Cambodia shootings 'show worrying impunity'

The mysterious murder of a top Cambodian activist and a spike in violence at land and labour disputes mean the country's culture of impunity is worsening, campaigners and opposition politicians say.

Chhut Vuthy was gunned down on April 26 by a military policeman as he tried to expose illegal logging and his killer, apparently overcome by remorse, then shot himself twice in the chest with an AK-47, according to officials.

Human rights groups say the explanation smacks of a cover-up.

"For the past six months what we are seeing is more and more cases of extreme violence in land and labour disputes where arms are being used," said Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group Licadho.

Thousands of Cambodians protested for better pay and conditions in the country's key garment industry in February, when a local governor allegedly fired into the crowd, wounding three women who work for a supplier to German sports giant Puma.

Bavet city governor Chhuk Bundith was merely charged with the low-level crime of causing "unintentional injuries" in late April, and has yet to be arrested.

The incidents are examples of what critics say is an increasingly brutal approach to rights campaigners.

Chhut Vuthy had been instrumental in helping the media document deforestation and logging, and two women reporters from a local newspaper were with him when he was shot.

In a written account, the journalists said they did not see who pulled the trigger, but stated they feared for their safety in the following moments when they overheard a soldier saying: "Just kill them both."

"This kind of violence is to be expected when rule of law completely breaks down and impunity for officials is an everyday occurrence," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

Not including Chhut Vuthy's death, Licadho has documented five shootings in land disputes since November, with 19 people wounded, and said in each case military police acting as security guards for private firms had opened fire.

But Cambodian government spokesman Ek Tha rejected suggestions that campaigners or protesters were at risk.

"The royal government of Cambodia has no policy of violence, it respects the rule of law," he told AFP, blaming examples of excessive force by some military police officers and policemen on "individuals' activities".

Conflicts over land are arguably Cambodia's biggest problem, with ownership a murky issue after many legal documents such as land titles were destroyed by the hardline communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

Cambodia's government granted some 800,000 hectares (two million acres) in land concessions to well-connected private firms in 2011, according to local rights groups. The figure represents roughly five percent of the country's entire area.

A further 300,000 hectares have been leased this year already, they say, accusing authorities of a land grab, and the number of protests is rising. "Desperate people are taking matters into their own hands," Robertson told AFP.

In one of the worst confrontations to date, during the eviction of some 300 families from Phnom Penh's Borei Keila neighbourhood, locals threw petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Long-time Cambodia watchers said the January riot was the first time they had seen residents using Molotov cocktails -- perhaps an indication that protesters are themselves growing bolder.

Leading opposition politician Mu Sochua said the violence was a consequence of a "lack of democracy" under strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985.

Not since the 2004 daylight murder of union leader Chea Vichea has Cambodia lost an activist as influential as Chhut Vuthy, she added, accusing donor countries of "making no noise" in support of ordinary Cambodians' rights.

"I want to be optimistic, I want to see hope but I'm afraid there is no more Chea Vichea, and there is no more Chhut Vuthy," she said.

"They cannot be replaced. That is the aim of those who ordered the killings."


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Sandigan OKs hospital stay for GMA co-accused
    Sandigan OKs hospital stay for GMA co-accused

    The Sandiganbayan has allowed a government official, accused with plunder along with former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to undergo a medical procedure at a hospital tomorrow. The anti-graft court permitted former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) board member Benigno Aguas to undergo a cardiopulmonary/endocrine clearance at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City. …

  • Appeal for convicted Pinay in Indonesia continues – Palace

    The Aquino government is doing everything possible to save a Filipina facing execution in Indonesia for drug smuggling, a Palace official said yesterday.Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the government was moving within Indonesia’s legal framework to spare Mary Jane Veloso from death.Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario continues to exhaust all legal avenues to save Veloso from execution, Valte said.The Indonesian Supreme Court on Wednesday denied the government’s …

  • Sandigan recommends executive clemency for ex-envoy
    Sandigan recommends executive clemency for ex-envoy

    The Sandiganbayan has recommended executive clemency for a former Philippine ambassador to Nigeria who was sentenced to 52 years for malversation of public funds. The Sandiganbayan First Division found Masaranga Umpa guilty of misusing the Assistance-To-Nationals Stand-by Funds totaling $80,478.80 in 2007, but the anti-graft court said the former assemblyman from Lanao del Norte should be pardoned. …

  • Bulacan, Bataan are top Lenten destinations

    MALOLOS, Bulacan – With the expected Holy Week exodus of Catholic devotees to various pilgrimage sites in Bulacan, Bataan and other provinces near Metro Manila, local and provincial officials have coordinated with security and emergency response teams to address the influx of visitors.Among the pilgrimage sites in Bulacan that are often visited by travelers are the Divine Mercy Shrine in the town of Marilao; the procession of saints in Baliwag; the Banal na Bundok with the Stations of the Cross …

  • Stargazing at the mall highlights Earth Hour
    Stargazing at the mall highlights Earth Hour

    It was a night of stargazing in 58 SM Supermalls all over the country last night as these establishments participated in Earth Hour, an annual worldwide movement encouraging communities and establishments to switch off lights for one hour to raise global awareness of overuse of non-renewable resources. The Philippines has been an active participant of Earth Hour since 2008. Last night, in the province of Bulacan, for instance, all parishes, diocesan institutions, schools and household …

  • Payanig privatization hit
    Payanig privatization hit

    BLEMP Commercial of the Philippines, Inc. (BLEMP) denounced the recent announcement of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to privatize the 18.4-hectare “Payanig sa Pasig” property. In a statement sent to The STAR , BLEMP lawyer Dennis Manalo said the PCGG has no right to auction the property because it has no valid title and is not in possession. The PCGG has not paid a single centavo in real property taxes for the property, he said. He narrated that it was in the early …

  • New species of tarantula found
    New species of tarantula found

    Scientists from the Museum of Natural History (MNH) of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños have discovered a new species of cave-dwelling tarantula on an island off the coast of Quezon. The new species of the spider, Phlogiellus kwebaburdeos, was described in the recent issue of the Philippine Journal of Systematic Biology by MNH curators for spiders Aimee Lynn Dupo and Alberto Barrion along with their former student Joseph Rasalan. The tarantula was discovered by Rasalan during …

  • Palm Sunday: Do not add to suffering of others
    Palm Sunday: Do not add to suffering of others

    As Christendom enters Holy Week today, Palm Sunday, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday called on the faithful not to add to the sufferings of their fellowmen. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs (ECPA), said that while Palm Sunday is oftentimes remembered as the glorious arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, it also signals the start of the Holy Week that tells of His suffering, death and …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options