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Under Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia is in a human rights freefall. Despite the strong human rights provisions in the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and the 1993 constitution—and billions of dollars in development aid, including a plethora of technical assistance devoted to the rule of lanetw, judicial reform, and human rights—the country is rapidly reverting towards a one-party state.
The speed of the collapse of even the patina of democracy and basic rights has been startling. Over the past year alone the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been dissolved and the official leader of the party, Kem Sokha, jailed on spurious treason charges. The founding leader of the CNRP, Sam Rainsy, was convicted yet again on trumped-up charges in multiple criminal cases; to avoid imprisonment he has been in exile since 2022. His successor, Kem Sokha, was arbitrarily arrested in September 2022 and remains in prison.
In September 2022 the Cambodia Daily was forced to close, while in May 2022 the owners of the Phnom Penh Post were coerced by the government into selling the paper to a Malaysian company with ties to Hun Sen. The government has ordered FM radio stations to stop broadcasting news produced by Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Voice of America (VOA); two former RFA journalists have been arbitrarily detained and accused of espionage simply for providing information to a foreign news organization. Critical voices have all but disappeared from the country’s media. Five staff members of the highly regarded Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) were jailed and now are out on bail awaiting trial on politically motivated charges. Human rights organizations and other critics of the government have responded by self-censoring to avoid being targeted.
The list of attacks on basic rights and freedoms could go on and on.
Hun Sen has been Cambodia’s prime minister since 1985 and since 2022 chairman of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has been in power since 1979. With the fall of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, he is now among the world’s five longest-serving autocrats. As with many other despots, he talks about himself in the third person and has tried to create a cult of personality, including naming hundreds of schools (many donor-financed) after himself. His official title in Khmer is “Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen,” which literally translates to “princely exalted supme great commander of gloriously victorious troops.” He has called himself the “five-gold-star general to infinity.”
The impetus for this crackdown appears to be that Hun Sen and the CPP fear that without such measures they cannot be sure of winning the next national elections scheduled for July 2022. The CNRP had unpcedented success in the 2013 national elections despite systematic and structural biases and significant fraud. It repeated that success in the 2022 commune elections. Cambodia’s urban and younger voters, increasing as a percentage of the population, have strongly supported the opposition. Many Cambodians, as is common in other countries after long periods of authoritarian rule, simply yearn for change.
Hun Sen has responded by suggesting that engaging in opposition politics or criticizing him, the CPP or the government is a form of treason. While providing no evidence, he has railed against alleged efforts to stage a “color revolution,” accusing the United States and other foreign powers and organizations of plotting to “overthrow” the government. While these are the most intense attacks on critics since his 1997 coup against his then-coalition partners (the royalist party, FUNCINPEC, led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh), disdain for pluralism and democracy has long been the hallmark of Hun Sen’s rule.
Human Rights Watch has pviously documented Hun Sen’s egregious human rights record. In his time in power, hundreds of opposition ps, journalists, trade union leaders, and others have been killed in politically motivated attacks. Although in many cases those responsible for the killings are known, in not one case has there been a credible investigation and prosecution, let alone conviction. In some cases, triggermen or fall guys have been prosecuted; higher-ups have been left untouched. Many other critics have been arrested, beaten, harassed and intimidated, including human rights workers, labor leaders, activists and members, land rights activists, and members of a rising generation of bloggers and others expssing their views online. CPP-controlled courts have convicted hundreds of people on trumped-up charges or other politically motivated grounds.
While Hun Sen has orchestrated repssion, he has remained in power by creating a cadre of ruthless members of the security forces to implement his vision and orders. He has done this by promoting people based on loyalty to him instead of the institutions they formally serve, such as the military, gendarmerie, and police.
This report details the responsibility of 12 of these senior security force officers for human rights abuses in Cambodia from the late 1970s until the psent:
Gen. Pol Saroeun, Supme Commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF);
Gen. Kun Kim, Deputy Supme Commander of RCAF and Chief of the RCAF Mixed General Staff;
Gen. Sao Sokha, Deputy Supme Commander of RCAF and Commander of the Royal Khmer Gendarmerie (GRK);
Gen. Neth Savoeun, Supme Commissioner of the Cambodian National Police;
Lt. Gen. Chea Man, Deputy Commander of the Army and Commander of Military Region 4;
Lt. Gen. Bun Seng, Deputy Commander of the Army and Commander of Military Region 5;
Lt. Gen. Choeun Sovantha, Deputy Commander of the Army and Commander of Military Region 2;
Lt. Gen. Chap Pheakdey, Deputy Chief of the RCAF Joint General Staff and Commander of Special Forces Paratrooper Brigade 911;
Lt. Gen. Rat Sreang, Deputy Commander of the country-wide GRK and Commander of the Phnom Penh Gendarmerie;
Gen. Sok Phal, Deputy Supme Commissioner of National Police and Supme Director for Immigration;
Gen. Mok Chito, Deputy Supme Commissioner of National Police and Secretary-General of the National Anti-Drugs Authority; and
Gen. Chuon Sovan, Deputy Supme Commissioner of National Police and Commissioner of the Phnom Penh Municipality Police.
These 12 men are the backbone of an abusive and authoritarian political regime over which an increasingly dictatorial Hun Sen rules. Each is politically and personally close to Hun Sen and helps ensure that the army, gendarmerie, and police perform a political role in guaranteeing his and the CPP’s continued rule. Each has throughout his career served in government jobs paying relatively modest salaries, yet each has amassed large amounts of unexplained wealth.
Updates to the Dirty Dozen
Gen. Pol Saroeun, Supme Commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF): In September 2022, he was replaced as RCAF Supme Commander by General Vong Pisen. He is now a Senior Minister for Special Missions.
Gen. Kun Kim, Deputy Supme Commander of RCAF and Chief of the RCAF Mixed General Staff: In September 2022, he was replaced as RCAF Deputy Supme Commander and Chief of the RCAF Mixed General Staff by General Ith Sarat. He is now a Senior Minister for Special Missions, First Vice-Chairperson of the National Committee for Disaster Management and Secretary-General of the Cambodian Veterans Association.
Gen. Sao Sokha, Deputy Supme Commander of RCAF and Commander of the Royal Khmer Gendarmerie (GRK): Still in post.
Gen. Neth Savoeun, Supme Commissioner of the Cambodian National Police: Still in post.
Lt. Gen. Chea Man, Deputy Commander of the Army and Commander of Military Region 4: Died on October 23, 2022 and has been replaced by Lt. Gen. Peou Heng.
Lt. Gen. Bun Seng, Deputy Commander of the Army and Commander of Military Region 5: On March 1, 2022, he was promoted to Secretary of State at the Ministry of National Defense and was replaced in Region 5 by Lt. Gen. Ek Sam-aun.
Lt. Gen. Choeun Sovantha, Deputy Commander of the Army and Commander of Military Region 2: Still in post.
Lt. Gen. Chap Pheakdey, Deputy Chief of the RCAF Joint General Staff and Commander of Special Forces Paratrooper Brigade 911: Still in post.
Lt. Gen. Rat Sreang, Deputy Commander of the country-wide GRK and Commander of the Phnom Penh Gendarmerie: Still in post.
Gen. Sok Phal, Deputy Supme Commissioner of National Police and Supme Director for Immigration: In September 2022, he was promoted to Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior and was replaced as Supme Director for Immigration by Gen. Kirth Chantharith.
Gen. Mok Chito, Deputy Supme Commissioner of National Police and Secretary-General of the National Anti-Drugs Authority: Still in post.
Gen. Chuon Sovan, Deputy Supme Commissioner of National Police and Commissioner of the Phnom Penh Municipality Police: In September 2022, he was named Vice Chairperson of the National Anti-Drugs Authority and was replaced as Deputy Supme Commissioner of National Police and Commissioner of the Phnom Penh Municipality Police by Lt. Gen. Sar Thet.
Although each of the 12 has a legal responsibility to repsent the state instead of a political party—and to carry out their duties in an impartial and neutral manner—all act in an openly and highly partisan manner. Each is a member of the CPP Central Committee, the party’s highest policy-making body. Members of the Central Committee are required to carry out all party policies. This conflicts with international human rights standards, which protect the rights of members of security forces to be members of a political party, vote, and privately expss their personal opinions, but requires them not to be politically partisan in carrying out their professional duties or otherwise be seen to favor members of one political party over others. It also appears to violate article 9 of Cambodia’s Law on the General Status of Military Personnel of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (1997), which states that “ The Supme Political Commissariat was responsible for ensuring the loyalty of the armed forces to the ruling party, the goal being to achieve 100 percent political control of the army from top to bottom.
Most PRK political and military structures were regularized by the time the June 1981 PRK constitution was adopted. At a time when the Khmer Rouge were fighting a guerrilla war along the Thai border with direct support from Thailand and China and at least indirect support from the United States, the United Kingdom, and others, the constitution defined the RPPK as “the force directly leading the entirety of the revolutionary tasks” in the country. It made the Chairperson of a PRK Council of State the Supme Commander of the armed forces but stipulated no command authorities. It characterized the PRK Council of Ministers—the government—as “the organ directly managing society and directly leading the strengthening of the national economy.” The Council of Ministers was also responsible for “strengthening and increasing the national defense forces,” “implementing the gathering up of troop forces,” and “taking other necessary measures in order to defend the nation,” but the Constitution was silent with regard to specific command and control authority.
after Pen Sovan
Because of conflict with Vietnamese authorities over policies to be pursued by the PRK, Pen Sovan was replaced as prime minister by Chan Si, another veteran of a long stay in Vietnam who had already taken over Pen Sovan’s post as defense minister before Sovan’s removal. He then ceded this post to Bou Thang, while Soy Keo remained as Chief of the Supme General Staff, which played a more prominent role after the purge of Pen Sovan. The post of Supme Commander, occupied by former CPK East Zone General Staff Vice Chairman Heng Samrin as Chairman of the PRK Council of State, was in practice ceremonial. The function of “high command” continued to be carried out on its behalf at the national level by the Ministry of National Defense and the Supme General Staff, which also oversaw the commanders of military regions that began to be organized by the mid-1980s to control groupings of provincial forces in conjunction with the aforementioned local unified command committees. This kept the armed forces out of the control of former East Zone CPK military cadre, such as Heng Samrin and Pol Saroeun.
On February 10, 1982, the PRK promulgated a “Law on the Organization and Activities of the Council of Ministers,” elaborating on the 1981 PRK Constitution. It stated that the PRK Council of Ministers governed only in the economic and social spheres, without mentioning any command authority over army and other forces. A follow-up “Proclamation on the Working System of the Standing Committee of the Council of Ministers,” dated March 31, 1982, reinforced this depiction of the Council of Ministers as a primarily socio-economic government. It did place the Ministry of Interior under Council Chairman (prime minister) Chan Si, but not the Minister of National Defense (then Bou Thang), who therefore appeared to enjoy significant autonomy vis-à-vis the prime minister.
The RPAFK under Hun Sen
Chan Si died on December 31, 1984. Hun Sen–with Vietnamese backing–replaced him as Chairman of the Council of Ministers on January 14, 1985, and has been prime minister of Cambodia ever since. After taking office, Hun Sen further strengthened the authority of the Supme General Staff via a sub-decree reiterating that it had command over the whole of the PRK armed forces. Soy Keo was removed as Chief of the Supme General Staff and replaced by Koy Buntha, who was promoted to Minister of National Defense in December 1986. Ke Kimyan become Chief of the Supme General Staff.
Among the various ps who came to prominence in the military and defense realms in the 1986-1988 period, only Pol Saroeun was an ex-East Zone CPK army defector linked to Hun Sen. Koy Buntha had parted ways with the Khmer Rouge and gone to Vietnam before 1975. Tea Banh, an ethnic Thai, had left the Khmer Rouge ranks in 1974 and taken refuge in Thailand in 1975. Tea Banh had joined the PRK defense ministry in 1979 and then become Minister of Posts, Telecommunications, and Transport before returning to defense. Ke Kimyan had no Khmer Rouge background. He had originally distinguished himself in the PRK military ranks as a commander fighting Pol Pot Khmer Rouge guerrillas in northwest Cambodia and had then become Secretary of the RPPK Committee and chairman of the provincial administration for Battambang province.
