Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Monday, June 28, 2010

Spectacular Sold-Out Premiere of Anti-Child Trafficking Film in NYC

Source: Jim Luce - huffingtonpost.com

Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua received a standing ovation from the sold-out, standing room-only crowd at the red carpet world premier of REDLIGHT last week. Produced and narrated by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lucy Liu, the film left many stunned and some in tears. It is that wrenching.

"I am not a victim in Cambodia, but a survivor of Cambodia!," Sochua told the guests present. "In the darkest recess of human trafficking, there is hope!" The film featured the work of both Sochua and Somaly Mam, forming a narrative of the children they have helped out of the pits of exploitation - such as Reena and Sokha.

Daughter Malika with the human rights activist, politician and mother Mu Sochua.

Deftly blending horror and compassion, hope and futility, REDLIGHT is the second film in a trilogy that is changing the dynamics of child trafficking globally. Filmmaker Guy Jacobson has mastered the emotional edge of sexual slavery and manages to bring it to us in our sterile lives so that we get it - and want to stop it. The photography of the film is superb, with the breathtaking beauty of Cambodia juxtaposed with the squalid conditions of the children forced into the country's unspeakable brothels.

Rarely does a film have such in-depth access to the characters it follows. REDLIGHT weaves together the touching stories of its subjects into an inspirational journey for the audience. It is a true accomplishment in filmmaking.

The narration by Lucy Liu is familiar enough so that we are able to handle the unfamiliar. The quality and sensitivity of the film assures that its message will resound with audiences around the world as it is sure to win awards from Cannes to Sundance. If you chose to see only one documentary this year, make sure it is REDLIGHT.

More amazing than the film is the dangers Guy Jacobson overcame to film it in the shadow of the mafia, for whom human life holds no sanctity. He continues to risk his life daily fighting to expose and sabotage organized crime's most lucrative business.

Guy Jacobson, along with Lucy Liu, Mu Sochua, Somaly Mam, and child slavery expert Kevin Bales, are leading advocates to end child trafficking.

After the film, Sochua told the many gathered, "The movie was so real I could smell the brothel and feel the T.B. in the hospital. My Cambodia is this film." Sochua is a politician and a human rights activist. "I am a member of the Cambodian parliament - a member of the Opposition - who has been stripped of my immunity," she told the hushed audience. She represents the Sam Rainsy Party.

Guy Jacobson spoke after the film with Mu Sochua, UNICEF Global Chief of Child Protection Dr. Susan Bissell, and Israeli actress Adi Ezroni.

Sochua has refused to pay a frivolous fine imposed on her by the corrupt court there for 'defaming' the Prime Minister because she sued him for calling her a whore. "When I go back, I might be put in jail."

"My goal is to be re-elected and continue the fight for justice," she told us. "Justice! Hope!," she reminded us. "Justice is my own pursuit," Sochua said.

Guy Jacobson is a passionate filmmaker who understand child trafficking - and exposes it.

As I wrote last week, not often does a filmmaker present both an untenable social problem - and its solution. Guy Jacobson has done that. As filmmaker, former banker and lawyer, Guy's past and present reflected much of the audience comprised from the top ranks of the arts, finance and law. LexisNexis is the film's major corporate sponsor.

LexisNexis' involvement made a deep impression on many of the film viewers. "LexisNexis is to be commended for their support. It is wonderful that they have put their resources behind such an important problem," Dr. Lucie Lapovsky stated. Roberta Cooper of Vital Voices Global Partnership added, "It is critical that corporations take a role in this international problem, as has LexisNexis, among others in the travel and business community. Their important work should be publicized and praised widely."

Mu Sochua is empathetic to the stories these girls, one a victim and the other her big sister.

The brilliant film REDLIGHT is shown from the perspective of two Cambodian women opposed to childhood sexual slavery. One, Sochua, and the other Somaly Mam, a woman who escaped the brothels to dedicate her life to freeing others. Child trafficking expert Kevin Bales, author of Ending Slavery and President of Free the Slaves, is also interviewed in the film. See the film's trailer on Vimeo.

Filmmaker Guy Jacobson and his team have made a gut-wrenching plea to end child trafficking.

The deeply moving film points out that staggering statistic that 2.5 million children aged 18 months to 18 years are exploited for their young bodies each year. They can be raped 20 - 30 times a day, and up to half of them will die from shock, torture, drugs, and/or AIDS. But these numbers are difficult to grasp. The film also shows you a few real children and tells their tales. That anyone can get.

