Chut Wutty death does little to curb Cambodia’s illegal logging
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Chut Wutty death does little to curb Cambodia’s illegal logging

In an article published exactly one year after environmental activist Chut Wutty was killed in Cambodia, Megan MacInnes, Senior Land Campaigner at Global Witness, regrets that “Wutty’s death has not served as a wake-up call for Cambodia’s donors or allies“. On the same day, his brother- in-law, Yong Sokhorn, told Radio Free Asia that, “The government must reconsider and reopen the case in order to find the true killer and determine who was behind the killing.”

A year ago, Chut Wutty, one of the most outspoken voices against illegal logging, wanted to show two Cambodia Daily reporters that the Timbergreen company was involved in processing yellow vine. He was supposedly shot on site by In Rattana, a military police officer who was there to protect the company’s property in the Cambodian southwestern province of Koh Kong. In Rattana was also killed a few minutes later.

Impunity and lack of justice

It is believed by activists that light will never fully be shed on Wutty’s and Rattana’s cases. “Okay shoot me!” Chut Wutty said to In Rattana, the military officer who was threatening to kill him if he did not give away his memory stick full of pictures. That’s all the Cambodian justice system decided to disclose about the argument that preceded their killings. Both were found dead on a dirt road next to the  facilities of the logging company Timbergreen.

According to the Cambodian justice system, In Rattana shot Wutty. Therefore, there was never a trial about what happened. Furthermore, In Rattana was accidentally shot by a former employee of Timbergreen. The employee was sentenced to two years in jail on October 22, 2012 with 18 months of that sentence suspended. He walked free less than two weeks after. While local NGOs called it a “mockery of justice”. But at that time, the Koh Kong provincial judge Kham Sophary and deputy prosecutor Srey Makny said they were busy in a meeting and could not comment on the decision as requested by The Phnom Penh Post.

In its 2012 report about human rights practices published earlier this month, the US State Department called them “arbitrary killings“. Shortly after the killings and according to the report, Koh Kong military police detained journalists Phorn Bopha and Olesia Plohkii for two days . The police reportedly confiscated their cameras but later returned all of their equipment.

Threats against forest activists continue… so does protection.

Since then, at least two important complaints were submitted by Cambodian citizens and three reporters have been threatened due to their activities linked to the forest. According to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), three forest activists received threats in two different provinces. Among them, one was told on the phone “properties can earn, but life cannot”. He was patrolling in Kratie province, where the situation of wood trafficking is more and more serious. “No action has been taken by the competent authorities. But hectares of forest have been destroyed,” according to CCHR.  “Activists patrolling the forest usually receives threats, but they are always different and often, they became the motivation for activists to move on to protect forest for the public interest,” continues a CCHR spokesperson.

In September 2012, Ek Sokunthy, who was working for the small Khmer weekly Ta Prum, told the Phnom Penh Post that he had been beaten on the head and body with a pistol and wooden stick in the north-eastern province of Ratanakiri, notorious for illegal logging activities. Ten days before this incident, Sokunthy took a picture of illegal logging activities in the forest after he was called by villagers who witnessed them. He was then threatened by a local “powerful” man and ordered not to publish anything about it. The article titled “Illegal logging traders still continue their activities in Angdong Meas” was eventually published in Ta Prum the week of September 18, stating the involvement of the district religion office and the former commune police chief.

Two weeks before, the journalist Heng Serei Oudom was found dead in the trunk of his car after he wrote a story and accused a local military police officer of extorting money from an illegal logger in the area. The local police took a military officer and his wife into custody the day after the murder, though both denied their involvement. Heng Serei Oudom brings the list of victims from reporting on environmental issues to 96 since 2002 in Southeast Asia.

A profitable business

According to the United Nations and Interpol, between 50% and 90% of logging activities in the Amazon basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia are illegal and organized crime is now moving to illegal logging, bringing $30 to $100 billion annually worldwide. And a recent report from the UN Environment Programme concluded that up to 90 percent of the world’s logging industry was in one way or another outside the law. 2012 was one of the most violent years for green activists. According to the report, it can become endemic.

For Derek Mead, who published a video five days ago on the publication Vice, ” the trade won’t go away until more people are made aware of how destructive it is”.