Lucky for some

December 19, 2012

Ah, good old impunity. The 30th of March is celebrated in Cambodia, if that’s the right word, as ‘Impunity Day’ by human rights organizations. On that day in 1997, a brutal grenade attack on an opposition party rally in central Phnom Penh killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 100.

On the day of the attack, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit was deployed at the demonstration: the elite military unit, in full riot gear, not only failed to prevent the attack, but was seen by dozens of witnesses opening up its lines to allow the grenade-throwers to escape and then threatening to shoot people trying to pursue the attackers.

Rather than catching or punishing anyone, the government has handed out high-level promotions to several known human rights abusers in Cambodia’s armed forces and national police – including at least two linked to the 1997 attack.

And the impunity continues – almost any day of the year sees someone in this country enjoy impunity, in the sense of freedom from any risk of being punished for doing something wrong or bad. Yesterday was Chhouk Bandith’s day.

A vicious cretin

A vicious cretin

This charming character was formerly the governor of a town called Bavet, in the southeast of the country. In April this year he was charged with the offence of causing “unintentional injuries” for allegedly shooting three women during a protest at a factory making Puma sportswear. (Protesting being bad for business.) He was identified by multiple eyewitnesses. Yet yesterday the ludicrously lenient charges against him were dropped.

The courts declined to elaborate on why exactly they decided not to proceed. No one else has been charged with anything.

“I’m almost speechless,” said Cambodian Centre for Human Rights President Ou Virak. “This guy walks out of the car, fires his gun into a crowd of workers, and gets to be a free man. Nothing is based on the implementation of the law.”

The three young women who were shot, one in the back, were asking Puma for 50 cents a day for food and $10 a month for transportation.

The three women shot by Chhouk Bandith

The three women shot by Chhouk Bandith

Deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division Phil Robertson called the decision “an indictment of the entire Cambodian justice system. Essentially, the idea is: buy time, let it drag out, and after a certain amount of time, you just whitewash it. He should have been charged with attempted murder in the first place. It’s a travesty of justice, another case of impunity running rampant. If you know the right people, you can get away with anything,” said Robertson.

One of the three young women, 18-year-old Keo Near, told a local paper that she had no intention of dropping the case. “I know it’s hard to get justice in this country against a powerful person, but I will continue to file complaints until the end of my life.”

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One Response to “Lucky for some”

  1. […] wrote last year about Chhouk Bandith, the former governor of Bavet town in southeast Cambodia, who had not been convicted of shooting […]

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