Local and international civil society groups, including some of the world’s largest trade unions, are urging the government to immediately and thoroughly investigate the case of 16-year-old Khim Saphath, who mysteriously disappeared during a violent crackdown on protests in early January.
Saphath was last seen lying on Veng Sreng Boulevard with blood pouring from his chest on January 3 amid clashes between striking garment workers and security forces, who shot dead at least four people.
A friend and co-worker of Saphath, who saw him with the apparent bullet wound, told the Post on January 12 that he later heard from others that Saphath had been taken away in a military police truck.
Despite separate investigations by local rights groups Adhoc and Licadho, no eyewitnesses have been able to corroborate this.
But the 54 groups that signed yesterday’s open letter argue that given the context of Saphath’s disappearance, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that he might have been subject to an “enforced disappearance”.
The government – which acceded to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED) in June last year – is thus legally bound to investigate, they say.
“Frankly, there is a 16-year-old boy missing, but over two and a half months later, the government have conducted no credible investigation,” said Neil Loughlin, technical assistant at Adhoc.
“[The government] have to go above and beyond the very lacklustre measures they have taken and actually investigate this properly.”
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said yesterday, however, that his officers had been searching for Saphath since they heard that he was missing.
“Our police and military police are paying attention to search for him, but so far we have no results, so they are still looking for him. We do not know why he went missing [but] we do not need to hide this.… If we find out, we will tell his family or authorities.”
But Kim Souern, Saphath’s father, who was preparing invitations for his son’s 100-day funeral ceremony yesterday, said he has given up hope.
“We are hopeless now because we have been looking for him for almost three months,” he said.