A culture of impunity continues to be “a most serious problem in Cambodia, in particular with regard to unlawful acts by the military and the police,” the UN’s special representative on human rights in Cambodia said Friday.
In a prepared statement to be presented at the UN General Assembly, Thomas Hammarberg said that limited resources had contributed to Cambodia’s “deep problems” in establishing an independent court system.
Hammarberg reiterated that he felt encouraged by a recent visit with Second Prime Minister Hun Sen on the issue. Last week’s visit concluded with an agreement to send two international experts to provide legal and technical expertise to the government’s criminal investigation system.
In his prepared remarks to the UN, Hammarberg also cited the Supreme Council of Magistracy, which convened last December, as critical in protecting an independent judiciary from political pressure, intimidation and corruption.
“Serious crimes with a political connotation, including assassinations, have still not been clarified,” Hammarberg said. He specifically referred to a grenade attack in March 1997, which killed at least 17 and injured more than 100, and the extrajudicial killings after the July 1997 street battles.
Impunity also relates to the unaddressed crimes against humanity by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Hammarberg said. “In fact, no one has been punished for any of the serious crimes and human rights violations which took place during those years.”
Experts estimate about 1.7 million Cambodians died of starvation, illness, execution and torture during the 1975-78 regime.
A UN team is scheduled to ar-rive in Cambodia on Nov 14 to assess evidence for a possible international tribunal. “This is considerable progress and an important development also for the overall combat against impunity,” Hammarberg said in his prepared remarks.
Hammarberg said that during his recent visit in Cambodia he received “new assurances” of support for the UN investigation from King Norodom Sihanouk and senior government officials including Hun Sen.
Prison conditions also continue to be very poor in Cambodia, Hammarberg said. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a report earlier this week stating that police or prison officials torture as many as 20 percent of prisoners in Cambodia. “Again, this is an urgent issue for the new government,” Hammarberg said.
Hammarberg listed a number of additional human-rights concerns, including torture of arrested persons, garment industry worker conditions, and lack of progress in women, children, minority and indigenous rights.