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Spotlight on Cambodia’s Human Rights Record

Various civil society groups are urging global leaders who will attend the 21st summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Phnom Penh to raise the agenda of human rights protection with the Cambodian government.

Human Rights Watch has published a report which documents the rise of human rights violations during the term of the incumbent prime minister, who has been in power for the past 27 years. The group reminds donor governments, including the United States, to pursue discussion about human rights with Cambodian leaders:

The message to Cambodians is that even well-known killers are above the law if they have protection from the country’s political and military leaders. Donor governments, instead of pressing for accountability, have adopted a business-as-usual approachThe list of political killings over the past 20 years is bone-chilling. While there is a public uproar after each case, officials do nothing and there are no consequences for the perpetrators or the government that protects them

Earlier this year, local human rights groups signed a statement condemning the ‘culture of impunity and violence’ in the country:

Public authorities not only have a duty and obligation to ensure that a culture of impunity is never condoned but also must make fighting against impunity a priority

We, the 122 undersigned civil society organizations, believe that violence against citizens is never acceptable and should cease immediately and will also continue to monitor individual cases related to land, labor and natural resources rights. In addition, we will seek to engage the Royal Government of Cambodia with the aim to strengthen the rule of law and to break the current cycle of violence and impunity.

Evicted residents of Phnom Penh live in 'refugee' like camp

Residents from the Borei Keila community were forcibly evicted from their homes in Phnom Penh to make way for commercial development. Photo by Stephen Ford. Copyright @Demotix (6/6/2012)

Land disputes have risen in recent years in Cambodia. Peasant communities were displaced by development projects which also led to severe environment destruction in several provinces. Environment activists are among the victims of human rights violations. Last April, Cambodia’s most prominent anti-logging advocate was killedin Koh Kong province.

The death of forester Chut Wutty, who was investigating reports of illegal logging last April, highlighted the threats faced by dissenters and oppositionists in Cambodia.

Licadho, a human rights group which has been monitoring the case of Chut Wutty, bemoans the conduct of the trial which they described as a ‘mockery of justice’ from the start:

The investigation into Chut Wutty’s killing has been a mockery of justice from day one – from the farcical explanations for his death, to the presentation of vague, uncontested conclusions masquerading as a trial

This is a very chilling precedent for anyone who wants to speak out against the status quo in Cambodia

The so-called trial was really more of a quick, unconvincing plea bargain proceeding. Wutty’s death deserves true justice, and this requires proper investigation and disclosure of credible evidence to the public to combat the ongoing perception of impunity surrounding this tragedy

Protesters demand freedom for imprisoned activists in Phnom Penh

Protesters troop in front of the Appeals Court of Phnom Penh supporting two arrested female land activists. Photo by Thomas Cristofoletti. Copyright @Demotix (11/7/2012)

Mu Sochua pays tribute to Chut Wutty:

To Vuthy, land is life and forests is life.

His life was always in danger but his soul was as pure as Prey Lang.

We need to dig deep, deep down for t he root cause of the problem and the question that we should ask: Who is selling Cambodia to companies?

Economic concessions authorized by the prime minister go beyond arable land to pristine forests of Cambodia.

He has not heard the cry of the people of Prey Lang.

He says : “I will resign if there is any forests lost, any tree cut”.

Well, the time has come.

The people of Cambodia have no trust in any investigation conducted by the authorities. Why should we?

We want an independent committee with full power to investigate.

And we want the end of economic concessions.

We want free and fair elections so the people can vote their conscience.

We want justice for Chut Vuthy, Chea Vichea, and many more.

John Walsh laments the killing of Chut Wutty:

The recent death of the prominent Cambodian environmental activist reveals the terrible risks that people must take to try to stand up to the despoilers of the land. Chut Wutty had since the 1990s taken a stand against illegal logging and deforestation in his home country

Whether Chut Wutty was killed by an over-eager junior uniform or whether his death was intended to send a message to any opposition to environmental despoliation (or any other explanation), the incident indicates the stakes which are faced when money is challenged. Still, while there are brave people willing to continue opposing injustice and exploitation, we can retain some optimism for the future.

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