.
Rosemary McCreery, director of the UN Center for Human Rights in Phnom Penh, said Monday that the appointment of close advisers to the prime ministers gives the committee its “due importance.”
“It must be seen as having the political authority of the highest level, and we assume that’s why close advisers [to the prime ministers] were appointed,” she said. There is a balance to be achieved for the committee to have this authority and to be independent, she added.
The new committee comes on the heels of the two May 16 UN reports sharply critical of government investigations so far. The reports said the efforts lacked “vigor and determination” due to weak political will at the highest levels of the government.
Thomas Hammarberg, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for human rights in Cambodia, presented the reports to Hun Sen last week.
More than 17 people were killed and about 150 injured last year when four grenades were thrown at a political demonstration led by Sam Rainsy across from the National Assembly.
And since the bloody street battles of July 5 and 6, when CPP-loyal troops routed forces aligned with then-first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, at least 83 extrajudicial killings have been documented by the UN.
At a Friday press conference, Hammarberg welcomed the anticipated human rights panel.
“I welcome this [new investigation]. Although it would have been better if the decision had been made earlier,” he said.
Since last summer, Hammarberg has received three promises from Hun Sen that the cases would be investigated fully, but no arrests have been made.
Two UN investigators specializing in police work looked into the lack of progress on the investigations during a one-week trip in April.
In their report, also given to Hun Sen last week, they said “it became clear [in their discussions with police and prosecutors] that none of these cases had been seriously investigated or were being investigated.”
The investigators noted that a Criminal Procedure Code and the Penal Code have been drafted but not passed by the National Assembly. An Evidence Act, telling police how to handle evidence after a crime, has yet to be drafted, the report said.
Hammarberg said the UN is prepared to provide technical support, and that it should be possible to start the fresh inquiries within two weeks.
“The government now has to prove it is serious,” Hammarberg said, adding that a vigorous investigation would “serve as a symbol” to voters that the election climate is free and fair.