UNLESS the powers-that-be get in the way, a defenders group will take the rare step of prosecuting Cambodian law enforcers allegedly implicated in the 1996 death of a rice farmer in Kompong Cham.
Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP) is taking on a criminal case in which eight Kroch Chhmar district policemen stand accused of taking part in the illegal arrest, detention, torture and manslaughter of citizen Liv Peng Am.
Am, 42, died Jan 13, 1996 while in their custody. Police claim he committed suicide in a cell.
"We believe it's a very clear case of police brutality," said Juan Pablo Ordonez, a legal advisor with CDP.
"We hope to send them the message that if you keep abusing civil society, you will be punished for it."
Am's widow, Chheng Kim Srean, has pressed charges against the eight and appealed a recent judgment handed-down on one of his interpolators, police inspector Rong Vu, who was back at work.
On Feb 24, at Kompong Cham town courthouse, Vu was given a two-year suspended sentence and put on five-years probation for the illegal arrest and detention of Am.
No charges of torture or manslaughter were filed by the state prosecutor who maintains that, with no witnesses, there isn't enough evidence, but Srean who kept vigil outside the Kroch Chhmar police precinct in the slow hours before her husband's death, insists she heard her husband screaming for mercy at the hands of his interrogators.
"I could hear them beating him," she recalled. "I recognized my husband's voice crying out: 'please, don't torture me'." She points out that when she rushed into Am's cell after she was told he committed suicide by hanging himself, found him there, his head swollen, bruised, and bleeding, his legs still shackled to the floor.
There is also physical evidence taken from an Aug 27 inspection of Am's exhumed body by local authorities who were pressed by human rights agencies to act, The exhumation revealed six broken ribs.
Srean says she is not satisfied with Vu's punishment for a misdemeanor SUICIDE and the 2 million riel ($727) compensation awarded to her by the court. On Mar 27, in Kompong Cham, meeting with CDP lawyers and provincial justice officials, she made the decision to seek posthumous justice for her husband.
To this end, CDP is planning a two-fold strategy: they will appeal the Rong Vu sentence in Phnom Penh, and, since charges of torture and man slaughter were never filed against Vu and the others, they will press ahead with those charges in Kumpong Cham to determine the degree to which each was involved in Am's alleged illegal arrest, detention, torture, and death.
"We will ask the Appeals Court in Phonon Penh to increase Vu's punishment, put the person back in jail and increase the compensation awarded to the plaintiff," Ordonez said, CDP will build their case on forensic and testimonial evidence gathered by human rights NGO Licadho and the UN Center for Human Rights.
According to CDP, the case hangs on proving that Am was beaten in order to confess to the April 1995 murder of a relative of provincial governor Hun Neng, who is the Second Prime Ministers elder brother, The CDP case is connected to another case currently being appealed by a separate defenders group, Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC).
CDP will argue that Am wax picked-up by police at a local rice mill on Jan 11, 1996, the morning after Sun Lai Huort, 24, was forced under police custody to confess to having:! conspired with Am in the slaying of Ms. Tun Sok Heng, 37, According to sources, she was married to Hun Neng's cousin.
CDP alleges that when Am was arrested police also tried to forcibly extract a confession from him, but went too far.
LAC's appeal for Huort -- condemned Aug 10 to 15 years in prison along with a medical student who allegedly contracted the hit on Httng -- has been stalled, according to LAC sources, partly because the Kompong Cham governor has leaned on the case.
"Sok Heng's husband asked the court to postpone any decision, LAC defender said. According to another LAC source during the August trial in Komp Cham, Hun Neng's bodyguards made their presence felt at the courthouse. So Nath, the province's Deputy Governor, confirmed that slain Heng was related to his but denied that the governor's was harassing court proceeding both the LAC and CDP cases.
"The governor has ordered court to verify all reports they received about these cases in order for both trials to proceed in a just way, Nath said. "But the governor`s office cannot put any pressure on the judiciary, To CDP's Ordonez, the marks a "huge policy change".
"We are now representing not only the poor, but also other power and disenfranchised people who to confront those in power."
Ordonez expects there will be resistance to CDP's move. He believes justice officials will try to Liv Peng Am's alleged responsibility in the cold-blooded death of Sok Heng with Am's allegedly be denied a fair trial.
According to Ordonez, whether Am did conspire to kill her had bearing on the CDP case. "Even if the guy is the worst murderer, even if he committed the most heinous crime, it still is absolutely wrong to illegally arrest, detain, torture, and kill the person," he said could be Poi Pot, or it could be Ni and Kissinger, but still they have right to a fair trial. But, Ordonez conceded, The tire cast rides on whether the prosecutor finally files charge: illegal arrest, detention, torture, arrest against the eight police.
As for- the prosecutor in quest Ouk Touch didn't seem convinced that CDP and their client, A widow, have much of a case. "At the moment, we don't have sufficient evidence." Touch!" "We have questioned the four who interrogated Am, but none them saw him being beaten."
The prosecutor conceded Am's broken ribs constitute strong evidence that he was beaten.
He suggested that the possibility the dead man's relatives dug-up corpses and broke some bones, to the evidence before the August exhumation, should not be overlooked.