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A year after SL, pain still lingers

A young man is chased and beaten by police after an SL garment factory demonstration turned violent in Stung Meanchey
A young man is chased and beaten by police after an SL garment factory demonstration turned violent in Stung Meanchey one year ago. Vireak Mai

A year after SL, pain still lingers

Yesterday marked a year’s passing since the tragic death of food vendor Nget Vong’s wife, but while his grief has not diminished, the support he receives has.

“Straight after it happened, the authorities came to see us regularly. Now, they never come,” Vong said yesterday as he served food at the same family-run stall that his wife was shot dead at exactly one year earlier.

Vong’s wife, Eng Sokhom, was killed by police gunfire during clashes between security forces and a group of striking garment workers and stone-throwing youths in the capital’s Meanchey district.

“We were all together when it happened. The police were very cruel. They opened fire and they beat people,” Vong recalled.

Sokhom, then 49 years old, was shot in the chest. By the time she reached the hospital, it was too late.

A year on, Vong and his daughter say they have received no compensation beyond funeral costs.

“It’s difficult for us to do business now, because there are just two of us,” he said. “Now we have a problem with the bank and we have to pay back a loan.”

But beyond financial compensation, the grieving husband and daughter say they simply want justice.

“The government should take responsibility for what happened,” Vong said.

At the time of Sokhom’s death, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) said there was “clear video evidence of Police Chief General Chuon Sovann ordering riot police to use violence against demonstrators”.

CHRAC called for a “full and proper” investigation into Sokhom’s death and said Sovann “must be held to account, stripped of his position and take legal responsibility”.

A year later, Sovann is still on the job. He could not be reached yesterday.

Neil Loughlin, a technical adviser for local rights group Adhoc – a member of CHRAC – said yesterday that the “lack of legal action shows once again that impunity prevails at the expense of rule of law, that security forces can kill bystanders and fire indiscriminately into a crowd of protesters and get away scot-free”.

National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith and officials from the Ministry of Interior could not be reached for comment yesterday.

When asked about investigations into Sokhom’s death, government spokesman Phay Siphan said “we will just wait and see what happens with the court”.

But, at a forum yesterday on “Ending Impunity in Cambodia”, NGOs identified the court as the key driver of impunity.

“The judicial institution is the most corrupt with the weakest integrity,” said Transparency International Cambodia executive director Preap Kol. Impunity “happens easily because the corrupt officers or perpetrators can avoid the judicial system, using their political influence, money, power and connections against the unprivileged”, he said.

Ny Chakyra, of Adhoc, said impunity in the court “exists 100 per cent”.

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