Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua Visits U.S., Speaks on Lack of Human Rights at Home

headshot-JL

Jim Luce.
Thought Leaders and Global Citizens
March 19, 2010
huffingtonpost.com

Jean-Michel Tijerina, CEO and Founder of the Cambodia Project, insisted I must meet her.

After an hour over coffee, I fully comprehended why.

I was talking to the Cory Aquino or the Aung San Suu Kyi – of Cambodia.

And given her courageous outspokenness, I am now very concerned for her safety.

Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua (Wiki) is headed back to Cambodia where she faces possible arrest and imprisonment. Yet she is headed back nonetheless.

She was in New York last week to attend Women in the World: Stories and Solutions, a conference that provides a platform for women across the world to tell the stories that have shaped their lives.

Some of the speakers in attendance are well-known, like Hillary Clinton, Diane von Furstenberg, and Queen Rania of Jordan. Other faces were less familiar but shared no less powerful stories, such as Mu Sochua.

Mu Sochua with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Occasion  of the Vital Voices Tribute to Global Women Leadership last week.

Mu Sochua with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Occasion of the Vital Voices Tribute to Global Women Leadership last week.

This high-powered event was sponsored by HP, Exxon Mobil, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women, and follows on the heels of the Vital Voices conference at Kennedy Center in Washington last week.

They invited internationally prominent women such as Mu Sochua to participate. In 2005, she was one of 1,000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and has received many awards for her human rights work.

Waving to her supporters, the odds are stacked against Cambodian  Parliament Member Mu Sochua. Many of her contemporaries in the  opposition have been assassinated.

Waving to her supporters, the odds are stacked against Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua. Many of her contemporaries in the opposition have been assassinated.

Mu Sochua became a member of her nation’s Cabinet in 1998, after having returned in 1989 after 18 years in exile during the period called the Killing Fields. She was then one of two women in high power there.

War and genocide took me away from my native Cambodia when I had just completed high school, in 1972. War exploded in addition to genocide from 1975 to 1979.

In just three years, over one million lives were lost – a quarter of Cambodia’s people. The green rice fields of Cambodia became killing fields.

Armed conflict continued until the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1991.

She was the first woman to preside over the Office of Women’s Affairs. Prior to her, it had been considered a man’s job.

I left Cambodia as a young adolescent and returned as a mother and an activist, working with women’s networks and human rights organizations to promote peace and to include strong provisions in the 1993 Constitution to protect the human rights of women.

In 1998, I ran for a parliamentary seat in the North West of Cambodia, the most devastated region, and won. The same year, I became Minister of Women and Veterans’ Affairs — as one of only two women to join the cabinet.

I declined a ministerial post in the next government, joining the opposition party instead, and joining forces with Cambodian democrats to fight corruption and government oppression.

M.P. Mu Sochua visits a paralyzed woman denied quality health  services.

M.P. Mu Sochua visits a paralyzed woman denied quality health services.

But the government there is not particularly democrat and she felt the corruption and nepotism kept Cambodia’s women back. She did not wish to be co-opted, so she joined the Sam Rainsy Party, the lead opposition party in Cambodia.

As a minister, I proposed the draft law on domestic violence in Parliament, negotiated an international agreement with Thailand to curtail human trafficking in Southeast Asia, and launched a campaign to engage NGOs, law enforcement officials, and rural women in a national dialogue.

During my mandate, I campaigned widely with civil society and NGOs to encourage women at the grassroots to run as candidates for commune elections, the first of their kind in the history of Cambodia.

Cory Aquino fought with yellow ribbons, Aung San Suu Kyi fights  with a dignified silence. Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua leads  the opposition with candles.

Cory Aquino fought with yellow ribbons, Aung San Suu Kyi fights with a dignified silence. Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua leads the opposition with candles.

Although the government rejects these numbers — and critics are often challenged with misinformation charges — it appears from credible sources that Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in Asia, with 30% of the population living below the national poverty line of 45 cents a day in 2007, with 68.2% of the population living on less than $2 a day.

Mu Sochua wants to improve Cambodia’s economy – with the help of Cambodia’s women:

My efforts have always been for long-term development which includes development of human resources for Cambodia, where most of our teachers, doctors, and judges were killed during the Khmer Rouge years.