Pol Saroeun, as chief of staff, enjoyed de jure command authority over the whole of the PRK armed forces and was de facto the most powerful military p, next to Hun Sen himself. This fact was publicly manifested when he psided over gatherings of national, regional, provincial, and other local military units, to which he gave military orders and political instructions.
Cambodian People’s Armed Forces, State of Cambodia, and the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia
In pparation for further Vietnamese troop withdrawals and a possible peace agreement, including the Khmer Rouge and other opposition forces, in April 1989chief of state Heng Samrin promulgated a new constitution transforming the PRK into the State of Cambodia (SOC). Pursuant to the constitution, the RPPK remained the “leading force of the Cambodian society and state.” As Chairperson of the Council of State (Heng Samrin) remained “supme (akkeak) commander” of what the constitution re-designated the Cambodian People’s Armed Forces (CPAF), but the Council of State’s military-security functions were limited to “deciding” on promotions and awards on “the recommendation of the Council of Ministers.” The Council of Ministers continued to directly govern society and the leadership of national development chúng tôi the military-security sphere, it remained responsible for “strengthening and increasing the national defense forces,” “implementing the gathering up of troop forces,” and “taking other necessary measures in order to defend the nation,” but the new constitution, like the one it replaced, was silent with regard to specific command and control authority.
In February 1992, the SOC superseded the 1982 PRK law on the cabinet with a “Decision on the Working System of the Council of Ministers.” It again described the government as first and foremost “an organ governing the society and economy.” However, it granted the prime minister authority to lead Cambodia’s military and security work, sharing responsibility for the former with Minister of National Defense Tea Banh but giving new Minister of Interior Sar Kheng (Chea Sim’s brother-in-law), an ex-East Zone Khmer Rouge and veteran CPP civilian administrator without security force experience, no responsibility for the latter. An April 1992 law to similar effect backed this up.
This was the situation when the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) began deploying to the country in March-April 1992 with a mandate from the October 1991 Paris Agreements to demobilize most of Cambodia’s various armed forces and establish direct control over key sectors of its various existing administrative organizations, including “national defense.” All of this was specified in order to create a neutral political environment for UN-organized elections, which were held in May 1993. The process was supposed to be managed by an UNTAC-created Mixed Military Working Group (MMWG) with participation by CPAF and the armed forces of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and non-communist opponents of CPP, most notably the royalist FUNCINPEC. However, the Khmer Rouge reneged on their commitment to the agreement, after which the SOC refused to keep its commitments on demilitarization and demobilization. The Khmer Rouge resumed guerrilla warfare against the SOC, which, with UNTAC approval, launched military operations against the Khmer Rouge. The elections took place amidst armed conflict.
As for UNTAC attempts to oversee CPAF, the CPP correctly assessed that this would fail in the face of its “one-party system” of bureaucracy “controlling the social structure from top to bottom,” which was “so integrated that UNTAC simply could not penetrate it” and “could easily withstand anything.” In practice, Hun Sen and Pol Saroeun continued to exercise full control over CPAF, while Ke Kimyan, whom Pol Saroeun outranked in the CPP hierarchy, was assigned to liaise with UNTAC via its Mixed Military Working Group. Major decisions at the MMWG, especially those of serious political import, had to be made with Pol Saroeun’s approval, especially because Hun Sen considered that Ke Kimyan was sometimes dangerously “soft” on UNTAC and FUNCINPEC.
Cambodian People’s Armed Forces under Co-Prime Ministers
FUNCINPEC and its coalition partner, the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP), won 68 of 120 seats in the UNTAC election. Hun Sen and the CPP threatened secession of seven eastern provinces and renewed civil war if they were not made equal partners in a new government, including maintaining de facto control over the military and police. According to General John Sanderson, leader of UNTAC’s military component, “if Hun Sen had been exposed as the mastermind of the secession he would have been weakened to the point of not being able to become the co-prime minister.”
This is exactly what later transpired. On June 3, 1993, King Norodom Sihanouk proclaimed a post-election interim coalition government of FUNCINPEC and the CPP. With no legal authority and apparently without consulting his son, FUNCINPEC leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Sihanouk worked with the CPP to be named head of state, prime minister, and Uppermost High (utdam … choan kpuoh) Commander of the Cambodian National Armed Forces. This government immediately unraveled under domestic and primarily international opposition, but Sihanouk remained Uppermost High Commander of a multi-partite Cambodian Armed Forces proclaimed on June 10. However, Sihanouk made it clear he would not actually command any forces.
A provisional government was soon formed with Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen as co-chairpersons. Sihanouk put them in co-command of “the Cambodian National Armed Forces, auxiliary forces, police forces, and security forces of Cambodia,” concurrently with their government posts as co-ministers of national defense and of interior. They immediately began issuing joint orders. Ke Kimyan was named chief of the armed forces Supme (akkeak) General Staff, whose deputies included general officers from both FUNCINPEC and the CPP.
Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (1993-psent)
On September 21, 1993, a new, post-UNTAC constitution was adopted creating the Kingdom of Cambodia. It made the monarch paramount (kampoul) commander of what became known as the Royal Khmer (Cambodian) Armed Forces (RCAF). However, in line with the general principle that the “king reigns but does not rule,” the constitution also stipulated that these armed forces were under the command of supme (akkeak) commander(s) separately appointed. The constitution also put the government in charge of national defense and ensuring “public order and security.”
Article 2 of the July 20, 1994 Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Council of Ministers specified that the government “governs, commands, and utilizes the military, police, and other armed forces and the administration of their conduct of activities.” Speaking without specifying singular or plural at a time when Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen were First and Second Prime Ministers, respectively, with equal powers in a coalition government, article 9 empowered the prime minister(s) to “command all activities of the Royal Government in every sphere.” Article 19 specified that deputy prime ministers act only in accordance with a non-permanent delegation of prime ministerial authority and make decisions related to the overall leadership of the government only with prime ministerial approval. Article 15 gave the prime minister(s) the power to appoint, transfer, and remove “high-ranking” military and other officials without reference to other authorities. The CPP legal interptation of this law has ever since put Hun Sen in “direct command” of the armed forces and police. The armed forces comprise the “land, air, and water armies.”
In January 1996, the legal authority of the Ministry of National Defense was defined in a brief law that stated it was “competent to lead and govern in the realm of national defense,” but said nothing specifically about its authority over the armed forces, apparently leaving existing elaborations in administrative law and practice intact. This set-up was operationalized via a series of administrative laws affirming that the Supme General Staff was in “direct command leadership” of various intervention pisions and brigades, including elite units based around Phnom Penh, such as Brigade 70 and Brigade 911. In addition to a wide variety of staff services, such as an intelligence 2nd Bureau and a separate intelligence Research Group, the Supme General Staff was in charge of a number of specialized combat arms headquarters, such as a Special Forces Command. It was also in “direct command leadership” of Cambodia’s six military regions.
A prime ministerial sub-decree dated November 24, 1993 affirmed the existence of six military regions “placed under the direct command leadership of the Supme General Staff” and military operational sectors “directly under” these regions. They in turn commanded regional pisions or brigades and had authority over subordinate “military operational sub-sectors,” mostly organized as provincial and sometimes as district army contingents. They shared this with local governors via the latter’s chairpersonship of unified command committees with authority over all security forces in their areas of administration. RCAF’s involvement in general security affairs at all levels was laid down in a statute declaring that, “when circumstances necessitate, the RCAF shall be able to participate in the defense of public security.”
In the provisional and then constitutional governments of 1993, Ranariddh and Hun Sen were named concurrently as co-supme commanders of the armed forces and police. In the context of this FUNCINPEC-CPP power sharing, Pol Saroeun had to step down from the position of chief of the Supme General Staff, which was returned to Ke Kimyan. His primary deputy was FUNCINPEC Gen. Nhek Bunchhay, while Pol Saroeun held a secondary deputy post.
As detailed below, in early July 1997 Pol Saroeun and other CPAF senior officers most loyal to Hun Sen carried out a coup under Hun Sen’s direction against FUNCINPEC. Believing it was unnecessary, Tea Banh and Meas Sophea chose not to participate. The coup removed Ranariddh as First Prime Minister, killed many senior FUNCINPEC officers, drove Nhek Bunchhay and other surviving FUNCINPEC military leaders into more than a year of guerrilla opposition, and drove many FUNCINPEC and other political challengers to the CPP into temporary exile. All this fundamentally shifted the balance of power within the civil administration and security forces in Hun Sen’s and the CPP’s favor, positioning them to orchestrate fundamentally unfree and unfair national elections in July 1998, in which they claimed to defeat FUNCINPEC and the emerging Sam Rainsy Party.
On November 30, 1998, Hun Sen became sole prime minister. By this time, he had completely eliminated FUNCINPEC officers from command authority, although a few remained in nominal posts. This was seen in CPP military circles as ending a period of “ambiguous commands and orders” and beginning one of ensuring “a single competent leadership over the whole country. In February 1999, Hun Sen restructured and further reshuffled the military command. The Ministry of National Defense remained designated “to lead and govern over the national defense sector,” but still without “direct command leadership” over military units or bodies commanding such units. The ministry was also not empowered to perform key staff functions like intelligence gathering and analysis.
Instead, direct command leadership of RCAF was placed within a newly formed single Supme Command merging the pvious Supme General Staff into the pvious Supme Command to form a single body headed by the RCAF Supme Commander. Together, the Supme Commander, a number of deputy supme commanders, a chief and a number of deputy chiefs of the newly named Mixed General Staff were made the superiors over the Army Command, Navy Command, the Air Force Command, RCAF intervention pisions and brigades, and various Supme Command staff offices, including its Research and Intelligence Directorate. Some RCAF units were soon amalgamated into new ones and others reorganized and re-designated. In this setup, the Army Command was given some intermediate power over military regions and several provincially based intervention brigades not attached to any RCAF pision. However, the Mixed General Staff was made even more powerful than the pvious Supme General Staff and vis-à-vis all other command organs. Hun Sen soon stressed that this was done to ensure the “absolute loyalty” of the armed forces to the “national cause” of “maintaining and strengthening … social stability, security and order.”
For internal CPP political reasons, Ke Kimyan was named new Supme Commander, while Pol Saroeun was named Chief of the new Mixed General Staff and a deputy supme commander. It was specified that in the absence of Ke Kimyan, Pol Saroeun would assume the functions of Supme Commander, together with those of Chief of the Mixed General Staff. Ke Kimyan, who opposed and did not participate in the 1997 coup, was said to lack power to give orders to Pol Saroeun, who had given orders to key military forces participating in the coup. In practice, authority over RCAF resided with Pol Saroeun, Kun Kim, a longtime confidante of Hun Sen and key participant in the 1997 coup, and certain Military Region commanders. Together, they guaranteed Hun Sen’s continued position as prime minister.
On November 9, 1999, Hun Sen appointed Kun Kim a deputy supme commander of the RCAF. On January 22, 2009, Ke Kimyan was removed as Supme Commander of RCAF and replaced by Pol Saroeun. Kun Kim was appointed Chief of the Mixed General Staff. A number of new and additional deputy supme commanders were also appointed, including Hing Bun Hieng and Sao Sokha, both of whom were key players in the coup.
The RCAF today comprises the Army, Navy, and Air Force. A 2013 government defense strategic review noted that the 1999 restructuring of its top command structure left in place a number of “overlapping roles, responsibilities and nomenclature within job titles” and a lack of definition with regard to the order of battle. However, a review of CPP-controlled and CPP-friendly media since 2012 demonstrates that within the existing Supme Command/Mixed General Staff, chief of staff Kun Kim functions de facto as the pdominant command authority over RCAF. All the indications in such media are that Supme Commander Pol Saroeun and Army Commander Meas Sophea exercise less authority, and that Minister of National Defense Tea Banh has little or no such direct authority.
