Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. As of July a local human rights NGO reported four extrajudicial killings.
In March 2017 the court sentenced Oeuth Ang to life imprisonment for the 2016 murder of Kem Ley, an outspoken and popular political analyst. As of July the case remained open and the government pledged to look for coconspirators, although it took no action. Noting that the victim and killer were not acquainted and other anomalies, including the impoverished assailant’s possession of an expensive handgun, many observers believed a third party hired Oeuth Ang.
On March 8, violence broke out in Kratie Province when security forces opened fire on persons protesting the transfer of land, decades before, to a rubber plantation. Several media outlets reported a death toll of two to six persons with another 40 injured. Shortly after the violence occurred, the government ordered local media to “correct” its news reports. Four NGOs and the UN Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) formed an investigation committee to tour the site. They found that on March 7, the company began demarcating its land and that a day later 150 soldiers, military police, and police burned down villagers’ houses, leading the villagers to block the main road and demand an immediate stop to the arson. According to the OHCHR report, the security forces opened fire to disperse the villagers. OHCHR acknowledged that, because the security forces closed off the site of the shooting, there were no reliable counts of the dead or injured.
After the incident Kratie governor Sar Chamrong denied reports that security forces shot the protesters. National Police spokesperson Kirt Chantharith claimed villagers with homemade rifles injured as many as seven police officers while only two villagers were slightly injured, not by gunfire, but by bamboo sticks.
The Venerable Meas Vichet, a well known monk and social activist who disappeared in June 2017 in Krobei Riel commune, Siem Reap Province, after security officials beat him, remained missing, and no new information on his case arose during the year to October.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices; however, beatings and other forms of physical mistreatment of police detainees and prison inmates reportedly continued during the year.
There were credible reports military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse and occasionally severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. As of July a local NGO observed physical assaults against detainees and prisoners in nine cases. Journalist Kim Sok told local media following his release from detention that prison guards beat him whenever he disobeyed an order or opened books. Other detainees reported authorities forced them to walk for up to an hour with a bucket of water on their heads, or forced them to stand in the hot sun for several hours.
As of July a local NGO reported nine physical assaults against civilians not in detention by local authorities, government agents, or the private bodyguards of government officials.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh and in many cases life threatening. In February the International Labor Organization (ILO) requested the government to defend its practice of compulsory labor for detainees and urged the government to amend several laws to ensure they did not lead to incarceration involving forced labor.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons (GDP), in July 2017 authorities held more than 26,000 prisoners and detainees in 29 prisons designed to hold a maximum 11,000 prisoners. GDP officials reported the government’s “war on drugs” had exacerbated overcrowding. The GDP declined to release updated figures.
In most prisons there was no separation of adult and juvenile prisoners; of male and female prisoners; or of persons convicted of serious crimes, minor offenses, or in pretrial detention. According to the GDP, in 2016 approximately 34 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention and 29 percent had received a final verdict, approximately 8 percent of prisoners were women, and 4 percent were minors. A local NGO indicated it witnessed pregnant women in prison as well as children living with incarcerated mothers. The same NGO reported that the number of infants and toddlers living with their mothers in prison had increased sharply since 2016 due to the government’s campaign against drugs. According to one local NGO, the number of infants in prison rose from 30 in 2015 to 149 as of March.
During the year to October, the GDP did not report how many prisoners died in prison. In 2016, the most recent year on record, 76 died. Local NGOs maintained that allowances for food and other necessities were inadequate in many cases. Observers continued to report that authorities misappropriated allowances for prisoners’ food, exacerbating malnutrition and disease. Authorities did not provide updated figures on the number of prisons in which inmates had access to clean water, although as of 2016, 18 of 29 prisons provided clean water. Prisons did not have adequate facilities for persons with mental or physical disabilities. NGOs also alleged prison authorities gave preferential treatment, including increased access to visitors, transfer to better cells, and the opportunity to leave cells during the day, to prisoners whose families could pay bribes. According to a local NGO, “prisoner self-management committees,” groups of inmates organized and directed by prison guards, sometimes violently attacked other prisoners. NGOs reported significant drug use by prisoners, made possible by bribing guards.
The country has seven government and three private drug rehabilitation centers. Most observers agreed the majority of detainees in such facilities were there involuntarily, committed by police or family members without due process. According to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, no detainee was younger than age 18. Observers noted employees at the centers frequently controlled detainees with physical restraints and subjected them to intense exercise.