As a woman leader I lead with the strong belief that women bring stability and peace, at home, in their communities and for the nation.

I am a strong supporter and advocate for a gender quota, although this special measure is yet to be adopted by the government.

Leaving the government to join the opposition is not the same as Joe Lieberman being a Democrat or Republican. In Cambodia, they don’t play. The head of the opposition party, Sam Rainsy, has been found guilty of destruction of public property and sentenced to two years in prison.

This trumped-up charge was followed by another three weeks later that will likely send him to at least ten years behind bars.

Armed police in Phnom Penh blocking the opposition's  anti-corruption march.

Armed police in Phnom Penh blocking the opposition's anti-corruption march.

Drummed-up charges and show trials are part of the Cambodian judiciary system that is directly controlled by the government. It is a direct form of political prosecution of the government’s critics.

A letter to the editor to The Phnom Penh Post this week by a prominent human rights defender points out the charges against Sam Rainsy are similar to the new electoral law in Burma which is designed solely to keep opposition leadership out of atonal elections.

Sam Rainsy, a prominent economist trained in France, was made Finance Minister following the U.N.-sponsored elections in 1993.

However, his parliamentary immunity was stripped and his former party expelled him from his government position in 1995 for his attempt to clean up corruption – forcing him to form the opposition party.

He has survived at least two assassination attempts when leading workers’ demonstrations. At one of the demonstrations his body guard died on top of him. He has since fled into exile in Paris.

Mu Sochua explained her dedication to opposition founder Sam Rainsy:

He leads with one thing in his mind: Justice. A man with strong democratic principles, he delegates power, he seeks the truth, and never shies away from threats to his life.

He has walked thousands of miles with the poor to end land grabs, he has lead hundreds of demonstrations to fight for workers’ rights.

And he has risked his life more than once to end corruption which is calculated at close to US$500 million per year according to the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia.

Since 1995, Mu Sochua told me — as we sat in the safety of the Time-Warner Building opposite Columbus Circle in New York City — that 185 activists from her opposition party have been killed.

She casually mentioned that just to care for that number of bodies was a burden for her and her followers. As hardened as I have become by my travels, I was shocked.

More than once I have come face to face with armed police and military. My strategy for self-protection is to remain vocal, visible and high profile.

The day I joined the opposition party was the day the leader of the workers’ movement — Chea Vichea — was assassinated. He was the founder of the opposition in Cambodia.

The documentary of his life and death, Who Killed Chea Vichea?“, will premiere March 27 at the Frederick Film Festival in Maryland. Chea was shot in broad daylight by assassins, but the government arrested two other men and imprisoned them for their supposed crime.

I was given a private screening of this moving film by its director Bradley Cox and will write its review shortly. Images of Buddhist priests crying as they watch the funeral procession are haunting.

Mu Sochua receives the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for leadership in  human rights from Allida Black, Director of the Eleanor Roosevelt  Project at George Washington University. U.S. Mission Photo: Eric  Bridiers.

Mu Sochua receives the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for leadership in human rights from Allida Black, Director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Project at George Washington University. U.S. Mission Photo: Eric Bridiers.

The reason I fear for Mu Sochua’s safety is because the Government of Cambodia wants her gone. Try to follow this story – she is charged with “defamation.” As I understand it:

The Prime Minster insulted my new friend Mu Sochua. She insisted he apologize. He said, “forget-about-it – just sue me!” So she did.

However, her lawyer was immediately threatened with being disbarred, so he had to drop her as a client. The case was then closed for ‘lack of evidence.’

But the case was far from over. The Prime Minster then took her to court – for having sued him. He claimed she had committed a ‘conspiracy to defame his reputation.’ Unbelievable.

She lost this suit in June of 2009. She was told by the court she must pay a $4,000 fine. She refused and appealed – and lost again in November 2009.

Now — about the time she will return home — it goes to the Supreme Court there. The Court is controlled by the Cambodian Government, where she will most probably lose again.

“If I lose, I will not pay that fine,” she told me defiantly. I will go to jail first!”

She faces this verdict upon her return. I call on the world press to monitor this closely, and for the people of the world to reach out to their Cambodian Embassies and let them know: The Whole World Is Watching.

