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Prayers at Vichea anniversary

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A man pays his respects at the statue of Chea Vichea on Tuesday, the 15th anniversary of the killing of the trade union leader. Heng Chivoan

Prayers at Vichea anniversary

Friends and relatives gathered to lay a wreath and pray at the statue of Chea Vichea on the 15th anniversary of his murder on Tuesday, calling on the authorities to step up ongoing investigations to seek justice for his family.

Vichea, then leader of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, was shot dead while reading a newspaper on January 22, 2004.

Vorn Pov, the president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), said workers must not forget Vichea’s legacy as the person who educated workers and helped build the space in Cambodia for them to form unions.

“I have not forgotten when I was working in a factory. I usually met Vichea every Sunday when I was free from work. He taught me about building the union movement in factories and businesses."

“And this was the foundation for demanding the improved salary workers [now enjoy]. This is the main reason which makes . . . workers unable to forget [him],” Pov said.

Ath Thorn, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, claimed the delay in find the perpetrators served as a threat for people working in the human rights sector and unions.

“The government should not let a person be shot dead [without justice being served] because Cambodia has laws to protect the rights of an individual and to protect the life of each person,” he said.

Review called

Thorn said that after Vichea was killed, Free Trade Union representative Ros Sovannareth was shot dead in 2004 and union activist Hy Vuthy was gunned down in 2007.

Those responsible are also yet to be found.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak told The Post on January 14 that although new evidence has yet to be found, the investigation is ongoing.

“I want to [clarify] that the case [into Vichea’s murder] has not ended yet,” Sopheak said.

The International Labour Organisation recently called for a review of the killing of union leaders and threats made on their lives over more than 10 years.

In 2017, the government formed a committee to review and monitor the implementation of the recommendation by the ILO.

“I was permitted to join the committee and by late 2017, it reviewed the murder cases of Chea Vichea, Hy Vuthy and Ros Sovannareth, and the case of Veng Sreng Street protest [that ended in violence]. But the committee does not have solutions yet because it needs to wait for the authorities to make arrests,” Thorn said.

In 2013, the Supreme Court freed two men – Bourn Samnang and Sok Samoeun, widely perceived as scapegoats – over the killing of Vichea after they had served around six of a 20-year prison sentence handed down by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and upheld by the Appeal Court.

Then in 2015, the government formed an inter-ministry committee to investigate the murders of Vichea, Vuthy and Sovannareth, but it was disbanded two years later after finding no evidence.

In August 2017, another national committee was formed to review the results of the investigation, but as of now, no new evidence has been found.

“Chea Vichea’s murder seems to be connected to many powerful people because I went with him to file a complaint at the Phnom Penh Municipal Minor Crimes Office after he received a death threat."

“And a few days later, their officials responded that the person who had threatened Vichea was a powerful person who they could not touch."

“Therefore, we can conclude that the delays in this case are because it might involve some powerful individuals."

“I believe the authorities have enough ability to identify the real murderers and their backers,” Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) president Rong Chhun said.

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