Ending Impunity is Necessary for Democracy

Today – 15 September 2014 – is the International Day of Democracy, a day established by the UN General Assembly to encourage governments to strengthen programs aimed at promoting and consolidating democratic processes.

Yet here in Cambodia, today also marks the 1-year anniversary of the death of Mao Sok Chan, who was killed during last year’s post-election protests in Phnom Penh. But his death is the complete opposite of a celebration of democracy; instead it stands as a clear example of the way in which impunity continues to hinder the development of democracy in Cambodia.

Wanted Poster - Mao Sok Chan

Campaign poster from CCHR’s 2013 Campaign to End Impunity in Cambodia

On 15 September 2013, Mao Sok Chan was killed by a bullet fired by a security force on the Kbal Thnal bridge in Phnom Penh, which had been blocked off by the police as a demonstration calling for new elections was taking place. A year later, no transparent and independent investigation has been undertaken into the actions of the security forces on that night, despite promises by the government to investigate these events.

Instead, 3,000 riot police officers were given certification of appreciation a month after the fact to recognize their role in “controlling the escalation.”

The death of Mao Sok Chan has been followed by one person being killed in November 2013 and at least four other persons being killed in early January 2014 by security forces during garment workers protests, all of which have been similarly ignored by the RGC – events that have contributed to further entrenching the culture of impunity in Cambodia.

And while the RGC has made promises over the past year that it will investigate hold those responsible for the violence committed during the demonstrations to account, no investigation has yet been made public. Instead the case of Mao Sok Chan has unfortunately become just one more 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.

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.

Some concrete steps to address this situation would include: ensuring that the security forces adhere to Cambodia’s international and domestic legal obligations in relation to the excessive use of force (including the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials); and ensuring that those who violate these standards are investigated and punished according to the law.

These steps are necessary in order to protect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. But ending impunity is also necessary to achieve democracy. This year’s theme for the International Day of Democracy is “Engaging Young People on Democracy.” Yet impunity remains an obstacle to engaging in democratic processes, for young people and all others. Only when impunity becomes a thing of the past will young people truly be able to engage on democracy.

 Lois Gauthier, CCHR International Intern, contributed to this blog post.

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