I interviewed many audience members after the Premiere. Dr. Lucie Lapovsky of Lapovsky Consulting told me:

Child trafficking is a complicated issue and I certainly do not have the solution. Clearly, traffickers should be prosecuted and not granted any leniency. Certainly, the film left me with the feeling that the economic problems in Cambodia exacerbate the situation.

The brothels should be outlawed or there should at least be aggressive enforcement to make sure that there are not children involved. Parents should be educated about what can happen to their children when they sell them.

I hope we can all be helpful in eradicating this terrible problem of child sex trafficking and can help make Cambodia a truly democratic country.

A red carpet premiere in NYC is a million miles away from children forced into sex - or is it?

Roberta Cooper, Co-chair of the Vital Voices Connecticut Council, attended the Premiere and told me afterwards:

The 'solution' lies in a multi-pronged, coordinated effort that includes the police and the judiciary and the press. There should be consequences for the patrons of the trafficked women and girls. One area that the film did not focus on is girls and women who are transported to other countries, including the United States. We need international sanctions and severe consequences for the perpetrators as well as assistance for the victims. United Nations initiatives are important as well.

I did see guy's other film Holly. I thought both films were excellent, but REDLIGHT affected me more. It had the narrative elements of Holly but was a documentary.

Particularly important is Sochua's work -- and also that of Somaly Mam -- to give the victims a place in their communities, counseling, and training in work through which they can become economically self-sufficient. It is very difficult for the rescued girls to overcome the stigmas placed on them by their own culture.

REDLIGHT is the second in Guy's trilogy, known as the K11 Project. Holly was the first in 2007, the story of a 12-year old prostitute who captures the jaded heart of a foreigner living in Cambodia who in turn goes out of his way to rescue her from the criminal element that controls her. Holly premiered at the United Nations, with honorary committee members including Susan Sarandon and Hillary Clinton.

The main theater was completely full, and another audience watched from the adjacent theater.

The REDLIGHT Children Campaign originally aimed at pressuring governments to enact or amend legislation to address this issue more effectively and allocate more resources towards enforcement of laws. This has proven to be difficult. Now, in addition to the original strategy, Guy wants to make it more difficult and costly for perpetrators to sexually abuse children. REDLIGHT Children has partnered with its sponsor LexisNexis to create both an international case law database for trafficking, and a trafficking offenders' database to assist lawmakers and prosecutors.

"REDLIGHT" director Guy Jacobson with me and John Lee at the premiere in New York City.

Following this superb film I know I cannot answer one question: Why has the United States and Somalia not signed the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Children (CRC)? As founder of Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW), I demand that our own nation takes responsibility for the lives of the children whose innocence, safety - and often lives - have been so terribly compromised. Mr. President, we owe this to these defenseless children.

For further issues, facts and the rule of law, see LexisNexis website. All photos by Arthur Eisenberg (Arthur@nycArthur.com).

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

UN human rights expert urges strengthening of Cambodian justice system

UN News Center

17 June 2010 – An independent United Nations expert today urged Cambodian authorities to strengthen the country’s judiciary and improve human rights, saying the nation still has too many shortcomings in its justice system.

“There is an alarmingly high number of people in detention due to various shortcomings in the criminal justice system, and the instances of miscarriage of justice are far too numerous,” Surya Prasad Subedi, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, warned at the end of his 10-day fact-finding mission.

“I call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to introduce appropriate measures to enhance the independence and capacity of the judiciary to enable it to function as an institution capable of providing justice to all in Cambodia,” he stated in a news release.

The expert concluded that Cambodia’s judiciary is facing tremendous challenges in delivering justice for its people, especially the poor and the marginalized.

He raised specific concerns relating to the judiciary’s role in protecting freedom of expression, and the narrowing of political space for critical debate in society, “due to the disproportionate use of defamation, disinformation and incitement lawsuits against journalists, human rights activists and political opponents.”

Another major concern was cases involving land-related rights. “If you are poor, weak and dispossessed of your land, you seem to have limited chance to obtain redress either through existing administrative land management systems, or through the courts,” said Mr. Subedi.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the adoption of a series of new laws designed to strengthen the system of justice.

However, he warned that “a combination of a lack of adequate resources, organizational and institutional shortcomings, a lack of full awareness of the relevant human rights standards, and external interference, financial or otherwise, in the work of the judiciary, has resulted in an institution that does not command the confidence of people from many walks of life.”