Mu Sochua has a 25-year history now of advocacy. As a Member of the Cambodian Parliament and mother of three, Mu Sochua has played a crucial role in the empowerment of women and has worked tirelessly to lead the fight against gender-based violence.

Her political issues are both specific and universal:

Human Rights of Women. She campaigns widely to defend the human rights of women through the adoption and full implementation of legislation against gender-based violence.

Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children. She travels around the country to sensitize villagers to the danger of trafficking, pursues the prosecution of traffickers through a strong network of local organizations, and leads the fight against corruption of officials.

Women in Politics. She is the principal leader of the women’s movement for transformative leadership, campaigning widely for legislation and policies to promote women’s participation and positions in decision-making.

The Urban Poor. She advocates for the rights of squatters to improve their living conditions and gain lease-hold rights to land. She also supports the development of communities for squatters with schools, health centers, sanitation, and access to employment.

Land Rights. She advocates for the rights of tenants in her constituency of Kampot and throughout Cambodia, investigating evictions and land-grabbing first-hand, listening to villagers’ stories, and supporting formal complaints.

There are said to have been at least 11,600 victims affected by land disputes in 2009. When urban communities are forcibly evicted and relocated to remote areas lacking proper sanitation, jobs, and food security, female heads of household suffer the most.

Malnurishment of infants and children under five double. Relocation of rural communities are even more dangerous to women as the families who are already vulnerable are further facing more violence as they are relocated to less secure, unfamiliar areas.

Forced evictions and illegal economic concessions happen almost on a daily basis, with villagers arrested without arrest warrants and leading the poor to chronic poverty and food insecurity.

Civil society and local human rights organizations working to empower the landless are often subject of government scrutiny, law suits, and illegal detention.

Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua, whose is in danger for  leading the opposition, with Jean-Michel Tijerina of the Cambodia  Project and me in the safety of New York City. Photo courtesy of Nozomi  Terao.

Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua, whose is in danger for leading the opposition, with Jean-Michel Tijerina of the Cambodia Project and me in the safety of New York City. Photo courtesy of Nozomi Terao.

Healthcare for women in Cambodia itself is beyond comprehension to me. According to Mu Sochua:

Maternal mortality rates in Cambodia are higher than any other country in the region although some progress has been made in the at five years.

There are currently over 4,000 deaths of women during delivery or five women die in childbirth per day, and one woman dies every five hours from childbirth. An average of 19,780 children die per year — with 55 dying every day during the first year of life.

Education is also a mess. According to Mu Sochua’s research:

The literacy rate among women are 55.6%; only 12.6% of girls in rural areas attend lower school and 4.1% of rural girls attend lower secondary schools. Drop out rates also at primary level is at 50%.

Last month the organization that I founded, Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) presented its 2010 Distinguished Global Citizenship Awards for Helping Humanity. U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney and Dionysia-Theodora Avgerinopoulou, a Member of the Hellenic Parliament, were awarded.

It is obvious to me that this Cambodian Member of Parliament, the Hon. Mu Sochua, must receive my organization’s 2011 Distinguished Global Citizenship Awards for Helping Humanity. It is up to the world to make sure she is not in prison so she can receive it.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Khmer Rouge Tribunal vs. Karmic Justice

By SOPHAL EAR
Published: March 17, 2010
When my mother — who saved me and four siblings from starvation under the Khmer Rouge in 1976 — passed away in October 2009 at the age of 73, I realized that for her justice delayed had become justice denied. (I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the words “justice delayed is justice denied” had never really sunk in until my mother’s passing.)

As an observant Buddhist, however, my mother probably had the last word. She always said that no matter what happened to the Khmer Rouge leadership in their current lifetime, Karmic justice would prevail in the next: They would be reborn as cockroaches.

I am certain that this belief has helped millions of survivors cope with the reality that, after more than three decades since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, not a single leader has been held to account.

Indeed, Cambodians will largely be yawning when the Khmer Rouge tribunal, known formally as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and jointly organized with the United Nations, issues its first verdict, on the guilt or innocence of Kaing Guek Eav, widely known as Comrade Duch.

The man who headed S-21, a torture center to which an estimated 16,000 people were sent and where less than a dozen survived, confessed his crimes seven years before the tribunal started, saying: “My confession is rather like Saint Paul’s. I’m the chief of sinners.”

