The United States has imposed financial sanctions against the commander of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit for his alleged involvement in human rights abuses, including against a US citizen who was injured in the 1997 grenade attack.
The sanctions slapped on General Hing Bun Hieng and announced on Tuesday drew the ire of the government yesterday, including the premier’s cabinet, Defence Ministry and Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that it has issued sanctions against Gen Bun Hieng for serious human rights abuses over a number of years.
“General Bun Hieng commanded a Cambodian unit that engaged in a series of human right abuse, and was personally implicated in attacks against a number of individuals, including a US citizen,” Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary of the US Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in the statement.
Gen Bun Hieng has been implicated in multiple attacks on unarmed Cambodians for many years, including in 2013 at Wat Phnom and in 2015 in front of the National Assembly, the statement said.
It said that in the 2015 incident, three members of Mr Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit were imprisoned after they confessed to participating in an attack on CNRP lawmakers Kong Saphea and Nhay Chamroeun.
It alleged that Gen Bun Hieng and his bodyguard unit have been connected to the March 1997 grenade attack against protesters and the political opposition, when 16 people were killed and dozens more injured, including a US citizen who received shrapnel wounds.
“As a result of these actions, any property, or interest in property, of those designated today within US jurisdiction is blocked,” the statement said. “Additionally, US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with blocked persons.”
Gen Bun Hieng flatly denied he committed human rights abuse and noted he had no financial interests in the US when reached by phone yesterday.
“I think the United States has quickly blocked me, but I don’t have money in the bank in the US,” he said. “I have no money deposited in the US and don’t have a house there.”
Gen Bun Hieng said that Mr Saphea and Mr Chamroeun were attacked in 2015 because they insulted protesters gathered outside asking for the CNRP’s Kem Sokha to step down.
“As a commander, I am like their parents and the parents never advise children to beat someone,” Gen Bun Hieng said.
Asked why the US imposed sanctions on him, Gen Bun Hieng said that it was the right of the US.
“It is the right of the US if they want to pressure me and I am not angry at them,” he said. “I am not worried at all.”
Mr Hun Sen’s cabinet yesterday issued a statement lambasting the US for its move.
“What the United States is doing violates the sovereignty of an independent country, which is not under the jurisdiction of US law,” it said.
The cabinet also challenged the US, asking it to clarify if its bombing campaign in the 1970s that killed Cambodians constituted human rights abuses.
“On the other hand, we ask United States back: With US troops killing millions of Cambodian people in the 1970s when bombs, that are still being recovered today, were dropped, does that violate human rights?” the statement said.
The Defence Ministry also slammed the sanctions.
“A decision to sanction a Cambodian senior official has violated the law of the Kingdom of Cambodia which is a sovereign state and it is unjust without any evidence at all,” a ministry statement said.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network Social Accountability, said that the sanctions were enforced based on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
“I think it does not only apply to Cambodia, but also to other countries which have similar issues,” Mr Chey said. “I think the US law will contribute to promoting human rights.”
The Foreign Affairs Ministry also issued a statement yesterday, saying that the sanctions were baseless and a move to undermine the government ahead of the national election in July.
“The ministry categorically dismisses the purported engagement of Cambodia armed forces in a series of serious violation abuses,” it said. “On the contrary, it is a general understanding that General Hing Bun Hieng as well as the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit have contributed significantly to the maintenance of peace.”
“As far as the timing is concerned, the release can be construed as a series of coordinated attacks targeting the Cambodian government’s image in the run-up to July’s parliamentary elections.”