One year after a Cambodian man was shot dead when police opened fire on opposition-led protests in the capital Phnom Penh, no one has been charged or convicted over his killing, local rights groups say, calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to end what they call the country’s culture of impunity.
The lack of a probe into Mao Sok Chan’s Sept. 15, 2013 killing “is a clear example of the way in which impunity continues to hinder the development of democracy in Cambodia,” the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said in a statement, also marking the United Nations’ International Day of Democracy.
“CCHR calls on the RGC (Royal Government of Cambodia) to immediately put an end to the rampant impunity for law enforcement officials in Cambodia,” the statement said.
The government said its investigation into Mao Sok Chan’s case has not been completed and has asked for more time.
CCHR urged the government to ensure that Cambodia’s security forces adhere to the country’s legal obligations according to the U.N.’s rules on use of force and punish those who are found to violate them.
“These steps are necessary in order to protect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and to support democratic processes in Cambodia,” it said.
CCHR claims that Mao Sok Chan was killed by a bullet fired by security forces on Phnom Penh’s Kbal Thnal bridge, which had been blocked off by police during anti-government protests led by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
But despite a pledge by the Ministry of the Interior to investigate the events that led to his death, “no transparent and independent investigation has been undertaken into the actions of the security forces on that night,” CCHR said.
At least four other people were killed by security forces in January this year during opposition-backed garment worker protests demanding a wage hike, but their deaths have been “similarly ignored” by the government, it said.
Although the government “has made promises over the past year that it will hold those responsible for the violence committed during the demonstrations to account, no investigation has yet been made public,” said CCHR Senior Researcher Chor Chanthyda.
“This is just one example of the way in which impunity has become rampant in Cambodia, where the powerful are able to escape justice while those without power continue to see their rights violated day after day,” he said.
“Bringing to an end this culture of impunity is absolutely crucial to Cambodia’s development—including that of democracy; anything short of completely eradicating impunity will ensure that Cambodia never becomes the true democracy that its citizens want it to be.”
No rule of law
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with local rights group Licadho, also slammed Cambodia’s “plague of impunity,” saying that the government “has no intention” of bringing Mao Sok Chan’s killers to justice.
“It has been a year since the killing, but the courts have failed to conduct any investigation,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service Monday.
“Our country will never be governed by rule of law when impunity goes unchecked.”
Am Sam Ath said that Mao Sok Chan’s death was a result of the deadlock between the CNRP and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) following disputed elections in July 2013, accusing both parties of using the people to further their political gains.
The deadlock ended in July through a deal between CNRP President Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen that defused the country's nearly one year political crisis, during which the opposition led numerous protests against the ruling party, some of which were violently shut down by authorities.
Under the agreement, the CNRP ended its boycott of parliament since last year’s elections while Hun Sen agreed to implement key election reforms.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann on Monday said that the CPP should be held accountable for bringing Mao Sok Chan justice.
“The ruling party must investigate and find his killers,” he said.
But CPP spokesman Phay Siphan said the government is already working on the case and that the court would proceed according to the government’s investigation.
“We are committed to ending impunity. As an example, we are prosecuting former Khmer Rouge leaders,” he said, referring to a U.N.-backed war tribunal in Cambodia investigating the top brass from the regime accused of killing nearly two million people during a reign of terror about four decades ago.
“No one is above the law, but we need more time,” Phay Siphan said of Mao Sok Chan’s case.
Culture of impunity
Rights groups have long highlighted a culture of impunity in Cambodia, saying a number of killings, including those of journalists and rights campaigners, have not been thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators not brought to justice.
Chea Vichea, an outspoken critic of Hun Sen’s government and the former president of Cambodia’s Free Trade Union (FTU)—one of the biggest unions in the country—was shot dead on Jan. 22, 2004 by an unknown assailant while he was reading a newspaper at a stand in the capital.
In September last year, the Supreme Court released two men seen by rights groups as “scapegoats” for the crime after they had spent nearly five years in jail.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.