By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Hundreds of Cambodians marched in the capital to remember the murder of the country’s most prominent labor leader, Chea Vichea. Vichea leadCambodia’s largest labor union, Free Trade Union of Cambodia. He was gunned down at a newsstand while reading a newspaper in January of 2004. At the march, his brother, Chea Mony, commented on the remembrance, “This is for his memory. I am very proud that so many people attended out of love for him.”
Kek Galabru, director of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, remembered Vichea, “He was the one who brought (the unions) all together. After him, there were divisions … fighting against one other.”
The anniversary of Vichea’s death highlighted improper imprisonment of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeum. Samnang and Oeum are both serving a 20-year prison sentence for Vichea’s murder. Rights groups allege the men’s arrests were a cover-up for a political assassination.
Their convictions are highly suspect though. The men’s confessed only after police torture. A judge, who dropped the initial charges for lack of evidence, was quickly removed from his position, and the murder chargers were reinstated. The trial violated Cambodian law and international law standards. And on appeal, the Appeals Court upheld the convictions despite prosecutors admitting there was a lack of evidence. Vichea’s family and a prime witness to the murder have also commented that they do not believe Samnang and Oeum are responsible.
Souhayr Belhassen, president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, said, “There is compelling evidence that these two men were targeted by the authorities as scapegoats for the murder, and nobody is fooled by this charade.”
In a joint statement by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture), and the International Trade Union Confederation, the organizations asked the Cambodian government to exonerate and free Samnang and Oeum. The seven organizations also called upon the government to begin a full and impartial investigation of the murder and a independent, public inquiry into the prosecution of Samnang and Oeum, which would include allegations of police brutality, intimidation of witnesses, and political interference in the judicial process.
In the aftermath of Vichea’s murder, there has been an ongoing pattern of violence against trade union activists. Hy Vuthy and Ros Sovannarith were murdered in 2007 and 2004 respectively. There have also been reports of physical assaults. Guy Ryder of the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation commented, “The murder of Chea Vichea and other trade union leaders has had a chilling effect on labor rights and workers’ freedoms inCambodia, even more so given the lack of proper, credible investigations to find their killers. It sends a deplorable message to Cambodian workers that trade union membership or activity will put their safety at risk.”
For more information, please see:
AFP – Hundreds Remember Cambodian Labour Leader’s Murder – 22 January 2008
Earthtimes – Hundreds Rally in Cambodia for Anniversary of Union Leader’s Murder – 22 January 2008
Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Release Scapegoats for Labor Leader’s Murder – 22 January 2008