Six months ago today, security forces opened fire on garment workers protesting for a doubling of their minimum wage on Phnom Penh’s factory-lined Veng Sreng Boulevard. At least five people were killed in what rights groups called the worst state violence against citizens in 15 years.
Half a year on, no results of any government investigation have been released. No security, police or military personnel have been charged, and the victims’ families say they continue to wait for justice or compensation, hopes of which have all but slipped away.
“So far, the government has done nothing to take care of me; no one has come to see me. I have no idea what I am going to do,” said 21-year-old Chiv Phanith, whose husband was killed during the crackdown on protesters, many of whom were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.
“My husband had just joined to demonstrate, and he should not have been punished with death. I have become a widow and the government should take care and compensate me. I don’t know whether I will get justice or not.”
A government investigation into the violence wrapped up in February and was never publicly released.
On May 30, 13 people arrested during the January 3 crackdown were found guilty on charges ranging from incitement to intentional violence and given suspended sentences of one to four years.
The government has since said that it will not reopen Freedom Park until further investigation into the events of January is completed. At the same time, it refused last week to accept recommendations at the UN Human Rights Council that it “impartially investigate” the use of excessive force against protesters.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said yesterday that the government investigation carried out months ago had been sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
“We are waiting for a court decision that would link to our investigation, but we have never stopped investigating. Our investigation remains ongoing,” he said.
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said authorities had investigated all relevant parties, including security forces, and that responsibility for further action lay with the court.
“This report is not for the public. It is for the court to use in the interest of the public … so our duty is over.… We must wait for the court’s decision.”
Court spokesman and deputy prosecutor Ly Sophanna said that he had not seen the report and referred the Post to another deputy prosecutor, Seang Sok, who could not be reached for comment.
Another deputy prosecutor, Meas Chanpiseth, said that while he did not know anything about the Veng Sreng investigation, he had forwarded a police report related to the killing of Mao Sok Chan by police at the Kbal Thnal flyover in September of last year to an investigating judge.
“No suspect or killer was identified in the report. And I also did not charge anyone in relation to this case, because there was such a big crowd and so many people, so we were not able to identify who killed the victim,” he said.
Chak Sopheap, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said it was clear that no independent investigation would be carried out in relation to either event, given that impunity is “symptomatic to Cambodia’s security forces and judiciary”.
“The government has clearly no political will to investigate security forces. It understands investigation into the events as investigating the protesters, not the perpetrators of violence.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH