US Treasury Slaps Sanctions on Cambodian PM's Bodyguard Chief for Rights Abuses

By Paul Eckert
bodyguards-sanctions.jpg Hun Sen bodyguards Chhay Sarith (L), Mao Hoeun (C) and Sot Vanny (R), who served only one year of their four-year sentences for the October 2015 beating of Cambodian opposition politicians, are shown on their way to Phnom Penh Municipal Court, May 10, 2016.

The United States on Tuesday imposed financial sanctions on the head of Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit for its role in “multiple attacks on unarmed Cambodians over the span of many years,” blocking the general’s assets and preventing U.S. nationals from doing business with him.

“General Hing Bun Hieng commanded a Cambodian unit that engaged in a series of human rights abuses, and was personally implicated in attacks against a number of individuals, including a U.S. citizen,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in a U.S. Treasury Department statement announcing the measure.

“Hing Bun Hieng is the commander of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit (PMBU), a unit in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces that has engaged in serious acts of human rights abuse against the people of Cambodia. The PMBU has been implicated in multiple attacks on unarmed Cambodians over the span of many years, including in 2013 at Wat Phnom and in 2015 in front of the National Assembly,” the statement said.

“Bun Hieng and the PMBU have been connected to incidents where military force was used to menace gatherings of protesters and the political opposition going back at least to 1997, including an incident where a U.S. citizen received shrapnel wounds,” added the statement.

In the October 2015 National Assembly incident, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers Kong Saphea and Nhay Chamroeun were dragged from their vehicles and savagely beaten  after the two men attended a morning meeting of the legislature

The brazen attack, which took place in broad daylight while video cameras filmed it, was condemned by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. Human rights groups characterized the assault as part of a wider campaign Hun Sen and his allies were waging against the CNRP.

The attack occurred as more than 1,000 supporters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) surrounded the parliament building, calling for CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha to step down as first vice president of the National Assembly.

Hun Sen went on to have Kem Sokha arrested in September 2017 and in November banned the CNRP, effectively turning national elections slated for July into a one-party affair that is not expected to be free or fair.

“In the 2015 incident, only three members of the PMBU were sent to jail after they confessed to participating in an attack on opposition lawmakers, and were promoted upon their release,” Treasury noted.

The Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress in 2012, was initially intended to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009 by prohibiting their entrance to the U.S. and their use of its banking system, but the scope of the act was expanded in 2016 to allow sanctions for foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses throughout the globe.

“The United States will continue to use Global Magnitsky and our other authorities to ensure that corrupt actors and human rights violators cannot use our financial system to enable and support their abhorrent activities and exploit the innocent.”

Tuesday’s sanctioning of Hing Bun Hieng, along with Dominican Republic Senator Felix Ramon Bautista Rosario for corruption. Brings to the 59 individuals and entities to have been punished under the new provision to the Magnitsky Act., Treasury said.


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