WASHINGTON DC — International lawyers representing victims of a violent crackdown on protesters last month say they are working to collect evidence before filing a case at the International Criminal Court against Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Richard Rogers, an attorney for Global Diligence, last week sent an open letter to military police commanders Sao Sokha and Rath Srieng, seeking information on who ordered the use of live ammunition and who ordered security forces to open fire on demonstrators Jan. 3. He will also send a letter to the special forces unit known as Brigade 911, whose soldiers are accused of using unnecessary force to quell demonstrations Jan. 2.
“What we’re finding is that the recent attacks on the civilian protesters and the killings and disappearances are just the tip of the iceberg,” Rogers told VOA Khmer. “In fact they are just the latest chapter in a long history of human rights abuses committed by the government in Cambodia.”
Rogers said he is also investigating other human rights violations, including land grabs, political assassinations, election-related killings and disappearances. “And what we’re discovering is the cumulative effect of all those crimes over the last 10 years starts to look very much like crimes against humanity.”
At least four people were killed and dozens injured in January’s crackdown. Two others have been killed in the period since the July election. The government has been criticized for failing to arrest or discipline the perpetrators or commanders in the shootings.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has distanced itself from Rogers’ investigation, saying it has facilitated meetings between the lawyer and victims. But Kem Monovidya, a member of the party, said the investigation is needed because people “have no faith in the current judicial system.” “It is only a tool for the ruling party,” she said.
Families of victims have been reluctant to file complaints in the Cambodian courts, which are widely seen as corrupt and biased. Some have called for an international campaign to bring Hun Sen to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Government officials say they are not paying attention to the investigation and that Cambodia’s affairs are outside the ICC’s jurisdiction.
However, Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said whether or not the investigation leads to a full case at the international court, “it can also make our authorities be more cautious and start to understand that they cannot do things at will.”
Police officials say they have received Rogers’ letters, but will not take action and are leaving the matter to the Ministry of Defense and the administration of Hun Sen.
“The role of the military police is to enforce the law and follow orders, which means we have to adhere to our duties,” said Kheng Tito, a spokesman for the military police. “Therefore, any crackdown or clash is the job of the military police. We acted within our role, but the clash was with an anarchic group who instigated violence.”