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Court Yet To Hear Case of Svay Rieng Shooting

They were allegedly shot by Chhouk Bandith, the former governor of Bavet town, Svay Rieng province, when he opened fire on a crowd of demonstrating workers in February.

PHNOM PENH & WASHINGTON DC - Three women who were injured in a shooting at a garment worker strike earlier this year say they have not received justice from the court and are demanding action.

They were allegedly shot by Chhouk Bandith, the former governor of Bavet town, Svay Rieng province, when he opened fire on a crowd of demonstrating workers in February.

“Right now he lives freely, and in the end we are appealing to the Cambodian government to find justice,” a tearful Nuth Sakorn, one of the victims, told reporters Monday, during a gathering for International Human Rights Day.

The three victims say they have been approached by local leaders to be paid compensation in exchange for dropping the case against Chhouk Bandith, but they say they want their cases to be heard in court or for the national government to step in and provide justice.

Chhouk Bandith has since been removed from his post, but the courts have yet to arrest him, in what rights workers say is a demonstration of impunity for powerful officials.

“I very much regret to see that the perpetrator is going everywhere freely,” said Keo Near, who was shot in the hand when the former governor allegedly fired into the demonstrators, who were demanding better working conditions at a factory in the province. The courts must be hear the case, she told VOA Khmer. “I’m just a normal garment worker. I cannot make an argument with high-ranking officials.”

Chhin Lida, an attorney for the three women, said he was not sure where the case is, but that he had heard it was in the hands of the investigating judge, Pich Chhourt.

Chhouk Bandith, Pich Chhourt and other court officials could not be reached for comment.

Rights workers say the February shooting, along with the killings of several people and the jailing of others, made for a backslide in human rights issues this year. That includes the murder of environmentalist Chut Wutty, in April, and the detention of independent radio broadcaster Mam Sonando, in July.

Suon Bunsak, a member of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, told VOA Khmer the overall rights problem remains due to a lack of political will by state authorities.

“Although we have documented human rights violations, the government does not have the will to consider it or make adjustments at all,” he said. Not only the shootings, but also land grabs and other complicated issues require a sophisticated understanding of human rights and a will to protect them, he said.

“Such as the land issue, there needs to be actions taken to find out who the victims are,” he said. “Who is the violator? Who are the grabbers? Then, there need not be complaints to the court, but simply administrative action, and that will easily solve land issues.”

The government lacks the will to do this, he said. And there has been little cooperation between the government and rights organizations, he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a recent speech that his administration does value human rights, especially the right to life. The government has provided this, he said, for the past 33 years, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

But Suon Bunsak said the right to life is not the only thing human rights are concerned with. “The right to life means the right to live with quality, with health, education, happiness and so on.”