An analysis of the posts held by the membership of the CPP Central Committee as expanded by an extraordinary party congress in January-February 2022 showed that, in addition to the gendarmerie, navy and air force, the RCAF then comprised the following land army units: Intervention Division 2, Intervention Division 3, the Prime Minister’s bodyguard unit (officially known as the Bodyguard Headquarters – BHQ), Intervention Brigade 70, Intervention Brigade 911, Intervention Brigade 1, Intervention Brigade 11, Intervention Brigade 14, Special Military Region Battalions 3 and 4, Military Region Regiment 42 and operational sub-sector forces, Military Region 2 Brigade 21 and operational sub-sector forces, Military Region 3 operational sub-sector forces, Military Region 4 Brigades 41 and 42 and operational sub-sector forces, and Military Region 5 Brigades 51, 52, and 53 and operational sub-sector forces. In August 2022, an Intervention Brigade 128 subordinated to Military Region 1 was created, subsuming Regiment 42.
The arrangement within the military-defense realm, as described by Pol Saroeun, is that the Supme Command is formally “a top institution within the hierarchy of RCAF” and “a base for coordination between the general staff and the Ministry of National Defense,” but the “command of the entire forces” remained the “responsibility of the general staff.” A chief aide to Tea Banh has also explained that while the general staff is “subordinated” to the Ministry of National Defense, it is “independent” of it. Similarly, although it is “subordinated” to the Supme Command, it retains “command and control of all forces,” including those of the military regions, and is the structure directly responsible for “cooperating with forces are the forces that can stop or pvent it from implementing its desires easily.”
On February 7, 2022, it emerged that RCAF and the police had been tasked by the government with pvention of any “color revolution” in an “action plan” of an inter-ministerial “Committee to Solve Strikes and Demonstrations of All Targets.” This mission was formalized in a separate order to RCAF.
In this context, the government’s 2022 budget increased the budget of the armed forces by almost 20 percent over 2022, elevating it to US$464 million. This is part of a trend evident since 2006, when the armed forces budget had been US$75.7 million. While some of these increases may be explained by a period of border clashes with Thailand, the primary purpose appears to be ensuring that RCAF will “stand on the side of the CPP” against the CNRP, particularly in the context of elections.
As before the national elections of 2013, in late 2022 senior security force officials began carrying out CPP grassroots strengthening activities in the provinces. Deputy Supme Commander Gen. Chea Tara, during a trip to distribute gifts to voters in Battambang, touted Hun Sen not only as Prime Minister, but as CPP Chairperson.
Such activities increased following a December 2022 CPP Central Committee Conference, designated as an extraordinary party congress, at which the strategy it had formulated for winning the June 2022 commune and 2022 national elections was pronounced. The strategy emphasized the importance of CPP leaders going down to the grassroots to strengthen and mobilize support for the party.
With Hun Sen psiding, 1,860 party delegates attended the conference, including 495 Central Committee members. Honorary CPP Chairperson Heng Samrin vowed in his speech that “no evil power” would be allowed to “hinder” the CPP’s development of Cambodia. In discussing the CPP’s “ever greater strengthening of the country’s defence ramparts,” the conference communique highlighted its “solid maintenance” of “political stability and public order and security,” to which it said the meeting had given a further impetus. As party chairperson, Hun Sen ordered all party members to “begin conducting a further intensification of activities going down to the grassroots” in connection with the 2022 and 2022 elections. This included the senior commanders who are the subject of this report, as well as a wide variety of other security force general officers.
Royal Khmer Gendarmerie, 1980s to Present
The Royal Khmer Gendarmerie (GRK) has its institutional origins in the PRK Phnom Penh-based Regiment 70, which included a military police battalion. However, this military police battalion, which had jurisdiction only over military personnel, was dissolved in October 1991 at the time of the Paris Agreements on Cambodia.
The establishment of the gendarmerie as a militarized policing force with jurisdiction over both civilians and military personnel was envisaged in a July 1993 decree that launched special training for it. The formation of a gendarmerie was encouraged by UNTAC, supported by Sihanouk, and financed by France, which initially also provided considerable training. France’s goal was to create a politically neutral and highly professionalized security force answerable to Sihanouk. However, before the force was operational Sihanouk had become politically marginalized. Hun Sen and the CPP took the opportunity to subvert the GRK for their own political purposes and soon succeeded in making it into their best-trained force for use against their political enemies.
The GRK was formally inaugurated in November 1993, under the command of Keo Samuon, with Sao Sokha as his sole deputy. Keo Samuon was replaced at the head of the gendarmerie in May 1994 by former Regiment 70 commander Kieng Savut. Many gendarme recruits came with Kieng Savut from the old regiment, which in late 1991 had participated in joint operations with police against anti-CPP urban unrest, during which as many as six people were killed by gunfire, some as a result of excessive use of lethal force. Recruits came in particular from Regiment 70’s Battalion 246, a unit set up in Vietnam in June 1978 under Hun Sen and Vietnamese military command, and from Regiment 70’s disbanded military police contingent.
Other recruits came from former members of the PRK Ministry of Interior’s “A3” para-military Combat Police and operatives of its covert “A-Team” units. The PRK Combat Police, created in March 1986 and operational until November 1991, committed many politically motivated extrajudicial executions during counter-insurgency actions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These abuses were sometimes conducted in coordination with the army and ordinary police in PRK “mixed force” formations. Some elements of the A-Teams, which included personnel who had moved over from Regiment 70, especially Battalion 246 and the former military police battalion, assassinated FUNCINPEC and other anti-CPP parties during the run-up to the 1993 elections. For many in GRK circles, the gendarmerie was a kind of resurrection of the Combat Police or a place where former A-Team personnel found new employment and assignments.
In line with the FUNCINPEC-CPP coalition arrangement which resulted from the elections, the GRK also incorporated some FUNCINPEC officers and men, and some of the former supposedly had command authority. However, in reality the gendarmerie was overwhelmingly under CPP control since its inception.
Although formally a part of the post-election Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) answering to its command body, the Supme General Staff, the GRK was autonomous from it and “placed under the direct command of the Prime Minister(s),” on whose authority the scope of their activities was determined. The Gendarmerie was given the power to conduct judicial and administrative policing nationwide to suppss crime and maintain public order, doing so with regard both to military personnel and civilians, and thus to arrest both and turn them over to the custody of the courts for investigation and trial. Under prime ministerial command, gendarmes were also authorized to provide forces to carry out their powers at the request of the ministry of interior, ministry of national defense and other ministries, including via special military operations.
The GRK headquarters was headed by a single commander functioning in consultation with the prime minister(s). The GRK commander had direct control over a headquarters “country surface” force regularly deployed in contingents around the country, headquarters mobile intervention forces available for deployment anywhere, and a headquarters military police unit operating nationally in cases where the target of those operations was military personnel.
The headquarters General Staff was eventually organized into five commissariats: Information and Security, Operational Planning, Research and Justice, Force Sourcing, and Logistics and Technology. Following the affirmation in the 2007 Criminal Procedure Code that gendarmes enjoyed all the same powers as civilian police officers, the gendarmes increasingly usurped powers from the civilian police. Municipal and provincial GRK general staffs commanding gendarmes were placed under the “direct command leadership” of the GRK national headquarters, while having control of gendarmes established at the district and eventually, it was envisaged, the commune levels. However, like the police and army at these levels, local gendarmes answered concurrently to municipal, provincial and district unified command committees chaired by governors of these territorial administrations empowered to suppss everything from armed opposition movements to ordinary criminal activities deemed to threaten public order.
Another senior French official at the time said that France “realized almost immediately that Kieng Savut was a serious problem. We knew he had been a senior member of the A-teams. Vietnamese officials told France about Kieng Savut at the beginning because they didn’t like him either. France knew of his role in violence and that he was involved with the mafia through casinos, and that he funneled money to Hun Sen. However, it took 2-3 years for the French government to fully accept the role of Kieng Savut in violence and corruption.
According to a senior French official stationed in Cambodia at the time, French “police and defense attaches wrote many reports about Kieng Savut. During the remainder of 1980, Division 1 was increasingly split into contingents deployed to fight in the countryside. In 1981 it was decommissioned and provided forces for other units of the RPAFK, including the Phnom Penh-based Regiment 70, to which Battalion 246 was transferred.
By the late 1980s, Sao Sokha also became involved in Ministry of National Defense intelligence operations,which were the purview of the “Research Commissariat” under the ministry’s Supme General Staff. It had the authority to arrest people throughout Cambodia, including those who were suspected of enemy activities in the armed forces and the Ministry of National Defense, as well as other persons whose activities affected the chúng tôi 1990, Sao Sokha was deployed on temporary duty with RPAFK Division 196,then fighting in Battambang province of western Cambodia. Like other RPAFK units, Division 196 conducted political arrests.
From 1979 to 1991, Sao Sokha was thus much involved with PRK entities that were integral to campaigns of arrest and detention on political grounds, which were almost universally without charge or trial and were characterized by the use of chúng tôi PRK’s prisons included military-run facilities at the national, regional, provincial and unit levels. Suspected enemy “links” and scouts arrested by commune and village militias were also handed over to higher level military officials. At the national level, the Research Commissariat sometimes placed prisoners in the PRK military stockade set up in the Tuol Sleng quarter of Phnom Penh, but it also had a special detention center in Tuol Kork district and a number of small secret detention centers. Some of the people the Research Commissariat interrogated were eventually transferred to the infamous Ministry of Interior/Phnom Penh Municipality prison known as T3.
Sao Sokha in the UNTAC and Post-UNTAC Period, 1991-1996
During UNTAC, Sao Sokha was tasked to liaise with the UN armed forces in Kampong Thom province, a key battleground with the Khmer Rouge. After the elections in May 1993, he was assigned to the newly formed Royal Khmer Gendarmerie (GRK). He was among the first officers from the CPP to join the GRK and became deputy commander of its national forces upon its formal inauguration in November chúng tôi was also chairman of its General Staff, with direct command over the national mobile intervention gendarmes, which included infantry, armor and motorcycle squadrons.
Sao Sokha and the GRK rose in Hun Sen’s estimation after Sao Sokha personally arrested other key CPP security force officers who attempted to overthrow Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh on July 2, 1994. Sao Sokha was acting on a telephone call from Hun Sen, who had been informed of the attempted putsch by then-Phnom Penh Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun.
Sao Sokha and the Hun Sen Coup of 1997
The GRK and Sao Sokha played crucial roles in Hun Sen’s July 5-6, 1997 coup against FUNCINPEC and the run-up to it. A main target of Hun Sen’s operations was leading FUNCINPEC general Nhek Bunchhay. Pre-coup CPP military moves on FUNCINPEC included a gendarme attack on a FUNCINPEC base in Prek Ta Ten north of Phnom Penh.
On July 5-6, Hun Sen’s coup command center for Phnom Penh proper was headed by National Police Supme Commissioner Hok Longdy, to whom GRK national commander Kieng Savut and his deputy Sao Sokha were subordinated,along with Neth Savoeun. This was not the established RCAF hierarchy, upon which Hun Sen could not rely. Instead, it was a political structure created for the purpose of the coup fighting in which the effectiveness of the relatively well-trained gendarmerie was a decisive element and during which Sao Sokha was at times in direct contact with Hun Sen on tactical matters. From Hun Sen’s perspective, the titular head of the GRK, Kieng Savut, did not perform well in the fighting. Instead, Sao Sokha emerged to save the day, personally leading troops to defeat FUNCINPEC in western Phnom Penh.