Mr. Subedi, who met with King Norodom Sihamoni and members of the Government and judiciary during his visit, encouraged the Government to forge ahead with measures to enhance and strengthen the judiciary and to improve the situation of human rights, and offered his assistance for such efforts.

He will submit a report, including recommendations for judicial reform in Cambodia, to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in September.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

US State Department: Cambodia's Trafficking in Persons Report 2010

Country Narratives
Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Trafficking in Persons Report 2010


Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced prostitution. Cambodian men, women, and children migrate to Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries for work and many are subsequently forced into commercial sexual exploitation or forced to labor in the Thai fishing and seafood processing industry, on agricultural plantations, in factories, in domestic work, or for begging and street selling. Debt bondage is sometimes a factor that contributes to the vulnerability of Cambodians to trafficking. Some Cambodian men report being deceived by Thai fishing boat owners about the expected length of service and the amount and circumstances of their payment; some remain at sea for up to several years, and report witnessing severe abuses by Thai captains, including deaths at sea. The number of workers who went to Malaysia for employment through Cambodian recruiting companies tripled in 2009, and many of these were believed to be under the age of 18. Recruiting agencies often charge $500-$700 in fees, which includes fees for several months of required pre-departure training provided by the recruiting agencies. Recruits are sometimes detained in training centers during the pre-departure training period, and the fees make workers more vulnerable to debt bondage. Some workers are reportedly subjected to confinement and conditions of involuntary servitude in, Saudi Arabia, and other destination countries, and some returning Malaysia workers reported being paid only at the end of their contract, at which time they were also informed that a substantial part of their pay was deducted. Cambodian children are also trafficked to Thailand and Vietnam to beg, sell candy and flowers, and shine shoes. Parents sometimes sell their children into conditions of forced labor, including involuntary domestic servitude.

Within the country, Cambodian and ethnic Vietnamese women and children are trafficked from rural areas to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville for commercial sexual exploitation. The Svay Pak brothel area of Phnom Penh remains a hub for child prostitution, despite attempts by authorities to close it down. Children are also subjected to forced labor, including being forced to beg, scavenge refuse, work in quarries, and work in the production and processing of bricks, rubber, salt, and shrimp. Cambodia is a destination for Vietnamese women and girls trafficked for forced prostitution. The sale of virgin girls continues to be a serious problem in Cambodia, with foreign (mostly Asian) and Cambodian men paying up to $4,000 to have sex with virgins. A significant number of Asian and other foreign men travel to Cambodia to engage in child sex tourism. Some Cambodians who migrate to Taiwan and South Korea through brokered international marriages may subsequently be subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor.

The Government of Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Law enforcement efforts stepped up significantly, resulting in a significant increase in convictions over the prior year. However, impunity, corruption, and related rent-seeking behavior continue to impede progress in combating trafficking in persons. Authorities reported one conviction of a public official for trafficking-related corruption during the year. Labor trafficking among Cambodians migrating abroad for work is a growing problem that will require greater attention from authorities in the coming year.

Recommendations for Cambodia:

Conduct robust investigations and prosecutions of government officials involved in trafficking activities; hold labor recruitment companies criminally responsible for illegal acts committed during the recruitment process, such as debt bondage through exorbitant fees, detention of workers during pre-departure training, and recruitment of workers under age 18; expand efforts to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, including the institution of nationwide victim identification procedures and referrals to adequate victim services; institute a law to regulate the recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant workers going abroad; engage governments of destination countries on the protection of migrant workers, as well as the safe repatriation of Cambodian trafficking victims and the prosecution of their traffickers; continue to prosecute criminal cases involving trafficking for both forced prostitution and forced labor; continue to train and sensitize law enforcement and court officials about trafficking, proactive identification of victims, victim referral procedures, and victim-sensitive handling of cases; improve interagency cooperation and coordination between police and court officials on trafficking cases; institute procedures to ensure victims are not arrested, incarcerated, or otherwise punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; and conduct a public awareness campaign aimed at reducing demand by the local population and Asian visitors for commercial sex acts.


