BANGKOK — Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia today called on the United Nations and the international community to conduct independent investigations into recent deaths in Cambodia at the hands of state security forces, including the shooting dead of a 29-year-old man at pro-democracy demonstrations in Phnom Penh in September and the killing of a labour protester earlier this month.
“The United Nations and the international community must take a stand on these blatant miscarriages of justice. It has been over two months since security forces shot dead Mao Sok Chan and injured others when they opened fire on a crowd of protesters, and the state is clearly not following through with a genuine investigation,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights Vice President.
“By conducting an independent inquiry and seeking to hold the Cambodian government to account for their failure to properly investigate these deaths in line with international human rights and legal standards, we not only seek justice for the families of victims but also send a clear message that impunity for state officials will not be tolerated.”
Mao Sok Chan died after being shot in the head on September 15, 2013, at Kbal Thnal Bridge, Phnom Penh. The 29-year-old laborer was caught up in crowds after police set up roadblocks following a day of political protests in the capital when police allegedly fired indiscriminately on commuters, local residents and demonstrators. To date, there has been no credible investigation into the incident.
Also, on November 12, one person was killed and eight others injured when security forces in riot gear used tear gas, guns and sticks to break up a strike by garment workers at the Singapore-owned SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Ltd.
Political tensions in Cambodia have risen since hotly contested national elections on 28 July. APHR calls on all parties to disavow violence and prioritize human rights and the rule of law as the country seeks to move forward from the current deadlock. As in other countries in the region, the criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to allegations against state actors, continually fails to deliver, APHR said.
“Responsibility falls on the government and arms of the justice system to ensure that all acts of political violence will not be tolerated, either by protesters or state security forces,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, AIPMC President and Indonesian Member of Parliament.
“We all want to see Cambodia move through this difficult period peacefully. The failure of the state to properly investigate alleged acts of violence by security forces is setting a dangerous precedent and could lead to an escalation of violence during a tense political period in Cambodia.”
Similar failures of the criminal justice system are commonplace in Indonesia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, APHR said, calling on ASEAN to step up its mandate to ensure peace and stability in the region.
“ASEAN must find a way to end violence perpetrated by state apparatuses before entering an integrated economic community,” said Ms. Sundari.
“I am deeply concerned that the common trend of state violence and impunity in ASEAN member states will only worsen if this serious problem is continually brushed under the carpet to ensure a blinkered focus on economics and trade. ASEAN must change and begin to put the basic welfare of its people first.”
The United Nations and the international community have a duty to press governments to uphold international commitments to human rights standards. In lieu of any proper investigation by the Cambodian authorities, the international community, including ASEAN institutions, must help to ensure justice for the victims of state-sponsored violence and apply pressure on the Cambodian government to meet its international responsibilities.
According to local human rights observers, there have been ten fatal shootings and eight separate incidents of non-fatal shootings by authorities using excessive force in the past 20 months. Only in one out of the 10 lethal cases has there been what human rights observers agree to be a credible investigation.
Many of the families of victims have been offered financial compensation in return for agreement to end legal proceedings against the alleged aggressors. Concerns have been raised that families have been intimidated or coerced into accepting the financial settlements. Moreover, the settlement of a civil dispute does not release prosecutors from their duty to investigate alleged crimes, APHR said.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a collective of lawmakers from Southeast Asia working to improve human rights responses and social justice in the region.