Sentencing / Arbitrary detention / Assassination - KHM 001 / 0805 / OBS 070.1

16/04/2007
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) and by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) about the Court of Appeal’s decision, on April 12, 2007, to uphold the Phnom Penh Municipal Courts verdict in the case of Messrs. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, who were convicted of murdering Mr. Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC); they had been sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay U$5000 each in compensation.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and expresses its deepest concern regarding the following situation in Cambodia.

New information:

According to the information received, the Appeals Court decision comes in spite of overwhelming evidence of the innocence of the two men, including testimony by a key eye-witness and by the senior police officer initially investigating the crime that the two did not commit the murder, and the fact that both had credible alibis for the time of the killing. The verdict further ignored many irregularities by the police and municipal court in this case, including the falsification of evidence and the use of threats, physical force and bribery by the police to obtain a confession from one of the accused.

In addition, the Court of Appeal refused to take into account other exculpatory testimonies as well as a written statement and a video-tape of testimony from Mrs. Va Sothy, the main eyewitness to Mr. Chea Vichea’s murder, who stated that Messrs. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were not the killers. Furthermore, during the trial the prosecutor acknowledged that there were gaps in the investigation of the case and requested to further investigation.

Both men remain detained at the Prey Sar prison.

The Observatory condemns the instrumentalisation of the judiciary which seems to aim at shielding the real perpetrators of Mr. Chea Vichea’s murder. The Observatory is also concerned at the lack of effective action by the authorities following the murder of another trade unionist, Mr. Hy Vuthy, in February this year.


Background information:

Mr. Chea Vichea was shot dead on January 22, 2004. In a trial marred with irregularities, Mr. Sok and Mr. Born were found guilty of murder on August 1, 2005 and were sentenced by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 3,800 dollars in compensation and interests. Mr. Chea Mony, the brother of the victim and president of FTUWKC, stated that he would refuse the money because he had his doubts as to whether the two men were guilty.

On October 21, 2005, Mr. Sok and Mr. Born filed an appeal after having asked for an amnesty from King Norodom Sihamon. On July 25, 2006, the secretary of the Ministry of Justice wrote to Mr. Chea Mony that more evidence would be required to reopen the investigation.

In this respect, on August 10, 2006, Ms. Var Sothy, owner of the newspaper stand in front of which Mr. Chea Vichea was murdered, gave a detailed witness statement stating the innocence of the two men and describing the murder, the murderer and his accomplice, their car, etc. The statement was given from abroad, as she left the country, fearing for her life.

In August 2006, the police officer in charge of the arrest of the two men, Mr. Heng Pov, former superintendent of Phnom Penh, admitted in an interview with the French newspaper L’Express that he had believed that the men were innocent as soon as the investigation had begun. He has since fled Cambodia, after having accused the Prime Minister and other high-level representatives of the authorities of being involved in many human rights abuses, including murders, kidnappings and drug trafficking.

The hearing in the appeal lodged by Mr. Sok and Mr. Born’s lawyers was first scheduled for October 6, 2006. However, it was postponed due to the absence of the president of the Court.

Action requested:

Please write to the Cambodian authorities and ask them to:

i. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, as well as of all human rights defenders working in Cambodia, in all circumstances;

ii. Release Messrs. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun immediately and unconditionally since their detention is arbitrary;

iii. Conduct a fair, impartial and independent inquiry into the assassinations of Mr. Chea Vichea and Mr. Hy Vuthy, in order to identify the authors, bring them to justice and pronounce sentences proportional to the gravity of their crimes;

iv. Guarantee that adequate reparation is provided to the victim’s family;

v. Put an end to all forms of harassment against human rights defenders in Cambodia;

vi. Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its article 1 which provides that “every person has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental liberties at the national and international levels”, as well as its article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

vii. Guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments ratified by by Cambodia.

Addresses:

* Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 36 06 66 / 855 23 88 06 24 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh
* Mr. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister, Fax: + 855 23 88 06 24, Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh
* Mr. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Co-Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 72 60 52
* Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 161 Preah Sisowath Quay, cnr rue 204, Phnom Penh Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 21 61 44 / + 855 23 21 69 39
* Mr. Om Yentieng, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 12 81 37 81 / +855 23 21 11 62 or +855 23 88 10 45 (c/o Council of Ministers)
* Ambassador Mr. Vun Chheang, Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin de Taverney 3, Case postale 213, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 788 77 74

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, April 16, 2007

Kindly inform the Observatory of any action undertaken quoting the code number of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT: (+ 41 22) 809 49 39 / 809 49 29
Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

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