The Kampong Som provincial court October 12 found the prime accused, Saing Rin, guilty
of killing "with planning" local Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) commune council
candidate Uch Horn and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment. His accomplice, Ter
Vann Chhum, was sentenced to 14 years for abetting the June 30 murder by providing
Rin with an AK-47 assault rifle.
While the verdict was welcomed for bringing the killers to justice, human rights
organizations were annoyed at what they termed an incomplete investigation. The court
glossed over allegations of a political motive and upheld the argument of both the
accused and local authorities that Horn was murdered "because he was a sorcerer...and
practiced black magic."
The UN Human Rights Office in Cambodia termed the undertaking of the trial as a positive
step, but expressed concern that the investigation was not sufficiently thorough,
saying that the court should have looked more seriously into the possibility of a
"It is important that ongoing and future investigations be undertaken thoroughly
and with an open mind, to strengthen public confidence in the process leading to
the elections," a senior officer said.
Accusations of sorcery have become a convenient motive ascribed to almost all attacks
on political candidates belonging to Funcinpec and SRP. A thorough investigation
into the cases, including the possibility of political jealousy or vendetta, human
rights workers said, would make justice more effective.
Yi Kosal Vathanak, human rights monitoring officer at Adhoc, said the trial did not
contribute to preventing political killings, the prime concern amidst increasing
political tensions in the run up to commune elections. He said that although tough
sentences had been handed down by the court in last year's killing of a Funcinpec
candidate in Kampot, that had proved no barrier to more politically-linked violence.
"Cambodian law already stipulates stringent punishment for murder, whatever
the motive. The message we need to convey right now is that political violence of
any kind will not be tolerated," he said.
Referring to the trial proceedings, Vathanak said the accused had named their village
chief as an accessory in the plan to kill Horn. Despite the fact that the chief had
held two meetings at his house in which the plan was discussed, he was not summonsed
by the court for questioning.
Kek Galabru, founding president of Licadho, also hoped the "real" perpetrators
of the crime would be brought to justice.
"[Saing Rin] was just the executor [of the crime], not the planner. There was
someone else who gave the orders, and I sincerely hope that the competent authorities
will further investigate the link."
Uch Horn, SRP's commune council candidate for Baset commune, was shot seven times
while bathing near his house on June 30. The 35-year-old accused Saing Rin, who had
been held in custody since July 5, confessed he had killed Horn.
"He was a sorcerer. He killed two of my family members with his black magic.
I shot five or six bullets in him from five or six meters away and the bullets hit
his body," Rin testified during the trial. He also claimed that villagers had
held a meeting ten days before the killing accusing Horn of sorcery.
The Human Rights Action Committee, an umbrella organization of 18 local human
rights NGOs, maintained the killing was politically motivated. It based its assertion
on a complaint made by the victim one week before he was killed that he feared his
life was in danger due his political activities.