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
"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."
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?
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
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."
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.
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."