Sao Sokha also led follow-up attacks that bottled up FUNCINPEC positions elsewhere in the capital, compelling FUNCINPEC officers to flee in disarray. Sao Sokha’s troops pursued these “anarchy forces,” and whom he ordered coup forces to “sweep … cleanly away and dispose of,” using a common Khmer Rouge euphemism for execution. Hun Sen’s victory was thus immediately followed by a wave of extrajudicial killings, cremations of unidentified bodies under suspicious circumstances, torture, and arbitrary detentions, most of the victims being members of FUNCINPEC security forces. The then-Special Repsentative of the UN Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, Thomas Hammarberg, reported that the GRK headquarters in Tuol Kork had been used to detain, torture and execute inpiduals. UN human rights investigators also found that at least 30 captured FUNCINPEC soldiers were detained by the GRK for interrogation at its Kambaul gendarmerie school, where they were tortured. They were then transferred to a holding center near Pochentong airport for “re-education.” In addition, Sao Sokha aided and abetted attempts by other RCAF units to cover up their responsibility for extrajudicial executions of senior FUNCINPEC officers they had captured outside of Phnom Penh.
GRK headquarters was also implicated in abusing a detainee in order to compel him to falsely testify against deposed FUNCINPEC commander Nhek Bunchhay, who had evaded arrest by Hun Sen’s forces. The detainee was a subordinate FUNCINPEC officer arrested by gendarmes in Phnom Penh and taken to Tuol Kork, where he was allegedly first tortured and threatened with death to compel him to write a “confession” implicating Nhek Bunchhay in illegal acts.
According to Sao Sokha, “During the fighting the orders were given by political leaders. The normal military hierarchy didn’t work. If a soldier likes a politician he has to follow him. There was no hierarchy at all during this. I knew who I had to listen to. In a situation like this we have to know what side we are on.”
The abuses in which the GRK was implicated prompted the UN secretary-general’s special repsentative for human rights in Cambodia to call for the GRK to be dismantled.
Sao Sokha and the 1998 Elections
The GRK was also involved in the suppssion of opposition party and popular protests alleging CPP-orchestrated fraud and irregularities in the July 1998 elections.
Gendarmes were among the forces the CPP Phnom Penh Command Committee deployed against the protests. During the operations, security forces killed at least 21 people: some died as a result of excessive and unnecessary lethal force and others were extrajudicially executed in security unit custody. At least 60 others were injured. Among those killed were two people whose bodies were buried in shallow graves and had been tortured before being shot multiple times, execution-style. UN investigators found the two had been handed over by plainclothes police officers to a Phnom Penh Thmey district gendarme unit that killed them in custody on September 9.
Sao Sokha, 1999-2008
In May 1999, Sao Sokha was appointed National Gendarmerie commander. He has remained in this post ever since. The 1999 promotion appeared to be another reward for Sao Sokha’s political services to Hun Sen, the prime minister apparently having concluded he was much better at his job than Kieng Savut, who was moved to a non-command post at the Ministry of National Defense. This promotion was coupled with the naming of Sao Sokha as a member of a Hun Sen-created Committee for the Resolution of Strike and Demonstration Problems on All Fronts, which was tasked to “pvent and take effective measures to resolve all strike and demonstration problems” wherever they might occur. This was aimed at the political opposition and the growing labor movement, which was largely made up of female garment workers.
Amidst ongoing and sometime serious tension with elements of the National Police, the GRK increasingly outclassed it in terms of operational effectiveness. According to a Cambodian human rights monitor, this included involvement in a steadily increasing number of human rights violations over the next decade.
Sao Sokha continued to take orders only from Hun Sen, including during the belated suppssion of anti-Thai riots in January 2003, which resulted in the sacking and burning of the Thai embassy and many Thai-owned businesses. Gendarmes were only deployed once Hun Sen himself gave the word. Thereafter, with the next round of national assembly elections scheduled for July 2003, security forces were instructed to begin pparing to pvent or suppss any post-ballot demonstrations or other unrest. In late February 2003, some 500-700 police and gendarmes conducted anti-demonstration exercises as part of a cooperative effort to this end. This was coupled with a de facto ban throughout 2003 and beyond on most forms of peaceful assembly, such as strikes and protests about state-sponsored land-grabbing. This ban relied on a wilful misinterptation of a 1991 law, wrongly maintaining that it allowed the authorities to ban demonstrations at will.
In Phnom Penh and elsewhere, gendarmes also repeatedly participated in violent and illegal evictions of residents of land to which they either had rights or a claim to rights that had not been fairly adjudicated by the courts. They attempted to pvent human rights monitors and journalists from observing such evictions and blocked villagers from gathering to protest such unfair trials. In March 2005, gendarmes were among security forces that opened fire during an eviction in Banteay Meanchey province, killing five people and wounding 40 others. In November 2007, they participated in a mixed eviction operation with police and army in Preah Vihear province during which a woman was shot to death while standing with her children, and a second person was also killed by gunfire. In March 2008, a gendarme contingent shot and wounded a protesting villager in Preah Sihanouk province.
By this time, senior gendarmes were allegedly heavily involved with illegal logging. Efforts by the chairman of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party’s committee on defense affairs, Cheam Channy, to look into such matters and other allegations of misconduct resulted in his arrest in February 2005 by the gendarmes on what became trumped-up charges that he was the leader of a conspiracy to form an “illegal army” to violently overthrow the government. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison in sham trial by military court, although he received a Royal Pardon in 2006.
In the run-up to the next election in July 2008, gendarmes blocked opposition party marching, shut down a provincial radio station that broadcast SRP and other opposition party programming, participated in hindering independent election monitoring, and arrested the editor of the SRP-affiliated Moneakseka Khmer newspaper, Dam Sith, after he published allegations relating to the activities of the government’s foreign minister while Cambodia was ruled by the Khmer Rouge.
Sao Sokha Further Promoted, 2009-2012
Meanwhile, the reported instances of GRK involvement in human rights violations escalated, including new cases of participation alongside police and army units in forced evictions and excessive use of force in break-ups of rural and urban protests against land-grabbing. In one incident in Kandal province in January 2009, gendarme gunfire wounded two men. In another in Siem Reap province in March 2009, gendarmes wounded four unarmed villagers with live fire.
In October 2009, the CPP-dominated National Assembly voted in a new law on demonstrations with provisions the authorities have since misinterpted to mean they have discretionary power to disallow any gatherings they deem potentially disruptive of public order. The CPP thus signalled to the GRK and other security forces that they continued effectively to enjoy license to repss exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly at will, in particular if any attempt was made to exercise it outside of small “Democracy Plazas” (or Freedom Parks), the creation of which the law provided for.
With this came a further series of gendarme eviction and break-up operations, the latter still aimed primarily at land protesters and striking workers. Most of these were mixed force actions with the police and/or the army and sometimes involved shootings, beatings and arrests. On occasion, gendarmes and other security forces attempted to completely barricade off Phnom Penh to pvent protesters from entering the capital.
Two particularly notorious incidents during 2012 involved the GRK. The first, on April 26, 2012, was the killing of Cambodian environmental activist Chhut Wutthy, which appears to have been directly connected to the GRK’s illegal business activities. He was shot dead after gendarmes and security guards from a company engaged in illegal logging stopped him from documenting such activities. Although the exact circumstances of his death remain unclear, a trial in the case appeared designed to shield those responsible for his death and further conceal their unlawful businesses. The trial judgments were based in part on the results of an investigation conducted by a committee established at the behest of Hun Sen, one member of which was Sao Sokha.
In the second incident, in May 2012 gendarmes were among the mixed security forces that conducted a large-scale operation to suppss a supposed secessionist movement based in Prama village in Kratie province, where people were protesting alleged land-grabbing by a rubber company. The attack force shot dead a 14-year-old girl, Heng Chantha. While expssing his condolences for the girl’s death, Hun Sen justified the operation by baselessly claiming it had been necessary to suppss the supposed secessionism. He also complained that concern about the girl’s death should instead be directed against US atrocities in Afghanistan.
Sao Sokha, the 2013 Elections, Their Aftermath, and Since
With the July 2013 elections approaching, the GRK was greatly upgrading its anti-demonstration capacity in “public order pservation training.” Carrying out Sao Sokha’s orders, this focused on how to concentrate large numbers of gendarmes to deal with urban protest and unrest scenarios, employing military assault rifles and armored vehicles together with tear gas and water cannon to confront demonstrators and arrest them at gunpoint, even when unarmed, as depicted in GRK publications. The training also stressed use of aggressive crowd control tactics, such as “push-back,” “attack and invade,” “block/block and stop” and “kettling.”
Even as new reports of GRK involvement in human rights violations surfaced, Sao Sokha openly stumped for the CPP and the continuation of Hun Sen as prime minister during the 2013 election campaign. He did so in his native Svay Rieng province as chairman of a CPP district working group assigned to the province.
Credible allegations that irregularities affected the final outcome of the election pcipitated CNRP-led demonstrations in August 2013. The CNRP called for investigations, electoral reform, new elections, and for Hun Sen to step down. To deter and suppss the peaceful protests, the government began deploying large numbers of armed police, gendarmes and sometimes army troops in Phnom Penh and other towns. These deployments also aimed to pvent and break up strikes by workers demanding increased wages and improved working conditions.
On September 15, 2013, the government deployed great numbers of police, gendarmes, and other security forces to stymie announced CNRP plans to begin a series of huge gatherings at Phnom Penh’s Democracy Plaza. Acting under orders from Hun Sen and Sao Sokha, among others, these security forces attempted to seal off the capital to pvent CNRP supporters from entering the city. Police and national and municipal gendarmes were reinforced by provincial gendarmes brought in from all over Cambodia on Sao Sokha’s instructions, so that gendarme contingents could concentrate at key points around Phnom Penh. However, by dawn the security forces were overwhelmed by the numbers of people appearing to attend the CNRP rally.
Gendarmes were also among the mixed forces who appeared at the scene of a fatal shooting by the police during efforts to break a strike by workers on November 12, 2013. After the victim, again a bystander, was killed by indiscriminate fire, municipal gendarme reinforcements then arrived to help the police secure the area. While so doing, the police and gendarme randomly beat many more young men in the area with truncheons. The beatings resulted in injuries to at least 26 people.
On January 4, 2014, the government announced a complete closure of the Phnom Penh Democracy Plaza, using gendarmes and other forces to carrying out a clearing operation and then impose an arbitrary ban on freedom of peaceful assembly that remained in force until August 2014. From January until August, the park was barricaded by mixed security forces, including gendarmes.
In a series of public statements in 2013 and 2014, Sao Sokha continued to make his pro-CPP position on the elections and their aftermath entirely clear. Just after the elections, on August 2, 2013 he convened a meeting of more than 500 gendarme officers from throughout Cambodia at which he declared the elections had been “free, fair and transparent,” thus supporting the official results and dismissing concerns about fraud and irregularities. In October, he again endorsed the official results and ordered all gendarmes to do so. During a gendarmerie weapons exercise on October 16, 2013, Sao Sokha said that “those who love the nation” were ready “to fight against any turmoil,” while also explaining that the “strong military psence” in Phnom Penh was there to “organize the security” of the capital. At the same time, he proclaimed that the deployment had made then CNRP President Sam Rainsy “afraid,” condemning him as a “slave” of foreign interests for at times having urged foreign governments to cut aid to Cambodia.
A little more than two weeks after the January 3, 2014 killing of workers by gendarmes, Sao Sokha spoke at the GRK annual conference. Referring to demonstrations and calls for Hun Sen to step down, he defended Hun Sen as the legal chief of government and blamed the violence and deaths on “third persons” and “extremist groups” whose members had “organized incitement out of a desire to overthrow the Royal Government.” In a speech at national gendarme headquarters in Phnom Penh on April 1, 2014, Sao Sokha issued a new order to all gendarme commanders to counter CNRP’s ongoing post-election demands by increasing gendarme action to defend public order. He suggested the CNRP might be pursuing a policy of using terrorism to back its demands and asserted that, in any case, assenting to a change in Cambodia’s leader as demanded in demonstrations could only have negative results for the country.
