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On the Third Anniversary of the Murders

A Statement by Sam Rainsy

Editor's note: The article below is the text of a speech by Sam Rainsy, on the occasion of the third anniversary of the 1997 bombing of a pro-democracy demonstration in Phnom Penh. Rainsy is, arguably, Cambodia's leading opposition politician. We wish to thank the Sam Rainsy Party for permission to reprint this speech.

Phnom Penh, March 30, 2000

Exactly three years ago, at this very place, at least 16 people were killed and over a hundred others were seriously wounded by the explosions of four grenades tossed at a crowd of peaceful demonstrators by a group of terrorists. That day was a tragic event for the victims, their families, their friends, for the Cambodian people and for all those who care for democracy and justice. For me, who was leading the demonstration, this tragedy will continue to haunt me until the rest of my life. I had never felt so close the breath of death. It was a shocking blood bath. I had never seen so much suffering, terror and distress in the eyes and the cries of so many people so close to me. I had never felt so strongly responsible for the death of other human beings, because these people, I was leading them, encouraging them, giving a meaning to their protest and a hope to their demand.

Were we demanding too much? We were demanding an independent judiciary, a corruption-free tribunal. We were protesting politically motivated decisions by our national courts and we were denouncing the power of money that distorts justice. We were condemning the powerful officials and the rich businessmen who used the courts to legalize their misdeeds. We were demanding real and unbiased justice for the ordinary citizens, the powerless and the poor people. We were asking for equality of all citizens before the law. Was it the wrong way to put forward our demand? Before holding that demonstration, we had asked for and obtained a due authorization signed by the two co-Ministers of Interior to go ahead with our march from the Khmer Nation Party headquarters to the National Assembly. Were democracy and what it entails in terms of rights and freedoms only a joke and were we not insightful enough to realise that it was crazy to try to exercise those rights and freedoms in a country like Cambodia? We candidly thought it was natural to start living in the light of principles enshrined in our Constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations brought to the Cambodian people immediately after the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. It was during that glamorous UNTAC era, which saw Cambodia moving out of darkness. Why didn't they tell us that it would be only a show for a brief period and that we should not believe too much in their story about democracy and human rights?

A tragedy finds all its dimension when we remember the faces and the names of the victims. Hann Mony, my faithful and dedicated bodyguard, I will never be able to tell you all my gratitude for what I owe you: my life. Chet Duong Daravuth, among these young intellectuals, you were a modest and conscientious journalist, fighting with your pen, advocating our democratic ideals and dreaming of a better Cambodia. Yung Sok Neuv, Yung Srey, Yuos Seam, as factory workers in those newly-built sweatshops, you had already responded to my previous appeals and taken part fearlessly in previous demonstrations with thousands of your colleagues to demand social justice starting with the respect for the labour law. You were revolted because all the complaints workers had lodged at the court against unscrupulous employers were never dealt with. Chanty Pheakdey, you were probably the youngest among us, a 13-year-old schoolgirl following some older students all wanting to change the world with their pure hearts. With the other victims, may you now rest in peace. We, who survive the attack, vow to continue the fight for justice based on democracy until we obtain the final victory and this victory will be made possible only thanks to your sacrifices.

We want to tell everybody that we have no hatred in our hearts. It is not revenge that we want, but justice. Justice is the foundation for peace, peace in the heart as well as peace in society. To achieve peace we are prepared to forgive. But before meaningfully forgiving we need to know whom to forgive and whether the people who caused our sufferings would ask for forgiveness. Therefore the truth must be exposed first. For this purpose we must stress that only an independent tribunal could make serious investigations and find out what we need to know.

No democracy and no progress can be achieved in Cambodia as long as a culture of impunity continues outrageously to prevail here. Impunity is maintaining the country in a state of anarchy, violence and barbarism. Impunity is a continuous insult to the memories of victims of violence in the past and, at the same time, an encouragement to the commitment of new crimes in the future. The prerequisite for putting an end to impunity is the establishment of an independent tribunal free of corruption and political interference. This is precisely what the victims of the 1997 grenade attack have sacrificed their lives for.

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