Today, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) launches its annual End Impunity Campaign, marking the United Nations’ first International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. CCHR is highlighting the rampant nature of impunity in Cambodia, and calling on people across Cambodia and the world to take a stance against it. To show the Royal Government of Cambodia (the “RGC”) the widespread public support for ending impunity, throughout November, we are collecting photos of individuals holding signs pledging to take a stance against impunity. These photos will be printed onto a giant poster and delivered to the Ministry of Justice on 2 December 2014, to push the RGC to take action.
Impunity, which means “without punishment” or “without consequence”, is rampant in Cambodia. Often, those who violate human rights are well-connected individuals, who go unpunished as a result of their status. Incidents of impunity vary from murder cases of human rights activists and journalists that are never investigated, to cases where security forces have used excessive violence against civilians and remain unpunished, to well-connected officials evading justice.
There are scores of cases that highlight the widespread nature of impunity in Cambodia. For example, in 2008 Ya Soknim had acid poured over her face and upper body. While there was substantial evidence that Chea Ratha, a former high-ranking military police official, was behind the attack, she remains at large.
In 2012, Hang Serei Oudom, a journalist reporting on illegal logging in Ratanakiri province, was found brutally murdered in the trunk of his car. His most recent article had accused the son of a local military police commander of being complicit in illegal logging. The court has refused to adequately investigate the case, and his murderers remain unaccountable.
On 3 January 2014, garment factory workers were protesting in Phnom Penh for an increase in the minimum wage. Upon thirteen protestors being arrested, the remaining protesters responded angrily. Security forces indiscriminately fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing four and injuring dozens. In addition, Khem Sophat, a 16-year-old boy who was last seen with a bullet wound in his torso, has since been missing. The RGC failed to conduct thorough or independent investigations and no one has been held accountable for the excessive use of force. These cases represent countless others, some of which were documented in CCHR’s 2013 Impunity Campaign.
The impacts of impunity are significant and widespread. A lack of justice has effects not only for the victims and their families, but for society at large. Impunity constitutes a violation of the right to truth, justice and remedy. Furthermore, it creates a culture of fear about speaking the truth and fighting for justice, which can impinge on fundamental freedoms such as the right to freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly. For example, at a garment worker protest at Phnom Penh’s Canadia Industrial Park on 18 September 2014, worker Si Neang voiced her fear: “I really want to join, but I’m afraid something might happen like on January 2 and 3, when authorities killed many workers.” This kind of fear is nurtured by the RGC’s role in the culture of impunity, and has a direct impact on people’s ability to access their human rights.
Despite the fear that impunity can create, it does not leave us helpless, or mean that we can’t stand up and say enough. Cambodians can reclaim their democratic rights and demand reform regarding the unjust practice of impunity. This year, we want your help to push the government to start taking action!
Send a photo of yourself holding a sign with your pledge to end impunity to CCHR. Your photo will be one of hundreds to be part of a poster that will be delivered to the Ministry of Justice, demonstrating the public demand for the government to put an end to impunity.
So how can you participate?
- Print out one of the signs available on our campaign webpage, or make your own.
- Take a photo of yourself holding a sign with your pledge to fight impunity.
- Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet it @cchrcambodia using #Impunitykh