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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - One year on, family seeks justice

One year on, family seeks justice

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A year after his death, there will be little fanfare at the memorial service today for slain anti-logging activist Chut Wutty.

Hundreds of people travelled from across the country for his funeral after he was gunned down on April 26, 2012, while investigating illegal logging in Koh Kong province’s Mondul Seima district.

His son, Chhey Odom Reaksmey, then a timid and shocked young man, said yesterday he expected just a handful of NGO workers and a monk to join his family today as they return to the small clearing where Wutty fell.

But he is determined that his father’s legacy of fighting deforestation will live on.

“I want to know after my father’s death how different it is. Because in other provinces there has been serious logging after my father passed away,” he told the Post yesterday.

“I will continue doing my father’s job because I love the forest as he did. But I need support, because I am young.”

The 20-year-old has big shoes to fill if he takes up his father’s cause.

Wutty travelled the country end-to-end, embarking on journeys that pushed him to the edge of physical exhaustion as he waged a protracted and dogged battle to expose corruption and the rapacious destruction of Cambodia’s forests.

His efforts frequently landed him in acrimonious standoffs with local officials, businessmen and soldiers, confrontations from which he refused to shy away as he taught villagers their rights, burned illegally logged trees and demanded answers from the rich and powerful.  

One year ago today, while investigating the company Timbergreen, one such standoff with a group of soldiers and military police officers ignited into a fierce dispute. Wutty and military police officer In Rattana were shot dead in murky circumstances that monitors say have never been properly investigated.

Government and military police probes into his murder were riddled with contradictory explanations. When a case finally came to trial, the provincial court failed to call key witnesses and said they already had settled who killed him.

Instead, the case focused on the unintentional murder of In Rattana, Wutty’s supposed killer.

Ran Borath, a security guard determined to have shot Rattana during a struggle for the latter’s gun, was freed less than two weeks after the verdict.

“It is very unfair for my family, because the real killer has not been found and the court has not taken my father’s case, and they fingered a military police [officer] that died with my father, so the complaint is also finished,” Reaksmey said.

Calling the investigation incomplete, Reaksmey vowed to continue his own and pledged to take the reins of his late father’s organisation, the Natural Resource Protection Group.

Chhim Savuth, public forum project co-ordinator for the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the government wasn’t interested in hearing any new evidence in the case.

“I think Chut Wutty’s family has no hope to get justice,” he said.

As for Wutty’s battle against deforestation, Savuth feels the future is now bleak.

“Forest logging today – they have set up a system for destruction. In not much time, we will no longer have any luxury wood, just rubber trees.”

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