Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once remarked: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” These words resonate sharply when one considers impunity in Cambodia.
For more than a decade, many citizens in Cambodia have become victims of extrajudicial killings, including journalists and human rights defenders. In many cases, full investigations have never taken place and therefore the perpetrators not brought to justice; some of the cases have even been forgotten about.
Perhaps one of the most notable examples of impunity in Cambodia is the Mao Sok Chan case. During a clash with security forces in a demonstration at Monivong Bridge against the result of the national election in 2013, Mao Sok Chan, a motorbike courier, was fatally shot in the head during the chaos. The perpetrator remains at large, and the motive unanswered.
While right groups and the victim’s family continue to push for the case to be investigated and not forgotten, the Cambodian government has taken no action to bring the perpetrator to justice. In September this year, the spokesperson of the Ministry of interior announced that “Mao Sok Chan’s case should now be buried,” before further opining that “the disruptive protests challenging election results had caused the conditions leading to his death.”
Despite years passing after the incident, the wound still lingers, and the grief has not diminished whilst justice remains elusive.
In response to the Mao Sok Chan case, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights recently launched a campaign entitled “Never Forget”, with the purpose of reminding both the government and public not to forget the many victims of impunity or their families, who are calling for justice.
The Mao Sok Chan case vividly reminds us that overcoming impunity is perhaps the single most important undertaking facing Cambodia today. If there is to be any chance of overcoming impunity, a strong commitment from the government is crucial.
As a member of United Nations and a signatory to many international human rights instruments, Cambodia has an obligation to respect fundamental human rights. If Cambodia wants to become a responsible global citizen then the government must ensure the immediate review and investigation of all outstanding cases of extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations, and bring those responsible to justice.
By having those who committed crimes identified and punished, Cambodia can better understand its own past, and finally ensure a future where human rights flourish and impunity ceases to exist.
On Sovnnak, former CCHR National intern