Cambodians’ dissatisfaction with the country’s direction is well-documented. Displeasure with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s rule is coupled with frustration that the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party leadershave failed to control the CPP – one reason for an outgrowth of small parties likely to split votes from the CNRP in 2018.
Premier Hun Sen and his CPP relish seeing frustration turn to criticism (even denunciation) of the CNRP for joining the National Assembly. Critics believe the CNRP should not deal with devil—the CPP. Thaem neak thaem (Encore!), one can hear the shrewd and foxy Premier and his CPP colleagues snicker. With executive, legislative, and judicial powers concentrated in their hands, they quash dissent and violate citizens’ rights.
A few days ago, global watchdog Freedom House’s report Freedom of the World 2015 rated Premier Hun Sen’s Cambodia “not free”; its Southeast Asia Program director dubbed Cambodia under the CPP, “one of the most repressive (countries) in the world, and it has not been free for at least 20 years on Freedom House ratings.” On Feb. 1, Premier Hun Sen’s dynasty was solidified with his three sons’ promotions to positions to succeed him.
Last Oct. 14, I wrote in my article, “The ‘Ruling Elite’ faces charges of crimes against humanity,” about roles and functions of the International Criminal Court, and about the criminal complaint filed Oct. 7 by British lawyer Richard J. Rogers of the London-based law firm Global Diligence LLP, charging Cambodia’s “Ruling Elite” – senior government officials, senior State security forces officials, government-connected business leaders – with crimes against humanity.
Briefly, the complaint charges the ruling elite with mass human rights violations with “twin-objectives of self-enrichment and maintaining power at all costs”: “[P]ursuant to a State policy,”the elite “committed, aided and abetted, ordered and/or incited the crimes of forcible transfer, murder, illegal imprisonment, other inhumane acts, and persecution, since Cambodia signed the Rome Statute” in March 2002.
Some 770,000 people or six percent of the population have been forcibly evicted from their lands since 2000. And, 20,000 more became new victims in the first three months of 2014. At least 10 million acres of land (22 percent of total land area)have been confiscated. The State’s “legal and security systems” have quelled “civil society leaders, monks, journalists, lawyers, environmental activists, trade unionists, civilian protesters, and opposition politicians.”
The criminal complaint – a 450-page document with thousands of footnotes and references – was filed on behalf of 10 individual victims who gave Rogers power of attorney, and in relation to all the victims of the crimes. In the filing it is asserted that should the ICC fail to act, “hundreds of thousands more Cambodians will likely fall victim to the land grabbing,” and Cambodia will fall prey to “larger-scale violence.”
The complaint made headlines and stirred hope and excitement among Cambodians who want change in Cambodia.
Conferences with diaspora
Rogers, who lived in Cambodia for five years, grew to love the country and its people, but was distressed by the ruling elite’s scramble for resources that compelled people to fight to protect their homes, land, and livelihood. With an initial fund from the Cambodian diaspora, Rogers worked on the criminal complaint.
In a January visit to the US, Rogers held a series of conferences in Long Beach, CA (Jan. 9); Tacoma, WA (Jan. 10); Seattle, WA (Jan. 11); Falls Church, VA (Jan. 17), and spoke via Skype to Cambodians in Minnesota, to inform all about the status of the filing.
A UK lawyer, Rogers was joined by US lawyer Morton Sklar at Falls Church. In March, Sklar filed a suit at the ICC on behalf of a group of Cambodian Americans against Premier Hun Sen and senior officials, accusing them of human rights violations and obstruction of justice through interference in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
Videos of the conferences, and of Rogers’s interviews with the Voice of America-Khmer and Radio Free Asia, are posted on the Internet as activists appealed for signatures on a Petition urging the “ICC Prosecutor to pursue this case and initiate an investigation into the alleged crimes.”
Rogers told Cambodians the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (under prominent Gambian lawyer Ms. Fatou Bensuda) has acknowledged receipt of the complaint and is looking into it; that due to limited resources and many complaints, it cannot investigate every crime. It has no deadline by which it must report its determination on the suit’s viability.
