The cold blooded murder in broad daylight of Kem Ley on July 10, 2016, broke my heart and the hearts of many Cambodians from all walks of life as well as those from the international community. I cannot help but to reflect on the repeated failure of our most trusted institutions to protect our own people.
Must life be short for those who dare to critique the current regime? It seems Cambodia has become a country where people cannot talk openly about equal justice, nepotism, corruption, deforestation, international involvement in illegal logging, the loss of border territory and the accumulated wealth of elected officials.
Cambodia does not adhere to the ideals of its constitution when extreme power overrides the rule of law. With these assassinations and lack of impartial investigations, the people have lost faith in their cherished institutions.
While the country is in mourning over the loss of another prominent political critic, repeatedly the political leaders in Cambodia have failed to understand the depth of the people’s resentment towards a system where well-connected individuals get richer and evade justice.
They have failed to see what people see – a country where the less fortunate are going through an existential crisis. They have failed to feel what people feel – the labour of finding food and the fear of holding onto their lands.
They have failed to do what the majority of the people want them to do, which is to serve the people by delivering justice and equal opportunity for all Cambodians. Lastly they have failed to heed one of the fundamental teachings of Buddha: “Hurt not others in ways that they themselves would find hurtful” (Udana-Varga 5:18).
Even though top government officials condemn the savage killing and reject the claim that this is another political act to silence the opposition and spread fear, the national and international communities at large have lost faith in the investigating authorities to find those responsible.
It has been revealed that Choub Salab (meaning Meet Kill), the assassin, lived in desperate poverty, so it defies belief that he could lend $3,000 to anyone. Furthermore, the fact that he never mentioned this loan to his wife leads us to doubt its veracity as well.
Most Cambodians as well as the international communities believe that Kem Ley’s assassination was politically motivated and the chain of command of the killing should be fully and independently investigated in line with international standards.
There is no real peace without real justice. Those in power must stop using violence, intimidation and oppression to discipline the populace to produce quiet obedience and stability. A relationship between the state and its people that emanates from coercion, repression and domination won’t produce enduring peace and nor long-term stability.
Today, Cambodia cries for justice and the right to free speech. These appeals are made for the soul of Kem Ley and other brave, outspoken heroes of the Kingdom, including union leader Chea Vichea (2004), and environmental activist Mr Chut Vuthy (2012) – May you all rest in peace.
A concerned citizen