Cambodia: Human rights groups condemn excessive use of force

It was 20 years on September 24 since the Cambodian Constitution was first signed, marking the end of the UN transitional authority in the country (Untac). Today’s Constitution was drafted in July and August 1993 by 12 persons. One of them told the local press on Tuesday that, while  the “essentials for democracy” are in the text, its implementation has been “completely diverted from its goal”.

Under the Constitution, the King names a representative of the party gaining the most parliamentary seats to form a government. This is how Hun Sen was appointed by King Norodom Sihamoni to do so. However, the Constitution requires 50% of the votes of the National Assembly to confirm the new government.  On Tuesday, a truncated National Assembly of 68 members re-elected Mr. Hun Sen with a new mandate as Cambodian Prime Minister for the next five years, as 68 does represent more than half the seats. Sam Rainsy, one of the leaders of the CNRP, called the Constitution a “big disappointment”, echoing the opinion of the lawmaker who participated in the drafting process of the Constitution.

Elected members of the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) led by Sam Rainsy and Khem Sokha, have boycotted the National Assembly this week, stating that authorities have not held any inquiry about the massive electoral frauds and calling the meeting “a violation of the Constitution”. From September 7-17, the CNRP held a number of non violent demonstrations in Phnom Penh to ask for further investigations into the results. According to Transparency International, the CPP should have won these elections with 48.9% of the votes and the CNRP with 44.2%, showing that the competition between the two parties is tighter than it actually seems and stating that the official results announced on September 8 might not be reflective of people’s willbecause of widespread irregularities.

A number of incidents have occurred in recent weeks that  highlight the tensions surrounding the election result. On September 15 security forces fired at civilians in Phnom Penh, killing one person and wounding several others. These practices have been denounced by Human Rights Watch.

On September 20, hundreds of armed security forces dispersed a peaceful gathering led by CNRP official Prince Sisowath Thomico, who was on hunger strike and accompanied by a group of Buddhist monks and other supporters. Two days later, at the same place, police and gendarmes armed with guns as well as civilian auxiliaries with tasers and slingshots broke up a peaceful vigil by representatives of people evicted from their homes in Phnom Penh. The participants were reiterating their demand for electoral fairness and calling for the release of imprisoned Boeng Kak housing rights activist Yorm Bopha. At least 10 community members were injured and seven journalists attacked.

These events were condemned on September 24 by a group of five NGOs – including HRW and Amnesty International – denouncing “the authorities’ unnecessary and excessive use of force” and urging “foreign governments and the United Nations [to] speak out and condemn violations of the right to peaceful assembly and related rights”. The Oversees Press Club of Cambodia (OPCC) also condemned the attacks against local and foreign journalists.