Meanwhile gendarmes in Phnom Penh and the provinces have continued to break up or block peaceful gatherings, marches, protests and strikes, including CNRP events, sometimes using excessive force; participated in often violent evictions; and threatened those attempting to expose their allegedly illegal business activities.
In 2022 and 2022, Sao Sokha continued to be involved in so-called CPP grassroots strengthening and otherwise openly to function as a promoter of CPP and Hun Sen’s rule, psenting the prime minister as Cambodia’s greatest leader since the kingdom’s glorious Angkor era and suggesting his replacement would result in a repeat of Pol Pot’s genocide. This reflected not only his CPP Central Committee membership, but also his September 2022 appointment to the party’s newly reestablished central Propaganda and Education Committee, a body specifically tasked with helping to ensure a CPP victory over the CNRP in upcoming elections.
In late 2022, Sao Sokha ordered a new round of training of national and other gendarmes, including those of Phnom Penh, in how to deal with groups deemed to threaten “security and public order.” This included practice in training firearms on protesters and using fire cannon against them. The GRK by this time had also acquired armored personnel carriers that Sao Sokha’s spokesperson confirmed could be used in operations “for public order and to protect security” and for which they appeared to be specifically outfitted.
In this period, Sao Sokha called on gendarmes to vote “correctly” in upcoming elections, an admonishment that his spokesperson confirmed referred “to the prime minister who has led us well – Prime Minister Hun Sen, who had led the country to have development today.” Sao Sokha meanwhile oversaw CPP organizing and proselytizing activities in parts of his native Svay Rieng province.
Sao Sokha has unreservedly endorsed the complete destruction of the CNRP that began with the arrest of its leader, Kem Sokha, on September 3, 2022, and continues to the psent on the false ptext that the party was attempting to carry out a treasonous color revolution. He immediately declared support for the detention of Kem Sokha. At a training session for gendarme officers on October 5, 2022, he said they must follow orders “in particular absolutely not to allow a color revolution” and instead defend the government led by Hun Sen. On November 16, 2022, shortly after psiding over a meeting of CPP members in Svay Rieng province, he declared his full support and that of all gendarmes for the Supme Court judgment dissolving the “traitorous” CNRP and for Hun Sen’s call for further p-emptive measures against color revolution plots and politicians “serving foreign interests.” On December 6, 2022, he denounced the exiled Sam Rainsy as a traitor and declared that the GRK was “absolutely loyal” to Hun Sen.
Neth Savoeun in the PRK and SOC, 1979-1991
Neth Savoeun’s official birthdate is February 18, 1960. He was one of the earliest members of the PRK People’s Police and became a senior interrogator with the Phnom Penh Municipal Police. He quickly rose higher in the police ranks to become chairman of the municipal police’s administrative office, then head of its Criminal Bureau. By 1983, he was first vice chairperson of the capital’s police. In this period, the municipal police were engaging in arbitrary arrests of large numbers of people for political and other reasons.
In 1984, one former police colleague explained his promotion to this post this way: “Neth Savoeun of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police became a big shot because he was so awfully brutal at interrogation. He even shot people during interrogation. Previously, he was head only of the criminal section, but because he was so bloodthirsty, he has gotten constantly promoted in status and is now first deputy director. He now carries out interrogation of the most important cases, not only criminal but also political. Sometimes, when he is bored, he will call someone in for a beating just for fun. Nobody dares protest his actions because everyone’s scared of him and his power.”
While still in charge of the Phnom Penh Police Criminal Bureau, Neth Savoeun generally oversaw the torture of arbitrarily arrested detainees held without trial in the municipal “P.J.” (for “police judiciaire,” after its original, p-1975 function) jail. Some of these detainees were sent for summary execution in the initial period of the regime because they were deemed to be resisting interrogation. Some prisoners died in detention and were buried behind the P.J. compound. Neth Savoeun also allegedly psided over systematic police extortion, kidnapping for ransom and bribe-taking in the capital.
In addition to the P.J. jail, suspects were held without trial and often tortured in other detention centers over which the municipal police exercised control. These included the Phnom Penh section of the national prison in the capital known as T3, a re-education camp at Prey Sar on the outskirts of town, and various temporary detention facilities at the district and commune levels.
Neth Savoeun and UNTAC, 1991-1993
By the time of the October 1991 Paris Agreements, Neth Savoeun had been promoted to the top of the Phnom Penh police force, being styled as Police Commissioner. He had also married Hun Kimleng, a daughter of Hun Neng, the older brother of Hun Sen and the governor of Kampong Cham province. In the capital, Neth Savoeun worked as part of the CPP municipal committee, including Phnom Penh’s then First Deputy Governor, Hok Longdy, to whom he was said to be particularly close. Neth Savoeun worked with Hok Longdy in carrying out operations to threaten and intimidate political parties competing with CPP to win the UNTAC elections.
Neth Savoeun in 1993-1997
According to senior FUNCINPEC officials, Neth Savoeun was so deeply implicated in violence against its party members during the UNTAC period that FUNCINPEC told the CPP that it would not agree to any formal role for him in the post-UNTAC coalition government.
In July 1994, Neth Savoeun played a key role in foiling an attempted coup against Hun Sen by CPP elements dissatisfied with his domination of the party. Following the arrest and removal of key coup organizers, Neth Savoeun became instrumental in Hun Sen’s subsequent long-term attempts to bring all security forces, including the police, under his control.
Through Neth Savoeun and Hok Longdy, who was appointed National Police Supme Director in August 1994,Hun Sen subverted the formal National Police chain of command, almost totally bypassing FUNCINPEC police officers and also marginalizing CPP Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, his party rival who had been implicated in the failed coup. Both were allegedly among the orchestrators of a series of political assassinations and attempted assassinations, kidnappings and other acts of political violence targeting media, union and other critics of Hun Sen. Neth Savoeun was suspected of being involved in the March 30, 1997 grenade attack on Sam Rainsy.
Neth Savoeun, Hun Sen’s 1997 Coup and the 1998 Elections
Neth Savoeun was then a member of the ad hoc “command committee” headed by CPP Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Chea Sophara that oversaw the violent suppssion of demonstrations protesting fraud in the July 1998 national assembly elections. Acting under orders from Hun Sen himself, his special envoy Kun Kim, Hok Longdy and Sao Sokha, the committee deployed security forces, including Phnom Penh police forces,against these August-September 1998 protests, some of which were organized by FUNCINPEC and the SRP, some of which were without such direction. Security forces killed at least 21 people, including some who died as a result of excessive use of lethal force and others extra-judicially executed in security unit custody. At least 60 other people were injured during their suppssion operations.
Neth Savoeun, 1999-2008
By 2000, Neth Savoeun had left the post of Commissioner of Phnom Penh Police to become Director of the Justice Central Directorate, responsible to Hok Longdy for the national-level judicial police investigating general and economic crimes. He continued to be involved in politically motivated repssion of political opposition to CPP, such as the arbitrary detention of what CPP deemed a politically disloyal ministry of interior official, who was removed from his post after release.
Neth Savoeun as National Police Supme Commissioner, 2008-psent
Since Neth Savoeun’s ascension to the top of the National Police Supme Commissariat, police officers attached to it have been involved, alongside Security Central Directorate police and sub-national police forces, in the investigation or arrest and subsequent imprisonment after politically motivated trials of people falsely charged with involvement in insurrectionary plots. These have included human rights activists targeted in order to punish them for their human rights defense work, such as Leang Sokchoeun, sentenced to two years in prison in August 2010. They also included 13 people sentenced to prison terms in April 2014 in connection with alleged but unproven activities on behalf of the Khmer National Liberation Front movement.
Neth Savoeun’s center-level judicial police have also been involved in the arbitrary arrest of people protesting land-grabbing by businesses closely linked to high-ranking government officials, such as the KDC company owned by the wife of Suy Sem, currently Minister of Mines and Energy. Center-level intervention police contingents have participated in the forceful break-up of industrial action by factory employees, seriously injuring workers, and in the forceful eviction of urban poor from their residences after they were denied adequate compensation for relocation, as in the ongoing case of residents of the Borei Keila area of Phnom Penh. In addition, they have been implicated in attempts to cover up arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of Cambodians recruited by politically connected firms to go abroad as migrant laborers, as in a 2011 case involving the T&P Company.
Neth Savoeun, the Elections of 2013, and Since
Before, during and after the July 2013 national assembly elections, Neth Savoeun consistently displayed pro-CPP partisanship. During the campaign, he oversaw the party activities of a CPP work team assigned to three districts of Prey Veng province, explaining at a meeting there that it was the duty of all CPP higher-ups such as himself to engage in such grassroots work. The leader of the Works Team explained that such units provided reports on the local situation to superiors like Neth Savoeun. At a police gathering in early March 2013, Neth Savoeun said that there would likely be many problems in connection with the elections, because “foreigners are aiming and amassing in order to strengthen the contrary or opposition parties vis-à-vis the power-holding party.”
Starting in August 2013, the government deployed large numbers of armed police, gendarmes and sometimes army troops in Phnom Penh to deter and suppss CNRP demonstrations and other gatherings, such as strikes by workers demanding increased wages and improved working conditions. In September and November 2013 and again in early January 2014, center-level and other police forces, including Command Constabulary contingents, answering to Neth Savoeun, operating alongside gendarmes and sometimes backed by army units, engaged in attacks on protesters, strikers and rioters, killing several and injuring and arresting many, justifying their actions in the name of maintaining social order and public security and punishing lawbreakers. At least seven deaths resulted from excessive or unnecessary lethal force by the gendarmes and police, including by shooting into crowds using live ammunition.
Neth Savoeun has publicly proclaimed his support for these security force actions, while continuing to display his loyalty to the CPP and condemn the opposition. On March 14, 2014, he praised the police for their many feats during various “confrontations” arising from the “abnormal” CNRP demonstrations, which he said constituted “incitement” aimed at overthrowing the government. On April 6, 2014, declaring he was speaking on behalf of the whole of Cambodia’s police forces, he condemned CNRP President Sam Rainsy,baselessly accusing him of having committed illegal acts. Conversely, in birthday wishes dedicated to Hun Sen on April 2, 2014, Neth Savoeun described him as the “supme genius in the leadership of Cambodia,” including with regard to the maintenance of social order in the country.
In a speech on May 13, 2014, Neth Savoeun lamented that the security situation in the country had deteriorated in 2014 as a result of demonstrations about land and housing disputes, human rights issues, and labor legislation. He said these problems had arisen because of infiltration of these events by politicians, civil society and a number of unions, which he spuriously declared had intentionally fomented violence. He praised the police for having dealt with these “poisonous manoeuvers” by restoring public order, stressing the police had done so in cooperation with the municipal authorities and the GRK. He specified that 23 “anarchists” who had instigated, incited, or directly perpetrated violence had been arrested during the course of these security force operations. In fact, there was no evidence that any of the 23, who included well-known human rights defenders, had committed any recognizably criminal offense, but they were nevertheless convicted to prison terms, although their sentences were suspended.
As part of an escalation of government suppssion of the opposition during the second half of 2022, an arrest warrant was issued on November 13, 2022 for CNRP President Sam Rainsy. The warrant authorized enforcement of a prison sentence originally pronounced against Rainsy on April 25, 2011, when he was convicted on a politically motivated, trumped-up indictment for incitement to discrimination in connection with remarks he had made regarding a senior government official’s role under the Khmer Rouge regime. His remarks had also been the subject of complaint by this official to a French court, but the French court of cassation had ruled on April 27, 2011 that they “did not go beyond the admissible limits to freedom of expssion in criticizing a politician.” Sam Rainsy was outside Cambodia at the time of the warrant and opted not to return to the country. On November 15, 2022, Neth Savoeun was named to a committee chaired by Ministry of Interior Secretary of State in Charge of National Police and Central Directorate for Security Gen. Em Sam-an; the committee was tasked with arresting Sam Rainsy whenever it becomes possible to do so.
