By Cameron Wells
The International Labour Organisation has renewed calls to immediately drop charges against two men accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea and for the Supreme Court to “rapidly review” an appeal from a man convicted of the killing of union leader Ros Sovannareth. In a report released Friday, following a review of Cambodia’s compliance with a convention ensuring workers’ right to form unions without interference from employers or officials, the ILO also urged that the killer of a third unionist, Hy Vuthy, be brought to justice.
As part of two weeks of meetings in Geneva assessing various countries’ levels of compliance with a handful of conventions, the ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations earlier this month reviewed Cambodia’s implementation of Convention 87, which concerns workers’ free association and collective-bargaining rights.
The committee last week said that the government had failed to submit a report outlining steps taken to meet the convention’s requirements. The conclusions issued Friday by the Committee on the Application of Standards, however, noted that the report was submitted June 7, but that it had yet to be analysed by ILO reviewers.
“The committee regretted the lack of information relating to the long-awaited independent investigations to be carried out into the assassinations of the trade unionists Chea Vichea, Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy,” Friday’s report says.
The committee “urged the Government … to ensure full and impartial investigations into the murders of the abovementioned Cambodian trade union leaders and to bring, not only the perpetrators, but also the instigators of these heinous crimes to justice.”
Chea Vichea, then-head of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, was gunned down in 2004 while buying a newspaper near Wat Lanka. Two men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, were convicted of the crime later that year, but the Supreme Court ordered their provisional release in December 2008, citing contradictory evidence.
Ros Sovannareth, a union leader at the Trinunggal Komara Garment Factory, was shot dead by two assailants while driving his motorcycle on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard in May 2004. Thach Saveth was convicted in that case in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Hy Vuthy, FTU president at the Suntex Garment Factory, was shot and killed in 2007. No one has been arrested for that slaying.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Cambodian Legal Education Centre, said he agreed that the case against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun should be dropped immediately.
“The government should drop the charges against the two scapegoats,” he said. “The evidence against both men was not there. The government needs to strengthen the judicial system in Cambodia.”
He expressed hope that the report would prompt the government to pursue all three cases more aggressively, despite the fact that similar calls were issued by the ILO in 2009.
“If the government had a real purpose to arrest the real killers, it is very possible,” he said. “If they escape to Malaysia or Singapore, the government can still find them. It is possible.”
Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, declined to comment on the ILO’s report on Sunday