A new UN report lambastes the government for failing to investigate alleged politically motivated killings, saying its efforts to solve the crimes have lacked “vigor and determination” due to weak political will at the highest levels of government.
“The investigations…show a lack of vigor and determination. Many areas of enquiry have been overlooked,” said the May 16 report, reproduced in the latest edition of King Norodom Sihanouk’s monthly bulletin.
“None of the several prosecuting and investigating agencies in the country has taken cognizance of incidents which were reported to the government,” the report’s authors, Arun Bhagat and Peter Burns, wrote in reference to evidence presented last August by Thomas Hammarberg, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for human rights in Cambodia.
“Whereas the Public Prosecutor’s Branch admittedly has jurisdiction over [these] cases, they have not taken any steps to register and investigate them,” Bhagat and Burns said. “No cogent reason for this failure was forthcoming.”
Hammarberg’s report documented the slayings of 41 people following last July’s factional fighting. All but two were supporters of deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Since then, the UN has submitted additional evidence to the government, alleging a further 48 political killings since July.
Bhagat, the former director of the Indian Intelligence Bureau and Burns, a Canadian lawyer and member of the UN Committee Against Torture, visited Cambodia last month to assess government progress in probing the killings reported by the UN last August.
In addition, the experts also examined the inquiry into the deadly grenade attack of March 30, 1997 on a demonstration led by opposition politician Sam Rainsy, which killed at least 17 and injured about 150.
No arrests have yet been made in connection with any of the crimes, despite repeated government promises to investigate the acts.
During their weeklong mission to Cambodia, Bhagat and Burns met and interviewed government, police, judicial and military officials as well as witnesses. Most officials reportedly complained of a lack of training and resources to help them in their task.
But in their report, the experts hinted that lack of motivation was a greater hindrance to the investigation than limited technical support.
“Despite the handicaps of lack of forensic training and experience in investigation as professed, a more determined and comprehensive approach would have yielded results by now,” the two wrote of the grenade attack investigation.
The experts noted in particular the failure of the investigation to seek testimony from witnesses to the crime, and their apparent dismissal of testimony and evidence offered by Sam Rainsy.
Bhagat and Burns also noted that no examination had taken place of the large number of photographs and video recordings of the blast, which might help reveal suspects by a process of elimination.
But their assessment of government efforts to investigate the killings of Prince Ranariddh’s supporters was gloomier still.
Despite the government’s repeated promises of a thorough probe, the experts reported that during their discussions with officials, “it became clear that none of these cases had been seriously investigated or were being seriously investigated.”
Partly to blame, the experts said, was the failure of the judiciary, the police and the public prosecutor’s branch to display “the functional independence which is required of them by the Constitution.”
Government spokesman said earlier this month that officials had developed leads in the killings and were planning to share that information with the UN, but those leads have not been revealed.
The UN report singled out the investigation into the assassination of Interior Ministry Secretary of State Ho Sok as compelling evidence of the government’s failure to pursue an effective enquiry.
The senior Funcinpec official was gunned down on July 7 by a uniformed soldier while in police custody at the Interior Ministry. The assailant then escaped the compound by jumping over the perimeter wall. Charges of negligence were brought against the two policemen who were guarding Ho Sok at the time of the murder, but no arrest has yet been made in connection with the killing itself.
“Investigation in this case has not been conducted with the vigor it deserves,” Bhagat and Burns wrote in the report. “It should have been possible for the investigators to determine the unit of the military which was deployed on that day in the Ministry of Interior. In all likelihood, the assailant belonged to the unit itself. Once the unit is identified, forensic evidence would render it possible to identify the weapon which was used to kill Ho Sok as three empty cases were recovered from the scene.”
The experts also questioned the failure of investigators to look into the “suspicious circumstances” of Ho Sok’s cremation, alleged to have been undertaken in the middle of the night by uniformed soldiers.
Attempts to reach government spokesman Khieu Kanharith and Om Yentieng, adviser to Hun Sen, for comment late Tuesday night were unsuccessful.