Even during the tribunal itself, Duch declared: “To the survivors, I stand by my acknowledgment of all crimes inflicted on you at S-21. I acknowledge them in both the moral and legal context.”

After nine months of testimony and millions of dollars spent, what verdict but guilty can there be when the defendant has made such statements under oath? What purpose has going through the motions served?

Whether the issue is degree of guilt (no one claims Duch was in charge of policy and he has testified that “even though I knew these orders were criminal ... it was a life and death problem for me and my family”) or plain punishment (the maximum sentence is life in prison), each day that has passed is itself an injustice.

If, after four years and $13 million in contributions to the Cambodian government from Japan, the Europe Commission and others, and $76 million in contributions to the United Nations by more than 21 donors, one guilty verdict is all the tribunal has to show, survivors of the Khmer Rouge may just as well consider justice denied.

Plagued by corruption, the tribunal was essentially hijacked to advance domestic and international agendas. For domestic politicians, the goal was to control the process by placing it in a heavily secured military base some 20 kilometers from Phnom Penh and to reduce its scope by limiting the number of individuals it could indict (five) while currying international favor for addressing, superficially at least, crimes against humanity.

The Cambodian government has even sought to limit the witnesses the tribunal could call to testify under the oft-repeated claim of the threat of another civil war. “If the court wants to charge more former senior Khmer Rouge cadres, [it] must show the reasons to Prime Minister Hun Sen,” the prime minister said, referring to himself in the third person. In any case, the tribunal has no independent means of enforcing its subpoenas without government cooperation.

For many of the foreigners involved, Cambodia served as yet another venue for pushing hybrid models of transitional justice while creating jobs for international civil servants and a stage for foreign lawyers whose careers depend on adding another tribunal to their curriculum vitae. If nothing else, they can pat themselves on the back for showing the Cambodians how justice is done.

But what has happened is the reverse. The tribunal was plagued by corruption, lack of judicial independence and shattered integrity. The appointment of a devout Marxist-Leninist as head of the Victims Unit in May 2009, fully endorsed by the U.N. head of the tribunal, sealed the tribunal’s fate as an international and domestic farce.

Thus, the euphemistically “streamlined” participation of about 4,000 “Civil Parties” (tribunal-recognized victims, including me) who shall be represented in court by only two “civil party lead co-lawyers” (with as yet undefined internal procedures of accountability and selection) imposed by the tribunal on Feb. 9, 2010, came as no surprise.

When I filed my civil complaint in 2008, I was required to outline what compensation I wanted. When I said I didn’t want any compensation and that this isn’t about money, it’s about justice for the past and accountability for the future, you could have heard a pin drop. I should have said that I would like my father and brother back; no amount of compensation can do that.

Justice in that sense is meaningless, but my hope was that in the not-too-distant future the next Pol Pot might have to think twice about genocide.

A truth commission would have been a marked contrast to the combative style of the current tribunal, which has seen denials by anyone potentially indictable and even those ready to confess. Indeed, as South Africa’s experience has shown, truth commissions can work under the right circumstances.

But I doubt the circumstances were ever right in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge had a sense of irony when they created a Ministry of Truth. Ever since then, the first casualty of Cambodian politics has been truth.

Lost in all this are those very Cambodians for whom the tribunal was supposed to enact international standards of justice and be a cathartic experience. Instead, the tribunal has been corrosive. Jaded from a failed 1993 U.N. exercise in democracy that led inexorably toward authoritarianism, Cambodians have learned their lesson: Don’t believe in international promises; they are not kept.

Sophal Ear is an assistant professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is writing a book on the unintended consequences of foreign aid in Cambodia.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Lending Scheme to Bring Solar to Cambodia’s Poor

By SIMON MARKS (The New York Times)

With access to solar-powered energy products for Cambodia’s rural poor extremely limited, the solar energy company Kamworks and the Cambodia Mutual Savings and Credit Network are partnering to provide low-interest loans to customers hoping to outfit their homes with solar panels, while Kamworks will provide and install the equipment.

Directors at the two firms say the scheme — the first of its kind in Cambodia — will facilitate access to renewable energy for Cambodia’s rural poor, who currently have little surplus capital to invest in such measures.

