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Abuse of Power Draws Criticism From All Corners

Loun Savath said Thursday he is following the teachings of Buddha by defending human rights and he vowed to continue his activism.
Loun Savath said Thursday he is following the teachings of Buddha by defending human rights and he vowed to continue his activism.

A group of 23 human rights NGOs issued a statement Tuesday condemning ongoing violence by state security forces against civilians.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee accused members of the soldiers and police of serving private companies over the interests of Cambodian citizens, adding its voice to widespread criticism of the government’s handling of land issues, extrajudicial killings and other abuses of power.

The Action Committee noted 24 separate incidents of violence since the beginning of the year, with some ending in the killing of civilians, and none having had proper investigations afterwards. More than 400 people are facing court action in land disputes, the rights group Adhoc said. “They are living under threat,” Ny Chakrya, Adhoc’s chief investigator, said.

The statement comes following the shooting death of environmental activist Chut Wutty in Koh Kong province, the accidental killing of a 14-year-old girl in a crackdown in Kratie province, and the arrest of 15 representatives of families in a land dispute in Phnom Penh, all in recent weeks.

It adds to mounting criticism of the government as Cambodia’s head to the polls on Sunday to elect local commune council leaders.

Tit Sothea, a spokesman for the government, said the administration recognized that “accidents” and “unintentional killings” had taken place, but he said the arrest of the Boeung Kak protesters last week was in accordance with the law.

Nevertheless opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said she has appealed to the US government to halt aid to Cambodia until its human rights efforts improve, especially given the quick trial and guilty verdicts for the 13 Boeung Kak protestes, who were all women.

With protesters in jail, the opposition leader in exile and rights workers and women facing a devolving situation, she said, “the US should temporarily channel its funding through non-governmental organizations.” “We have exhausted all remedies,” she said.

A recent annual US State Department report criticized a “weak judiciary,” where “courts lacked human and financial resources and were subject to corruption and political influence.” It also noted that “members of the security forces reportedly committed arbitrary killings.”

Added to the arrests of protesters last week is the recent killing of environmentalist Chut Wutty. The government claims he was shot by a military policeman in Koh Kong province, though the circumstances surrounding his shooting remain unclear.

Venerable Hok Sovann, who heads a major temple in Montreal, Canada, told VOA Khmer the killings of Cambodians like Chut Wutty, labor activist Chea Vichea, and others, have taken the lives of talented nationalists who were trying to help the country. Monks, lawmakers, judges, politicians, all were resources for the country, he said. Many were classified as political enemies of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. “That’s a danger to the nation,” he said.

Touch Sunnix, a well-known Cambodian singer who survived a shooting in 2003, told VOA Khmer by phone from California that she was now living a life of hardship and suffering. Her father, Sean Touch, appealed to the government to prevent killings and to bring killers to justice.

“If the country still allows such anarchy, one day we will all die together,” he said. “Meaning that all the leaders will die too.”