Cambodia's security environment is still dealing with the legacy of Hok Lundy, the national chief of police widely accused of gross human rights abuses who died in an accident two years ago, rights workers said this week.
Activists say a lack of safety for citizens and a general atmosphere of impunity still prevail, while police continue to seek bribes or commit abuses.
When Hok Lundy perished in a helicopter crash over his native Svay Rieng province, analysts and observers waited to see how the police force might adjust. Hok Lundy continually faced charges of rights abuses and misconduct and a corrupt security force.
Police have been unable to shake some of that past, rights workers say.
“We still see see some [police] officials take opportunities to compromise criminal cases out of court,” said Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Adhoc. “Which is against the principle of law: that those who commit crimes must be sent to the court for legal proceedings.”
Chan Saveth, head of rights monitoring for Licadho, said police and court officials continue to work together for personal benefit, taking bribes in some cases, or digging up old cases for more extortion, undermining the judiciary.
Licadho recorded at least 21 compromised court cases in 2010, including two where suspected killers were released without trial or charges after a money exchange was brokered. In one case, family members told Licadho a man had been arrested and found dead in police custody in Battambang province. In another case, in Kampong Cham province, a soldier allegedly shot one villager dead and was never brought to trial.
A source with close ties to both the police and the courts told VOA Khmer that police have become dispirited in their work, following investigations and arrests that don't see trial or are dismissed by superiors.
Meanwhile, public perception is that crime has increased. The Khmer-language daily Koh Santepheap reported earlier this month at least 20 crimes, including deadly armed robberies. The paper said this type of insecurity had not happened in the previous five years.
National police spokesman Keat Chantharith said the authorities have actually stepped up investigations into major crimes across the country. “We are busy investigating,” he said.
But criminal activity has continued despite an August crackdown order by Interior Minister Sar Kheng. Under the order, police are to step up efforts to stop crimes such as robbery, use of illegal weapons, gang activity, and the trafficking of women and drugs.
Still, rights activists say they are happy with some policies of Neth Savoeun, who took over as police chief after Hok Lundy's death.
Am Sam Ath said Neth Savoeun has not exhibited the kind of “opportunity of power” shown by Hok Lundy in the past, but has proven an accomplished administrator who has cooperated with rights work.
Chan Saveth applauded a police hotline and complaint box meant to make it easier for people to anonymously report crime or corruption to the police. However, people still need more confidence in the police, he said.
A court official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Hok Lundy was prone to stepping into big cases, such as disputes over land or money. “Court officials dared not to oppose Hok Lundy, whether it was right or wrong,” for fear of personal safety, the official said. Such open intervention in court cases has lessened, the official said.
Even if the atmosphere has improved, high-profile murders that took place under Hok Lundy's watch—of union leader Chea Vichea, journalist Khim Sambor, film star Piseth Pilika, and others—have gone unsolved.
Keat Chantharith said the investigations are not closed. He declined to compare the leadership of Hok Lundy and his successor.