This April, I watched a remarkable environmentalist die after being shot by police in the middle of a vast emerald forest in an isolated part of Cambodia. Another man lay bloody and motionless nearby, and my colleague and I, both journalists, were threatened with death. "Kill them both," we heard the AK-47 wielding police say. One of the soldiers had a mask covering his face, only his eyes visible. We counted the last minutes of our lives.
Somehow, we survived. Chut Wutty, the selfless forestry steward who took us into the woods to expose Cambodia's rampant illegal logging crisis, didn't. He was cut down like the 700 other land and forest defenders murdered around the world in the last decade trying to protect their source of culture, food, income and life from greedy timber thugs.
Logging is a high stakes blood sport in Cambodia. For decades, money-hungry Asian companies have been gutting pristine landscapes in the country with little care, feeding into ruthless mafia networks and crime rings that operate a $15 billion illegal logging business around the world. Anyone who stands in the way of the rapacious industry will be silenced, the local wisdom goes. Half a dozen Cambodian journalists, environmentalists and activists have been murdered in the past decade for trying to get between a roaring chainsaw and a tree.
And the customer--is you. The US is the number one importer of illegal wood products in the world. Your home may be built from illegally logged resin tree timber. Your dresser could be constructed from finely shaped rosewood. You could be playing a guitar whose frame was made from stolen trees.
I lived that day so I could tell this story. The story of a man who gave up a cushy government job to dedicate his life to protecting poor villagers and ancient, sky-scraping trees in one of the greatest remaining forests in Cambodia; the story of a country losing its lush jungles and enchanted woodlands to timber barons in Vietnam, Korea and China while those resisting the plunder fall to their graves; and the story of an international community, led by the biggest buyer of global blood wood, that has remained shamefully silent in the wake of Cambodia's new ecological killing fields.
But now that the story is being told, it's time to listen--and to act.
This November, Cambodia will host US President Barack Obama during an important regional summit. The meeting presents a critical opportunity for Obama to speak out against the slaughter of activists and journalists in the country, a stand that is vital to take considering the US’s wood imports are fanning the flames of timber crime in Cambodia.
Obama could also issue an ultimatum to the government of Prime Minster Hun Sen—either shape up or pay up. As one of several donor countries that contributes nearly half of Cambodia’s annual budget, Obama has the power of the purse. He should withhold funds until the government shows initiative to purge its political and military ranks of timber thieves, hold accountable the men who killed Wutty and protect Cambodia’s last remaining trees.
And you can help. Here’s how: Sign this petition.
Sign this petition if you care about Wutty. Sign it if you care about the pregnant wife of an anti-logging journalist hacked to death weeks ago in Cambodia. Sign it for the poor villagers who worry their lives will be cursed by angry forest spirits embittered by the gutting of their skin. Sign this petition if you believe in clean air, accountable governments, human rights and ethical goods.
Sign this petition because you're shocked, angered, saddened and mobilized by what you've just read.
Sign this petition because it's a miracle I survived to tell you this story.