A critical UN report released Tuesday says the government has failed to enforce both criminal and election laws that have been violated during a wave of killings and political intimidation tied to the Feb 3 commune council elections.
The report says the 15 slayings of political candidates or party activists in the past year threaten to continue a pattern of election violence begun in 1993 and 1998.
The report, from the office of UN special envoy to Cambodia Peter Leuprecht, says the envoy had a generally favorable view of the commune elections as recently as November, but that “this impression is now in danger of being seriously tarnished.”
The report covers the period from Jan 1, 2001, to Jan 11, 2002, listing details of some of the worst cases of intimidation, along with all 15 killings. It was prepared with information provided by eight provincial offices and six roving investigators.
Report author Adrian Edwards, a UN analyst, said the investigators found that political violence is in some cases worse than in 1998, when 22 political killings were reported in the four months preceding the national election. Investigators also found widespread violations of the election law, including confiscation of voter registration cards—abuses that have gone unpunished by the National Election Committee.
The report calls on the government to protect candidates and investigate slayings and reports of intimidation. It also calls for voter education and instructs the military not to shield suspects from prosecution.
A government spokesman downplayed the UN report, saying police are still investigating many of the killings.
“We arrested some of the perpetrators, but we do not jump to any conclusion,” said government spokesman Khieu Kanharith. “We let the police finish their investigations first.”
Of the 15 killings identified in the UN report, only one has led to a conviction: A Kompong Speu provincial court convicted two men in October for the slaying of Sam Rainsy Party commune election candidate Uch Horn.
Government investigators announced arrests in two more cases. Battambang province police arrested a man they identified as “Khoeuth” in connection with the Jan 4 Kampot province shooting deaths of Long Kim Phon, a Funcinpec commune council candidate, and her husband, Soun Kroeun, a party activist.
The Ministry of Interior also announced three arrests in the shooting death of Touch Sean, a Sam Rainsy Party commune candidate slain Jan 5 in her Svay Rieng province home.
Police arrested Preab Sam Ol, 35, on suspicion he shot Touch Sean with an AK-47. Police said he has not confessed, but Keo Thy, 37, and Keng Sabong, 29, who were also arrested, identified Preab Sam Ol as the gunman in what police say was a robbery gone awry.
Funcinpec officials issued a statement Tuesday saying they are “deeply affected” by the violent deaths of some of their candidates and called on local authorities to investigate all killings.
The statement was accompanied by a copy of the joint CPP-Funcinpec declaration of May 24, 2001, in which both parties pledged to hold peaceful elections.
High-ranking CPP officials have generally stated that the investigations of so-called political killings must be carried out, and that what matters is that the killers be caught and punished.
An annual government report on human rights delivered by Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng on Dec 10 said three killings previously characterized as politically motivated were not related to politics.
On that same day, at a ceremony marking International Human Rights Day, Hun Sen said he would work to prevent violence before, during and after the elections.
He repeated the pledge in a national appeal Tuesday in which he called for the military, police, political parties and local officials to work hand in hand to ensure peaceful elections.
Two-thirds of the cases of intimidation and violence have been against members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, the UN report states. In general, UN investigators found that regions that strongly supported the CPP in the 1998 elections have reported few cases of intimidation.
Authorities in many regions refuse to consider political connections in the slayings, while some suspects may be under protection by the military, according to the report.
“Investigating authorities remain reluctant to probe political motives, exacerbating the risk of premature conclusions being drawn,” the report states.
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)