Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Families of Building Collapse Victims Seek Compensation, Appeal to Prime Minister

The families of 28 victims killed due to a Sihanoukville building’s collapse gather outside the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit headquarters in Kandal province to submit a petition requesting his help in receiving court-ordered compensation on October 13, 2022. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
The families of 28 victims killed due to a Sihanoukville building’s collapse gather outside the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit headquarters in Kandal province to submit a petition requesting his help in receiving court-ordered compensation on October 13, 2022. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Pen Sarun has not received even 100 riel of court-ordered compensation for the death of her husband, one of 28 workers killed in the collapse of a seven-story Sihanoukville building under construction in 2019. 

Facing mounting debts as a widow raising three children, Sarun appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen to ensure victims’ families received financial support, presenting a petition at his residence last Thursday, along with 10 other victims’ relatives. 

An official at the Prime Minister’s residence in Tuol Krasang told the petitioners to contact provincial authorities instead, Sarun said. 

The victims’ families had previously sought to submit a petition in August but were rejected due to improper letter formatting, said Kong Chamroeun, an official in the prime minister’s office.

Preah Sihanouk’s provincial court mandated in July 2020 that the perpetrators behind the building’s collapse — four Chinese nationals and one Vietnamese — pay between 60 to 100 million riel (between $15,000 to $20,000) to each victims’ family and 20 million riel ($5,000) to each of the 26 injured individuals. The Supreme Court upheld this ruling.

The four Chinese nationals, including the building’s owner Cheng Kun and construction supervisor Deng Xing Gui, were sentenced to serve 2.5 to three years in prison, while the Vietnamese national, Nguyen Thi Thuy Hao, escaped from authorities. 

Rescuers search for victims at the site of a building collapse that killed 28 people and injured 26 in Sihanoukville in June 2019. (Photo supplied by CENTRAL).

The perpetrators’ lawyers have previously portrayed their clients as victims who suffered significant financial losses as a result of the buildings’ collapse. 

But whether the families of the killed and injured construction workers will receive compensation following the court rulings remains unclear, victims’ relatives involved in the petition said. 

No compensation was paid out by the court-ordered deadline of June 15 this year, said Ben Sreyka, whose 18-year-old brother died in the collapse. 

Implementation of the verdict appears in limbo amongst court authorities. Huot Vichet, spokesperson for the Preah Sihanouk provincial court, told CamboJA the Supreme Court is tasked with enforcing the ruling. Chiv Keng, Supreme Court vice president, claimed his court had closed the case and directed the provincial court to carry out this duty. 

“This procedure [providing compensation] should be implemented at the lower court,” Keng said.

Mam Channet, one of the victims’ three volunteer lawyers appointed by the prime minister, declined to comment. 

But his client, Sarun, claimed her debts have spiraled due to microfinance loans and the collapse of her small business during the height of the pandemic.

“The Supreme Court has been silent until now, I have not seen any compensation,” Sarun said. “My lawyer told me that if you want to hurry, you should go to the Samdech [Hun Sen] to [help] speed up [the case].”

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