Cambodia is hurtling towards dictatorship under a crackdown orchestrated by 12 ruthless security force officers intent on securing victory for the country’s authoritarian prime minister in July elections, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
In a new 213-page report – Cambodia’s Dirty Dozen: A Long History of Rights Abuses by Hun Sen’s Generals – the group identified 12 army and police chiefs who for decades have formed the “backbone” of the Southeast Asian nation’s abusive and authoritarian regime.
“Over the years, Hun Sen has created and developed a core of security force officers who have ruthlessly and violently carried out his orders,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Their iron-fisted rule and dedication to Hun Sen, Cambodia’s prime minister since 1985, has made an upcoming July 29 poll all but meaningless, claim human rights activists.
“The importance of Cambodia’s generals has become even more apparent ahead of July’s elections, as they engage in crackdowns against journalists, political opponents, and anti-government protesters – and openly campaign for Hun Sen.”
Hun Sen, who officially calls himself the “princely exalted supreme great commander of gloriously victorious troops” is set for a certain win after the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party was banned last year and its leaders jailed or exiled.
Democracy Index: Cambodia
However, less well known has been the role of the faithful cadre within the country’s security forces who have masterminded his rise for decades, some since the violent rule of dictator Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s.
The new report accuses the 12 security chiefs of being implicated in crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“Most of the 12 have been implicated in the use of unnecessary, excessive, and sometimes lethal force against protests about unfree and unfair elections, land confiscations, labour abuses, and low wages,” it says.
“Many have also been involved in non-political abuses against the ordinary population, such as land takings, murder, torture, and arbitrary detention.”
Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for the police, rejected the allegations in the report.
"Human Rights Watch is a professional liar," said Huy Vannak, undersecretary of state at the ministry. "The report is too dramatic and it reflects a criminal intent of HRW to continue to downgrade Cambodia," he said.
Defense ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said the report was unfair.
"On behalf of the Ministry of National Defense, we dismiss this report which lacks evidence," he said.
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