Global Witness joins Cambodian activists and citizens in commemorating the death of Chut Wutty, the Director of environmental watchdog Natural Resource Protection Group (NRPG), who was murdered a year ago today by military police while investigating illegal logging and land seizures.
One of Cambodia’s most outspoken activists, Wutty spent years exposing how Cambodia’s corrupt political and business elite have accumulated vast fortunes by selling off the country’s land and forests for private gain. At the time of his death, he was showing two journalists the illegal operations of a logging company. An altercation resulted in the fatal shooting of Wutty and a military police officer, with only the logging company’s security guard still alive. Following a shambolic investigation, the security guard received only a two-year sentence for the “unintentional murder” of the police officer and walked free in a matter of weeks. The investigation into Wutty’s death was dropped.
“Since Chut Wutty’s death, the crisis he was fighting in Cambodia’s farms and forests has got rapidly worse,” said Megan Macinnes of Global Witness. “There is more deforestation, more land grabs, more corruption and more impunity. Why has his death not been properly investigated? What about the other land activists rotting in prison cells in Cambodia? These are the questions the world should be asking to do justice to Wutty’s memory.”
Cambodia is in the midst of a state-sponsored land grabbing crisis which has seen nearly three quarters of the country’s arable land leased to investors since 2008. Communities are seldom consulted and rarely see the benefit from these secretive deals, while forced evictions and conflicts with authorities are increasingly common.
The backlash against those who speak out is typically severe. Just weeks after Wutty’s murder, a 14 year old girl was killed by military police during a forced eviction in Kratie province, and in September journalist Hang Serei Odom was found murdered in the boot of his car after investigating timber cartels in the north of the country. Neither case has been investigated by the authorities. Instead, Cambodia’s judicial system appears to have been co-opted by the country’s powerful elite, with a 144% increase in arrests over land and housing issues between 2011 and 2012.
In June 2012, Global Witness research revealed that the global number of killings of land and forest activists had more than doubled in three years to a rate of nearly two a week. The findings, drawn from consultations with communities, organisations and academics, noted nine killings of such activists in Cambodia between 2002 and 2011.
“It is time for the international community to act – donors should use their influence to pressurise the government to stop doing deals in secret, stop brutally repressing their people and stop destroying the country’s rich natural heritage,” said Macinnes.
Contacts: Oliver Courtney, [email protected], +44 7912 517147