Impunity: Calling for Justice

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.

Photo of Mao Sok Chan's family during the photo exhibition of impunity on 2 November 2015 organized by Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Photo: On Sovannak

Photo of Mao Sok Chan’s family during the photo exhibition of impunity on 2 November 2015 organized by Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Photo: On Sovannak

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

Cambodians stand together in solidarity for Human Rights Day 2014

Human Rights Day 2014 celebrations outside the National AssemblyToday, 10 December, marks International Human Rights Day (“IHRD”). Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1950, IHRD aims to bring the world’s attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) as “the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”[1] However, despite the dramatic improvement in Cambodia’s human rights situation since the Khmer Rouge atrocities of the 1970s, human rights violations remain a serious problem in Cambodian society, with those from poor and marginalized communities particularly affected. IHRD is an important moment for the human rights community in Cambodia to raise their concerns, and over the last few days human rights defenders (“HRDs”), monks, activists and civil society groups marched from across the country to Phnom Penh. They gathered outside the National Assembly this morning to call for, among other things, improved labour rights, land rights, and the release of imprisoned fellow activists.

Yesterday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) launched an exhibition entitled, “Where is My Justice?”, which highlights Cambodia’s deeply rooted culture of impunity and shares the experiences of victims of human rights violations. Impunity affects a wide range of people in Cambodia, from demonstrators subjected to excessive use of force by the police and judicial harassment, to people forcibly evicted from their homes in illegal land grabs or members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community who face discrimination and attacks; all have failed to receive justice for crimes committed against them. Continue reading

Global movement for an end to impunity has emerged

blogCambodians are not alone in their fight against impunity and injustice; a global movement for an end to impunity has emerged.

Today, 23 November 2014, marks the fifth anniversary of the world’s largest single attack on journalists – the Maguindanao or Ampatuan massacre – in which 32 journalists were killed in the Philippines. To date, no one has been held accountable for the killings, and this is not the only case. It has therefore become an international day of action to end impunity. Impunity, which means “without punishment” or “without consequence”, is a global issue. In the past 10 years, over 700 journalists have been killed globally, and according to UNESCO approximately 90% of these murders have been met with impunity. However, the world has not been silent, and powerful campaigns are placing pressure on governments around the world to take action to end impunity.

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On the anniversary of the SL Garment Factory protests, a victim’s family share their story

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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.

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Take a Stance Against Impunity: CCHR Launches Campaign to End Impunity

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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.

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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.”

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