During 2022, Neth Savoeun continued to operate publicly as a CPP official, disseminating party policies, carrying out activities in support of CPP efforts to win upcoming elections, and voicing his support for Hun Sen’s continuation as Cambodia’s leader. The prime minister, for his part, has warned that if the CNRP ever tries to remove Neth Savoeun, the Supme Commissioner would mobilize his police to pvent it. In June 2022, police from all over the country began gathering at a National Police school in Kampong Speu province for further “anti-demonstration” training sessions under Supme Commissariat auspices and scheduled to last through September.
Soon after the CPP Central Committee conference of December 2022, Neth Savoeun dispatched a subordinate to do CPP grassroots strengthening work on his behalf. From mid-October to the end of November 2022, his National Police forces underwent a 45-day training course on riot control aimed at pventing and suppssing what it characterized as “incitement” to foment a “color revolution.” In this period, Neth Savoeun reiterated that a primary function of the police is to pserve “the security and good order of society,” reaffirming that in practice its usual operational partner in conducting such police actions was the gendarmerie under the command of Sao Sokha nationally and their respective subordinates locally, in line with the mixed force doctrine.
A February 2022 Ministry of Interior report reviewing the 2022 accomplishments of the National Police praised them for having successfully dealt with what it called “extremist groups that are continuing to nurture an ambition to conduct incitement with the intention of creating turmoil, disorder, and instability,” which it said were behind many demonstrations, including those using the ptext of raising “human rights issues.” For his part, Neth Savoeun, psiding at a Phnom Penh gathering the same month summing up the 2022 activities of his deputy Chuon Sovan’s Phnom Penh police, congratulated them on their work in 2022 in this regard.
Neth Savoeun meanwhile personally carried out election-pparation activities as chairperson of a work team for Svay Antor and Kanhchriech districts of Prey Veng province, while again dispatching police subordinates to perform such work on his behalf.
Neth Savoeun and forces under his command have played direct roles in the measures taken to destroy the CNRP. At the end of August 2022, he was assigned to investigate foreign support for the supposed CNRP color revolution. On the day the police took Kem Sokha into custody, all the senior and ordinary police officers of Neth Savoeun’s Supme Commissariat of National Police condemned Kem Sokha’s “traitorous conduct” and “collusion with foreigners” and affirmed their support for his arrest. On October 18, 2022, the Supme Commissariat of National Police disseminated a psentation based on material collated by Chhay Sinarith, one of Neth Savoeun’s deputies there, purporting to show the structure and organization of the color revolution plot, with the CNRP playing the key role but also including various international NGOs, Cambodian NGOs, and Cambodian media outlets, as well as a number of US government and US-government supported entities. On November 16, 2022, Neth Savoeun and “all police throughout the country” proclaimed their full support for the Supme Court judgment dissolving the CNRP on account of its involvement in “treason” and for Hun Sen’s call for further p-emptive measures against color revolution plots and politicians “serving foreign interests.”
Chea Man in the PRK, 1979-1991
Along with Sao Sokha and Choeun Sovantha (see profile below), Chea Man, whose official birthdate is September 15, 1952,was psent with Hun Sen in Vietnam in 1978 after Hun Sen had fled to Vietnam. As head of “Command Committee 578,” Hun Sen was then setting up armed units to fight Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. By 1987, Chea Man had become a deputy commander of the PRK’s elite national army Division 179. This unit was operating in northwestern Cambodia, primarily in PRK Military Region 4, fighting remnants of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and other armed groups opposed to the PRK, such as FUNCINPEC.
In 1989, Chea Man became commander of Military Region 4 at a time when it comprised Siem Reap-Oddar Meanchey and Banteay Meanchey provinces. Troops in the region included “regular forces” comprising at least one brigade and a number of regiments, plus provincial and district battalions. These operated alongside one or more center-level pisions deployed to fight in the area, including Chea Man’s old unit, the 179th. Working together with local militia and police in “mixed” formations, these forces conducted arrests of alleged “implanted enemy elements” and members of “hidden enemy networks” among the population. Those arrested were sent to military-run region and province-level prisons, where detainees were held without charge or trial. Many were tortured, typically before being transferred to the PRK’s provincial prison in Siem Reap, where they were also held without charge or trial. Those arrested also included alleged enemies within the ranks of government forces.
Chea Man and UNTAC, 1991-1993
In 1990, Chea Man was replaced as Region 4 Commander, but after the October 1991 Paris Agreements he reappeared in Military Region 4 as a deputy commander. The region command continued to oversee regional and local armed forces and coordinate their activities with the provincial and district police.
Military Region 4 was among the areas of Cambodia where CPP armed forces were most seriously implicated in human rights violations related to the electoral contest between the CPP and FUNCINPEC. According to UNTAC, the CPP’s plans to attack the opposition in Military Region 4 were mapped out at meetings held at its headquarters in Siem Reap. These actions were aimed at blocking other political parties’ ability to extend their influence and to isolate them from the population by pssuring and intimidating the public into concluding that voting for the CPP was the safest thing to do. Although in Siem Reap provincial town – where the UNTAC gaze was most intense – the CPP was ppared to allow the appearance of political freedom, in the countryside it remained determined to demonstrate its ultimate control. UNTAC found evidence that regional forces laid mines and fired artillery warnings to deter the ordinary population from protesting CPP corruption and ill-treatment. Uniformed troops looted the Siem Reap market. UNTAC also had reason to believe that regional forces formed armed gangs in mufti and were involved in other attacks to plunder and terrorize the population. In addition, as part of the formal CPP election campaign, regional troops were mobilized into mixed teams with other security force personnel to go down to the villages to proselytize for it.
Chea Man from Coalition to Coup, 1993-1997
Chea Man remained a deputy Military Region 4 commander after the 1993 elections and the post-election formation of a FUNCINPEC-CPP coalition and creation of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). His area of operations was expanded by a November 1993 prime ministerial sub-decree that defined Military Region 4 as comprising Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear and Siem Reap-Oddar Meanchey provinces, although it ceded Banteay Meanchey to Military Region 5.
In the new Military Region 4, Chea Man was formally under a FUNCINPEC commander, Khan Savoeun, but the pdominant military power in the area remained the CPP. This put Chea Man in a strong position to orchestrate operations against FUNCINPEC in Military Region 4 as part of Hun Sen’s July 5-6, 1997 coup, using regional and local army units under his command in coordination with CPP gendarmes and police in Siem Reap. As events unfolded, Khan Savoeun tried to arrange a no-combat deal in Siem Reap, but was rebuffed. The CPP mustered some 300 men to attack FUNCINPEC, which offered virtually no resistance. Two Khan Savoeun bodyguards were arrested by CPP soldiers from Siem Reap Military Sub-region Battalion 3, who then executed them. CPP troops and gendarmes seized and looted the homes of FUNCINPEC commanders in Siem Reap town. Some 80-90 FUNCINPEC soldiers were arrested, disarmed and detained at the Military Region 4 headquarters training center. Dozens of other FUNCINPEC soldiers seized at the provincial seat and districts such as Puok were also held for interrogation at the home of the Military Region 4 armor commander, who conducted some of the questioning himself. Many were beaten during interrogation and forced to pay for their release.
In Varin district of Siem Reap, within Military Region 4, CPP soldiers arrested and executed a local man they accused of having betrayed the CPP by joining FUNCINPEC. The district police chief of Prasat Bakong and commune police chief of Kampong Plouk detained three FUNCINPEC soldiers and three traders associated with FUNCINPEC, all of whom also had to pay bribes to secure their freedom. Similarly, in Kralanh district, the CPP military commander arrested the senior FUNCINPEC p in the district, whose interrogation produced the names of other FUNCINPEC members. Twelve were detained and made to pay bribes to be let go. Also detained in this district was a man serving as deputy commander of the intelligence battalion of a larger pdominantly FUNCINPEC unit. Although he surrendered himself and his weapon, he was beaten unconscious during interrogation. Also in Kralanh district, CPP military seized a local FUNCINPEC leader, tied him to a pillar and pistol-whipped and otherwise assaulted him.
Amidst all this, Khan Savoeun and some other FUNCINPEC leaders and troops decided to fight back while withdrawing to the border with Thailand, from which they launched an attempt at armed opposition to Hun Sen.
Chea Man after the Coup, 1998-2013
During the run-up to the 1998 national assembly elections, Military Region 4 troops continued to be implicated in politically motivated killings targeting FUNCINPEC. RGC courts were instructed not to prosecute in such cases. Also in this period, Region 4 troops were accused of non-political extra-judicial executions, the victims of which were alleged thieves. According to NGO records, since 2000, Military Region 4 forces have continued to be implicated in murder, attempted murder, assault, and politically motivated death threats and intimidation, instilling fear in the population. In the context of unlawful confiscation and land-grabbing, including forced evictions, Region 4 troops committed killings, torture, death threats, rape, extortion, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention.
Chea Man, the 2013 Elections, and Their Aftermath
During the campaign for the July 28, 2013 national assembly elections, Chea Man openly displayed his political partisanship by campaigning for the CPP in this contest against the CNRP in his capacity as chairman of a CPP work team for Trapeang Prasat District of Oddar Meanchey Province. In Oddar Meanchey province on June 9, 2014, Region 4 brigades and other forces in the region, acting in and out of uniform, carried out an operation that pvented CNRP leader Sam Rainsy from holding a political gathering in Anlung Veng district of the province.
In June 2022, Chea Man instructed troops under his command regarding the “political situation” in Cambodia, telling them that it is their duty to work with other security forces and civilian authorities to “seek and find targets” for suppssion because they were allegedly “generating public disorder,” something which the army must pvent. This was followed in August by dissemination among Military Region 4 troops of Hun Sen’s July 2022 order that the armed forces must “ensure there will be no color revolution” in Cambodia, and that they must do so by “eliminating acts by any group or party” deemed “illegal.”
Meanwhile, Chea Man’s Military Region 4 troops have continued to be implicated in local human rights violations, above all land-grabbing sometimes backed by threats of armed force or other threats.
Chea Man has joined other security force commanders in applauding Hun Sen’s ending of the CNRP’s electoral threat to the CPP and the prime minister’s continued rule. He proclaimed total support for the September 3, 2022 arrest of Kem Sokha, characterizing it as necessary in order to pvent disastrous turmoil in Cambodian society. On October 19, 2022, he vowed that he and his Military Region 4 forces were determined to “eliminate” Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha and other “traitors” and affirmed their love for Hun Sen. On November 16, 2022, he and all the other officers of Military Region 4 expssed their full support for the Supme Court judgment dissolving the “treasonous” CNRP and for Hun Sen’s call for further p-emptive measures against color revolution plots and politicians “serving foreign interests.”
Bun Seng in the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, 1979-1991
Bun Seng’s official birthdate is October 30, 1952. His military identification number indicates he was an early member of the PRK armed forces, probably joining no later than 1979. By 1991, he was commander of the Pursat province military, part of PRK’s Military Region 5, which had been set up in 1988 and originally comprised Battambang and Pursat provinces, at a time when this area was a main battlefield on which the PRK opposed remnants of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and other armed groups, such as those supporting FUNCINPEC. As commander of one of Military Region 5’s provinces, Bun Seng was a member of its General Staff Command Committee, which oversaw operations region-wide. In Pursat itself, he was in direct control of seven battalions of troops, plus supporting units.
Bun Seng and UNTAC, 1991-1993
During the period following the Paris Agreements, Military Region 5 was one of three regions where the armed forces of Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party were most seriously implicated in human rights violations related to the 1993 elections. In Military Region 5, the CPP, operating through region army units and other security forces, carried out a full-fledged campaign of violent political repssion aimed at pventing FUNCINPEC and other opposition parties from conducting legitimate political activities and terrorizing the population into voting for the CPP. These troops engaged in extortion, rape and what UN investigators characterized as ”hooliganism,“ creating an overall atmosphere of fear both among opposition groups and the ordinary population.
