Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Trade Union Confederation have called on Cambodia to thoroughly investigate Saturday’s slaying of a Free Trade Union official and bring his killers to an international standard of justice.
Hy Vuthy’s killing is the latest act in a pattern of intimidation visited on FTU members at the Suntex and Bright Sky garment factories in Phnom Penh, the rights organizations claimed in a joint statement to which three other lesser-known organizations were also signatories.
“Such a pattern of violence is extremely likely to have a chilling effect on the members and leaders of the [FTU] and other union activists throughout Cambodia,” the statement reads.
“Prosecuting those responsible for Hy Vuthy’s killing is the only way to give a clear signal to the perpetrators of acts of violence against trade unionists that such behavior will not be tolerated in the future,” the statement said.
The NGOs claimed that Chey Rithy, FTU vice-president at Suntex, was previously attacked while riding home from work in May. The same month, Chi Samon, FTU president at Bright Sky, was attacked by seven men who hit him in the face and body with sticks and iron bars, the statement claimed. Also in May, Yeng Vann Yuth, another FTU member at Bright Sky, was attacked, while in June, Lem Samrith, FTU treasurer at the factory, was beaten by about 20 men while coming out of the factory after a night shift, the statement alleged. In September, Choy Chin, FTU secretary general at Suntex, was beaten on the head by two men with a metal pipe, the NGOs alleged.
Albert Tan, regional vice president for administration at Ocean Sky, which owns both the Suntex and Bright Sky factories, declined to answer questions about alleged anti-union violence at the factories or about Hy Vuthy’s death.
“My staff has been in contact with the [authorities]…and we leave it to the authority to handle it,” he wrote in an e-mail.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann has invited Interior Minister Sar Kheng to appear before the National Assembly’s commission on investigations to discuss the probe into Hy Vuthy’s killing and other recent high-profile killings in the capital.
In a Tuesday letter addressed to Sar Kheng, Yim Sovann drew attention to the killing of Hy Vuthy as well as the 2004 slayings of FTU President Chea Vichea and Ros Sovannareth, FTU president at a local factory; and Friday’s attempt on the life of popular singer Pov Panhapich.
“The killers and those who are behind the killers have not yet been brought to justice,” Yim Sovann wrote.
“They have frightened investors and the public and are a threat to political activists and in particular provoke a tense environment prior to the commune elections,” he added.
Yim Sovann, who chairs the parliamentary commission on home affairs, national defense, investigations and anticorruption, said in the letter he wanted Sar Kheng to explain what measures the Interior Ministry is taking to ensure such murders are not repeated.
The letter has been transmitted to the Interior Ministry via National Assembly and Honorary CPP President Heng Samrin, he said, adding that although those called to appear before parliamentary commissions are legally required to comply, they often do not do so.
“According to the Constitution, they have to show up within a week but in reality it never happens like this. Sometimes they do not respond. Sometimes it takes them two or three weeks,” he said.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Mao Chandara said police are doing their utmost to solve the shootings of Hy Vuthy and Pov Panhapich.
“His Excellency Sar Kheng and [National Police Commissioner] Hok Lundy are chafing their hands by investigating the two cases everyday,” he said.
“It was very unfortunate that these two cases occurred before the commune elections,” he added. “These are big cases. We won’t ignore them.”
An official with the Workers Rights Commission, a US-based organization that investigated Bright Sky and Suntex last year and claimed the FTU officials there were suffering violent intimidation, alleged Tuesday that Hy Vuthy’s killing amounted to more of the same.
“We interpret this murder as yet another unacceptable attack on freedom of association in Cambodia,” Agatha Schmaedick, the commission’s assistant director, wrote in an e-mail.
“The WRC has urged Ocean Sky…management, buyers and the Cambodian government to do something about this before Cambodia’s reputation as an ethical sourcing destination [for garments] is ruined,” she wrote.