IT is with a sense of shock and disbelief that I received the message that Chim Chan
Sastra, a magnificent human being, a courageous human rights worker and a wonderful
personal friend that I had known for more than three years, was killed in Rwanda
where he was a UN Volunteer with the Human Rights Mission.
As someone who was responsible for recruiting Sastra into the United Nations and
subsequently worked with him in the Office of the UN Center for Human Rights in Cambodia,
I feel mortified somehow. When I interviewed him for the position of a Human Rights
Assistant with the Legal Assistance Unit of the UNCHR in 1994, two qualities struck
out: his intensity and purposeness, and his sense of fairplay and justice. He came
out on top during the interview and was clearly more qualified than most others,
with a diploma in human rights from Columbia University. I recommended him for recruitment;
I had never made a better decision.
He proved to be a tireless worker, putting in more time and effort than most others
in that office, under circumstances that made work very difficult. Throughout his
work with the UNCHR, he showed a great sense of initiative and creativity towards
human rights work, much of which is trial-and-error any way. In areas like housing/squatter
rights, considered to be outside the core western human rights, he took keen interest
and many important initiatives.
But it was his courage and commitment that truly elevated him above everyone else.
He was a totally fearless person with an attitude of rational detachment that proved
invaluable in defusing many tense moments in human rights investigations and monitoring.
Friends from the UN operation in Rwanda tell me that he was the same there as well,
offering to go to areas that the others were too afraid to go to, and remaining calm
and cool under battle-field conditions. That sense of courage deepened his commitment
to work in perceptible ways.
I have lost a friend and so have many in Cambodia who knew him. My heart goes out
to his family and all the others who care. His death is a great loss for Cambodia.
He was a rising star - a competent, well-educated human rights worker with sensible
political goals and helpful political connections. Why should Cambodia lose someone
like him, after having lost so many for so long?
- Balakrishnan Rajagopal
Doctoral Candidate, Harvard Law School. Formerly with the UNCHR, Cambodia.
(A memorial fund - to build a primary school at Koh Khaiyk, Kompong Chhnang - has
been set up in honor of Chim Chan Sastra. Donations can be sent to: C/o Brad Adams,
UNCHR, No.18, St 400, or PO Box 108, Phnom Penh. Inquiries: Telephone 015-918-274)