A statue of Cambodia’s most prominent union boss, who was gunned down on a Phnom Penh street in 2004, has been unveiled in a rare public recognition of a champion of workers’ rights in the impoverished kingdom.
The statute, inaugurated on Friday, is of Government critic and labour activist Chea Vichea was shot dead in broad daylight while reading a newspaper on a street in the capital nine years ago.
Two men have been jailed over his murder, but rights groups and the victim’s family allege they were wrongly convicted to protect the real culprits.
Chea Vichea founded the Free Trade Union, which now boasts around 90,000 members mostly employed in Cambodia’s lucrative garment industry, which has been at the heart of labour disputes and media scandals over low wages and conditions.
Campaigners say his murder is a symbol of the kingdom’s culture of impunity for powerful interest groups determined to muzzle dissent.
Permission to erect the statue – in a park near where he was slain – was for many years denied by the government of strongman prime minister Hun Sen before being granted recently.
It will now stand as a symbol of “gratitude for his physical and mental sacrifice for … workers across the country,” according to the late activist’s brother Chea Mony.
Chea Mony, who now heads the Free Trade Union, also called for the release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun – the two men sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder. The pair allege they were framed by police.
The country earned $4.6bn from its garment exports last year but a series of strikes has pointed to festering discontent in the industry which employs about 650,000 people and produces clothes for top western brands.
The monthly minimum wage for the hundreds of thousands of workers who make clothes for firms such as Levi Strauss of the US and Sweden’s H&M this week rose from $61 to $75 following months of protest.