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Thursday, March 22, 2007

CAMBODIA: Investigation of 1997 grenade attack on peaceful demonstrators and other

March 21, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: Investigation of 1997 grenade attack on peaceful demonstrators and other criminal cases must be conducted and the report made public

On 30 March 1997, Sam Rainsy who is now the leader of Cambodia's opposition party, organised and led a peaceful demonstration in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. The rally was called to protest the corrupt judiciary, which then, as is now was under the control of the dominant Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Approval had been obtained for the demonstration. When the people gathered to listen to Rainsy deliver a speech, four to five men threw four grenades into the crowd, killing 14 and injuring 142.

In July of the same year, FUNCINPEC (a Cambodian Royalist party) fell out of their coalition with the CPP, and into open warfare on the streets of the capital. Over 40 of FUNCINPEC members were extra-judicially killed, among them Ho Sok, a senior official and a secretary of state for the interior. He was shot dead in cold blood while being held in custody on the premises of the Ministry of Interior.

It has now been ten years since the killings and the grenade attack, yet police investigations have not led to a single arrest. No progress report has been made known to the public or the relatives of the dead and the survivors. These heinous crimes not only symbolise Cambodia’s human rights struggle, they also demonstrate the judicial systems failure to deliver justice.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) would like to highlight the following few cases that are well known in the country due to the notoriety of the victims. In July 1999, Piseth Pilika, a much-loved singer, dancer and actress, whom Prime Minister Hun Sen was alleged to have good relations with, was shot in front of a shop and died in hospital a week later. In February 2003, Venerable Sam Bunthoeun, a well-respected Buddhist leader who advocated voting rights for Buddhist monks, was shot and died two days later. In October of the same year, Chou Chetharith, journalist at FUNCINPEC-owned Ta Prum radio, was shot dead in front of that radio station. A few days after that, Touch Srey Nich, a popular singer who had performed several of FUNCINPEC's campaign songs for the general election held a few months earlier, and her mother were both shot at a flower shop. The mother died in hospital while Touch Srey Nich was paralysed from the neck down. In all these cases, the Cambodian government have also failed to apprehend perpetrators of crime because they have not conducted any investigations or their investigations have been ineffective. There are concerns that any inquiry into these cases will not be answered.

These cases have gone unsolved despite the fact that the Cambodian government can no longer claim that it lacks the means to conduct serious and effective investigations. For 16 years, the international community has continuously provided it with training and material resources. In stark contrast to the work on these killings, the Cambodian government has shown over the years that it is capable of moving with great speed and expertise whenever it is in its interest to conduct investigations. For instance last year, a murder case involving Judge Sok Sethamony of the Phnom Penh Court that was deemed unsolved in April 2003, was resolved after the Cambodian government swiftly apprehended five perpetrators after it had removed Phnom Penh Police Commissioner Heng Pov. These five perpetrators were police officers and were Heng Pov's associates. They were tried in September 2006 and sentenced to 16 years in prison each for murder. Although Heng Pov was implicated, he had already fled to Singapore, where he later crossed over into Malaysia. He was nevertheless tried in absentia and sentenced to 18 years in prison for masterminding the murder. The Cambodian government then defied any doubts about its capability to investigate in December (2006) when they stunningly succeeded in repatriating him from Malaysia to serve his sentence and face other criminal charges after he had been granted asylum by Finland.

This evidence shows the government has the ability to deal with criminals when they see fit. The AHRC therefore urges the Cambodian government to meet its human rights obligations under the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, the international human rights instruments Cambodia has adhered to, and its national constitution. The AHRC also urges the Prosecutor General of the Appeal Court to avail himself of the power given to him under articles 35 and 36 of the Law on Criminal Procedure of 1993 and order the police to conduct effective investigations into all those cases. The Prosecutor General should ensure that the surviving victims or the relatives of the dead are informed of the outcome and the status of investigations. According to the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (Principle 6 (a), all these victims have the right to such information.

The AHRC further urges donors, the United Nations and international agencies to work with the Cambodian government, the Prosecutor General of the Appeal Court and the police to get all the cases mentioned above investigated and to ensure that the outcome or status of the investigations is notified to the surviving victims and the relatives of the dead, as well as made known to the public.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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