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Commune killing

Dear Editor,

The killing of Uch Horn, a SRP commune council candidate, on June 30 represents the

latest in a long series of campaign of violence directed against political opposition.

The motivations and causes of such a systematic campaign is generally well identified

and publicised. In particular, in Cambodia as in most developing countries, access

to economic resources and other productive assets is mediated through various social

channels or associations which are in turn structured and maintained, in a reciprocal

fashion, on the dual principle of patronage and loyalty.

The KR leadership, not withstanding its express contempt for this semi feudal relationship,

shamelessly exploited it by means of its self-proclaimed status and role as the peasantry's

protector and saviour. Post-KR regimes similarly sought (and seek) to forge a popular

constituency base by representing itself as the KR's nemesis to the latter's victims.

It is remarkable that this basic social hegemonic arrangement that underpins social

divisions and opportunities in Cambodia has proved to be an enduring phenomenon amidst

a succession of revolutions and regimes. No doubt, many who speak in favour of doing

things the Asian way, in accordance with "Asian values", perceive (accurately)

the threat that the expansion of civil liberty as a concrete force or process brings

to bear on their accustomed ways. We know at the same time that the legacy of violence

and civil conflict in the country demands and permits at best a slow and protracted

process as far as improved mechanisms for the protection of human lives and rights

are concerned.

However, my immediate concern is the fate of individuals like Uch Horn who, in the

absence of some means of ensuring personal security, are being sent like lambs to

the slaughter. The culture of "impunity" to which most human rights organisations

refer applies to violators of human rights as much as it does to those who are supposed

to be champions of the same rights, but who have out of some reason opted to turn

a blind eye. It may be that opposition workers operating in the provinces who have

received death threats or other forms of intimidation are entitled to some degree

of protection such as armed guards as given to some high profile politicians. This

may be a small price to pay for democracy to work and should be treated as an integral

feature of or condition for a free and fair election.

- Marith Pen

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