Cambodia: Srun Vong Vannak Sentenced to 13 Years in Jail


Urgent Appeal Case: UA970925
ISSUES: Death penalty,

Srun Vong Vannak, a member of the opposition Khmer Nation Party (KNP) and the party’s chief of security, was sentenced to 13 years in jail – a decision that took the judge only 10 minutes to reach. He was convicted of conspiracy to murder Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s brother-in-law, Kov Samuth, in November 1996. The KNP had poor relations with the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), led by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. In Cambodia, the court system is merely an extension of the executive branch acting in a judicial capacity. Thus, the so-called judicial system is not independent.

Hun Sen wanted the organizers of the rally to be arrested and barred from leaving the country. Police loyal to the CPP suspect that Sam Rainsy, leader of the KNP, is linked to the murder of Kov Samuth. Sam Rainsy was fired as finance minister in 1994 and became a leading opposition figure. He was expelled from Parliament in 1995.

Chronology of Events

19 November 1996: Hun Sen’s brother-in-law, Kov Samuth, is murdered.

14 February 1997: Srun Vong Vannak is arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Kov Samuth in November 1996.

31 March 1997: In Phnom Penh, four grenades are thrown during a legally authorized rally against alleged corruption and intervention by the CPP in the judiciary. The grenade attack outside of Parliament on the officially unrecognized KNP rally of 200 protesters killed at least 16 and wounded more than 100. Sam Rainsy, who has accused Hun Sen of being behind the attack, narrowly escaped injury. The evidence of the grenade attack were destroyed and no one was arrested and prosecuted. The grenade attack is meant to scare people from participating in anti-government protests.

5-6 July 1997: Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen starts a violent military coup against First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh. There were at least 40 recorded extrajudicial executions of political dissidents.

9 September 1997: Vannak is sentenced to 13 years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to murder. Vannak has denied any involvement in the murder. Sok Kasem, who admitted pulling the trigger in the murder, was sentenced to 15 years, and Prom Meanrith, who denied the charges against him, was convicted of conspiracy and was jailed for 10 years. The trial was presided over by Judge Nob Sophon and was prosecuted by Jet Chakreya. Vannak’s lawyer, Peung Yok Hiep, the director of Legal Aid Cambodia, protested that the murderer, Sok Kasem, was the only accuser of Vannak and insisted that there was no hard evidence to convict Vannak. Hiep recounted how Vannak was held without charges for more than a month, threatened in police custody and prevented from meeting with legal counsel in contravention of the law, which requires suspects to be released in 48 hours if no charges are filed.

Background Information

In 1993, Hun Sen formed a coalition government with the royalist National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia or FUNCINPEC after elections organized by the United Nations were held. Both parties within the coalition, however, maintained their own loyal police and military forces, and the two coprime ministers, Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen, were often feuding. Sam Rainsy, meanwhile, formed a political alliance with FUNCINPEC to fight against the CPP in the parliamentary elections that will be held in November 1998.

In September 1993, the five-year term of Cambodia’ National Assembly began. After the end of the term, the Constitution stipulates that elections must be held within 60 days. Hun Sen has made a controversial proposal though that bars members of the royal family from politics as the CPP fears a royalist victory in the next election.

After four years of democratic and economic reforms, Cambodia remains insecure with rampant corruption and political instability. In addition, Cambodia’s per capita gross domestic product is less than US$300 a year.

Weak Judiciary

The protest on 31 March this year was against the domination of the judiciary by the CPP. Sam Rainsy stated that the CPP was “more and more deliberately and malignantly violating the law and the Constitution. . . . There is no democracy here. Any dissident can be eliminated at any time.”

Human Rights under Threat Why?

Cambodia has suffered more than two decades of civil wars, invasion, famine and genocide. Moreover, Cambodia was a battlefield during the Cold War.

The 1991 Paris Accord and the 1993 United Nations-sponsored election brought a semblance of peace and freedom to Cambodia, costing the world community billions of dollars. During the administration of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), there was progress made in terms of the promotion and protection of human rights; a free press and local human rights flourished; non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promoting economic development began; and the birth of civil society was initiated. For the first time, the Cambodian people had some basic human rights after decades of civil war and repressive government. Today, however, the people’s basic human rights are again under threat in Cambodia as the ruling elite wants to limit these rights. The ruling politicians want to publish their own opinions and to organize their own political movements.

The Paris Peace Agreements signed by the four warring factions in October 1991 ended the civil war in Cambodia. Under the agreement, UNTAC was authorized to disarm all of the country’s armed forces and to demobilize 70 percent of these forces. The Khmer Rouge though refused to cooperate in the disarmament process and eventually withdrew from the peace process. Subsequently, FUNCINPEC and the CPP, which formed the coalition government in 1993, had the loyalty of the troops and police from their own factions.


Please send letters, faxes and/or e-mail messages

– Expressing concern for the safety of Srun Vong Vannak;

– Calling for the release of all political prisoners, including Vannak;

– Demanding an immediate end to the detention of political dissidents because of the peaceful expression of their political views;

– Call for immediate action to stop further terrors like grenade attacks which has spread fear among people.


He Sar Kheng

Minister of Interior

Office of the Council of Ministers

Phnom Penh


Fax (855) 23-426-144

Christophe Peschoanx

Cambodia Office

UN Centre for Human Rights

Phnom Penh


Fax (855) 23-720-030


And to the diplomatic representative of Cambodia accredited to your country

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA970925
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Death penalty,