A report from human rights investigators has declared the shooting death of Sam Rainsy Party member Uch Horn a political act, a finding that makes him the first victim of political violence this year. The report dismisses rumors that he was shot for practicing deadly sorcery.
Human rights investigators spoke to more than two dozen people near Uch Horn’s home in Basset commune before reaching their conclusion, learning that he was a popular farmer in his community who wrote poetry and loaned money to his neighbors.
The report, from the investigation subcommittee of the Human Rights Action Committee, will be discussed by all HRAC members today before a decision is made on the report’s findings, said Sok Samoeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project and HRAC coordinator. The committee is comprised of 18 local human rights NGOs.
The investigators said they found it disturbing that the villagers who accused Uch Horn of sorcery made similar statements, as if they had been coached by someone or were reading from a statement.
Some villagers also seemed suspiciously well-versed in the language of political observers, the investigators reported, telling investigators that Uch Horn’s killing was not political before the investigators even asked about the nature of the shooting.
A human rights official said the government should use the report’s findings to probe further into Uch Horn’s killing, which so far has lead to the arrest of two people.
“Although the NGO’s praise the government for addressing this case quickly, I think they always want to be sure the government ensures the protection of communal election candidates,” said Naly Pilorge, acting director of Licadho. “Even though there has been some arrests in this case, it’s really important the investigation continues.”
The shooting has raised fears of political violence as the nation’s 6 million voters prepare for local elections in February that could decentralize the government’s power.
Uch Horn joined the Sam Rainsy party April 24, becoming the party’s communal candidate, according o rights workers and party members. Shortly afterward reported threats on his life. He went to Phnom Penh June 18 to report the threats when people in his village told him that because he was a sorcerer he would be killed and his house would be burned down.
He was shot June 30 just 200 meters from his home in Sre Traok village in Kompong Speu. A police investigation of the shooting lead to the arrest of the alleged triggerman, Saing Rin, 35, and the man who allegedly provided him with an AK-47, Ter Vann Chhum, 26.
Chea Vuth, deputy police chief of Kompong Speu, said the police investigation determined that the killings were not political but personal.
HRAC investigators said they heard a different story when they interviewed his friends and neighbors. Some of them said he was a popular man who taught others the best way to plant crops. He had written several dramatic stories and could often be seen going to the pagoda to pray, they said. He also wrote poetry.
Uch Horn erected a Sam Rainsy party sign at his house, giving a speech about the commune election law to those assembled. He later erected another sign and gave the same speech, his neighbors said.
Sometime shortly after he joined the party he heard the rumor that he was a sorcerer and complained to the village chief that it was untrue. One day after his funeral, his family told investigators, the village chief called people to his house and made them put a thumbprint on a statement that accused Uch Horn of sorcery.
On July 11, human rights investigators said they spoke to 25 or 30 people who had accused Uch Horn of being a sorcerer. Their statements were so similar that it seemed as if someone had told them what to say, the sub-committee’s report says. When the investigators asked for proof of Uch Horn’s sorcery, no one could provide any, though they said he had recently killed two or three people a month through his sorcery.
Some cautioned against viewing the HRAC’s report as a final statement on the case, saying a larger government investigation is still needed to determine the cause of Uch Horn’s death.
“Another step forward is for the government to reconfirm the finding of the human rights action committee,” said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development. “I think this is a starting point.”