Prime Minister Hun Sen has set up a special inter-ministerial committee to investigate the murders of three prominent leaders of one of Cambodia’s largest trade unions, which was aligned with members of the political opposition.
The special investigative committee was established on June 10 to resolve criminal case file 2318 regarding the murders of Chea Vichea, former president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), and factory union leaders Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy, according to a copy of the document obtained Thursday by RFA.
The committee’s role is to “cooperate with relevant authorities and partners to collect information and evidence, investigate the causes of and reasons for the murders, [and] produce and respond to inquiries by labor nongovernmental organizations regarding the murders.”
A secretary of state from the Ministry of Interior will chair the committee. Its members will include a secretary of state from the labor and justice ministries and the Council of Ministers, the national commissioner of the National Police, the military police commander-in-chief and other relevant authorities, according to the document.
Chea Mony, current FTUWKC president and brother of Chea Vichea, told RFA’s Khmer Service that he has no faith that the new investigation will resolve the murders, and said that no government committee ever produced any results.
“I don’t think the committee will be effective,” he said. “I have observed many committees were established but can’t offer any justice to victims,” he said.
Chea Mony also urged city police in the capital Phnom Penh to protect the two-meter (seven-foot) statue of his brother that stands in a public garden there because unknown individuals have defaced property at the site.
“Those who defaced the property around the statue are extremists and uneducated people,” he said. “The local authorities have allowed them to destroy the statues.”
The city government erected the statue of the slain popular labor union leader in May 2013, nearly a decade after his assassination, in a rare show of recognition of a government critic.
Killed by men on a motorbike
Chea Vichea, an outspoken critic of Hun Sen’s government, founded the FTU with San Rainsy, president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
He was shot dead on Jan. 22, 2004, by two men on a motorbike while he was reading a newspaper at a kiosk in Phnom Penh in a case seen as a symbol of the country’s culture of impunity.
Rights groups say his real killers remain at large although two people had been convicted of the murder but later released after they had spent nearly five years in jail for the crime.
Chea Mony has suggested that the government may have been involved in the killings of both union leaders.
Four months after Chea Vichea was killed, Ros Sovannareth, FTUWKC president of the Trinunggal Komara factory, was gunned down in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district while he was riding his motorbike.
Two men had been convicted of murdering him, but the Supreme Court ordered their release and a retrial in 2008, citing contradictory evidence. The Appeal Court in Phnom Penh called for a new investigation of the case, setting both men free until a verdict was handed down.
In February 2007, Hy Vuthy, FTUWKC president at the Suntex garment factory, was shot dead while riding his motorbike home after finishing his night shift at the factory, located in Phnom Penh's Dangkao district. The murder was reportedly carried out by two men on a motorbike. In January 2014, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court began a retrial of the murder.
Rights groups have said that such murders highlight a culture of impunity in Cambodia, where a number of killings, including those of journalists and rights campaigners, have not been thoroughly investigated or their perpetrators brought to justice.
Reported by Samean Yun of RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.