Hun Manet’s latest trip to America was supposed to look like a celebration, but it didn’t work out that way. The scion of Cambodia’s first family and a lieutenant general in the army, Hun Manet was set to tour of areas in the U.S. with big Cambodian populations; receive an award with a depiction of U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.; and attend in a Khmer New Year’s parade in California.
Instead of being the life of the party, however, Hun Manet is now a party to a novel lawsuit accusing the Cambodian government and its officials of falsely imprisoning Meach Sovannara, the media director of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Meach Sovannara was jailed last year for insurrection due to his presence at a 2014 protest that turned violent, and Hun Manet is named in the lawsuit because he oversees the military and security police.
The son of Cambodian Prime Minister and chieftain of the Cambodian People’s Party Hun Sen, Hun Manet may also face another lawsuit suit as his bodyguards are accused of attacking the process server in the Meach Sovannara lawsuit.
While foreign government sovereignty usually protects foreign officials from facing trial in the U.S. just as U.S. leaders are protected from lawsuits abroad, the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act contains an exception for violent action against US citizens abroad, said Morton Sklar, a longtime lawyer for Cambodia’s opposition, who filed the suit. “As a general rule, you can’t file a case in U.S. courts against the foreign government, but there are exceptions to that rule that the U.S. Congress has adopted, and we are applying two of those exceptions in our case to allow us to directly file against the government of Cambodia itself,” Sklar told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Sovannara’s case is reportedly the first case to invoke the exceptions to hold officials of a foreign government accountable for human rights violations that affect US citizens. “This is why the case is unique and very ground breaking, we have found the way to actually make the government of Cambodia itself directly a defendant in the case,” he told RFA. The suit claims that Hun Manet was responsible for the violence that took place at Freedom Park in July 2014, for the arrest of Meach Sovannara in November that year and for his continued imprisonment in Phnom Penh.