UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special representative for human rights in Cambodia last week denounced the handling of the case against two men accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea.
The statement by Peter Leuprecht followed the Appeals Court’s July 1 reversal of Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Hing Thirith’s decision to drop charges against suspects Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, citing lack of evidence.
No new evidence was presented against the accused at the Appeals Court hearing, though numerous people offered alibis for Born Samnang, who gave strong testimony against police.
“In the case of Chea Vichea, there are many indications that the accused men have been chosen to take the blame, regardless of what the evidence suggests. Few believe that they are responsible for the crime, further diminishing public confidence in the administration of justice,” the statement quoted Leuprecht as saying.
It also listed numerous irregularities noted during the case’s investigation and prosecution.
“These include arrest of the accused without warrant; the dearth of evidence against them; an initial confession of one of the accused, allegedly made under duress after he was beaten and given inducements; indications of entrapment; allegations of executive interference from the investigating judge, Hing Thirith, who dismissed the charges for lack of evidence; the disciplinary action that was announced against the judge shortly after he issued the non-suit order; and the subsequent announcement of his forcible transfer to the remote province of Stung Treng just before the Appeal Court hearing,” the statement said.
The alleged misconduct has drawn the criticism of numerous human rights groups, local and international.
The UN called the Jan 22 killing of Chea Vichea one in a series of “contract-style murders and attempted murders” during the past 18 months.
It lamented that, although convictions have been handed down in some cases, questionable conduct of investigations and prosecutions have raised doubts about their legitimacy.
In other cases, no suspects have been identified, it added.
Om Yentieng, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser on human rights, dismissed the criticism Sunday.
“We don’t know how to satisfy Mr Peter Leuprecht because the government has done its work,” he said.
It would be political suicide to not investigate such a high-profile killing, he added.
“Please, Mr Peter Leuprecht, open your eyes before making these claims,” he said.
Last week, Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defender’s Project and a defense lawyer in the Chea Vichea case, said his legal team would likely go to the Supreme Court before returning to the Municipal Court for trial.
Municipal Court officials have already expressed an unwillingness to handle such a politically charged case, especially one that has already cost a colleague his position, Sok Sam Oeun said.
CDP’s Sok Sam Oeun is not related to his client of the same name.