Cambodia: Victims of protest crackdowns denied justice
The Cambodian authorities must provide justice to those killed, disappeared and injured during the crackdowns on protests by security forces, Amnesty International said today in a new report.
Taking to the streets documents how not a single official or member of the security forces has been held to account for the often brutal repression of protests in Cambodia, including around the disputed 2013 elections.
Protesters in Cambodia have had to brave batons and sometimes bullets to voice their opinions. Over the past two years people have taken to the streets to demand their rights like never before, but the authorities have regularly responded with violent repression.
“Protesters in Cambodia have had to brave batons and sometimes bullets to voice their opinions. Over the past two years people have taken to the streets to demand their rights like never before, but the authorities have regularly responded with violent repression,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“Our report documents how victims of serious human rights violations by security forces have been left without justice and effective remedies, while those responsible continue to walk free.”
The report, based on extensive research in the country, covers a tumultuous period that saw perhaps the largest demonstrations in Cambodia’s history. In late 2013 people took to the streets over the disputed national elections while garment workers called for an increase to their minimum wage.
Security forces used arbitrary arrests, severe beatings and at times killings to put down protests, even shooting into crowds with AK-47s. At least six people have been shot dead during protests since September 2013.
In the worst incident, on 3 January 2014, security forces opened fire on protesting garment workers at a demonstration that turned violent on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh, killing at least four young men – Khim Phaleap, Sam Ravy, Yean Rithy, and Pheng Kosal - aged between 22 and 25. Scores more were injured.
At the same demonstration, 16-year-old garment worker Khem Saphath was last seen with an apparent gunshot wound to his chest. He is missing, presumed dead and his family have been provided no information on measures taken to investigate his enforced disappearance.
“The use of excessive force at protests by security forces has ruined lives of victims and their families. In some cases it is clear who is responsible and in many others should be quite easy to find out – yet no one has been held to account,” said Rupert Abbott.
Those implicated in using excessive force against protesters have included police, gendarmes and the army, as well as “para-police”, an auxiliary force that Amnesty International recommends should be stopped altogether from policing assemblies.
But despite numerous criminal complaints by those who have suffered at the hands of security forces, a chilling culture of impunity has meant that no one has been held to account for these serious human rights violations.
There has been no justice for university student Hoeurn Chann, aged 26, a bystander shot at a demonstration in Phnom Penh on 12 November 2013. He is paralysed from the waist down after a police officer fired indiscriminately at demonstrators and bystanders and a bullet severed his spinal cord.
On 2 May 2014, “para-police” surrounded, punched, kicked and hit 27-year-old reporter Lay Samean with batons after he tried to film them attacking activist monk Loun Sovath at a protest in Phnom Penh. Lay Samean lost consciousness and was left with a broken cheekbone requiring surgery. His employer submitted a complaint but the courts dropped the case at the end of 2014 without providing reasoning.
In another case, housing rights activist Bov Srey Sras submitted a complaint after suffering a miscarriage when she was kicked by police at a protest in the capital on 27 June 2012. A senior police officer responded “[I]f she wants to get back her kid, I am also young”. She submitted another complaint but she has heard nothing from the courts.
“The Cambodian authorities must draw a line and break this cycle of human rights violations and impunity by bringing to justice those responsible for causing these deaths and injuries. If they don’t, violations will happen again and again,” said Rupert Abbott.
“Amnesty International is calling for thorough and transparent investigations, and if there is sufficient evidence, prosecution of those responsible for using excessive force against protesters. Victims of these serious human rights violations must be provided with effective remedies, including compensation.”
As well as the use of excessive force by security forces and the impunity which they enjoy, Taking to the streets reveals a pattern of other human rights violations in the context of assemblies, including the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly through a restrictive legal framework and the judiciary’s role in harassing those who organize and participate in peaceful protests.
The 124-page report concludes with a call on the Cambodian authorities to respect, protect and facilitate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and provides over 30 detailed recommendations for changes in law, policy and practice to assist them in doing so.
In May 2015, Amnesty International met with senior officers of the National Police at Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior to discuss the research findings and with a senior Ministry of Justice official, but despite repeated attempts was unable to arrange meetings with other relevant government officials. The information given by the National Police is incorporated into the report.
Amnesty International provided the Cambodian government with an advanced draft of the report for comment but by the time of publication had not received any detailed response.