UN rights envoy Surya Subedi wrapped up his six-day fact-finding mission to Cambodia yesterday by calling for a thorough investigation into security forces’ role in the deadly crackdown on garment workers early this month.
He also offered to act as a mediator between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and said he hoped to see Cambodians heading to the polls after his recommendations were implemented.
“I understand that only alleged protesters and not security forces are being investigated,” he said at an afternoon press conference. “I strongly recommend that an investigation be undertaken on who issued and who carried out the order to shoot; if no such order was given, the individuals who fired their weapons must be brought to justice.”
At least four people were shot dead and dozens wounded when military police opened fire on striking garment workers on Veng Sreng Boulevard on January 3. The following day, police and armed thugs forcibly cleared the CNRP protest camp in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park. On January 2, the elite 911 paratroopers brigade violently cleared out protesters outside the Korean-owned Yakjin garment factory, beating and arresting rights activists in the process.
“I have asked the government to carry out a comprehensive investigation of the incident that took place on January 2, 3 and 4,” Subedi said after announcing his preliminary findings.
Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, said yesterday that the government committee would investigate both protesters and security forces.
“The government will investigate both cases – the protesters and the security forces – over the shootings,” he said.
But CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann expressed little hope in the government’s investigation finding justice for the families of those killed.
“We don’t trust the committee formed by the government. In the past, they could not do their job. If you want to find the truth, we have to have a committee set up including NGOs [and] the UN,” he said.
Subedi also called on the authorities to release on bail the 23 detainees held since the crackdown.
“I condemn the incommunicado detention of the 23 for several days and urge the authorities to prevent the reoccurrence of such violation of individual rights,” he said.
Twenty-three alleged protesters and activists were charged with intentional violence with aggravating circumstances and intentional damage with aggravating circumstances after being arrested on January 2 and 3 and then held in secret in Kampong Cham’s Correctional Center 3.
The UN envoy also said the government should outline the legal basis for a ban on public gatherings, create an evidence-based mechanism to set a new minimum wage for garment workers, establish an independent human rights institution and address his concerns over ongoing land disputes.
In an interview with the Post on Wednesday, Subedi said Prime Minister Hun Sen had broached the idea of his involvement as a mediator in cross-party talks aimed at ending the political deadlock.
“If both sides make a request to me or to the United Nations to act as a mediator, then we will consider [the request]. There are many structures within the UN system that together will be considered seriously,” he said yesterday.
The CPP’s Yeap said that he welcomed Subedi’s offer, adding that no formal request for mediation had yet been made by the ruling party.
“I personally welcome Subedi to act as a mediator in talks between the CPP and CNRP, and this was initiated by Samdach Hun Sen. This would be a success,” he said.
“So far, I have not heard anything about the government approaching Subedi for formal talks.”
CNRP president Sam Rainsy could not be reached for comment yesterday, but following his meeting with Subedi on Wednesday evening, he responded to the offer of mediation in future talks with the CPP on his Facebook page.
“The CNRP welcomes any UN mediation in order [to] break the current political deadlock, but we will join the National Assembly only with the assurances that there will be serious election reform … before the holding of new elections in the very near future,” he wrote.
A political settlement following successful negotiations is the only way to solve the crisis, Subedi went on to say yesterday.
“The only way forward for the country is a political settlement.… So what is needed is a political settlement overcoming the degree of mistrust that the two parties have between themselves.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG AND MEAS SOKCHEA