At least 100 instances of politically motivated threats and acts of intimidation were made against Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party candidates or activists last year, according to a 2001 human rights report by the NGO Adhoc.
These threats, most of which came from local officials, soldiers and police, represented an “enormous” increase over the previous year, although they occurred less often than in 1998, when Cambodia last prepared for an election, the report states.
There were six homicides in 2001 that Adhoc determined to be politically motivated and 17 reports of threats against human rights advocates, the report states.
“Human Rights Report 2001” is the first comprehensive survey of Cambodia’s rights situation written by a Cambodian NGO.
The report has not been sent to the government, but is available to the public on Adhoc’s Web site.
It comments on the trials of suspected members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, the government’s Khmer Rouge tribunal law, the approximately 1,000 Montagnards who fled from Vietnam to Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces last year and the lead-up to the Feb 3 commune council elections.
Adhoc cites an increase in the number of complaints it received of instances of rape, extra-judicial killings and physical abuse at the hands of police officials. It also reports on 140 land disputes, a continuing domestic violence problem and deteriorating prison conditions.
In a large section of the report, Adhoc details efforts in 2001 to limit freedoms of assembly, expression and association—rights guaranteed by Cambodia’s Constitution.
Adhoc expresses “concern over the practice of violence against peaceful gatherings,” including numerous labor strikes and an October protest in Siem Reap by market vendors upset with investors and provincial authorities. Adhoc found “competent authorities still put an indefinite curb and set strict conditions” on gatherings and demonstrations, with authorities saying they are seeking only to maintain political stability and public order.
“Complicated challenges” to freedom of expression remain, the report states. The government’s control or ownership of television and radio stations has led to “strict censorship” and partiality toward the ruling CPP. Threats and intimidation against journalists, speakers, commentators and labor organizers also occurred in 2001, according to Adhoc.
The Dec 6 dismissals of three CPP senators and the Sept 13 removal of opposition party parliamentarian Son Chhay from his commission chairmanship “mirror clearly the growing pressure of the” CPP on the freedom of expression “from simple citizens to parliamentarians.” The Oct 25 directive from Prime Minister Hun Sen requiring authorization for government officials to attend meetings with NGO officials also threatens freedom of expression, Adhoc states.
There was less cooperation between the government and NGOs in 2001 than in 2000, the report claims.
Cambodian NGOs and associations still must register with the Ministry of Interior and pay a fee, even though there is no law requiring it. There are “complicated obstacles” in the permit application, while no such obstacles exist for foreign NGOs, the report states.
A continued lack of faith among Cambodians in the nation’s judicial system was coupled with a lack of government will to reform the judiciary in 2001, according to Adhoc. Additionally, changes made in the criminal law enabling local non-police officials to make arrests could be “devastating” to the rule of law, Adhoc states.
Adhoc’s report also states Hun Sen’s November order closing karaoke parlors “has been more effective” in minimizing prostitution than the 1996 law on human trafficking and exploitation.
“This point proves that law enforcement authorities enforce the prime minister’s orders more effectively than laws,” it states.
Looking ahead, Adhoc warned elected commune council members may use their positions to gather support for their party ahead of the 2003 national elections. This could lead to even more political violence on the local level, the report states.