A government-led crackdown on peaceful critics ended in February with a deal between the Prime Minister and some adversaries, leading to the release of several prisoners of conscience, among them opposition parliamentarian Cheam Channy. The opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, returned from exile after he received a royal pardon.
The government's junior coalition partner, the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC), faced crisis as Prime Minister Hun Sen of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) stepped up pressure against party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his followers. Some 75 senior FUNCINPEC officials were dismissed from the government and the National Assembly, culminating in an extraordinary FUNCINPEC congress on 18 October in which Keo Puth Raksmey became the new party president. In November Prince Ranariddh launched the Norodom Ranariddh Party by joining and taking the lead of the small ultra-nationalist Khmer Front Party.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Cambodia in May and concluded that the strengthening of the judicial branch of governance was crucially important for the consolidation of democracy under the rule of law.
Land and housing
Land concessions and other opaque land deals between business interests and the authorities continued. In a series of forced evictions in June and July around 10,000 urban poor in Phnom Penh lost their homes to well-connected businessmen without adequate consultation, compensation or legal protection.
At dawn on 6 June several hundred security officials armed with rifles, tear gas and electric batons began the forced eviction of Sambok Chab village in central Phnom Penh. Around 5,000 villagers were forced into vans and taken to a relocation site some 20 kilometres from the city centre, an area which lacked clean water, electricity, health clinics and schools. The lack of basic amenities at the relocation site led to increased prevalence of diarrhoea, skin infections, malnutrition and respiratory infections, particularly among children and the elderly.
The forced eviction impoverished an already poor community by depriving them of their land and livelihoods. It took place despite the call two weeks earlier by the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing and the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on human rights defenders for an end to the evictions and immediate action to ensure that these families had access to adequate housing consistent with Cambodia's human rights obligations.
On 29 June, armed forces began the forcible eviction of 168 families living next to Phnom Penh's Preah Monivong Hospital. Houses were demolished and the residents, some of whom had lived on the land since 1988, were resettled some 30km from the city without basic facilities.
In both instances police cordoned off the area of eviction, preventing journalists and human rights workers from monitoring events.
Local human rights defenders were targeted by law enforcement agencies in connection with forced evictions and land disputes both in urban and rural areas. At least 15 land rights activists were detained during the year.
Long-awaited reform including laws governing the judiciary and criminal justice system did not take place. The anti-corruption law, which had been set as a top priority in the concluding statement of the annual donors' meeting in March, was not passed. Instead a new anti-corruption body under the powerful Council of Ministers was established by the government in August, comprising senior officials of the ruling party.
A Law on the Status of Parliamentarians was passed in August, which limits freedom of expression for parliamentarians. An anti-adultery law imposing custodial sentences was voted through the following month, and a law introducing compulsory military service - in sharp contrast to government pledges to reduce the armed forces - was passed by the National Assembly in October.
In his address to the UN Human Rights Council on 26 September, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia said that the government had used prosecutors and judges, while pretending to uphold their independence, to intimidate or punish critics. He stated that the government had applied the law selectively and that its supporters had enjoyed immunities from the civil and criminal process for blatant breaches of the law.
Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun, who were sentenced in August 2005 to 20 years' imprisonment for the murder of trade union leader Chea Vichea following an unfair trial, remained in prison. After significant domestic and international pressure calling for their release following testimony from a new witness, an appeals hearing was announced for 6 October. As one of the judges did not appear in court the hearing was postponed.
Freedom of speech and assembly
The widely used and controversial criminal defamation law was reformed in May, with the custodial sentence removed. Several high-profile cases were suspended. Subsequently the law against disinformation, which has a maximum prison sentence of three years, was used in a number of cases to silence or intimidate critics, including several journalists.
Death threats were received by two local journalists, Soy Sopheap of the CTN television channel and You Saravuth of Sralanh Khmer newspaper, after they reported alleged corruption by military and government-linked individuals. You Saravuth was forced to flee abroad.
Restrictions introduced in early 2003 on the right to assembly continued. Requests for permission to hold demonstrations were regularly refused by the authorities, while demonstrations and protests were often broken up by force.
The Extraordinary Chambers
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia were established on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to prosecute suspected perpetrators of gross human rights violations during the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979). Due to disagreements between national and international judges, a plenary session of the Chambers failed to adopt the tribunal's internal rules which are required to launch investigations and prosecutions. There was renewed criticism of the lack of transparency in the recruitment of Cambodian judges; some were on the ruling party's central committee and others lacked basic legal training.
Former Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok, one of two detainees scheduled to face prosecution by the Extraordinary Chambers, died on 21 July, never having been tried for his alleged role in crimes against humanity.
AI country reports/visits
Cambodia: The murder of trade unionist Chea Vichea - Still no justice (AI Index: ASA 23/008/2006)
An AI delegation visited Cambodia in March.