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Human Rights in Kingdom of Cambodia

Amnesty International Report 2008

Head of State: King Norodom Sihamoni
Head of government: Hun Sen
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 14.6 million
Life expectancy: 58 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 130/120 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 73.6 per cent

Some 150,000 Cambodians were known to live at risk of losing their homes as land disputes and land grabbing proliferated. Forced evictions of poor communities continued and victims had limited access to legal redress. The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) continued to consolidate power and maintained a grip over the judiciary, where deep-seated shortcomings remained largely unchanged. After considerable delays, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC, Khmer Rouge Tribunal) became operational; five arrests and the first hearing took place.


The CPP won the commune chief seat in over 98 per cent of communes in local elections in April. The mainly peaceful poll gave the party more than 70 per cent of the total seats and the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party 23.4 per cent. The government's junior coalition partner, FUNCINPEC, plummeted to 2.4 per cent, following an internal split and the sentencing to 18 months' imprisonment for "breach of trust" of exiled former party leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Justice system

On 5 February the Code of Ethics for Judges was adopted by the Supreme Council of Magistracy. The new Criminal Procedure Code was promulgated in August, around a month after the new Civil Procedure Code entered into force. Neither the anti-corruption law, a high priority of the international donor community, nor the new Penal Code had been passed by the end of the year.

The President of the Appeal Court was removed after an investigation by the Ministry of Interior found that she had accepted US$30,000 in exchange for the release of two men convicted of trafficking offences. She was replaced by You Bunleng, the co-Investigating judge on the ECCC. The process of this appointment was described as unconstitutional by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

The legal system remained biased against the poor and marginalized. Reports of breaches of the presumption of innocence, lack of independence, corruption and serious failures to apply the law emerged from trials. Court monitoring by the Center for Social Development showed that coerced confessions, mostly through beatings or threats, continued to be widespread.

  • Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, convicted in 2004 of murdering union leader Chea Vichea after a grossly unfair trial, had their 20-year prison sentences upheld on appeal in April despite the prosecutor calling for a fresh investigation.
  • The ECCC became operational in June 2007 when the internal rules were adopted, ending a disagreement between national and international judges, and paving the way for investigations and prosecutions. By the end of the year, five suspects were in ECCC detention, including former head of state Khieu Samphan and so-called Brother Number Two, Nuon Chea. All five were charged with crimes against humanity, and three of them also with war crimes. A first hearing was held by the Pre-Trial Chamber in November and trials were expected to begin in 2008.
  • Killings

    On 24 February Hy Vuthy, a factory president of the Free Trade Union of Workers (FTU), was shot dead, the third FTU official to be killed since 2004.

    Forced evictions

    During 2007, thousands were forcibly evicted and lost land, homes and livelihoods following development projects and land grabbing. The authorities did not uphold their obligations under international law to guarantee the right to adequate housing and protect the population against forced evictions.

    Some 150,000 Cambodians were estimated to live at risk of forced eviction, including over 20,000 residents around Phnom Penh's Boeung Kak lake. In February, the Boeung Kak residents were informed that the land had been leased out for 99 years by the municipality to a developer without any prior consultation with those affected.

    Several evicted communities in Phnom Penh were resettled in areas that lacked basic infrastructure, water, electricity and sanitation. The distance from their former homes and to the city meant that many lost access to their livelihoods.

  • In a pre-dawn operation on 2 November, the Chong Chruoy village outside Phnom Penh was demolished by security forces. The 132 families, mostly sustained by fishing, were forcibly resettled some 25 kms inland.
  • Human rights defenders

    Hundreds of people staged protests attempting to protect their land and homes. Several such peaceful gatherings were broken up by law enforcement agencies, including in Phnom Penh, Koh Kong, Ratanakiri and Banteay Meanchey.

    A number of land activists were jailed as a result of their activities, including on suspicion of having destroyed private property on disputed land which they believed they legally owned. Others, including legal aid lawyers, were charged with incitement for their activities in defence of human rights.

  • On 20 April, security forces forcibly evicted over 100 families from Mittapheap 4 village in Sihanoukville, setting ablaze 80 homes and demolishing another 20. Thirteen men were arrested and tried in July for their role in the violence. Nine were found guilty and sentenced to short prison terms despite the prosecution's failure to produce any evidence linking them to the crimes of which they were accused. Pending the hearing of a prosecution appeal, the group were not released after completing their terms and remained held at the end of the year in what constituted arbitrary detention.
  • On 21 June a criminal complaint was lodged against a group of 10 human rights lawyers from two prominent legal aid NGOs working with a group of indigenous Jarai to protect their collectively owned land. The complainant allegedly acquired 450 hectares of the Jarai land in breach of the 2001 Land Law and against the will of the community. By year's end, the lawyers were under investigation and the land dispute remained unresolved.
  • In June the international NGO Global Witness released a report which alleged the involvement of high-ranking individuals within the government and armed forces in serious crimes related to illegal logging. The report was suppressed by the authorities and media outlets were reportedly warned against reporting the story. Threats of violence were made against Global Witness staff and two journalists who had covered the story fled the country.
  • Refugees and asylum-seekers

    Buddhist monk Tim Sakhorn disappeared in June after being defrocked by the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch for harming the relationship between Cambodia and Viet Nam. Tim Sakhorn, an abbot in Takeo province and a member of the Khmer Krom minority in southern Viet Nam, had lived in Cambodia since 1979 with dual citizenship. He had provided food and shelter to Khmer Krom Buddhist monks fleeing from Viet Nam. He was believed to have been abducted and deported by Cambodian authorities in breach of Cambodia's obligations under international law. (See Viet Nam entry.)

    Other individuals of Vietnamese nationality were forcibly returned from Cambodia, including Le Tri Tue, a pro-democracy activist seeking asylum. He disappeared in May. Four months later it emerged that he was detained in Viet Nam, facing criminal charges.

    Over 200 Vietnamese ethnic minority Montagnards crossed the border from the Vietnamese Central highlands into north-eastern Cambodia to seek asylum. Some hid in the jungle before seeking asylum under UNHCR's mandate, fearful of arrest and being forcibly returned home where they are at risk of persecution.

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