Administration: There were no legal provisions establishing prison ombudspersons. Prisoners could submit uncensored complaints about alleged abuse to judicial authorities through lawyers, but a large number of prisoners and detainees could not afford legal representation. The government stated it investigated complaints and monitors prison and detention center conditions through the GDP, which reportedly produced biannual reports on prison management. The GDP, however, did not release the reports despite frequent requests by civil society organizations.
Authorities routinely allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors, although rights organizations confirmed families sometimes had to bribe prison officials to visit prisoners or provide food and other necessities. There were credible reports officials demanded bribes before allowing prisoners to attend trials or appeal hearings, before releasing inmates who had served their full term of imprisonment, or before allowing inmates to exit their cells. Kung Raiya, a student who served one year in prison for a politically sensitive Facebook posting, said he had to bribe prison guards approximately one dollar each time he met with imprisoned politicians or human rights activists.
Independent Monitoring: The government allowed, subject to preconditions and restrictions, international and domestic human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and OHCHR, to visit prisons or provide human rights training to prison guards. Some NGOs reported limited cooperation from local authorities, but it was difficult to gain access to pretrial detainees. This was particularly true in high-profile cases such as that of opposition leader Kem Sokha, released on September 10 after a year in pretrial detention while authorities permitted visits only by his wife and defense lawyers. Despite the family’s requests for visits by the ICRC, the terms under which the government would allow such visits–including no direct access to the detainee–were unacceptable to the family.
The Ministry of Interior required lawyers, human rights monitors, and other visitors to obtain permission prior to visiting prisoners–often from multiple government agencies depending on the individual case–and sometimes the government required NGOs to sign a formal memorandum of understanding delineating their “roles” during prison visits.
Although some local independent monitoring groups were able to meet privately with prisoners, others were not. A local human rights NGO that provides medical care to prisoners reported the government periodically refused requests to visit convicted prisoners who were members of a political opposition party. Another NGO reported the government accused it of harboring political bias and using its visits to embolden political prisoners. OHCHR representatives reported they were usually able to visit prisons and hold private meetings when interviewing a particular prisoner of interest.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not respect these prohibitions, notably with the arbitrary detention of five Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) staffers for 427 days on politically motivated charges. ADHOC is one of the country’s oldest and most prominent human rights NGOs. Authorities released the ADHOC staffers on bail in July 2017; in September 2018 hearings on their case reconvened.
The government’s pursuit of criminal defamation cases also led to a number of arrests. Provincial labor leader Sam Sokha, for example, was tried and found guilty in absentia in January of defaming Hun Sen after she was filmed throwing a shoe at his photograph. Although the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave her refugee status in Thailand, the Thai government repatriated her involuntarily at the Cambodian government’s request in February, and she was serving a two-year prison sentence.
In February the government adopted a new “lese-majeste” (royal insult) law, which had led to the arrest of at least three citizens.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The General Commissariat of the National Police, under Ministry of Interior supervision, manages all civilian police units. Police forces are organized into those with authority to make arrests, those without such authority, and judicial police, whose authority only extends to enforcing court warrants. The government permitted military police to arrest civilians if the officers met the training and experience requirements to serve as civilian police, if civilians were on military property, or when authorized by local governments. The military police, however, sometimes engaged in civilian law enforcement activities under the authority and direction of provincial or local governments, often in support of civilian police unable to exercise effective crowd control.
There were credible reports that police officials committed abuses with impunity, and in most cases, the government took little or no action. Government officials and their family members were generally immune to prosecution.
From January to July, one local human rights organization tracked nine instances of impunity affecting 10 victims. The NGO claimed the number of instances might be far higher, but victims feared filing reports ahead of the politically sensitive election. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for evaluating security force killings, and the law requires police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate all complaints, including those of police abuse. Judges and prosecutors, however, rarely conducted independent investigations. If abuse cases came to trial, presiding judges usually passed down verdicts based only on written reports from police and witness testimony. In general police received little professional training on protecting or respecting human rights.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires police to obtain a warrant from an investigating judge prior to making an arrest, unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Authorities frequently cited this exception when arresting opposition political figures, even if the alleged offenses occurred years before. Critics accused the government of employing this practice to circumvent laws providing lawmakers with parliamentary immunity. The law allows police to take a person into custody and conduct an investigation for 48 hours, excluding weekends and government holidays, before police must file charges or release a suspect. In felony cases of exceptional circumstances prescribed by law, police may detain a suspect for an additional 24 hours with the approval of a prosecutor. Nevertheless, authorities routinely held persons for extended periods before charging them.
