Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy is preparing a lawsuit in the U.S. against officials in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government who may be linked to extrajudicial killings in Cambodia, as highlighted by a recent probe report by an international rights group.
The report, released last week by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, detailed more than 300 murders of political opponents, human rights activists and labor leaders in Cambodia over the past 20 years.
Human Rights Watch accused the Cambodian government of allowing those responsible for the deaths to act with impunity, saying that “instead of prosecuting officials responsible for killings and other serious abuses, Prime Minister Hun Sen has promoted and rewarded them.”
In a statement released through the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), Sam Rainsy said he had launched the lawsuit to bring attention to “the long-standing policy of the current Cambodian government to engage in major human rights abuses, while preventing the country’s law enforcement authorities and courts from acting to secure justice for these crimes.”
“I wish to announce plans elaborated with my American lawyer in Washington D.C. to prepare court cases to be brought before the United States courts against the perpetrators of these assassinations identified in the Human Rights Watch report,” the statement said.
Sam Rainsy said that the cases will be filed if and when any of the officials in question travel to the U.S., without elaborating on which court would handle the suits.
Cambodian officials have not responded to Sam Rainsy’s statement.
Sam Rainsy, who currently lives in Paris and who faces up to 11 years of jail time in Cambodia for various offenses he says were part of a campaign of political persecution, had used a similar legal strategy to negotiate a return to his home country from exile in 2005.
The head of the united opposition coalition National Rescue Party (NRP) has vowed to return to Cambodia to challenge Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in general elections next year.
In 2005, Sam Rainsy filed a similar suit through the Federal District Court in New York alleging Hun Sen’s use of a private guard unit to carry out a grenade attack against a meeting of political opposition groups that left several of the participants dead or wounded in 1997.
A U.S. citizen observing the demonstration was also injured in the attack.
That case was temporarily settled when Hun Sen agreed to free a number of political prisoners and permit Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia after a year of exile following the opposition leader’s prosecution by a local Cambodian court on what he said were also politically motivated charges.
“The preparation of these court actions will provide a means for obtaining justice against major human rights abusers in Cambodia, who until now have been cloaked with impunity because the Cambodian government would not allow law enforcement authorities and the courts to prosecute them,” Sam Rainsy said of the new cases.
He warned officials cited in the Human Rights Watch report that if he files the lawsuit, they could face action if they travel overseas.
He said that the lawsuit may also subject Hun Sen to court action in the U.S. again “as soon as he leaves office and can no longer claim head of state immunity status.”
Sam Rainsy said that the preparation of the court cases was a move to end the government’s “prevailing policy … of providing impunity from prosecution in Cambodia to major human rights abusers” and to ensure that no one involved in such crimes escapes “justice and international condemnation.”
“The systemic human rights abuses of the present Phnom Penh government, and their policy of repression of the political opposition, must stop if true democracy is to be realized in Cambodia by the time when national elections are held in 2013.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.