Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

At 16th anniversary, unions criticize stalled investigation into labor leader Chea Vichea’s murder

16 anniversary of the assassination of union leader Chea Vichea. CamboJA

Unions on Wednesday criticized the lack of action by a governmental committee set up in 2017 in part to investigate the murder of labor leader Chea Vichea, as gathered unionists and rights workers marked 16 years since his death.

Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, was killed on Jan. 22, 2004 near Phnom Penh’s Wat Langka padoga while buying a morning newspaper.

Two men were arrested for the murder, but were later acquitted as Vichea’s family and human rights groups campaigned for an independent investigation into the murder amid allegations of irregularities.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has long urged the government to reinvestigate the murder “as a matter of urgency,” and the government formed an interministerial committee in 2017 to monitor the implementation of ILO recommendations.

16 anniversary of the assassination of union leader Chea Vichea. CamboJA

Manh Senghak, vice president of Vichea’s former union, said at Wednesday’s gathering of about 100 people that the committee had failed to meet its obligations to the ILO.

“The committee has been formed for more than two years, but they’ve never contacted Chea Vichea’s wife or relatives to ask a single question in order to find more evidence to help the case progress,” Senghak said.

The efforts made so far weren’t good enough, he said. “We request that the relevant stakeholders — especially the government — take serious action to work on this case to give justice for Chea Vichea’s family and end impunity in the Kingdom,” Senghak said.

Others at the gathering recalled Vichea’s bravery.

“We’ll never forget what Chea Vichea did for the Cambodian people and for all of Cambodia’s workers,” said Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association.

Vichea had urged unionists and workers to assert their rights, Pov said. “If we’re exploited we need to fight back in solidarity against the exploitation.”

In a call from Finland, Vichea’s widow, Chea Kimny, told CamboJA News that she had laid awake until 2 a.m. thinking about the 16 years since his death.

“I never give up hope that one day the justice will come for our family,” Kimny said. “I don’t know when, but we’re looking forward to that day.”

She and her two daughters missed Cambodia, but would not return until the case was resolved, she said.

“As of now I see Cambodia going backward,” Kimny said. “It’s not a country that has rule of law; they mainly arrest good people and send them to jail. When murders happen they never find the killers.”

Chea Vichea founded his Free Trade Union in 1996, together with unionists Rong Chhun and Ou Mary, with support from opposition politician Sam Rainsy.