The ink had barely dried on the UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal‘s verdict against Pol Pot’s former henchmen when Cambodia’s leader, Hun Sen, shockingly revealed his “regret” over not killing his opponents.
But to the late Lee Kwan Yew, Hun Sen’s revelation was expected. Singapore’s late prime minister once described Hun Sen and his regime as “utterly merciless and ruthless, without humane feelings.”
Until Hun Sen’s recent admission, his deep desire to kill his opponents had never been revealed. Over the past 30 years, there have been abundant reports of unsolved political murders attributed to either his “dirty dozen generals,” as documented by Human Rights Watch, or of Cambodia’s government “getting away with murder” (stated by former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans in 2014).
The recent speech by Australian politicians applied the terms “criminal and thuggish” solely to the “regime” and not to Hun Sen personally. Hun Sen has used others to do the dirty work for him, including using the Supreme Court to dissolve a political party. No one could have imagined that Hun Sen would openly brag about his desire to kill more protest leaders.
A peaceful 2014 protest by garment workers demanding a minimum wage ended with five workers killed and a number detained and injured by Hun Sen’s forces.
With Hun Sen’s recent admission on Radio Free Asia, the world is spared the trouble of conducting an investigation to find the killer. Besides being known as a “ruthless and merciless” leader, the ex-Khmer Rouge member’s latest self-revelation makes him worthy of a new title: “Hun Sen – the obsessed killer.”
Everyone should be fearful of Hun Sen, regardless of where they live, particularly Cambodians. Whether critics are national icons or international figures, death awaits them – at the hands of Cambodia’s leader and his henchmen. Victims should not expect the international community to take action beyond expressing words of “concern.”
Hun Sen’s regret over not killing protest leaders
Hun Sen expressed his “regret” that he had not killed leaders of protests against his ruling Cambodian People’s Party in 2013 and 2014, stating: “We didn’t pursue you because we didn’t want to kill you at the time.” While not naming the ‘leaders,” one can assume that Hun Sen is obsessed with eliminating a political challenger with international standing – Sam Rainsy, who is currently in exile and a member of parliament of the banned party.
Does that mean Hun Sen will kill if the opportunity arises? But what was the crime that triggered such an obsession? Was protest a crime? In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte justified a killing spree by characterizing it as a “war on drugs” campaign, which drew international condemnation.
But would world leaders really care about Cambodian victims? Definitely not, because they have fallen for Hun Sen’s narrative: without him, there would be a return of the Khmer Rouge. Yet Hun Sen was and is still one of them. The absence of condemnation now that Hun Sen has revealed his passion for killing means that the United Nations and the international community have effectively legitimized Hun Sen’s crimes, which makes
the recent verdict of the UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal a “genocide tribunal of extraordinary injustice” in the eyes of Cambodians.
In fact, many high-profile killings, including the death of the critic Kem Ley, who was shot in 2016, prompted Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada to demand an investigation in accordance with international law.
It has been more than two years since the popular government critic was killed, but no offenders have been caught. Recently, the International Commission of Jurists reiterated its demand for an independent and impartial commission of inquiry to investigate Kem Ley’s case.
Over the years, Hun Sen has been sharpening his lethal skills while at the same time adopting an internationalized language of cooperation and a posture of engagement with the international community.
Just a few months ago, Hun Sen addressed the United Nations General Assembly. His speech called for all to “respect one another,” yet he declared that those who criticized his flawed re-election last July would “insult the people of Cambodia.”
But who is this leader obsessed with killing people to lecture the world when he labels critics and opponents as “dogs,” threatened to beat up protesters on Australian soil, and called the former special representative of the United Nations to Cambodia on human rights, Michael Kirby, a “crazy lawyer.”
In light of Hun Sen’s admission, the United Nations should promptly remove his speech from its website.
Hun Sen is a clone of Pol Pot
Given that he has dissolved the main opposition party, which was supported by some 3 million voters, and controls the entire parliament and monarchy, it is hard to believe that this leader regrets missing the opportunity to kill leaders of protests in 2013 and 2014. While it took nearly four years for Pol Pot to kill around 1.7 million people in darkness, Hun Sen took away the rights of 3 million Cambodians within a blink of an eye – in broad daylight.
One might want to ask; why is there a need for Hun Sen to unmask his passion for violence? Or is this just part of Hun Sen’s wicked strategy – sending a message to regional ASEAN member states that he is sinister, draconian and reckless, hoping that it will make Cambodia’s neighbors think twice about siding with Western countries on impending sanctions and condemning his regime?
More important for the international community and world leaders is the language of “engagement and cooperation” embodied by handshake deals and soft diplomacy with Hun Sen while he is subjecting Cambodians to generational suffering?
There is only one answer: Hun Sen is a clone of Pol Pot. In fact, former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans was unforgiving when the news of the killing of peaceful protesters broke in 2014. Evans compared Hun Sen’s regime to that of the Khmer Rouge: “It is not the kind of genocidal slaughter conducted by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, but it is murder nonetheless: Cambodian citizens are being deliberately targeted by their country’s security forces.”
In November 2017 when Hun Sen had the opposition party dissolved, The Washington Post reminded the world that in June that year, Hun Sen had told the opposition to “prepare for their own coffins.”
Less than six months later, Hun Sen obliterated the entire democratic institution, sending the opposition into exile all over the world, and those who did not escape were imprisoned. All efforts by the United Nations to turn him into an acceptable leader have come to nothing.
Also, 16 years earlier, The New York Times described Hun Sen’s regime in 1998 as “a brutal communist dictatorship that [used] assassination and torture to still its critics and controlled the country through a network of party-appointed village chiefs.”
Cambodians are still waiting for justice from the international community for all those crimes committed by Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany, and allegations of abuse of the Red Cross emblem.
For Cambodians under this kleptocratic regime, how well one is treated by the regime depends on the degree to which one submits and pays tribute to his “Lordship.”
Now that Hun Sen has unmasked himself as “Cambodia’s obsessed assassin,” the United Nations should appoint an independent body to examine whether crimes against humanity have been committed under Hun Sen’s 30-year rule. Likewise, the international community should take steps to condemn this merciless, ruthless and inhumane regime.