There was a bail system, but many prisoners, especially those without legal representation, had no opportunity to seek release on bail. Authorities routinely denied bail for cases considered politically motivated.
Under the law police may arrest and detain accused persons for a maximum of 24 hours before allowing them access to legal counsel, but authorities routinely held prisoners incommunicado for several days before granting them access to a lawyer or family members. According to government officials, such prolonged detention was frequently the result of the limited capacity of the court system. The government did not provide free access to lawyers for indigent detainees.
Arbitrary Arrest: As of July, one local human rights NGO reported at least six new cases of arbitrary arrest. The actual number of arbitrary arrests and detentions was likely higher, since many victims in rural areas did not file complaints due to the difficulty of traveling to human rights NGO offices or due to concern for their family’s security. Authorities took no legal or disciplinary action against persons responsible for the illegal detentions.
As of July authorities at the crowded Prey Speu social affairs center reported 585 persons still in detention following the Phnom Penh city government’s 2017 roundup of 1,727 homeless persons, beggars, persons with mental disabilities, and persons engaged in prostitution. Authorities initially placed 1,560 detainees, including 262 children, in Prey Speu without adequate medical treatment or food. The facility, operated by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth, was notorious for abuses that led to the death of two detainees in 2015. According to Prey Speu authorities, 585 detainees remained in the facility following reintegration into the community of 1,100 of the original detainees.
Pretrial Detention: The law allows for a maximum pretrial detention of six months for misdemeanors and 18 months for felonies. Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees without legal representation. NGOs reported that authorities held many accused of minor crimes in pretrial detention for longer than six months.
Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A backlog of court cases and long delays in obtaining judicial rulings interfered with a person’s right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of his or her detention.
Amnesty: The government traditionally offers a number of royal pardons during important national festivals. As of September the government had not timed any pardons to coincide with national festivals; however, the government offered several royal pardons to political prisoners following the July national elections. In August the government pardoned 14 opposition party leaders and four land activists. The government made clear through public pronouncements and allegedly through private harassment, however, that all of those pardoned could face rearrest if they engaged in activities the government deemed problematic.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government generally did not respect judicial independence. The courts were subject to influence and interference by the executive branch, which has the authority to promote, dismiss, and discipline judges at will. Judicial officials, up to and including the chief of the Supreme Court, often simultaneously held positions in the ruling party, and observers alleged only those with ties to the CPP or the executive received appointments to the judiciary. Corruption among judges, prosecutors, and court officials was widespread. The judicial branch was very inefficient and could not assure due process.
Observers alleged the Bar Association of Cambodia (BAC) heavily favored admission of CPP-aligned members at the expense of nonaligned and opposition attorneys and at times admitted unqualified individuals to the bar solely due to their political affiliation. Impartial analysts revealed that many applicants to the bar paid high bribes for admittance. At times the outcome of trials appeared predetermined. For example, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared shortly before the November 2017 Supreme Court hearing on the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), that he was “99.99 percent certain” the court would decide to dissolve the opposition party.
A shortage of judges and courtrooms delayed many cases, according to NGO reports. In August, BAC reported there were only 151 judges in the country. NGOs also believed court officials focused on cases that might benefit them financially. Court delays or corrupt practices often allowed accused persons to escape prosecution. As in past years, NGOs asserted that rich or powerful defendants, including members of the security forces, often paid money to victims and authorities to drop criminal charges. Authorities sometimes urged victims or their families to accept financial restitution in exchange for dropping criminal charges or for failing to appear as witnesses.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary rarely enforced this right.
Defendants are by law presumed innocent and have the right of appeal, but they often resorted to bribery rather than rely on the judicial process. Trials are often public and frequently face delays due to court bureaucracy. Court staffers reportedly undertook efforts to speed case processing. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney, confront and question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. In felony cases, if a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the law requires the court to provide the defendant with free legal representation; however, the judiciary was not able to provide legal counsel, and most defendants sought assistance from NGOs, pro bono representation, or “voluntarily” proceeded without legal representation. In the absence of required defense attorneys in felony cases, trial courts routinely adjourned cases until defendants could secure legal representation, a process that often took months. Trials were typically perfunctory, and extensive cross-examination usually did not take place. The courts offered free interpretation. The law extends these rights to all defendants.
