PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The government’s announcement of a new commission to investigate the decade-old murders of members of the Free Trade Union has been welcomed by some and greeted with skepticism by others.
On Saturday two UN agencies – the International Labor Organization and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – released a joint statement supporting the commission.
They “welcome the recent announcement that the Royal Government of Cambodia has established an inter-ministerial commission to investigate the murders of three trade unions leaders,” the statement said.
It also said they “hope that every effort will be made to find the true perpetrators of these crimes and ensure that justice will be finally served.”
Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea and factory representative Ros Sovannareth were murdered in 2004, while factory representative Hy Vuthy was killed in 2007.
William Conklin, country director of the US-based Solidarity Center, said the timing of the government’s announcement was “suspect.”
It came while negotiations for a new minimum wage are underway and a trade union law is being drafted.
“There have been no public consultations on the draft legislation since last year,” Mr. Conklin added.
The commission will have a hard time gaining credibility among independent unions because it lacks members from outside the government, he said, adding: “If the government wants the commission to be taken seriously it should include independent and impartial members.”
“If the government is making a meaningful gesture it must go about this in a transparent way,” he stressed.
The commission could, for example, include members of civil society who are impartial, independent and have experience investigating such crimes, he explained.
Sending a Signal
A spokesperson for the government said it was sending a signal by setting up the commission.
“The message to all union leaders is that we are their partners,” said Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers.
The commission comprises high-level officials at three ministries (Interior, Justice and Labor) as well as the Council of Ministers, the National Police Force, the Military Police and other authorities, according to the directive establishing it.
It was signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on June 10, but was not distributed to the media until late last week. Mr. Siphan stressed that the cases had never been closed. “We never abandoned the cases,” he said, appealing to the public for help.
“If you have any evidence [about these cases] please let us know.” (Additional reporting by Vincent MacIsaac)