Three women injured in a shooting on garment factory workers in February say the court of Svay Rieng province has failed them.
The court dropped the case against Chhouk Bandith, the former governor of the provincial capital, earlier this month, despite eye-witness testimony and an investigation by the Ministry of Interior.
Chhouk Bandith had originally confessed to firing into a crowd of demonstrators in his city, Bavet, as they assembled to demand better working conditions and pay at a shoe factory in February. He later recanted.
Rights activists say the case not only demonstrates Cambodia’s culture of impunity, but also its gender inequality.
“As a woman, I’m very disappointed, because these women have fallen victim, but the alleged perpetrator receives no punishment,” said Pok Vanda, executive director of Women for Prosperity. “In our view, the law was not applied to seek justice for the women.”
Injured in the shooting were three female factory workers—Nuth Sakhorn, Keo Nea and Bun Chenda. They say they have refused to take pay-offs to drop the case, and have instead pursued their case through the courts.
Independent political analyst Chea Vannath said justice should not discriminate between “sex, social status or religion.”
The Dec. 14 decision to drop the charges reflects a “culture of impunity,” said Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
It also shows that “women are vulnerable to all forms of abuse in our society,” he said. “In the garment industry, women, especially young ones, have endured discrimination and indecent treatment. Moreover, the shooting is a shock to all women in this sector and others as well.”
Moreover, the shooting of workers, from a manufacturer for the major corporation Puma, was damaging to the garment sector, as such companies may take action themselves, he said.
The Svay Rieng court’s decision comes at a time of increased criticism of Cambodia’s judiciary, which is widely seen as corrupt, biased and unjust.
On Thursday, the national Court of Appeals re-sentenced two men to 20-year prison terms, despite overwhelming evidence of their innocence, for the murder of a union activist in 2004.
On the same day, the Phnom Penh court sentenced two housing rights activists to three years in prison for allegedly inciting an injurious assault during a demonstration.
The Phnom Penh court has also jailed independent radio owner Mam Sonando to 20 years in prison, for allegedly helping a secessionist movement in Kratie province, despite thin evidence. The court is also charging rights activist Chan Soveth with abetting the escape of several men implicated in the alleged movement.
Meanwhile, the courts have consistently sided with powerful business or political interests in forced evictions, land disputes and other lawsuits, jailing or threatening to jail political activists, journalists and others.
The UN special human rights envoy, Surya Subedi, said following a recent fact-finding trip to Cambodia that the rule of law in Cambodia was being “hampered by ongoing, credible allegations of interference by the executive [branch] in the court system, and of widespread corruption.”
“As a result, impunity for serious human rights violations continued, and public confidence in the criminal justice system did not improve,” he said.
Cambodian officials have repeatedly dismissed such criticism. In a public speech following Subedi’s remarks, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he was not “responsible” to “whomever writes a report or whatever.”
“I have no time to listen to any recommendations or requirements to do anything,” the prime minister said.