Joint Statement “The Culture of Impunity and Violence Must Stop”

Phnom Penh, 31st May 2012- We, Cambodian and International civil society organizations represented in this statement, condemn the use of armed force and escalating violence against citizens peacefully defending their land, labor and natural resources rights. We are referring to not only the events on 22nd May 2012, when dozens of peaceful Boeung Kak Lake (BKL) protesters were violently dispersed and two days later when fifteen (fourteen women and one male) BKL residents were sent to Prey Sar prison and charged or convicted of unfounded criminal offenses1, but also the recent shooting incidents—the killings of environmental activist Chut Wutty2 in Koh Kong province and 14-year old girl Heng Chantha3 in Kratie province, and the shooting of three young women protesting for better working conditions in Svay Rieng province. These incidents are particularly disturbing because they indicate an increasing readiness on the part of security and military forces to use lethal force against civilians.

The year 2012 has already witnessed at least five such instances, not including numerous other human rights abuses. We are deeply concerned, shocked and saddened about this escalation of violence, particularly in disputes related to Economic Land Concessions (ELCs). Pursuant to Article 41 of the Cambodian Constitution and international conventions to which Cambodia is a party, all citizens enjoy a fundamental right to free expression, which includes the right to protest against decisions of public authorities that infringe on their rights and livelihood . In practice, the exercise of this right is all too often denied or met with violent repression.

Cambodian citizens have a right to live under the rule of law. They deserve to be protected, served with dignity and fairness based on universally agreed basic rights. Public authorities not only have a duty and obligation to ensure that a culture of impunity is never condoned but also must make fighting against impunity a priority. All instances involving the use of firearms against civilians should be promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated. Investigations that find shootings to be “accidental” or the result of low-ranking officers acting on their own initiative should be supported by evidence gathered in a rigorous, transparent manner. At the very least, protection against threats and intimidation should be provided to witnesses and all victims should have access to effective judicial verdict and justice.

The recent shootings took place despite the fact that Prime Minister Hun Sen has made an announcement prohibiting the use of firearms against protesters4 and issued a moratorium on the granting of ELCs5. Civil society organizations welcome the Prime Minister’s much needed directives, which work to improve human rights in Cambodia. However, the Prime Minister’s directives should be followed by detailed, binding regulations that highlight how public authorities—both local and provincial and armed forces—should thoroughly and systematically implement these directives.

It is necessary to fully review all existing concessions to ensure they all are fully compliant with relevant national and international legal frameworks. Gaps in resources or technical capacity should be identified and addressed, and the implementation of these decisions should be monitored and reported to the public.

We, the 139 undersigned civil society organizations, believe that violence against citizens is never acceptable and should cease immediately and will also continue to monitor individual cases related to land, labor and natural resources rights. In addition, we will seek to engage the Royal Government of Cambodia with the aim to strengthen the rule of law and to break the current cycle of violence and impunity.

This statement is endorsed by 139 Cambodian and International Civil Society Organizations.