Upon arriving at a street food stall in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, Ms. Vong Vorleak, a 24-year old young woman was finishing her noodles on a small plastic chair. She had just completed a busy morning of selling rice to customers.
A year ago today Vorleak’s mother, 49 year-old Mrs. Eng Sokhom, was selling rice in the very same stall. As she attempted to conduct business as usual, workers from the SL garment factory were protesting for increased wages in front of her stall. Violence erupted and security forces responded to the protestors with excessive force. They indiscriminately fired water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and finally, live rounds of ammunition into the crowds. As Mrs. Sokhom attempted to cover her goods, she was shot in the chest and killed. She was an innocent bystander who left behind a son, a daughter and a husband, yet justice has not been delivered for her death.
When Vorleak finished eating she moved her small plastic stool into the back section of the stall, and began quietly relaying her story.
I am a rice seller like my mother… I started selling rice just one year ago. Before that I was studying so I did not help my Mom much, but since she passed away I have to help my brother. I graduated with a Bachelor in Accounting from Vanda Institution but I have not worked because there is no one to help sell rice besides me.
When the accident happened, we were all here, she was covering the stuff in the store, and she was shot dead.
Despite the loss of life and the severe impact it has had on the family’s life, thorough and independent investigations have not been conducted and the perpetrators have not been held accountable. The family remains grief-stricken without closure or hope for justice. They are a perfect example of the culture of fear that the Royal Government of Cambodia (the “RGC”) has nurtured, as they feel unable to even ask for justice.
At that time, we did not file a complaint. My Dad didn’t do it because other cases that had filed complaints didn’t get results… we want to protect the people who are still alive – we’re afraid of bringing the problem to them… the case has been silent, there is no one that cares, it’s almost been one year now…. If we try hard to demand justice, they will crackdown and threaten us. That’s why I don’t make a complaint.
While Mrs. Sokhom’s family did not make a complaint to the court, the court has a responsibility to investigate the death.
This injustice is characteristic of that suffered by hundreds of others in Cambodia. For example, nine others were injured on the same day without redress. A number of other people have been shot at protests without justice. Journalists and human rights defenders are murdered and their deaths go uninvestigated. Powerful elites conduct human rights abuses without punishment. Impunity is rampant, and unfortunately all Cambodians are vulnerable to it. Mrs. Sokhom was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If there is justice in the future, maybe we can demand our justice… I only want to have justice for those who died in the demonstration; justice is enough, and violence should not be used on protestors.
Sami Shearman, CCHR International Intern, contributed to this blog post.