“You have to say the investment for solar powered technology is higher initially than fossil fuels,” said Jeroen Verschelling, a director at Kamworks. “Even though there is a payback time of less than one year, people still find it very hard to make the investment.”

Mr Verschelling said all the equipment Kamworks produces will have to be of the highest quality as “the moment it stops working the client will stop paying” back the loan and the foundations of the entire partnership will come undone.

Buyers interested in equipping their homes with solar technologies will first pay a visit to Cambodia Mutual Savings, which will share retail space with Kamworks at a building in Cambodia’s Kandal province, to take out a loan ranging from $25 to $599, depending on the product. A visit to Kamworks would finalize the purchase.

Customers can go for a small solar-powered lantern, which aims to replace kerosene lighting at a cost of $25, or they can purchase a complete solar home system, which ranges from $199 for a 20-watt array to $599 for 80 watts.

The lantern comes with a one-year warranty, while the panel systems are covered for 20 years.

“This should create less dependency on fossil fuels for power,” said Mr Verschelling. “We are trying to do something about climate change.”

Mr Verschelling said that entering the market before the national grid expands is probably its best bet with less than 20 percent of rural inhabitants with a sustained power supply for electricity.

“I’m not sure if the grid is really the answer for the poor parts of society,” he said. “It’s not a clean energy source as most of the energy comes from fossil fuels.”

Moreover, once the loan is paid off, households fitted with the solar products should see their living costs decline.

“It is totally new and if it is efficient we can develop it further,” said Christine Dellocque, managing director at Cambodia Mutual.

Ms. Dellocque said the lender had determined interest rates for the loans — which could be as low as 1.7 percent — by conducting studies of household wages and saving capabilities among potential borrowers in Kandal province.

Before a loan is handed out, Cambodia Mutual will ensure that borrowers have set up a savings account at the firm — a measure Ms. Dellocque said will act as security to the loan.

“If clients have a capacity for saving, they also have the capacity for credit,” she said.

Ms. Dellocque added that using traditional collateral — land titles and property — as security for such small loans was unbalanced. Instead, the solar panels themselves will be used as collateral, she said.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

In Cambodia, brush back against street sweeps

Human Rights Watch condemns Cambodia's campaign to clear the capital of its poor and homeless.

This government-run rehabilitation center just outside Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh, was used to detain people rounded up from the street. It was closed in 2008 after rights groups and the U.N. raised concerns about the legality of holding people there and the quality of the facilities. (Licadho)

By Brendan Brady — Special to GlobalPost

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — At night in Cambodia’s capital, parks once populated by sex workers fell silent. Streets and abandoned lots in the center of Phnom Penh where drug addicts and homeless slept lay empty. The city’s underbelly had been washed away.

Then reports of abuse emerged. Sex workers said police had detained them for weeks, taking the cash they had on hand and raping them — even those who protested by saying they had HIV. There were accounts of government facilities where drug users, street kids and the mentally ill were beaten and starved. Rights workers reported a security crisis for the groups they served, and a facility was shut down after they and the U.N. raised concerns.

That was more than a year ago and the uproar has since eased. Now, a new report has put the government’s street sweep campaign front and center again.

In a report released Jan. 25, Human Rights Watch describes a climate of “sadistic violence” in the government’s drug rehabilitation centers. Drug users face beatings and arduous forced labor, while being deprived of effective treatment for their addiction, the watchdog group says.

“He had three kinds of cable … he would ask you which one you prefer. On each whip the skin would come off and stick to the cable,” the report quotes a 16-year-old identified as M’noh as saying.

In its own study, the World Health Organization found a nearly 100 percent relapse rate in people coming out of the government’s drug rehabilitation facilities. “This is a common approach globally,” says Graham Shaw, a technical adviser for the World Health Organization in Cambodia. “It’s cheap and easy and it allows the government to show the public that it’s responding to drug dependence problems amongst the population, but it doesn’t provide a solution.”

The facilities are presided over by a mix of authorities, including local government offices, the Social Affairs Ministry as well as civilian and military police. Human Rights Watch says officials running the rehabilitation centers profited by renting out detainees as laborers and by selling blood they forced detainees to donate. More than 2,000 people were detained in 11 of these facilities throughout the country in 2008, the vast majority involuntarily, according to the group.