The Government of Cambodia demonstrated significant progress in law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking during the last year. The February 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation covers a wide variety of offenses, with 12 of its 30 articles explicitly addressing trafficking offenses. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, authorities convicted 36 trafficking offenders, compared with 11 convictions in 2008; all but one of these convictions were for sex trafficking. While there were increasing reports of Cambodian migrant workers falling victim to trafficking due to exploitative conditions in destination countries, including Malaysia, the government has never criminally prosecuted or convicted any labor recruiters whose companies were involved in labor trafficking. In February 2010, the Phnom Penh municipal court convicted a woman for the forced labor of an 11-year-old girl enslaved as a domestic worker; the woman was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, and two related offenders were also sentenced to imprisonment.

The government partnered with NGOs to train over 4,000 police, social workers, court officials, and other employees on the 2008 law and its enforcement. There remain a large number of officials, particularly provincial-level police, who still need training. Consequently, confusion of trafficking offenses with other trafficking-related crimes such as prostitution, pornography, and child sex abuse is a sporadic occurrence, and some officials believe that enforcing laws against non-trafficking sex crimes contributed to efforts to combat trafficking. Judges and prosecutors sometimes continued to classify trafficking cases under non-trafficking articles and laws, or prosecuted non-trafficking cases using trafficking statutes. In March 2010, Cambodian police conducted raids in several cities on establishments suspected of engaging in “immoral” activities, but did not make sufficient efforts to arrest perpetrators for human trafficking offenses or identify trafficking victims, including children in prostitution. In one case, an NGO reported that military police in Sihanoukville kept the women and girls who were rounded up from multiple sites and offered them back to establishment owners for $50 a person. The government licensed 26 companies to send laborers to Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan that frequently work with independent brokers to locate potential workers. Authorities are negotiating additional labor agreements with other countries in Asia and the Middle East. However, Cambodia does not have a law to regulate the recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant workers, or to provide specific criminal penalties for negligent or exploitative recruitment agencies. During the year, police arrested one labor broker for the unlawful removal of nine children with the intent of selling them to work as servants in Malaysia; the broker is in pre-trial detention. A June 2009 inspection of a recruitment agency revealed that 20 of the 57 females questioned were under the age of 18, but the government did not arrest any labor export company officials during the year for such practices.

Impunity, corruption, and related rent-seeking behavior continue to impede anti-trafficking efforts. Police and judicial officials are both directly and indirectly involved in trafficking. Some local police and government officials extort money or accept bribes from brothel owners, sometimes on a daily basis, in order to allow the brothels to continue operating. Authorities prosecuted and convicted one public official who accepted $250,000 in exchange for forging documents intended to secure the release of a convicted child sex offender. Authorities did not prosecute the former president of Cambodia’s appeals court, who reportedly accepted $30,000 in 2008 for the release of brothel owners convicted of trafficking; the official remains employed with the Cambodian government.


The Government of Cambodia demonstrated limited efforts to protect victims of trafficking during the year. In August 2009, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSAVY) issued a new “Policy and National Minimum Standards for the Protection of the Rights of Victims of Human Trafficking,” which includes guidelines to improve victim treatment and protection, and began to train officials on the use of these standards. However, the effects of this policy have yet to be seen. The government lacks national procedures and sufficient resources for training to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as foreign women and children arrested for prostitution. Raids in March 2010 against “immoral” activities were not conducted in a manner sensitive to trafficking victims and did not involve trained anti-trafficking police or anti-trafficking organizations to assist in identifying or assisting potential trafficking victims. The government continued to refer victims to NGO shelters, but did not itself offer further assistance. There were not enough places in NGO shelters to accommodate all trafficking victims; this was particularly true for children, and specifically boys, which negatively affected authorities’ ability to carry out additional victim rescues.

MOSAVY reported that local police referred 535 victims of sex trafficking to provincial offices during the year (compared with 505 in 2008) who, in turn, referred victims to NGO shelters. Authorities worked with NGO partners to repatriate 11 female victims to Vietnam during the year. Building on technical assistance from an international organization, MOSAVY began to interview persons repatriated from Vietnam to help identify trafficking victims, and reported identifying 143 labor trafficking victims in this way. MOSAVY provided transportation assistance to return the victims to their home communities, but lacked the resources to provide further assistance. In partnership with UNICEF, MOSAVY also identified 83 Cambodian victims who had been repatriated from Thailand as trafficking victims; those victims remained briefly at a transit center jointly operated by the government and UNICEF in Poipet and were provided some reintegration assistance while officials conducted family tracing. Authorities encouraged victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. Cambodia’s weak judicial system, the lengthy legal process, and credible fears of retaliation are factors influencing victims’ decisions to seek out-of-court compensation in lieu of criminal prosecution. Victims who participate in the prosecution of their traffickers are not provided witness protection – a significant impediment to successful law enforcement efforts. Although victims legally had the option of filing civil suits to seek legal actions against their traffickers, most did not have the resources to do so, and the government did not provide assistance to victims for this purpose. In December 2009, the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam on victim identification and repatriation.


