Politically Motivated Violence In Cambodia

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 213-page report which laid out vast human rights abuses that have been committed Cambodia. The report identified 12 generals in Cambodia’s security forces who have been accused of working for Prime Minister Hun Sen to eliminate those who oppose the government. Among the victims are politicians, anti-government protestors, journalists, and even online bloggers. Hun Sen has been in power for 33 years within the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). He was previously a member of the Khmer Rouge regime, which controlled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and was responsible for the deaths of 1.2 to 2.8 million civilians. According to HRW, hundreds of opposing politicians have been killed in the past few years, and the main opposition party collapsed in the lead-up to the national election next month. Cambodia is quickly devolving from a democracy to a dictatorship.

Brad Adams, the HRW Asia Director, said “[u]nderneath Hun Sen are a core group of generals who abuse and intimidate Cambodians with the same contempt towards pluralism and democracy that Hun Sen has exhibited throughout his 33 years in power. Like their boss, they need to be called out and held accountable for their many crimes.” The senior security officials have a responsibility to uphold the law of state and abstain from politics, but all 12 openly support Hun Sen and have been rewarded with promotions throughout their careers. The US has condemned and placed sanctions against some of Hun Sen’s generals, bringing Cambodian human rights violations to the world stage. Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior, which represents the police, rejected the accusations in the HRW report and called the organization a “professional liar.” A Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat claimed the report was unfair, and stated “[o]n behalf of the Ministry of National Defense, we dismiss this report which lacks evidence.” However, Hun Sen will not be able to protect his generals from facing justice forever, and without their draconian presence and support it is unlikely the prime minister will be able to continue his one-party rule.

Although the US-imposed sanctions on the generals are a good start, the rest of the international community, including the UN, must continue to pressure the regime to avoid another Pol Pot-like era of rule. The CPP has denied all accusations of human rights abuses from HRW and the US, but the corruption is blatant and needs to end before Hun Sen further consolidates power.

Under Pol Pot, millions of Cambodians were killed in an effort to make a master race. Not only was Hun Sen was a member of the Khmer Rouge party, so were 10 out of the 12 senior security officials currently in charge of the political violence. Hun Sen rose to power in 1985 and, since the death of Robert Mugabe, is one of the world’s longest serving heads of state. In the past, the murders and assaults were not investigated or prosecuted, except for several low-level Defense Ministers who were tried. However, the trials were illegitimate and quickly dismissed.

Cambodia is quickly returning to a dictatorship led by bloodthirsty and militaristic actors. To avoid more human rights violations in the country and to maintain its democracy, the US must continue to put economic pressure on the regime. Additionally, regional powers and the UN must intervene and shed light on the CPP’s abuses.