“The real motivations for Cambodia’s drug detention centers appear to be a combination of social control, punishment for perceived moral failure of drug use and profit,” says the report.

The report sheds light on the government’s controversial use of holding centers for drug users, homeless people, sex workers and beggars — who are often rounded up before national holidays and visits by foreign dignitaries, when the capital is on display. Rights groups have long called for the closure of such facilities, citing frequent allegations of violence and forced detention, and questioned the effectiveness of the treatment programs they supposedly offer.

The issue came into the spotlight in 2008, after the government launched a contentious law that outlawed prostitution. In the months following the law's implementation, police carried out a series of raids on brothels and street-based prostitution that rights groups said gave police free rein to rape and rob sex workers they detained. They say the law has done little more than drive prostitution deeper underground, making sex workers more vulnerable to trafficking and pushing them further away from the public health groups that have been instrumental in curbing the country's HIV/AIDS rates.

“This sort of ‘cleaning’ the streets of undesirable people has been happening for a long time, but there’s been more attention towards it recently,” said Mathieu Pellerin, who works with the local rights group Licadho.

According to Pellerin, when a Licadho outreach team was able to gain access to one of the government’s main poorhouses in 2008, they found an elderly women in her dying moments being left untreated and a young mother nine months pregnant who would have given birth in her cell without any assistance had they not been able to convince the facility to release her.

The government has denied reports of violence and mistreatment in its facilities. “There’s no violence, rape, nothing like that” in the drug centers, said Neak Yuthea, who is head of the government’s rehabilitation program. “Drug addiction is a new problem in Cambodia. This is good for them. … Maybe Human Rights Watch wants to see the drug users living on the street.”

The government says most drug users are interned at the request of their families and that many homeless volunteer to live temporarily in the centers because they are given food, a roof over their heads, and, in some cases, basic vocational training. It has also cited a lack of resources in some cases to explain substandard facilities.

Licadho’s director, Naly Pilorge, says, however, it isn’t simply a matter of underperforming social welfare. “You have people who have done nothing wrong who are detained like criminals,” she said. “It could be a construction worker who doesn’t look like he belongs on the street where he is … or a poor-looking kid who is just walking along the street.”

Skyscrapers and condos are fast rising in Phnom Penh but rights groups here say real development will remain illusory as long as the government sweeps the country’s social problems under the rug.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

1994 Murder of Aussie by Khmer Rouge Re-Examined

By Brendan Brady / Phnom Penh (TIME - CNN)



Almost 16 years after Australian backpacker David Wilson was kidnapped and killed in Cambodia by a Khmer Rouge militia, the Australian government is resisting fresh demands for full disclosure of the case file on his death. Wilson was 29 when he was kidnapped in July 1994, along with Briton Mark Slater and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, in a Khmer Rouge ambush on the train they were riding from the capital Phnom Penh to the seaside town of Sihanoukville. Six weeks later, the three tourists were executed at a remote Khmer Rouge stronghold after negotiations for their release broke down. Parties intimate with the case say its reopening could reveal willful neglect by Canberra in handling the negotiations.

For years, Wilson's murder has been surrounded by intrigue. Shortly after the abduction, a wealthy Australian businessman offered to pay the $150,000 ransom the Khmer Rouge holdouts were demanding. Retired Australian commandos proposed launching a Rambo-style rescue mission. Opportunistic local middlemen muddled the ransom talks, communicating inflated figures to both sides so they could pocket the difference. Wilson's abduction occurred at a time when foreign journalists and adventurous travelers were returning to Cambodia to witness the country's Wild West atmosphere. The nation had just returned to being a nominally self-governed democracy following years of civil war, brutal communist rule and foreign occupation. But large swaths of the country were still held by the ousted Khmer Rouge communists. Eight foreigners had been kidnapped in the four months before the abduction of Wilson and his friends. (See pictures of the rise and fall of the Khmer Rouge.)

The Wilson family, along with the Victorian state coroner who is relaunching the inquest, has been denied access to 157 pages of the several-thousand-page case file at Canberra's insistence to protect its intelligence-gathering methods. Wilson's family, which still lives in Victoria, believes the documents will show that the Australian government did not discourage the Cambodian army from shelling the site where the hostages were being held — a rash move believed to have directly led to their killings in the following days. The army had wanted to swiftly topple prominent Khmer Rouge positions in order to restore the legitimacy it needed in the eyes of Western powers to receive military aid. The show of force, however, tragically misfired, infuriating Khmer Rouge cadres who, according to later reports, executed the hostages out of revenge for losses to their side.