The Government of Cambodia continued some efforts to prevent trafficking in persons in partnership with international organizations and NGOs. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs maintained programs to prevent the trafficking of children to Vietnam for begging. The Ministry also held “Anti-Human Trafficking Day” ceremonies in December 2009 in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Poipet, which brought together several thousand Cambodian officials, civil society, and the public to increase awareness of trafficking, and was widely publicized on local television stations. Authorities cooperated with several international organization partners to produce radio programs on human trafficking. The Ministry of Tourism produced billboards, magazine advertisements, and handouts targeted to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, though these efforts should be expanded. Authorities convicted nine child sex tourists during the year and initiated prosecutions against at least 17 other foreigners, including a Korean karaoke bar owner and two more Japanese citizens involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. State-run media ran anti-child sex tourism messages, as well as several television programs in Khmer targeted at the local population to discourage demand for child sex. Cambodian military forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad received training on trafficking in persons prior to deployment.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hun Sen profits from suppression and aid

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is savoring another victory. His latest triumph: a string of verdicts against an opposition lawmaker that apparently guarantee him the liberty to insult women and get away with it.

His target, however, refuses to be silenced even after her latest showdown with the premier, who celebrated 25 years as the Southeast Asian country's leader this year. Nor has she changed her views about the Supreme Court, which upheld a lower court's decision against the outspoken parliamentarian in a bizarre case that has also put the country's judiciary on trial.

The superior court's verdict on June 3, including a fine of 16.5 million riel (US$4,000), was the third judicial ruling against the 54-year-old Mu Sochua. In August last year, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the former minister of women's affairs guilty of having insulted Hun Sen. In October 2009, she lost again following an attempt with the Court of Appeal.

"I will not pay the fine. They can confiscate my property. They can even take me to jail," a defiant Mu Sochua said in a telephone interview from the Cambodian capital. "I think it is a serious mistake for the ruling party to push this case at a time when the country needs reform of the judiciary."

"The judges were under trial from the beginning," she observed of the case that began early last year, when she first filed a defamation case against Hun Sen. It followed a speech he had delivered in the Khmer language, where he referred to her as "cheung klang" ("strong legs"), a demeaning term for women in the country.

But the powerful leader of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) turned the tables on the parliamentarian from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). The ruling party stripped Mu Sochua of her parliamentary immunity to help Hun Sen file a counter defamation charge against her. Adding insult to injury, a court dismissed the original defamation case Mu Sochua filed against the premier.

Hun Sen's latest judicial triumph has broader implications in a country struggling to get back on its feet after a 1991 peace deal brought an end to decades of civil war. The timing of the superior court's verdict, in fact, has triggered questions about the role Western donors have in aiding Cambodia's reconstruction.

On June 3, while Hun Sen was celebrating the silencing of one of the country's foremost champions of democracy, free speech and human rights, international donors pledged US$1.1 billion in aid for this year, up from last year's $950 million.

The largest aid package in Cambodia's history came at the end of a two-day donor conference in Phnom Penh, lifting the pressure on the Hun Sen administration to push ahead with five areas of reform. Three areas spelled out in 2004 by donors included changes to fight corruption and increase accountability, legal and judicial reform, protection of human rights and public administration reform.

That little had changed over the years was highlighted by a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the eve of this month's donor meeting. "Serious actions, such as court convictions of corruption cases, remain selective or are limited within certain political considerations," stated the NGO Forum on Cambodia.

The financial windfall for the Cambodian regime, despite a record of defamation lawsuits against opposition parliamentarians, intimidation of the media, a growing list of corruption scandals in the natural resources sector and stripping the environment for private profit, has disheartened civil society groups.

"All the talk by donors about strengthening democracy and human rights in Cambodia is just words; it is not meaningful," said Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, which seeks to champion democratic values in the Southeast Asian state. "The Mu Sochua verdict was a slap on the face of freedom of speech."