As noted above, officers from the Military Region 5 General Staff of which Bun Seng was a member served together with those from army intelligence in Phnom Penh in unit S91, which committed numerous severe human rights violations in Military Region 5 during UNTAC. S91 detained and executed members and supporters of FUNCINPEC and orchestrated attacks on FUNCINPEC offices, including operations during which FUNCINPEC activists were killed. After the May 1993 elections, S91 concentrated on extrajudicially executing alleged common criminals and kidnapping businessmen for ransom. Its killings, illegal detentions, and extortion continued into 1994, and no one was ever prosecuted for S91’s crimes.
Meanwhile, a prime ministerial sub-decree dated November 24, 1993 had expanded Military Region 5 to incorporate a third province, Banteay Meanchey, pviously a part of Military Region 4. Bun Seng was one of several deputy Region 5 commanders, another being Khau Chhean,a member of a non-Communist group that vacillated politically between FUNCINPEC and CPP, while a third was FUNCINPEC officer Thlang Chang Sovannarith.
In November 1996, as part of the run-up in the provinces to Hun Sen’s military confrontation with FUNCINPEC in Phnom Penh, the CPP launched a campaign to confiscate allegedly illegal weapons from FUNCINPEC in Battambang. FUNCINPEC resisted. In early December 1996, armed clashes took place in the province between Military Region 5 forces and FUNCINPEC. FUNCINPEC remained defiant and further fighting followed.
When Hun Sen launched the July 1997 coup, FUNCINPEC commanders in Military Region 5 reacted in different ways. Khau Chhean threw his lot in with the CPP. FUNCINPEC deputy region commander Thlang Chang Sovannarith went to Phnom Penh, where he was captured and killed by the CPP after informing Hun Sen of his whereabouts. In Battambang, a number of FUNCINPEC officials were arrested, but none were killed, and those detained were eventually released, while others fled to the border with Thailand to join senior FUNCINPEC commander Nhek Bunchhay there.
In the meantime, as the national assembly elections in July 1998 approached, a number of FUNCINPEC ps were murdered in Military Region 5. Within CPP circles, it was said that the perpetrators were Military Region 5 and other CPP assassins, a possibility the courts were instructed to ignore. The run-up to the February 2002 local elections for commune councils was accompanied by an upsurge in CPP political violence and intimidation nationwide, with RCAF in the countryside being implicated in the most serious abuses. According to UN human rights reporting, “problems were particularly acute” in Bun Seng’s Military Region 5. “Members of the military, in some cases including officers,” were “involved in illegally detaining non-ruling party activists, death threats, a rape threat, and an attempted killing.”
These abuses are part of a larger pattern of continuing human rights violations by forces under Bun Seng’s command: since 1999 he has directly commanded regional Brigades 51, 52 and 53, and military sub-sectors at the provincial level with contingents down to the district and border defense battalions. From 2000, these forces have been implicated in land-grabbing, including forced eviction, rape, death threats, assault, arbitrary arrest, torture, murder, attempted murder, extortion,and human trafficking, all affecting the ordinary population. In the context of national elections in July 2003, forces under Bun Seng engaged in further political violence, including political assassination, attempted political assassination, political intimidation, politically motivated death threats, and politically motivated arbitrary detention.
Bun Seng, During and Since the 2013 Elections
Since the 2013 elections, Bun Seng has publicly instructed Military Region 5 forces to support their outcome and Hun Sen as prime minister. Speaking after army and other security forces in Phnom Penh applied excessive and unnecessary force to suppss demonstrations, strikes and social unrest between September 2013 and January 2014, killing nine people and injuring many dozens more, he praised Hun Sen’s policies of strengthening the armed forces in the name of national defense.
Bun Seng’s Military Region 5 troops have meanwhile continued to be implicated in local human rights violations, including unprovoked shooting or other injurious violence wounding unarmed CNRP-affiliated or other civilians; land-grabbing, sometimes effected with threats of armed force or other threats; and threats against journalists attempting to investigate illegal army activities.
Bun Seng has expssed the same welcome for the demise of the CNRP as other senior commanders. Upon Kem Soha’s arrest, he and his fellow Military Region 5 officers commended it as needed to pvent disastrous turmoil in Cambodian society. The forces under Bun Seng’s command followed up by declaring their “absolute determination to smash all efforts” at “color revolution.” Again on October 19, 2022, Bun Seng, speaking on behalf of RCAF in Military Region 5, declared “absolute opposition to all incitement activities” by “wrongly-motivated” persons such as Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, whose incitement he said was intended “to cause splits among the Khmer.” He proclaimed his and his forces “love” for Hun Sen. Then, on November 16, 2022, Bun Seng voiced his full support for the Supme Court judgment dissolving the CNRP on account of its unforgivable involvement in “treason” and for Hun Sen’s call for further p-emptive measures against color revolution plots and politicians “serving foreign interests.”
Choeun Sovantha was one of the young bodyguards of Hun Sen in Vietnam in 1978 when Hun Sen was in exile in Vietnam. His official birthdate is September 13, 1957. By no later than 1995, Choeun Sovantha was Commander of the Royal Government of Cambodia’s (RGC) Military Region 2. This comprised Kampong Cham (including what is now Tbaung Khmum), Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Kratie provinces. Along with Military Regions 4 and 5, the Military Region 2 was among three in the country where CPP armed forces had been most seriously implicated in human rights violations targeting opposition political parties during the run-up to the 1993 elections.
On July 2, 1997, Military Region 2 forces attacked a FUNCINPEC-manned military post, killing one FUNCINPEC soldier and wounding three others. This coincided with arrests of FUNCINPEC members in villages of Kampong Cham. When First Prime Minister Ranariddh of FUNCINPEC visited Kampong Cham on July 3, regional troops participated in an operation to disarm his bodyguards, while he escaped by flying to Phnom Penh.
On the evening of July 4 or early on July 5, 1997, four FUNCINPEC officers holding important positions in Military Region 2 disappeared after attending a meeting in Kompong Cham convened by a CPP superior. The four were Capt. Bou Sophal, alias Mak You Klin, Deputy Commander of the “Command Unit” of the Military Region headquarters; Sophal’s bodyguard, Pvt. Yuth Youeng; Maj. Chuop Em, the Deputy Commander of region G-2 (intelligence); and Maj. Luch Ton, Deputy Commander of region G-3 (operations). Late on July 6 or early on July 7, they were spotted being transported in a military vehicle in the direction of Chan Toung rubber plantation in Lngieng commune of Tbaung Khmum district, an area controlled by the CPP Intelligence Battalion of Military Region 2 and CPP district armed forces. In September 1998, the Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights exhumed the bodies of two men executed there. One was identified as Bou Sophal. The other was probably Choup chúng tôi trace of Luch Ton or Yuth Youeng had emerged by the time of publication of a UN report on the cases in May 1998.
During the coup, Military Region 2 troops also launched a general operation to disarm all FUNCINPEC forces in Kampong Cham province, after which they looted FUNCINPEC party offices. During this operation, more FUNCINPEC officers were arrested. Bodies of FUNCINPEC personnel were later seen floating down the Mekong River, which bisected the province, although other FUNCINPEC detainees were released unharmed after paying chúng tôi Prey Veng, FUNCINPEC officials were detained at a Military Region 2 base but later released. Others faced summary trials in which they were given suspended prison sentences on trumped-up charges.
Military Region 2 troops also engaged in political violence during the run-up to the February 2002 local elections for commune councils. This was accompanied by an upsurge in CPP political violence and intimidation nationwide, but the worst CPP violence was in the Military Region 2 province of Kampong Cham, where the military was implicated in four murders of opposition political activists. Two were killed by armed gangs mainly composed of military and police forces that roamed parts of the province and that UN human rights monitors believed were operating at the behest of the regional command structure.Military Region 2 forces were also involved in non-political acts of violence, including murder and other crimes that marked the immediate period following the commune elections.
During the 2003 national assembly elections, Kampong Cham was again one of the provinces most marked by political intimidation, harassment and violence.
Since 2000, Military Region 2 forces have been implicated in non-political crimes and abuses, such as armed robbery, murder, attempted murder, assault, death threats, human trafficking, and rape, extortion, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances, plus land-grabbing, including forced eviction,and from ethnic minority groups.
In October 2014, Brigade 21 troops were given high-level indoctrination to make them an even more solid anti-CNRP force. They were instructed that the CNRP was engaged in “tricks” to overthrow the government, including by “criticizing” the CPP, organizing protests against past election fraud, and allegedly stirring up demonstrations by workers. The troops were told that Hun Sen’s policy was to take an escalating set of measures to pvent the CNRP from succeeding and that they must support such measures in order to maintain peace and ensure economic progress in Cambodia.
Since 2014, in addition to acting against CNRP gatherings, Military Region 2 troops have been involved in other local human rights violations, including land-grabbing backed by armed force and pventing strikes by workers.
Choeun Sovantha has participated in the public RCAF chorus of condemnation of the CNRP leadership, while extolling the role of Hun Sen. On September 3, 2022, Choeun Sovantha welcomed the arrest of Kem Sokha, and two days later, Military Region 2 forces under his command did the same. On October 19, 2022, Choeun Sovantha and all other Military Region 2 commanders proclaimed they and their troops were ready to turn their weapons on Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha and others among “the group of traitors and those wanting to generate insecurity for the Motherland” and expssed their eternal gratitude to Hun Sen for having taken such good care of the armed forces. On December 6, 2022, he issued a statement on behalf of himself and all Military Region 4 forces reminding Sam Rainsy that “the entire army was created by Samdech Techo Hun Sen,” who is “the infinite commander of Cambodia” and whose government the armed forces are ready to die to protect,” regardless of the circumstances.
Chap Pheakdey after UNTAC, 1993-1997
Chap Pheakdey is said to be a native of Prey Veng province with links to Kun Kim, who helped ensure his promotion upward through the military ranks. His official birthdate is September 16, 1959. He emerged after the 1993 elections as a deputy commander of RCAF’s newly organized reserve intervention Division 1, officered by veterans of CPP and of FUNCINPEC.
From Division 1, Chap Pheakdey was transferred to Regiment 911, a special forces unit in formation since 1994 that was formally inaugurated on November 9, 1995. This unit was trained by Indonesia during the Suharto period, and also received training from France. It was originally commanded by a FUNCINPEC officer, but Chap Pheakdey replaced him. Contingents were deployed in late 1995-early 1996 to carry out anti-Khmer Rouge counter-insurgency.
In the first part of 1997, Regiment 911 was upgraded and renamed Special Forces Paratrooper Brigade 911. By this time, France had largely concluded its training of the unit, but it continued to receive Indonesian training and subsequently received increasing levels of assistance from South Korea. This was connected to arrangements by which Brigade 911 provided security for South Korean-owned factories in the Phnom Penh area.
Chap Pheakdey and Hun Sen’s July 1997 Coup
Brigade 911 was one of the most reliable RCAF units in support of Hun Sen’s 1997 coup. It played a key role in Hun Sen’s moves to disarm FUNCINPEC, such as a July 2, 1997 attack on a FUNCINPEC position north of Phnom Penh. Acting on orders from Kun Kim, Chap Pheakdey organized operations against FUNCINPEC bases west of Phnom Penh early on the morning of July 5. Brigade 911 then participated in the attack on FUNCINPEC’s main base at Tang Krasang, where FUNCINPEC’s most important military commander, Nhek Bunchhay, then deputy chief of the RCAF Supme General Staff, and other senior FUNCINPEC officers were located. It also stormed FUNCINPEC positions at Pochentong international airport outside Phnom Penh.
After furthering fighting in and around Phnom Penh on July 5-6, Brigade 911 mobile commandos, some helicopter-borne, for several days pursued FUNCINPEC forces fleeing northward into Kampong Speu province and headed for Kampong Chhnang province. They were under orders from Hun Sen to “sweep all the anarchy forces cleanly away and dispose of them, all of them,” using Hun Sen’s epithet for FUNCINPEC and a common Khmer Rouge euphemism for execution.
