25 January 2023
Dozens of unionists, garment workers, members of civil society marked the 19th anniversary of former Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea’s assassination in Phnom Penh, and called for justice and an update on the investigation by the National Police.
Vichea was gunned down on January 22, 2004 while he was reading a newspaper in front of Wat Lanka pagoda west of the Independence Monument. The slain leader was at the forefront of a nascent labour movement, built on the back of mass expansion of the garment industry in Cambodia.
At a ceremony yesterday, as has been done for nearly 2 decades, over 100 people, including Vichea’s family, friends and supporters, laid bouquets at his monument near the Independence Monument and called for the government to bring justice by revealing the “true killer.”
Touch Soer, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), said 19 years without justice for Vichea and his mourners has made the public think the police and other law enforcement officials are not capable or willing enough to find the killer, reflecting on the weak judicial system in Cambodia.
“We request the police and all related institutions within the government conduct an investigation to find the real killer and the ones behind the murder of Chea Vichea and to punish them according to the law. Doing this can provide justice to the families, relatives and supporterss, eliminating the culture of impunity and strengthen social justice in Cambodia,” she said.
Chea Mony, Vichea’s younger brother, said it was 19 years since he first urged the government to open an investigation into the assassination of his brother, but it has been all in vain.
“My brother had fulfilled his duty as a good union leader to protect the rights and interests of workers in accordance with the labour law,” he said. “We urge the government to find the killer after 19 years. The killer has not been identified, so that means the killer had connections with powerful people.”
Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said that organising a memorial service for Vichea’s death as well as demanding justice for the victims was a recurring activity while those who knew the truth, (a witness), had fled the country and is now shouting for justice from abroad.
They did not give the exact information to the authorities and then accuse us of not finding the killer. “How can you not provide evidence, run away and hide and then shout they do not find justice?”
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, believes the witness who ran away could not be held accountable, as she feared for her safety, since after 19 years the killer has not been found.
He said that in terms of the investigation procedure, it is not dependent on knowing the facts, but it depends on the technique of investigation and finding evidence to identify the perpetrators and then to seek legal arrest. #