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
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