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.
Two years have passed since Hang Serei Oudom, a journalist reporting on illegal logging activities, was found brutally murdered in the trunk of his car in Ratanakiri province. Two years have passed, yet freedom of expression continues to be stifled, and a culture of impunity remains rampant within Cambodia.
One of CCHR’s campaign posters from our 2013 Impunity Campaign
Hang Serei Oudom is one of the 12 journalists that have been murdered in Cambodia since 1994, and one of 619 journalists killed globally since 2004. Within Cambodia, each of these murders has been met with impunity. The failure to pursue the investigation and charge Hang Serei Oudom’s murderers, despite the seriousness of the crime, highlights the continuing power of the elite over the judicial system. Beyond this, Hang Serei Oudom’s death, along with many others, was used as a warning to others around the country, and was a direct attack on the right to freedom of expression.
Unfortunately, violence and intimidation are just one means used to undermine freedom of expression in Cambodia. This has been demonstrated by the RGC’s recent announcement of a pilot program to censor online content, which cites China and Syria as inspiration for the reform. The internet is essential for sharing knowledge and ideas, the growth of social movements, self-expression, and flagging human rights abuses. Most importantly, the internet permits democratic discussion that is restricted in other spheres. Instead, the new laws move to censor discussion and remove content that is critical of the ruling political party.