There is a growing belief that Hun Sen's ability to get away with bullying his opponents while being propped up by the donor community has more to do with China's spreading influence in Cambodia. Beijing's US$1.2 billion package in aid and soft loans to Cambodia in December last year confirmed the battle for influence being waged in a country where one-third lives in absolute poverty.

China gave Cambodia the funds shortly after Phnom Penh deported 20 Uyghur refugees from Xinjiang, a province in northwest China. Both the United Nations and the United States criticized the expulsion, saying it violated international refugee law. The Uyghurs belong to a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in China.

"The donors have taken into account China's economic role in Cambodia," said Ou Virak, head of the Phnom-Penh based Cambodia Center for Human Rights. "There is a lot of self interest at play."

Some analysts admit that Cambodia's international donors, who include Japan, Australia, the US and the World Bank, fear that if they walk away China will consolidate its control, leaving Western donors with little influence. Such an act would be deeply embarrassing for the donors for another reason.

"Cambodia has become the poster child of post-conflict reconstruction since the 1991 Paris Peace Accords," said Shalmali Guttal, senior researcher for Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based regional think tank. "Donors couldn't abandon it now for that would mean admitting failure."

"The Mu Sochua case reveals the lengths they are prepared to go," noted Guttal. "The donors are willing to stamp on their own benchmarks for reform in order to be in the game in Cambodia."

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The Cambodian Army: Open for Corporate Sponsors

By Brendan Brady / Phnom Penh

Members of the Cambodian military take part in a parade on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Oct. 13, 2009
Chor Sokunthea / Reuters

A land dispute in March between a sugar-plantation developer and a small community in the province of Kampong Speu motivated military police stationed nearby to spring into action, ostensibly in order to prevent an eruption of violence. It didn't take long, though, for the villagers to view the supposed peacekeepers as intimidators.

It wasn't the first time military personnel were seen as supporting the business interests of Ly Yong Phat, a prominent developer and Senator with the country's ruling party. Last October in the province of Oddar Meanchey, 100 families were driven off their land by members of an infantry brigade stationed in the area. They were moved to make way for another Ly plantation, according to the local rights group Licadho. Now that Ly's businesses will be officially sponsoring both of these military units following a new government initiative, says Licadho's Mathieu Pellerin, "it looks like a job-well-done payback." (See TIME's photo-essay "The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Rouge.")

At the end of February, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen kicked off a program creating partnerships in which businesses would provide donations for particular units of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The government has framed the initiative, which involves some 60 pairings, as facilitating the magnanimous inclination of corporations operating in Cambodia to support the welfare of the country's troops. Observers, however, caution that the program will ultimately serve to further enmesh the country's powerbrokers — political, military and business — into a network to serve their mutual interests and ensure everyone's allegiance to the ruling party.

The Cambodian military regularly guards large-scale private land concessions across the country, according to rights groups, and has been used to evict the rural poor for business developments. Hun Sen's new policy, says U.S.-based watchdog group Global Witness, is a step toward formalizing that process. "Global Witness has documented links between Cambodia's military and powerful business tycoons for many years now, so the relationships are not new," says Eleanor Nichol, a campaigner with the group, which was expelled from Cambodia in 2007 after publishing a report, fervently refuted by the government, that linked prominent officials in the government, military and business community with the illegal logging trade. "This latest move ... to officially sanction these partnerships is particularly shocking because it legitimizes a guns-for-hire scenario."

The government and companies participating in the new patronage program reject claims that the partnerships could lead to improprieties. Ly Yong Phat says his involvement in the program is to compensate for the military's lack of funding for troops' basic needs. Corporate support, according to a government memo, will "solve the dire situation of the armed forces, police, military police and their families through a culture of sharing." The government has responded to criticisms by specifying that donations would likely come in the form of food and shelter. (See the top 10 news stories of 2009.)

The program has confounded regional security experts. "It's not unusual in militarized states like Iran, Yemen, Turkey and Vietnam for the army to own and run corporations, but the direct corporate sponsorship of active-duty units is something new and very worrying," says John Harrison, a security expert based in Singapore. The only country in the region that comes close to having a similar system is Indonesia, says Carlyle Thayer, a professor of Asian security affairs at Australia's University of New South Wales. Like Cambodia, Indonesia has a long history of blurred lines between military and political power. For years, Indonesia has used "foundations" to collect donations from the private sector to compensate for shortages in public military funding. While some of the money has been used for its intended purpose of supporting military families, the system has promoted alliances between the Indonesian army and companies wherein donations are exchanged for "mafia-like" criminal services, according to Human Rights Watch.

