KHM 001 / 0209 / OBS 025
Judicial proceedings / Impunity
February 16, 2009
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its deepest concern regarding the following situation in Cambodia.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO) of the appeal in the case of Mr. Chan Sopheak, known as Thach Saveth, accused of murdering Mr. Ros Sovannareth, a Steering Committee member of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) and the union’s representative at the Trinuggal Komara factory in Phnom Penh, who was shot dead by two men on a motorbike in Phnom Penh on May 7, 2004.
According to the information received, on February 11, 2009, an hearing in appeal took place before the Appeal Court on Mr. Chan Sopheak’s case, which lasted less than an hour. One of the witnesses of the assassination of Mr. Sovannareth was present in court in order to testify, at the request of the defence lawyer. However, presiding Judge Um Sarith refused to give him the floor, and preferred to rely upon written statements of witnesses, that were gathered by the police.
The Appeal Court will issue its verdict on February 18, 2009.
The Observatory recalls that Mr. Sopheak was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in February 2005 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for the assassination of Mr. Ros Sovannareth. The verdict of the Municipal Court had been issued in spite of the lack of credible evidence against him, in violation of the rights of the defence: the conviction by the Municipal Court was based on prosecution witnesses who did not appear in court, and therefore could not be cross-examined by defence lawyers, while defence witnesses who provided alibi testimonies, acknowledging the fact that Mr. Chan Sopheak was travelling between Anlong Veng and Siem Reap on the day of Mr. Ros Sovannareth’s murder, were ignored. Nobody but the police was ever able to talk to the witnesses, whose written statements were contradictory.
The Observatory denounces these procedural irregularities, and in particular the blatant violation of the right to a fair trial. The Observatory also underlines the similarities between the case of Mr. Sopheak and the case of Messrs. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, who were unjustly convicted of killing Mr. Chea Vichea, FTUWKC National President, to be finally released on bail on December 31, 2008 upon ruling of the Cambodian Supreme Court, which acknowledged the lack of evidence against them and the need for further investigation.
In view of the issuance of the verdict on February 18, the Observatory urges the competent authorities to fully take into account all the testimonies and elements brought to their attention by the defence, in order that Mr. Sopheak’s right to a fair trial be guaranteed. In this regard, the Observatory calls for Mr. Sopheak’s immediate release as well as the end of judicial proceedings against him, as they seem to merely aim at providing impunity to the real murderers of Mr. Sovannareth.
Please write to the Cambodian authorities and ask them to:
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Chan Sopheak;
- Release Mr. Sopheak immediately and unconditionally since his detention is arbitrary, as it seems to merely aim at providing impunity to the real murderers of Mr. Sovannareth;
- Conduct a fair, impartial and independent inquiry into the assassination of Mr. Ros Sovannareth, in order to identify the authors, bring them to justice and pronounce sentences proportional to the gravity of their crimes;
- Guarantee that adequate reparation is provided to Mr. Ros Sovannareth’ s family;
- Put an end to all forms of harassment against human rights defenders in Cambodia;
- Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its article 1 which provides that “every person has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental liberties at the national and international levels”, as well as its article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;
- Guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments ratified by Cambodia.
- Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 36 06 66 / 855 23 88 06 24 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 212708. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 161 Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 21 61 44 / + 855 23 21 69 39. Email: email@example.com
- Ambassador Mr. Sun Suon, Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin de Taverney 3, Case postale 213, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 788 77 74. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.
Paris-Geneva, February 16, 2009
Kindly inform the Observatory of any action undertaken quoting the code number of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / 33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29
 See Observatory Annual Report 2004.
 See Urgent Appeal KHM 001 / 0805 / OBS 070.2, issued on January 6, 2009.