Cambodian security force commanders should no longer also be officials of political parties. On February 1, 2015, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) greatly enhanced the party’s centralized political control over the county’s security forces by adding at least 80 commanders and other officials with security duties to the CPP Central Committee.
End Partisanship of Security Force Leaders
February 4, 2015
New York) – Cambodian security force commanders should no longer also be officials of political parties. On February 1, 2015, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) greatly enhanced the party’s centralized political control over the county’s security forces by adding at least 80 commanders and other officials with security duties to the CPP Central Committee.
The leaders of the army, gendarmerie, and police have long been CPP officials. Cambodia’s donors should call for an end to this practice and urge the creation of genuinely nonpartisan and professional security forces, Human Rights Watch said.
“Security force personnel can be ordinary party members, but as soon as they take a leadership role, they are crossing the line,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Cambodia won’t have impartial, rights-respecting security forces so long as their commanders are beholden to the ruling party.”
The CPP convened an Extraordinary Nationwide Representative Congress from January 30 to February 1. The congress dropped the names of 29 persons on the existing 268-person Central Committee who had either died, resigned, or been expelled from the body before the congress, but otherwise kept veteran party leaders in place. It also added 306 new names, expanding the number of people in the Central Committee to 545. Most of these are well-known CPP veterans, although they also include the politically emergent sons of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior party leaders.
The party congress appointed virtually every important national, regional, and provincial officer and official with command authority over security forces as members of the Central Committee. An analysis of the old and added members reveals that the number of persons with operational command over Cambodian security forces has more than tripled—from 36 on the previous committee to at least 116.
The new Central Committee members include officers of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, Royal Khmer Gendarmerie, and the police. Also now in the Central Committee are all provincial and municipal governors, who are appointed to office but are almost all heads of the CPP in their areas of administration. Cambodian laws on security force personnel and civil servants, who include provincial and other governors, require them to perform their official functions with political neutrality. The governors play a security role by chairing provincial and municipal “unified command committees.” These committees exercise command authority over “mixed forces” comprising local army, gendarme, police, and public order para-police, whose heads are subordinated to the governor as members of these committees.
Details of the security force command authority of previous and added CPP Central Committee members are provided in an appendix below.
Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties stipulates that security force personnel must not act in favor of or against any political party, and furthermore that political parties “must not set up organizational structures” in security force institutions. However, military officers have told Human Rights Watch that covert CPP cells normally headed by commanding officers exist in military units. The existence of a hierarchy of CPP cells in the police and in provincial and municipal civil services is openly reported by CPP and pro-CPP media.
Adhering to both Cambodian law and CPP rules would create a conflict of interest for security force commanders, Human Rights Watch said. The CPP Statute and Internal Rules requires that Central Committee members “effectively organize and implement” party policies and decisions in the realms for which they are responsible.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that many of the new members of the Central Committee, such as Deputy Supreme Commissioner of National Police Mok Chito, Deputy Navy Commander Srun Saroeun, Deputy RCAF Supreme Commanders Hing Bunheang and Chhin Chanpoar, Deputy National Gendarmerie Commander Rat Sreang, and Deputy Supreme Commissioner of National Police Chuon Sovan and Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatevong, have been implicated in serious human rights abuses.
Many of the units for which the new Central Committee members are responsible have long histories of violating human rights, such as national Intervention Division 2, navy and regional infantry Brigades 21, 31, 41, 42, 51, 52, and 53, constituent units of Police Regions 3 and 4, the Phnom Penh gendarmerie and police, and other “mixed forces” in provinces throughout Cambodia. The violations for which they have been responsible include use of excessive force to kill protesters or forcibly evict people from their land or homes, political assassinations and other murders, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, rape, and human trafficking.
“Holding a senior post in Cambodia’s ruling party has proven to be a handy way for human rights abusers to escape justice,” Adams said. “Lower level police officers, prosecutors, and judges are afraid enough of the security forces, but now they also have to worry about retaliation from the CPP if they do their jobs.”