Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cambodia: Army, Police Campaign for Ruling Party

Partisanship Intimidating Voters, Threatening Fair Elections

(New York, July 22, 2013) – Cambodia’s security forces are openly campaigning for Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the national elections scheduled for July 28, 2013, Human Rights Watch said today. The partisanship of the army, police, and gendarmerie has created an intimidating atmosphere for voters in many parts of the country.

“Cambodia’s armed forces and police should be nonpartisan state institutions, but during the pre-election period they have acted as the campaign arm for Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling party,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces that act on behalf of one party skew election results and make the process unfair for other parties and candidates.”

Partisan activity by the security forces on behalf of the CPP, including by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the police, has been ongoing for months and continued unabated since the formal opening of the electoral campaign period on June 27.
Examples, detailed in the discussion below, include the following:
·         The military supreme commander, Pol Saroeun, visited Sihanouk province on May 26 to urge voters not to be fooled by opposition propaganda and instead to ensure a CPP election by voting en masse for it;
·         The military Joint General Staff chairman, Kun Kim, toured Oddar Meanchey province in late May to call on people to vote for the CPP to ensure Hun Sen would remain prime minister;
·         The military Joint General Staff vice-chairman, Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s son,  on June 27 visited Svay Rieng province to headline a CPP election rally at which local authorities promised he would return there many more times to campaign for the CPP; and
·         The military deputy supreme commander, Hing Bunhieng, presided over meetings organized by the CPP committees in Kandal province at which he lauded Hun Sen and the CPP leadership. On May 19, for example, he met with factory workers in Kandal to call on them to support the CPP and reject opposition party efforts to gain their vote.
An April 2 speech by Hun Sen calling on all state authorities and armed forces “to make every effort to preserve a neutral political atmosphere for the whole conduct of the elections” has proved meaningless, Human Rights Watch said.

The partisan role of the security forces not only affects the voting, but also the post-election period, when the opposition parties and their supporters are vulnerable to retaliation and other abuses. The intimidating effect of security force partisanship has been heightened because Hun Sen and CPP campaigners have repeatedly warned that, for various reasons, an opposition election win could result in a “war” initiated by the CPP to protect national interests. This would include maintaining Hun Sen as prime minister to avert a situation in which Cambodia was “turned upside down.” These threats appear intended to remind voters of the orchestrated “secession” of seven eastern provinces by Hun Sen after the CPP lost United Nations-organized elections in 1993, the violent military coup he ordered in 1997, the bloody campaign before the 1998 elections, and remarks by CPP activists during subsequent elections that a CPP defeat would  risk a deadly conflagration. 

Opposition leaders and activists told Human Rights Watch that they live with the constant fear that if Hun Sen and the CPP perceive them as posing any real electoral threat, the military and police will again be mobilized to suppress them, including through arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings.  “It’s always in the back of our minds,” one opposition candidate told Human Rights Watch. 

Human Rights Watch is unaware of opposition campaign activity for this election that was not peaceful. Many people interviewed by Human Rights Watch view the government’s decision, announced on June 26, to deploy large numbers of soldiers to provide security for the election campaign as both unnecessary and a veiled threat against opposition supporters.

Under the international treaty provisions of the October 1991 Paris Agreements, signed by Cambodia and 19 other states, peace and national reconciliation in Cambodia are to be achieved through free and fair elections. The agreements affirmed that for such a ballot to be held, national defense and public security bodies should not influence the outcome of elections and instead should ensure a neutral political environment conducive to making the elections free and fair.

It was envisaged that after the 1993 UN-organized elections, free and fair voting would be accomplished under a constitutionally guaranteed system of liberal democracy based on pluralism, genuine elections, and respect for fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and association, due process, equality before the law, and protection from arbitrary deprivation of property.

“When security forces take sides in elections, voters feel intimidated,” Adams said. “Voters should feel protected by security forces, not threatened.”

The military and police officer corps have a long history of partisanship on behalf of Hun Sen and the CPP, Human Rights Watch said. For almost three and a half decades, they have been integral to a system that has empowered elements within their ranks to arrest, torture or kill perceived opponents with impunity. Military and police officers with a history of command responsibility for the most serious human rights violations have not been prosecuted but instead promoted on account of their loyalty to Hun Sen, making impunity and its protection a defining characteristic of Cambodia’s security forces.

After Hun Sen’s July 1997 coup, carried out by senior military, gendarmerie, and police officers loyal to him, the prime minister has used his increasing political dominance to enhance the political partisanship of the military and police officer corps.  

Military and police generals Ke Kimyan, Pol Saroeun, Kun Kim, Meas Sophea, and Net Savoeun are members of the CPP Standing Committee. Many other military and police generals are Central Committee members, such as Prum Din, Chea Dara, Ma Chhoeun, Mao Chandara, and Sao Sokha. Many of these are among those named in a November 2012 Human Rights Watch report about institutional and individual responsibility for serious human rights violations in Cambodia since the early 1990s.

Since at least December, it has been CPP policy for all members to participate in preparations for the July 28 elections. An Extraordinary CPP Congress resolution of March 13 called upon the CPP “at all levels to contest for victory,” specifying that that all its committees and work teams must combine their efforts to achieve this.

“The fact that the Cambodian security forces act as a de facto wing of the CPP has disastrous effects on human rights and democratic processes,” Adams said. “The UN and member countries, especially those long supporting elections in Cambodia, should make it clear that the security forces’ role is inconsistent with a free and fair election.”

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