Prime Minister Hun Sen and senior military figures have rejected the findings of a report published on Thursday that alleged serious and systematic human rights abuses by a group of top generals close to the premier.
The 213-page Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, titled “Cambodia’s Dirty Dozen: A Long History of Rights Abuses by Hun Sen’s Generals”, said 12 security officers formed the backbone of Hun Sen’s “abusive and authoritarian political regime” and had “demonstrated a willingness to commit rights abuses on behalf of Hun Sen.”
Hun Sen has been in power for more than 33 years, during which time HRW alleges he relied on the generals to back his rule by force in exchange for lucrative positions that while paying only meager salaries had allowed the officers to amass large, unexplained fortunes.
“All of these generals underneath him support him because they have become incredibly rich by being Hun Sen’s protectors,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW.
“Over the years, Hun Sen has created and developed a core of security force officers who have ruthlessly and violently carried out his orders,” he added. “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.”
The senior military officers included in the report are Gen. Pol Saroeun, outgoing commander-in-chief; Gen. Kun Kim, deputy commander-in-chief; Gen. Sao Sokha, acting commander-in-chief and military police commander; National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun; Lt. Gen. Chea Man, Military Region 4 commander; Gen. Bun Seng, Military Region 5 commander; Gen- Choeun Sovantha, Military Region 2 commander; Lt. Gen. Chap Pheakdey, commander of the paratrooper brigade; Lt. Gen. Rat Sreang, Phnom Penh military police chief; Gen. Sok Phal, immigration department chief; Gen. Mok Chito, deputy police commissioner; and Gen. Chuon Sovan, Phnom Penh police commissioner.
Tea Banh, the defense minister, claimed HRW’s report did not “reflect reality” in Cambodia.
“It’s their ambition to bring Cambodia to [political] unrest and destroy Cambodia again,” he said.
He added that the HRW report offered “no constructive thought at all” and “only attacks to serve the ambition of the perpetrators and some idiots in Cambodia.”
Gen. Sokha, the military police chief, said he did not care about the findings of the report, adding that he “knows nothing” about the findings.
Gen. Mok Chito, deputy police chief, claimed the report had exaggerated reports of abuse.
“We don’t know what human right [abuses they refer to]. We have never touched it. We only catch thieves, drug criminals, kidnappers, or perhaps I have caught their [HRW’s] friends and that’s why they are angry,” he said. “If they are in Cambodia we can sue them”.
Gen. Sok Phal, the immigration department chief, also denied the report’s claims. Several other senior military officials named in the report could not be reached for comment.
Cambodians will head to the polls on July 29 to vote in a general election that is expected to see Hun Sen retain his prime ministerial post following his government’s dissolution of the country’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Hun Sen is one of the world’s top five longest-serving autocrats and has attempted to create a cult of personality around his leadership, adopting the official title of “Princely Exalted Supreme Great Commander of Gloriously Victorious Troops” and referring to himself as the “five gold star general to infinity”.
In recent weeks, the United States has placed sanctions on Hun Sen’s regime, including Hing Bun Heang, the commander of his bodyguard unit.