WASHINGTON DC – Rights groups say the courts and police have shown themselves incapable of arresting a former governor found guilty of firing into a crowd of demonstrators—further demonstrating that Cambodia’s culture of impunity still exists.
Chhouk Bandith, the former governor of Bavet town, Svay Rieng province, remains at large, protected by powerful political connections, rights workers say.
He was found guilty of injuring three women when he fired into a crowd of garment workers at a protest in Svay Rieng in February 2012.
“It’s quite clear that his position within the government and his connection to senior level people in the government had enabled him to essentially escape justice,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia, told VOA Khmer. “The Cambodian government has time and time again proven that it is not interested in reform, but it is interested in maintaining power for certain groups of people—and those people are more than willing to abuse human rights, which means they get to stay in power.”
The judicial and political systems have “conspired” to let Chhouk Bandith go free, he said.
“It just goes to show that impunity is alive and well in Cambodia,” he said. “If I were a donor government to Cambodia, I would be very worried about what these kinds of cases mean for the ability of rural people to get justice.”
All three of the shooting victims were seriously wounded, said Am Sam Ath, chief investigator for the rights group Licadho. “All of them,” he said. That means Chhouk Bandith should not have been charged with “unintentional” injury, as though his bullets ricocheted from the ground, but with a more serious crime, he said.
Ny Chakrya, lead investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the Court of Appeals had not completed its work, in that it failed to have Chhouk Bandith arrested.
Over the years, the judicial system has succeeded when it wanted to, he said. For example, the former chief of Phnom Penh police, Heng Pov, was arrested in Malaysia and brought back to Cambodia. And prominent activists on sensitive issues are easily caught, he said.
“The rich, the powerful, the people who are associated with senior officials, can escape justice,” he said. “But the weak, ordinary people, whether they are right or wrong, they are imprisoned.”