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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hy Vuthy killing fits time-worn pattern

Hy Vuthy killing fits time-worn pattern


The gangland-style killing of Hy Vuthy, Free Trade Union President at Suntex

Garmnt Factory, on February 24 adds one more name to a list of murders that will

likely remain unsolved for ever.

Khmer Kampuchea Krom monks demonstrate on March 2 at Wat Samekirainsey in Phnom Penh's Meanchey disrict, demanding freedom of religion in southern Vietnam, known to Khmers as Kampuchea Krom.

From eviscerated corpses found with

bound hands and eyes gouged out, to contract-style slayings perpetrated openly

on the streets of Phnom Penh, the caseload of unsolved political murders and

contract-style killing perpetrated in Cambodia between 1993 to 2007 is

shockingly large. But behind the bloodstained details of each individually

tragic death, observers say a sinister pattern has emerged.


political killings we have seen since 1993 are not rogue killings," said Brad

Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

A UN report entitled

Continuing patterns of impunity in Cambodia says that since 1991 a pattern of

human rights violations with no subsequent effective investigation has been

documented. First UNTAC, then the four successive UN Special Representatives,

have repeatedly drawn attention to individual cases where fundamental rights

were violated, either by state officials or with their complicity, and in which

no effective steps were taken to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

In February 2004, the UN presented the Cambodian government with a

representative list of 178 unsolved cases of contract killings, executions,

political murders, and torture. All of the cases on the list had been brought to

the attention of the government over the preceding 12 years by UNTAC and the

Special Representatives.

"Look at the pattern," said Ou Virak, general

secretary of the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia (AFEC). "Look at

killing of trade unionists, of journalists, at the attempted or successful

assassinations of actress and singers, it is the same pattern, done by

professionals. It is always two men on a motorcycle. Everything goes along the

same pattern of killing."

Yet when confronted with reports of a serious

pattern of unsolved killings, the government has responded in only two ways. One

tactic has been for the government to decline discussion of the actual issues

raised, seeking instead to discredit the source of the report. For 14 years,

successive UN Special Representatives have cited the persistence of impunity as

a key factor in explaining Cambodia's pattern of unsolved killings. The

government's response to consistent findings of each UN Special Representatives

from Michael Kirby, in 1994-1995, to the current incumbent, Yash Ghai, has

involved hurling insults such as "stupid," "rude," and "a long-term


In a March 2006 speech, made just after Ghai's report been

released, Prime Minister Hun Sen told the UN Special Representative "I refuse to

meet you for ever." The combative stance of Hun Sen towards Ghai and his

predecessors precludes the possibility of constructive dialogue over rights

violations. This poses the question why the government so assiduously avoids

serious public discussion of the underlying causes of a pattern of unpunished

killings, HRW's Adams said.

"The government knows exactly who carried

them out," he said. "There is almost no chance that they don't know who was

responsible, given their very extensive intelligence network."


governments' other method of response is to attribute glacial progress in

investigations to scarce resources, poor capacity within law enforcement

institutions, and the absence of a well-functioning judiciary for the unsolved


"The government hasn't lacked technical assistance," Adams said.

"It has either ignored it, as with the draft criminal law where there have been

US, French, and UN consultants over the course of the last 13 years and still

the law hasn't been amended, or, as with the judiciary, made it impossible for

various training and mentoring projects to succeed through political

interference and threats to judges who don't toe the line."

The continued

failure of state institutions to protect the human rights, and ultimately lives,

of all citizens is due to acceptance of the practice of impunity, not lack of

police capacity, said Theary Seng, director of the Center for Social


"Unsolved extra-judicial killings and their prevalence

reflect a society where the rule of law is lacking or is not supreme," Seng

said. "Who can be held accountable for the fact that these crimes are unsolved?

The state."

It is the role of the state to provide security and justice

to its citizens, said Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human

Rights (CCHR).

But persistent impunity shows that the legal and political

steps needed to create a culture of respect for human rights, and protection of

those rights by the rule of law, which were central to the Paris Peace

Agreements, have not been taken, Sokha said.

"Donors respect the response

of the government that 'the killing is being investigated, it will be solved,'"

he said. "The impunity goes on. Even if one killing is never solved, soon a new

one comes along and everyone forgets the previous case."

The government's

tactical use of excuses, evasions, or attacks to discredit reports of a systemic

pattern of unsolved killings that continues to this day in Cambodia, does not

absolve them from responsibility, said AFEC's Virak.

"Unsolved killings

are systemic," he said. "Old cases are left unsolved, new cases are always

happening. The government must take full responsibility for this."


reports of the UN Special Representatives from 1994 to 2007, form a body of

evidence showing a consistent and continuing pattern of contract-style killings,

political murders, and other gross violations of human rights, being left


The government has failed to investigate the underlying

causes of unsolved crimes even though evidence that they constitute a pattern of

impunity has been repeatedly brought to their attention since 1993, said CCHR's


"The government is elected by the people; they have a

responsibility to the people," he said. "The government has an obligation to

bring security, safety and justice to society."

Adams said that when the

Cambodian government fails to meet that obligation, a heavy responsibility falls

on the donor community.

"Why do they continue to fund human rights, rules

of law, and judicial reform programs if they are unwilling to confront Prime

Minister Hun Sen and his government about these unsolved cases?" he said. "After

more than a decade of broken promises, donors need to take a hard look at the

cycle of rewarding impunity and rights abuses with more aid."



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