Cambodia's army-sponsorship initiative goes against the grain of business divestment in the militaries of China and Vietnam, says Thayer. Citing a need to bolster security preparedness in the army, the Chinese government in 1998 forced its entrepreneurial army to sell off the majority of its investments and compensated the subsequent revenue shortfall by increasing defense spending. Two years ago, Vietnam called for a similar plan in the name of army discipline. "Cambodia should heed [those] lessons," says Thayer.

But unlike China and Vietnam, where booming economic growth helped bolster state funding for the military, Cambodia's army is badly strapped for cash. The problem is exacerbated by the deployment of large numbers of troops along the border with Thailand, as the two countries continue to engage in a protracted border-demarcation dispute. Even though the corporate donations are ostensibly voluntary, organizing official partnerships raises questions about the pressures companies will face to participate — and what benefits will be extended, or denied, to them based on their contributions. The end result, warn a litany of local and international rights groups, could be a cash-driven race to the top among companies vying for government favor, matched by a race to the bottom in state support of laypeople involved in rows with influential corporations.

Observers have also raised concerns that the initiative could further skew Cambodia's political landscape, which has seen a dramatic consolidation of power by the ruling Cambodian People's Party over the past decade. "In times of need, the public in many countries will spontaneously support their military ... Cambodia's new program is something very different," says Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore. By soliciting funds for the army, the government can position itself to arouse nationalist fervor that will, in turn, translate into support for its political backer: the ruling party itself.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1995298,00.html#ixzz0qQF7lNK9

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Prime Minister Hun Sen Fines MP, Mu Sochua

Radio Free Asia

Two fierce political foes in Cambodia clash again.

PHNOM PENH—Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and a firebrand MP convicted of slandering him appear headed for a public showdown, with the lawmaker facing six months in jail unless she pays a fine upheld by the country's Supreme Court.

"Mu Sochua was in the wrong…. The court has punished her and ordered her to pay a fine, and she must respect the court's decision," Hun Sen's lawyer, Ky Tek, said in an interview Tuesday.

"If she refuses, the prosecutor will take the next step—meaning she will be forced to pay or will go to jail."

But the Kompot province MP Mu Sochua said separately she won't pay the fine and is prepared for jail.

Hun Sen initially sued Mu Sochua for defamation after she accused him of making derogatory remarks about her.

Mu Sochua has called on international donors to scrutinize Cambodia's legal system and could take her case to the Constitutional Council after the country's highest court upheld her conviction for defaming the prime minister.

"I have been found guilty of a crime that I have not committed at all. This is not justice," Mu Sochua, of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and a former women's minister, told reporters.

She was convicted last year for defaming Hun Sen during an April news conference, in which she announced plans to sue the premier for allegedly insulting her.

The ruling is a "travesty," she said, while refusing to pay a court-ordered U.S. $4,000 fine after losing her final appeal June 2.

"This is justice for sale, and this is justice for powerful people only."

"I reaffirm that I will not pay. My conscience does not allow me to pay a single cent," she said.

"But my conscience is the conscience of the Sam Rainsy Party, which struggles for justice. Just arrest me anytime."

"The lower, appellate, and supreme courts didn't take all elements of facts into their consideration…. This court system isn't credible," she said.

She has appealed to international donors to investigate the Cambodian legal system and to Suriya Subedi, U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, who is visiting the country.

Damaged reputation

Ky Tek, representing Hun Sen, argued in court that Mu Sochua had damaged Hun Sen's reputation.

Chief Judge Khim Pon agreed, upholding lower-court rulings he said were in accordance with Article 114 of the Cambodia's Penal Code.

Mu Sochua's lawyer quit the case and joined the governing party after Cambodia's bar council accused him of malpractice.

The courts dismissed her complaint and the National Assembly voted to lift her parliamentary immunity from prosecution so the prime minister's case could go ahead.

Chan Saveth, from the local human rights group ADHOC, said the court's decisions would damage respect for rule of law in Cambodia.

The Cambodian government has faced sharp criticism from rights groups for launching a number of defamation and disinformation lawsuits against critics and opposition members.

New York-based Human Rights Watch recently accused Hun Sen's government of aiming to silence political opposition and critics with a "campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action."

Donors last week pledged a record U.S. $1.1 billion in aid for this year during a two-day conference.

