Open letter on the shooting of three female garment workers in Bavet town of Svay Rieng province

15/03/2012
Press release

15 March 2012

H.E. Ang Vong Vathna
Minister of Justice
No 240, Sothearos Blvd
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: +855 23 364119

H.E. Sar Kheng
Minister of Interior
No 275 Norodom Blvd
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: +855 23 721905, +85523 726052/721190

Your Excellencies,

We, the undersigned regional and international non-governmental organizations, write to you to express our grave concerns regarding the shooting of three female garment workers in the Bavet town of Svay Rieng province on 20 February 2012.

We received information that around 6,000 workers gathered in front of the Kaoway Sports Ltd factory in a peaceful demonstration to demand for better working conditions, including a minimum living wage of US$61/month and lunch allowance. While the demonstration was taking place, three unarmed women were shot; two suffered wounds to their arms or legs, one was seriously injured as the bullet ripped through her thoracic cage.

The perpetrator was later identified as being Bavet town’s own governor, Mr. Chhouk Bandit. Although the Minister of Interior, Mr. Sar Kheng, said publicly that Mr. Bandit was the sole suspect, the Court – under the direction of provincial chief prosecutor Hing Bun Chea – declined to issue an arrest warrant and instead settled with a summons on allegations that the report the police submitted was incomplete. He was briefly questioned by the police last week and later released. Mr. Bandit is expected to appear in court on 16 March 2012.

We deeply regret that the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of assembly has been severely violated by the use of excessive force, which resulted in the serious injuries of three of the demonstration’s participants.

We note that there is much fear concerning the safety and security of the three victims and their families. These concerns are well grounded since the victims were approached on numerous occasions by officials from Bavet, including the police chief and commune chiefs, attempting to silence them through bribes since the shooting incident. [1] The most severely injured victim, Ms. Buot Chinda, was allegedly approached by the town governor himself. [2] We believe that the government of Cambodia must protect these young women and their families. They should be immediately placed under witness protection. Individuals who came forward in helping identify the perpetrator should also be placed under protection. We also stress that these attempts to influence witnesses in the ongoing investigation could constitute an obstruction of justice and are criminal offences punishable under Cambodia’s Criminal Code. [3] Those attempting to influence the witnesses must be held accountable under the existing laws.

Although Mr. Bandit was dismissed from his position as a Bavet town governor on 8 March 2012, there remain concerns that he will enjoy impunity as he is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The successive chain of events fails to reflect the gravity of the crimes: there was a notable delay in the police investigation as well in making the information about his involvement public. The recent refusal to issue him with an arrest warrant despite the culpatory evidence highlights the flaws present in the Cambodian legal and judicial systems. We strongly believe that the state is obligated to combat impunity for attacks and violations against its own people, by ensuring prompt and impartial investigations into allegations and appropriate redress and reparation to victims. In this regard, an arrest warrant on the alleged perpetrator should be issued without delay to ensure the safety of the victims, and to prevent him from influencing the investigation and legal proceedings of this case.

We would like to draw your attention to the recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Mr. Surya Subedi, which highlighted concerns over the politicization of the judiciary and called for a separate entity to be solely in charge of the prosecutors – as opposed to being attached to the courts. [4] The unfolding of unfortunate events in the town of Bavet and the subsequent flawed investigation processes, have highlighted the cause for continued concerns in this regard.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) , the Government of Cambodia must ensure that the three victims are provided with an “effective remedy notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons in an official capacity” [5] and that it be determined by a competent judicial authority. We therefore strongly urge that the Government will ensure his appearance in court, protect all witnesses from intimidation, and guarantee that the upcoming legal process be carried out in a free, fair and impartial manner that meets international standards.

We further urge the Cambodian government to take the necessary steps to protect the fundamental right to freedom of assembly in Cambodia, which has been subjected to increasing restrictions. In this particular case, the Cambodian government’s ability to ensure justice for those whose rights have been severely violated and to hold the perpetrator accountable serves as a serious test of the Cambodian government’s will to uphold human rights, consistent with its own Constitution, the human rights principles of the ASEAN Charter, and international human rights law.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Yap Swee Seng
Executive Director
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Souhayr Belhassen
President
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

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