Ms. Bensuda will review the evidence (3-6 months) to decide if a preliminary examination is warranted, a process that can take 3 years. During an investigation an ICC investigation team would work in Cambodia. Rogers hopes a decision comes early this year. This would be a success in the fight for justice.
Only when the Prosecutor is satisfied with a “reasonable basis to believe” that crimes against humanity may have been committed would a formal investigation begin and a trial perhaps ensue.
First thing first
Rogers said it’s important to persuade the Prosecutor to choose to deal with the Cambodian complaint before others. He is more hopeful now than when he filed the complaint.
He is grateful for positive reactions from the European Parliament, some US lawmakers, and others. He hopes for a US congressional hearing.
The Paris-based Federation internationale des droits de l’homme (FIDH) or International Federation of Human Rights, comprised of 178 human rights organizations worldwide; London-based Global Witness; and 40 civil society organizations in Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the US, have endorsed Rogers’s filing, and “urge the Office of the Prosecutor to initiate a Preliminary Examination with a view to opening a full investigation.”
Rogers urged Cambodians to petition the ICC to open a preliminary examination; some can write letters. For himself, he will file a supplementary communication: Violations have continued since the initial filing.
Rogers and Sklar pointed to Cambodia’s 10,000-strong gendarmerie, whose chief, Gen. Sao Sokha, said in a speech on Jan. 15 that he authorized the use of force against Cambodia’s opposition for political purposes, and about his “lessons learned from Hitler” and Vietnamese guerillas. Both attorneys stressed, it is “this type of individual who has been put in power in Cambodia.” (A Human Rights Watch’s Jan. 25 statement called on Cambodia’s donors to demand Gen. Sokha’s removal “from any role in the state security forces.”
The videos of the attorneys’ presentations record the strong sentiment of the Cambodian diaspora that Premier Hun Sen should be indicted and arrested.
At the Tacoma conference, Ms. Sinuon Hem, head of Cambodian Women’s Network Association, charged, Premier Hun Sen “is at war with the people,” and asked what the ICC would do should the “people rise up and 1,000 died [sic].”Rogers agreed the Premier is at war with his people, but hoped it would not come to 1,000 dead. Even far fewer deaths would compel the ICC to understand the seriousness of the situation in Cambodia, he said.
Political activist Ms. Sieu Meas summed up well Cambodians’ sentiment: Many activities, including street protests, have failed to bring justice, hence, Rogers’s criminal complaint is their hope. She asked, “What can we do to help?” and suggested looking into freezing the Premier’s assets abroad.
Morton Sklar who joined Rogers at the Falls Church conference, advised: Cambodians “cannot rely solely on the ICC complaint.” Referring to Amnesty International’s iconic logo of a candle wrapped in barbed wire, Sklar urged Cambodians to lightmany candles; he encouraged them to initiate many types of activism. Lobby the World Bank to stop loans to Cambodia; lobby the US Congress and the federal government to do more… “the more ways the more likely to achieve a positive change.”
Rogers said the ICC can investigate anyone and no one, regardless of position, is exempt from indictment. But he cautioned: “Be realistic, there is no guarantee” of an indictment. He stressed, “facts” in the complaint do satisfy crimes against humanity. The ICC has no police force and cannot go into any country to undertake an arrest. Even with a warrant, the ICC relies on the legal authority of signatory states to make an arrest.
In Tacoma, Rogers advised: “Don’t get carried away with the Hun Sen idea.”
Threat of a preliminary investigation
In my last article, I cited reasons presented (Dec. 12) by Global Diligence and FIDH supporting a preliminary examination.
The “threat of a preliminary examination” leading to full investigation would have a “significant deterrent effect” on Cambodia’s leaders’ further criminal behavior, and “may force” the Cambodian government to “re-consider its approach to land grabbing and suppression of dissidents.” The ICC “could spur genuine national judicial proceedings” since the ICC’s jurisdiction is “complementary” and not superior to national courts.
There are opportunities for thoughtful advocacy to advance the urgency of the ICC filing.
The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.
About the Author:
Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. He currently lives in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read this ETC online