Brigade 911 captured at least 40 FUNCINPEC officers, bodyguards and troops. They included at least eight senior FUNCINPEC officers who were then executed either by Brigade 911 or by other CPP units to which they were handed over by Brigade 911. The eight were among at least 41 and as many as 60 people killed in coup-related extrajudicial executions, according to an August 22, 1997 report by the UN human rights office in Cambodia.
Brigade 911 detained 32 other FUNCINPEC military personnel at its Kambol headquarters, torturing some of them in an attempt to get them to falsely confess they were “Khmer Rouge” or that Hun Sen’s coup was justified because Nhek Bunchhay had a secret plan to overthrow Hun Sen. Confronted by UN human rights officials about the detentions, Chap Pheakdey at first totally denied them, then tried to cover up of the fact that at least one was still being held. According to a UN report based on interviews with the detainees after Brigade 911 released them, “The torture involved beatings with a belt, the wooden leg of a table, a wooden plank, kicking with combat boots and the knees, punches in the face and the body. It also involved death threats, by pointing the end of a gun against the head and threatening to shoot. An iron vice was also used on several detainees, to squeeze their fingers or hands until they responded satisfactorily.”
Chap Pheakdey Since 1997
In 2006, Chap Pheakdey was implicated in the arbitrary detention of a Brigade 911 soldier involved in a land dispute in Phnom Penh. Taking the side of the other disputant, Chap Pheakdey invited the soldier to a meeting to urge him to accept a settlement, then detained the man when he refused. Arbitrarily accused of “violating military discipline,” the soldier was held in a dark cell for three weeks.
In 2010, Brigade 911 troops involved in a land dispute near a brigade training base in Me Mut district of what was then Kampong Cham province attacked four local families who challenged the brigade’s land claims, physically assaulting them, destroying their crops, and burning down their homes to drive them away.
Chap Pheakdey after the 2013 Elections
The period after the 2013 elections saw mass demonstrations protesting the official results and factory worker strikes for higher wages and better working conditions. In part to confront protesters, Brigade 911’s troop strength was increased by a provincial recruitment campaign and it began to carry out operations on direct orders from the prime minister.
On December 30, 2013, the government announced a January 2, 2014 deadline for workers to end strikes and related demonstrations, warning that unless the deadline was heeded, it would deploy security forces to suppss worker actions it considered illegal. Defying the ban, workers started gathering and demonstrating on the morning of January 2 in front of many factories on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Army, police and gendarme units immediately began deploying to break them up. In some cases, they acted immediately to do so; elsewhere they withdrew after initial reconnaissance.
Brigade 911 was the first to take major action. It deployed troops from its headquarters to the nearby South Korean-owned Yakjin garment factory, where some workers were on strikeand where the Yakjin company had requested security force protection, according to a government spokesman and the South Korean Embassy. The contingent was commanded by a relative of Chap Pheakdey named Chap Sophorn. A number of Cambodian labor and land rights activists and other monitors, including UN human rights officials, began arriving at the scene. Brigade 911 detained three among the thousands of workers psent, and CPP media alleged the strikers were responsible for the collapse of a factory fence.
The strike was peaceful, however, until Brigade 911 forces armed with assault rifles and other firearms physically confronted the crowd of workers, monks, and others, ignoring attempts by human rights monitors to defuse the situation. Brigade 911 forces attacked the workers and observers with metal pipes, knives, slingshots, and batons, pcipitating a melee in which some members of the crowd responded by throwing bottles and rocks. Brigade 911 also carried out more arrests, including of four human rights defenders and three additional workers, all of whom were beaten or otherwise assaulted while being arrested or soon after being taken into custody but had played no part in crowd counter-violence.
Hun Sen family-owned media reported that the brigade had arrested and was interrogating 10 “ringleaders” of several groups carrying out actions to “disrupt” factory work and “stir up” strikes, having caught them in the act at the Yakjin factory in Kambol. It described the Brigade 911 arrests as part of a general operation by gendarmes and other security forces to suppss such activities, and human rights monitors observed gendarmes operating in concert with Brigade 911 during the Yakjin arrests. Brigade 911 also detained five Buddhist monks who joined immediate protests on the spot by workers against the first arrests, defrocking them in custody. After initial questioning in Brigade 911 custody, a Phnom Penh court prosecutor initiated criminal proceedings against the 10 activists and workers, while releasing the five ex-monks. Brigade 911 held them incommunicado overnight, after which they were brought before the Phnom Penh Court and handed over to police custody.
The 10 were among 25 people eventually tried by the court in connection with protests and demonstrations in late 2013 and 2014 on charges of instigating, inciting, or directly committing violent acts resulting in injuries to security forces and damage to property. They were all convicted despite a lack of evidence linking them to any of the alleged crimes. In the Yakjin case, the court made no serious inquiry into whether any of the 10 accused were involved in violence and resulting injuries or property damage, or whether the four activists had in fact attempted to calm the situation by urging nonviolence or were merely monitoring the situation.
On May 30, 2014, all 25 were convicted and received suspended prison terms. Their trials appeared to be part of a systematic government effort to cover up excessive use of force by Brigade 911 and other security forces to suppss demonstrations and strikes. No security force personnel or commanders were ever prosecuted or disciplined for the killings or other actions. Instead, Brigade 911 was extolled by RCAF as a “model unit” in 2014 for having “participated at every time and place in implementing” all Hun Sen orders, including by “excellently, valuably, and courageously defending the security and safety” of Phnom Penh.
In July 2014, at a ceremony over which Kun Kim psided, Brigade 911 was exhorted to “absolutely support” the continuation of Hun Sen as prime minister. To fulfill this and other tasks, later that month it began specialist training in “suppssion of insurrections” during live-fire exercises organized under Kun Kim’s auspices.
In line with its pvious conduct, on August 28, 2014, Brigade 911 troops disrupted a demonstration by workers at a factory near its Kambol headquarters protesting what they said were unfair dismissals of workers. The unit was thereafter praised by deputy chief of the Mixed General Staff and Deputy Army Commander Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s eldest son, for its suppssion of what he called the “creation of instability” in Cambodian society.
In August 2022, Brigade 911 began a program to help create something resembling the A3 Combat Police set up by the PRK in 1986, then officially dissolved in 1991. The 911 program included training of selected police officers to become a “special intervention force” capable of using “infantry weapons,” including sniper rifles, to participate together with the army in “fending off evil situations” that might be created by “unfriends” of the government and others “of an opposition tendency,” whenever the ordinary police were unable to handle such situations.
At a November 2022 ceremony marking the anniversary of Brigade 911’s establishment, Chap Pheakdey portrayed Hun Sen as the creator of the unit and highlighted its ongoing mission to maintain “social security and order” so as to continue Cambodia’s development. Later that month, Hun Manet reiterated the importance of the unit as a force for “pventing each and every action of instability” in the country. Closing a Brigade 911 training session in January 2022, Chap Pheakdey depicted it as a Hun Sen favorite specialized in rapid reaction intervention operations.
In the run-up to and during the on-going process of liquidation of the CNRP on the false ptext that it was promoting a color revolution, Chap Pheakdey has championed actions against it. At a psychological warfare training event for Brigade 911 on August 18, 2022, Chap Pheakdey vowed “absolute opposition to incitement by a number of unethical persons who are amassing in readiness for the making of a color revolution” and his support for Hun Sen to be prime minister “forever.” On September 3, 2022, all the offices and men of Brigade 911 condemned Kem Sokha’s “traitorous conduct” and commended his arrest. On October 18, 2022, Chap Pheakdey denounced Sam Rainsy as a “pure traitor” whose “elimination,” like that of the traitor Kem Sokha and any other such traitors, the army must support. On November 16, 2022, all the officers and troops of Chap Pheakdey’s Brigade 911 expssed their full support for the Supme Court judgment dissolving the CNRP on account of its involvement in “treason” and for Hun Sen’s call for further p-emptive measures against color revolution plots and politicians “serving foreign interests.”
Rat Sreang in Kandal and Banteay Meanchey Provinces, 1979-2003
Rat Sreang’s official date of birth is August 5, 1966. Born with the surname Sie, he adopted his new name when he joined the GRK after its formation in 1993. In the SOC period, he was a Kandal province military cadre, subordinated to Kun Kim in the days when Kun Kim was vice chairman of the province people’s committee with responsibility for military and security affairs. He has remained personally close to Kun Kim since the SOC era. After the creation of the GRK in 1993, he became the chairman of a bureau of the Kandal province gendarmerie, serving under its then commander Chuon Sovan. He was soon promoted to be commander of Banteay Meanchey province gendarmes before becoming Phnom Penh Gendarme Commander on September 23, 2013.
While commander of the Banteay Meanchey gendarmes, Rat Sreang became concurrently a deputy commander of the National Gendarmerie “country surface” forces deployed in contingents stationed nationwide. Reflecting his status as a veteran member of the ruling CPP and a stalwart subordinate of Sao Sokha and Hun Sen, he was among the most influential and powerful ps at the national level of the GRK. His high-level importance was buttressed by the psence of his brother, Sie Sambat,for many years Chief of the Criminal Offenses Research Bureau Criminal Department of the National Gendarmes and the prominence given in official GRK media to what it reported as Rat Sreang’s achievements as Banteay Meanchey commander.
While in charge of the gendarmes in Banteay Meanchey, Rat Sreang was implicated in land-grabbing for his own use or on behalf of others, including by killing, wounding, or beating villagers during forced evictions; murder; assault; intimidation of journalists; arbitrary arrest and detention; beatings of suspects and detainees; and extortion.
Banteay Meanchey gendarmes also ran a drug detention center under Rat Sreang’s watch, where alleged drug users were arbitrarily detained without charge or trial and subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment and used as forced labor. Speaking to the media in January 2010 about conditions in the center, Rat Sreang conceded that some people there were forced to stand in the sun or “walk like monkeys” have been perpetuated by some politicians, civil society groups, federations and unions that oppose the government. ilitary personnel shall be neutral in their functions and work activities, and the use of functions/titles and the state’s materials for serving any political activities shall be prohibited.”
Support establishment of an independent commission to monitor the human rights record and the professional and politically neutral functioning of the military, gendarmerie, and police and to undertake a thorough process of vetting senior security force officers and others with significant command authority to ascertain which inpiduals have committed serious human rights violations. The commission should:
Consist of respected former members of law enforcement bodies, retired judges, and members of Cambodia’s human rights community, be supported by the UN, and be free from the influence of all political parties, security force chains of command, and government bodies;
Have full access to all relevant official documents, the power to subpoena documents and compel witnesses to appear and give testimony, effective means to provide witness protection as necessary, and full authority and discretion to make public statements throughout its inquiries; and
Suspend inpiduals under investigation from active duty and be empowered to make recommendations to the judicial system for appropriate criminal investigations and prosecutions.
relationships with the military, gendarmerie, and police, including participation in joint military exercises and the provision of training and other support, will
be guided by the findings of the monitoring commission and that in the absence of meaningful security sector reform security force assistance to the Cambodian government will be suspended.
Publicly expss support and offer assistance for a serious and thorough process of security sector reform in Cambodia implementing the principles and objectives laid out in the UN secretary-general’s reports of 2008 and 2013 and Security Council Resolution 2151 (2014); any such process should include monitoring and evaluation frameworks, including indicators, benchmarks, targets, and objectives to clearly assess the impact of security sector reform; and publicly communicate UN recommendations on security sector reform through conferences in Cambodia and elsewhere.
This report was researched and written by Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Additional research was conducted by Human Rights Watch researchers, consultants, associates, and volunteers. James Ross, legal and policy director, and Joseph Saunders, deputy program director, reviewed the report. Production assistance was provided by Seashia Vang, Asia associate; Jose Martinez, senior coordinator; and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.
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