But rights groups say donors should take a tougher stance to weed out corruption and diversion of funds.

Original reporting by Kim Peou for RFA's Khmer service. Translated from the Khmer by Vuthy Huot and Leng Maly. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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Cambodia's aid donors slammed for silence

By Irwin Loy
Asia Times Online

PHNOM PENH - P Yuen Mach sat on the floor of her wooden home, her hands nervously twisting a stalk of lemongrass into fibrous strands. Her days have been filled with worry ever since authorities told her that the plot of land that her family occupies and which overlooks Phnom Penh's Boeung Kak lake no longer belonged to her, but to a local company that plans to flip the site into a real estate development.

"The government took the land from the poor and gave it to the rich people," she said. "We are the poor people. Now they say we're living on state property illegally."

Yuen and her relatives are among an estimated 4,000 families that will likely be relocated as part of the 133-hectare development - the largest real estate project in Cambodia's rapidly changing capital.

With numerous other land disputes simmering across the country, housing-rights advocates here say Boeung Kak lake is just one potent symbol of the worsening problems affecting the landless poor. But with international donors having pledged a record US$1.1 billion this year in aid to the government, some advocates say that those who hold the most influence have failed to use it to urge the government to pursue faster reforms.

"There are donors who give money and then keep quiet. We are sorry for that," said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the coalition NGO Forum on Cambodia, which is composed of local and international non-governmental organizations working in the South-east Asian country. "People are crying and they just stay quiet."

The majority of the population in Cambodia lacks legal land titles, a result of the tumultuous Khmer Rouge regime that emptied Phnom Penh of its inhabitants and stripped away private ownership. When the regime fell in 1979, refugees flooded back to the cities from the countryside, many settling in abandoned buildings and squatting on vacant land.

"When we moved here, everybody just emerged from death, from the Khmer Rouge," Yuen said. "We just grabbed it and lived on the land. If the government had told us that living here was illegal, I would never have moved here."

An ambitious donor-funded land titling project begun in 2002 was supposed to have helped people like Yuen. The $28.8 million Land Management and Administration Project, or LMAP, was designed to create a government-run land management program and distribute official land titles. Nearly one million land titles were issued as part of LMAP across the country.

But when the Boeung Kak lake residents demanded titles as part of the program, authorities rejected the requests, claiming the residents were living illegally on state property. The residents soon learned the land had been leased to a private developer, whose plans for new office towers and villas did not include them.

After the project's proponents raised concerns about evictions with the government, authorities responded by abruptly canceling the program in September 2009.

The issue of land rights is just one of many on which critics are urging donors to take a tougher stand. The international watchdog organization, Global Witness, slammed international donors last week for continuing to hand over huge sums of aid money, "despite evidence of widespread corruption and mismanagement of public funds."

"The Cambodian government has been promising to reform for years, but nothing has changed," Gavin Hayman, the group's campaigns director, said in a statement.

The government, however, called the accusations part of a "hugely damaging smear campaign" to discredit authorities. "The request from NGOs to put pressure on the government and donors is a bad approach. They insult the government and they insult the donors," said government spokesman Phay Siphan.

"We are all partners here. We respect each other and we respect the partnership. And the country donors respect this nation's right to be a nation."

In the end, the government said the donors had cumulatively pledged roughly $1.1 billion toward the national budget.

Rafael Dochao Moreno, the charge d'affaires for the Delegation of the European Union to Cambodia, said he believes the country is making strides toward development.

"It would be impossible for NGOs and development partners to agree 100%," he said. "At the end of the day, nothing is black or white. I think there is a consensus that this country is moving in the right direction."

Still, now that the money has been pledged, some critics believe donors should be acting more aggressively to ensure the funds are well spent.

"The donors should make it clear that if the government is not willing to use the aid effectively, they can find alternative ways to do so," said Ou Virak, president of the non-governmental Cambodian Center for Human Rights. "The problem is that message has never been clear."

Though donors insist they are urging Cambodian authorities to increase transparency, Ou said their efforts have done little to ensure Cambodians themselves can hold their government to account. Despite the promises, it remains unclear just where all the aid money will go, he said.

"It's easy to call on the donors to bring about change," he said. "But the fundamental challenge here is how the donors can put conditions in place that will allow the Cambodian population to be able to hold its own government accountable.

"When you ask, has the money been used effectively? I just don't know. There's no transparency in this money and what kinds of projects they help to support."

(Inter-Press Service)


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