Impunity reigns in Cambodia on the back of two consecutive years of fatal shootings by state forces for which perpetrators have evaded justice, local rights group Licadho said Friday in a statement to mark International Day to End Impunity on Saturday.
Since the start of 2012, Licadho has tracked 10 shootings at the hands of the authorities, the most recent of which resulted in the death of food vendor Eng Sokhom, 49, who was killed by a police bullet after officers opened fire during a violent protest in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on November 12.
Eng Sokhom’s killing occurred two months after another bystander, Mao Sok Chan, was shot dead by police near Monivong Bridge after a day of opposition party marches.
“Investigations by Licadho show that these recent tragedies were not exceptional and were in fact illustrative of a pervasive tendency to the unlawful use of excessive force, fueled by failure to investigate or punish,” the rights group said in its statement, adding that it also recorded a further eight instances of nonfatal shootings.
“So far, in nine out of the 10 fatal cases, there has been no credible prosecution or investigation,” Licadho said.
It noted that financial compensation was frequently paid to the relatives of victims and legal complaints subsequently dropped. Such settlements, however, “are unlawful if they result from threats or intimidation,” Licadho said.
“Moreover, the settlement of a civil dispute does not release prosecutors from their duty to investigate the commission of crimes.”
Naly Pilorge, the director of Licadho, said Cambodia has a long way to go to eradicate rampant impunity that has seen the likes of former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith evade arrest despite being sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting into a crowd of garment workers last year, injuring three young women.
“The past year has been a terrible one when it comes to impunity,” she said.
“Failure to prosecute is pretty much the norm and if prosecution ever does occur it is a farce, as in the case of Chhouk Bundith, who remains at large. It is well past time that the authorities get serious about combating impunity and put an end to protecting their own.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan claimed that the government needs cooperation from the public to tackle impunity.
“We are looking for additional assistance from the public, so if you hear or see something, please approach the government.”
Last week, Mr. Siphan defended the use of deadly force against civilians by the police saying it was necessary to protect the state’s power.
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