On 25 April 2012, Chut Wutty, a well-known Cambodian environmentalist, was gunned down and killed in Koh Kong province. Along with two journalists he had been investigating illegal rosewood logging close to the site of a Chinese dam project.
He was apparently killed following a heated argument with military police after refusing to surrender the memory card of his camera. He was still only in his forties.
His death leaves a family without a father and has silenced a passionate and committed voice that was steadfast in its support of the forests and of poor Cambodians.
As much as anything else it is the manner of his death which is so disturbing. He was murdered in the middle of the day, with journalists present, while involved in entirely legitimate activities.
He died from bullet wounds but, ultimately what killed this man, with his unwavering vision of a better Cambodia, was the result of entrenched interests by individuals totally lacking in vision beyond that of personal gain.
It brings to mind the death, in 1988, of Chico Mendes and how that event became a rallying moment for the environment in Brazil. We can only hope that Chut Wutty’s passing does not go unremarked and that his dream will live on – that steps are taken to protect the irreplaceable forests of Cambodia and support is given to those communities living around them.
And let us hope too that decisive action is taken to quash any misconception that this sort of intimidation and ready violence is ever acceptable. This killing was brutal and unnecessary and has deprived Cambodia of a dedicated champion whose only crime was to believe in, and fight for, a brighter future.