There was a critical shortage of trained lawyers, particularly outside the capital. The right to a fair public trial often was denied de facto for persons without means to secure counsel. A report by the International Commission of Jurists indicated the high cost of bribes needed to join the bar association was partly responsible for keeping the number of trained lawyers low, which helped raise lawyers’ income whether earned through legal or illegal means.
NGOs reported sworn written statements from witnesses and the accused usually constituted the only evidence presented at trials. Authorities sometimes allegedly coerced confessions through beatings or threats, or forced illiterate defendants to sign written confessions without informing them of the contents. Courts accepted such forced confessions as evidence during trials despite legal prohibitions against doing so. According to a human rights NGO, which observed the appellate courts from November 1, 2016, to October 31, 2017, while they heard 340 cases involving 558 defendants, 20 defendants were threatened and 40 defendants were tortured to confess. The difficulty in transferring prisoners from provincial prisons to the appeals court in Phnom Penh meant that defendants were present at less than one-half of all appeals.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
As of August 1, a local human rights NGO estimated authorities held 21 political prisoners or detainees. In September, following the postelection pardons and several grants of bail, the same NGO estimated the number at five.
Among those released after the election was Kem Sokha, leader of the opposition CNRP. In September 2017 police arrested him on charges of treason. Several high-ranking CNRP officials went into hiding and most fled abroad. The government’s case against Kem Sokha centered on a four-year-old video of the CNRP leader telling an audience in Australia of his party’s work in grassroots organizing with advice from foreign experts. The government claimed this amounted to Kem Sokha “confessing” that a foreign country had instructed him on how to foment a “color revolution” in the country. Although authorities held him for one year, Kem Sokha’s lawyers said there was no progress in the government’s investigation, even though the court had questioned 13 witnesses, including various human rights activists, many of them claiming no relationship to Sokha. On September 10, the government transferred Sokha to what effectively amounted to house arrest, although there is no legal basis for “house arrest” under the country’s law. Authorities prevented Sokha from leaving an estimated three-block radius surrounding his house; meeting with former CNRP leaders, journalists, and foreigners; and participating in any political activity or gatherings.
In April the appeals court upheld the conviction of 11 CNRP activists on charges of insurrection and sentenced them from seven to 20 years in prison. Authorities charged the 11 with participating in a 2014 protest that resulted in injury to six protesters and 39 Daun Penh District security guards.
In September Hun Sen released former CNRP National Assembly member Sam An along with 13 other CNRP leaders through royal pardons. They were arrested as long ago as 2016, convicted on various charges seen as politically motivated, and sentenced to prison terms as long as 30 months.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The country has a system in place for hearing civil cases, and citizens are entitled to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Both administrative and judicial remedies generally were available; however, authorities often did not enforce court orders.
Forced collectivization and the relocation of much of the population under the Khmer Rouge left land ownership unclear. The land law states that any person who peacefully possessed private or state land (excluding public lands, such as parks) or inhabited state buildings without contest for five years prior to the 2001 promulgation of the law has the right to apply for a definitive title to that property. Most citizens, however, continued to lack the knowledge and means to obtain formal documentation of land ownership.
Provincial and district land offices continued to follow pre-2001 land registration procedures, which did not include accurate land surveys or opportunities for public comment. Land speculation, in the absence of clear title, fueled disputes in every province and increased tensions between poor rural communities and speculators. Some urban communities faced forced eviction to make way for commercial development projects.
Authorities continued to force inhabitants to relocate, although the number of cases declined in recent years. Some persons also used the threat of legal action or eviction to intimidate poor and vulnerable persons into selling their land at below-market values. As of June a local NGO reported 27 new cases of land grabbing and forced evictions, affecting 1,647 families. Another NGO reported 39 new property-related conflicts between businesspersons and villagers, including accusations of land grabbing, theft of natural resources, economic land concessions, social land concessions, and evictions. Some of those evicted successfully contested the actions in court, but the majority of cases remained pending.
Although the law provides for the privacy of residence and correspondence and prohibits illegal searches, NGOs reported police routinely conducted searches and seizures without warrants. The government installed closed-circuit television cameras in the National Election Committee (NEC). It also routinely leaked personal correspondence and surreptitiously recorded telephone calls of opposition and civil society leaders to government-aligned media. Police, who arrested Kem Sokha in September 2017, reportedly entered his house by force without a warrant. Local authorities entered and searched community-based organizations and union offices with increasing regularity.