On Tuesday morning, Nhem Sophath, a 33-year-old commune organizer for the Human Rights Party,
walked around several villages in Kampong Speu province to gather activists for
an election campaign march that would be joined by party president Kem Sokha and other officials.
By 6 pm, the march was finished, and Nhem Sophath went home,
changed his clothes and set off for a walk to his local pagoda, to receive a
blessing. On the dark road, he encountered two men. One of them beat him with a
bamboo pole, breaking his left arm in two places, Nhem Sophath said Thursday.
Nhem Sophath fled and hid in
a nearby house, and after the two assailants left, he immediately informed the
local commune election committee, or CEC, office. He filed a complaint to
police the next day.
Nhem Sophath believes the attack was politically motivated.
But the CEC is not sure.
"It is a criminal case," Meas Kimthon, CEC
chairman for Trang Rovea commune, in Udong district, Kampong Speu, said by
phone Thursday. "The victim should complain to the police. We have no
authority to solve this assault case, because there is a very serious
Nhem Sophath's alleged attack and the CEC's reaction to it
demonstrate one concern that election monitors have with the reporting of potential election violence.
Election observers are concerned the process does not
provide accurate information on violence, because CEC offices can
interpret an incident either as a political conflict or simply a criminal infraction, moving the case to police instead of investigating for themselves. In such
procedures, observers say, election violence can go underreported.
"If the CEC understands that the dispute is a serious crime,
the CEC has no right to investigate the case, so [they] send it to the police
and the courts," Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair
Elections. "This decision is the right thing, but CEC has to watch over or
find out the real reason of the dispute."
The concern is that there is no incentive for the CEC to
"We are very concerned about the violent cases during
the election process and the NEC procedure, because when violence occurs,
the CEC or PEC can transfer the violent incident from politics to a criminal
case, and not investigate or show how it relates to the election process,"
Koul Panha said.
This procedure is complicated and difficult for justice
to be found for the victim, he said.
"NEC procedure for the CEC rules is very
confusing," said Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral Impartial Committee
for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.
"It cannot separate clearly political violence relating to the campaign
and a criminal case."
In the case of Nhem Sophath, CEC officials say they will
keep his report on file, but they have so far not reported it to the provincial
election committee as a case of election violence.