By: Phnom Penh Post
SELF-EXILED opposition leader Sam Rainsy has officially filed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen in a United States court, accusing him of involvement in a 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally that killed 16 and wounded more than 100.
The suit, filed in New York last week by Morton Sklar, a lawyer at the World Organisation for Human Rights USA, seeks the prosecution of Hun Sen and other senior officials on charges of allegedly carrying out the attacks and obstructing the course of justice.
It recognised that Hun Sen would be difficult to prosecute, but said the purpose of the suit was “to make clear [Hun Sen’s] direct involvement in both the original grenade attack itself, and in the efforts by his subordinates to cover up the crimes”.
On March 30, 1997, four grenades were thrown at a rally held by the opposition Khmer Nation Party – the predecessor to today’s SRP – killing and injuring scores of bystanders.
In addition to Hun Sen, the lawsuit accuses Generals Huy Pised and Hing Bun Heang – commanders in Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit – as well as then-municipal police chief Mok Chito of obstructing a US investigation into the attacks, which injured US citizen Ron Abney.
“No one that directly interferes with a US criminal investigation should be treated with impunity because they are foreign citizens, or committed their violations of US law in foreign nations,” the lawsuit says. “If they can avoid responsibility for past acts, they are emboldened to commit further abuses, and that seems to be the pattern that is developing.”
The complaint was timed to coincide with Hun Sen’s visit to New York, where he attended a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly and the ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting on its sidelines. In 2005, during another visit by Hun Sen to New York, Sam Rainsy filed a similar complaint that resulted in the Cambodian leader’s being served a subpoena by US officials.
Unveiling the lawsuit by live videoconference from Paris on Friday, Sam Rainsy said that in 2005, the premier was “terrified” after being subpoenaed by US officials and had implored the SRP leader to withdraw the complaint. He said, however, that he would not agree to a similar deal now.
“This time, even if Mr Hun Sen implores me, bows his knee before me, I will not agree,” Sam Rainsy told reporters.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed the comments, saying that Sam Rainsy’s lawsuit would have no effect since he was trying to take the law “into his own hands”.
“Samdech [Hun Sen] has never implored Sam Rainsy, but Sam Rainsy has implored Samdech,” Phay Siphan said. “Sam Rainsy has never won any case in the world during his lifetime.”
Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that the government’s investigation into the grenade attack was still open, and that the whereabouts of three suspects – including one of Sam Rainsy’s bodyguards – were unknown.
“The government has never closed this case. If we have something new, we would continue with further investigations,” he said.
Tit for tat
The lawsuit was made public just days after Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced the SRP president to 10 years in prison after being convicted of disinformation and falsifying maps showing alleged border encroachments from Vietnam.
The sentence, which comes on top of the two-year term handed down against him by Svay Rieng provincial court in January, drew a strong response from local and international rights groups, who urged the international community to stand up and take note.
In a statement issued in New York on Friday, Human Rights Watch said that the verdict had “shattered Cambodia’s pretence of democracy” and urged US President Barack Obama to address the issue during Friday’s ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting.
“President Obama and other world leaders need to let Hun Sen and his government know that the free ride is over,” Sophie Richardson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying. “Cambodia cannot sentence the leader of the opposition to 10 years in prison for peaceful expression without expecting serious consequences.”
The statement claimed that the sentence was part of a “concerted and longstanding campaign against Rainsy” and urged nations that donate to Cambodia to take major actions – such as withdrawing their ambassadors – in protest.
When asked about the HRW comments, Khieu Kanharith said the opposition party had to obey the ruling of the courts.
“The free-lunch era is over,” he said. “You can’t enjoy impunity because of your status as opposition party. [If] you commit [an] offence, you have to pay.” WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NETH PHEAKTRA