UN human rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg on Wednesday singled out the CPP’s thumbprint campaign as a violation of voters’ rights and one of “many problems” hindering a neutral environment for elections.
The thumbprint campaign, which he said he discussed in a face-to-face meeting on Sunday with Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, “has been understood as intimidation.”
“I think it should be stopped and I think an initiative should be taken to make clear that those who already have pledged to vote for the party are relieved from that,” Hammarberg, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for human rights in Cambodia, said at a press conference.
“In my opinion, this violates the election spirit…that the vote is confidential,” Hammarberg said.
“Confidentiality of the vote is crucial to free and fair elections,” he said.
Under the CPP’s aggressive membership campaign, commune and village leaders have been asking potential voters to affix their thumbprints to statements pledging loyalty to the party. In exchange, voters often receive gifts, including kramas, food and riel.
According to Hammarberg, Hun Sen said he had not issued the order for such a campaign, but instead blamed “enthusiastic” local and village-level leaders for the initiative.
“He said what he had asked for is that the membership register of the party be updated,” Hammarberg said of his conversation with Hun Sen, who is also the CPP’s vice president.
While the UN envoy noted that no violence had marked the thumbprint campaign, he said intimidation was present in “hints” that it would be known who votes for which party.
“It seems to be widespread countrywide that people are asked to pledge now that they’re going to vote for the Cambodian People’s Party,” he said. “And therefore, a systematic campaign to get people to pledge in advance how they’re to vote is in contravention to that spirit [of confidentiality].”
Hammarberg said the thumbprint campaign was pervasive in Kompong Cham, which he recently visited. Villagers in Kandal and Takeo have also said the CPP is trying to thumbprint residents. Villagers have reported being asked by CPP activists to pledge loyalty to the party in front of monks at a local pagoda or the CPP-appointed village chief.
Hammarberg on Wednesday also raised the issue of media access for political parties.
“As you know, the [media] situation is not fair,” Hammarberg stated, saying that a method of balancing political messages on private and public radio stations—most with connections to the CPP—had still to be determined.
He said he advised the National Election Committee to study the methods of media organizations in other countries. In a reference to the CPP, Hammarberg he said there would need to be a “spirit of generosity from those who dominate the media market.”
Hammarberg said the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh would give two reports to the government on Wednesday, including “an update” on a report submitted last August documenting the executions since July of 41 people, mostly supporters of deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh. The report also will present evidence alleging the extrajudicial slaying of more than 50 additional people, according to past statements by the UN.
The other report was compiled by two UN-commissioned expert investigators, offering theories on how the extrajudicial killings and the deadly March 30, 1997, grenade attack in Phnom Penh could be investigated.
Hammarberg said he would return in June “to see if investigations have taken place or not.”
The government has only in the last few days reported progress in the investigations, which Hammarberg has been asking for since last September when he met with Hun Sen.