It is hard to imagine a nicer human being than Om Radsady. Radsady greeted everyone
he met with his warm and genuine smile and his sparkling eyes behind his rimless
glasses. He treated everyone with respect, from the staff at the National Assembly
to waiters at restaurants and beggars on the street. He almost never had a harsh
word for anyone. He lived modestly. He drove an old, tiny car, lived in simple, plain
houses, and saved his money to spend on others. He was a rare senior politician never
tainted by rumors of corruption.
He had no enemies.
It is hard to imagine a more unlikely target for an assassin's bullet than Om
Radsady. Each of us worked closely with Radsady as legal advisors to the National
Assembly between 1993 and 1998, when Radsady was chairman of the Commission on Foreign
Affairs and Information. While we had warm relations with many members of the parliament,
each of us lost a special and genuine friend when the coward in the helmet pulled
the trigger - on the orders of an equally cowardly patron.
We can think of no one in Cambodia who thought or cared more about Cambodia's younger
generation. Radsady believed that the way forward was through education of the country's
youth. He enjoyed nothing more than meeting with and talking to students. He was
constantly in their company, and was known to organize trips to Kampong Som, his
favorite place to relax, for groups of them. He wanted to build a professional, technocratic
class that over time would replace the old warhorses who continue to mismanage the
Radsady also understood, far better than most of his fellow parliamentarians, the
critical role of a strong and independent legislature in a democratic society. He
was one of the few members of parliament to take a keen interest in the development
of the National Assembly as a vital and effective counterweight to the Royal Government,
and worked diligently to develop the structure and organization of the legislature,
as well as the skills of its staff.
Radsady was a genuine intellectual in a country with a desperate need for educated
thinkers. He was a genuine conciliator in a political class that still feeds off
old hatreds and festering wounds. Radsady treated his CPP colleagues in his parliamentary
commission with utmost respect, regularly trying to arrange joint seminars, dinners,
and trips to the provinces in an effort to bridge the huge gap of mistrust that separated
the parties. His colleagues hardly reciprocated, but he persevered, to the point
that some in FUNCINPEC actually began to whisper the nonsense that he had become
disloyal or unreliable.
Radsady was one of the only Cambodian politicians we knew, from any political party,
who did not hate Vietnamese. While he certainly felt strongly about Vietnam's long
occupation of Cambodia, it never translated into dislike towards individual Vietnamese.
He never understood how others could harbor such feelings and more than once apologized
to friends for the racist outbursts of others.
Oddly for a politician, Radsady was never confrontational or antagonistic. It was
not in his character. He believed in consensus in a country fractured so long by
war. He carefully pushed forward the press law in 1994-95 in a principled yet cautious
manner. He knew that the liberal law he wanted would never be passed over the objections
of people like the co-prime ministers. He slowed down the process to allow his CPP
colleagues to report back that their party had nothing to fear. He lost some important
battles, but you would probably not be reading this letter if not for his careful
and quiet persistence.
Radsady was rarely repaid in kind by Cambodia's political system. In late May 1997,
several weeks into the political impasse that paralyzed the National Assembly and
ultimately culminated in the coup d'etat of July 5-6, Radsady arrived at work one
day to find that his CPP colleagues had worked with two of his FUNCINPEC colleagues
to vote him out of his position as chairman of the commission.
Radsady was upset about the political consequences, but he was more hurt than
angry. He could not understand how people who had appeared to be his friends now
would not even talk to him, how the dividing line of a party affiliation could strip
people of human feelings. He wondered if his CPP colleagues had ever been sincere
and despaired of the possibility of Cambodia finding a way out of its divisions.
When Hun Sen launched his coup in July 1997, Radsady was out of the country on official
business. Like other opposition politicians, he stayed away from Cambodia for several
His party had been torn apart by death, corruption and recriminations. Out of frustration
at the corruption and lack of principle inside his party and a deep sense of loyalty
to the parliament's First Vice-President, Loy Sim Chheang, his political mentor at
the National Assembly, he decided to leave FUNCINPEC and run in the 1998 election
as a member of Chheang's new "Sangkum Thmei" party.
He knew from the beginning that he and his new party had little chance, but he
saw this decision as both a requirement of loyalty and one of the only ways to stay
true to his principles. Sangkum Thmei was never a factor and disbanded after the
election. Radsady was out of a job and shunned by his former party. FUNCINPEC finally
realized that they needed people of his caliber and in 2000 Radsady was given a job
as advisor to Prince Ranariddh.
It does not take much imagination to surmise who sponsored this senseless killing.
Sadly, it takes even less to be certain that, as in hundreds of other killings in
the past eleven years - from the UN-documented killings carried out by the CPP's
"A-teams" during UNTAC, the five opposition journalists killed since 1993,
the 16 victims of the March 30, 1997 grenade attack on a rally led by Sam Rainsy,
the 90 people alleged by the UN to be victims of extra-judicial executions during
and after the coup of 1997, and the dozens killed before, during and after the 1998
election - the perpetrators of this outrage will never be brought to justice. The
absurd statements by the Ministry of Interior and Prime Minister suggesting that
this was a robbery speak for themselves.
After the collapse of the Khmer Rouge, after the vaunted return to "political
stability", it would be nice to think that political assassinations would no
longer happen. But there are powerful forces in Cambodia who apparently cannot change
their ways. Guns continue to take precedence over dialogue.
Radsady, a man who constantly reached out to members of the party that his own party
feared, took no precautions because he genuinely believed that he had never done
anything to make himself a target. He certainly presented no threat to anyone, unless
decency presents some unknown threat to those in power.
Cambodia, indeed the entire world, has lost a truly special person. Radsady would
have been a credit to any parliament in any country. The irony that someone as gentle
and open to discussion as Radsady was silenced in such a violent way is beyond contemplation.
To imagine the look on his face and the thoughts going through his head as he tried
to understand what was happening to him as the man in the helmet pulled the trigger
is too painful to face. But face it we must. Cambodia, still ruled by fear and defined
by impunity, unfortunately retains the capacity to shock in the most gruesome and