Alastair Gaisford, now retired, was consul of the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh at the time and in charge of assembling the case file after Wilson's death. He says it includes cables between top-level Australian and Cambodian officials showing that in the run-up to the standoff, Canberra made a commitment of military assistance to Phnom Penh regardless of the outcome of the hostage negotiations — a pledge Gaisford says "was effectively the signing over of [the hostages'] death warrant," since the Cambodian army was more focused on proving its prowess than on collateral damage to the hostages. In contrast, just months earlier the American embassy had assisted in the release of American aid worker Melissa Himes by sternly warning Cambodia that any state attack on the area in which Himes was being held would jeopardize the flow of U.S. aid money, allowing negotiations between her NGO and the Khmer Rouge to continue. (Read "A Brief History of the Khmer Rouge.")

The state coroner's inquest, however, may do more to open up debate on growing expectations for consular protection than shed new light on the circumstances of Wilson's death. In Australia, as in many other Western countries, there has been rising public and media attention to government protection of citizens abroad following a string of high-profile security crises, including 9/11 and the Boxing Day tsunami as well as the Bali, Madrid and London bombings, according to Michael Fullilove, a scholar with the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney. "In more and more countries, [Australian] diplomats are saying that consular services for protecting citizens are keeping them awake at night," says Fullilove. "People are demanding more muscular assistance from their embassies."

Wilson's father says that if his persistence helps achieve that, he'll be glad. Experts say the state coroner and Wilson's family face an uphill battle in trying to force Canberra to hand over the case-file pages it is withholding, but Peter Wilson says he's going ahead with it. "The truth that might come out can help others," he says.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1968996,00.html?xid=rss-topstories#ixzz0h8H6cl7f

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Cambodia's Great Internet Firewall?

The plan of the Cambodian government to have a state-run exchange point to control all local internet service providers in order to strengthen internet security against pornography, theft and cyber crime is finally underway. However, there seems to be no clear-cut policy on the extent to which Telecom Cambodia, a state-owned company granted with powers to control the internet exchange point, would be able to block access to individual websites.

According the the latest report by Phnom Penh Post [1], there have been mixed assertions on the authority of the TC. There is also a question whether Cambodia will follow its neighboring countries where internet censorship is being practiced. While the TC's deputy director reportedly claimed that the body can control internet sites, other ministers including the Minister of Information does not endorse this assumption.

If any Web site attacks the government, or any Web site displays inappropriate images such as pornography, or it’s against the principle of the government, we can block all of them. If TC plays the role of the exchange point, it will benefit Cambodian society because the government has trust in us, and we can control Internet consumption,” said Chin Daro, TC's deputy director.

In contrast to this claim, the Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith questioned the authority of TC and he echoes the position of the government:

“I don’t know what authority they’re saying that under […] although the government is capable of blocking access to Web sites, it has no intention of doing so, and that there are unresolved questions about whether censorship policies should be implemented […] Who should decide what should be filtered?” We have the technology, but we don’t think it’s appropriate to filter content.”

Regardless of this controversy, there have been attempts in the past to control the internet which mainly targeted artists [2]. There have been crackdowns on websites which are critical against the government or those which revealed family information and business associations of the Prime Minister and his family members. Websites and blogs showing pornography or sexy images were also pulled down including reahu.net [3] which were only accessible to internet users outside Cambodia.

With the current progress of the government plan to control the internet, facebook users promptly demonstrated their objection. Tauch Norin [4] expressed his disagreement over the proposed internet censorship. For him, this approach is totally incompatible with a free market system and freedom of expression. Cambodia's move is following the model of China where it adopts a “Great Firewall.” In his status update where the story of State-run Web hub would filter sites [5] is linked, Norin posted:

“Little brother always follows what his big brother”

“little brother refers to the Cambodian government, whereas big brother refers to China. Our government intends to put their control on internet ….it is the exercise for internet censorship which have been practiced in China,” elaborated Norin via e-mail interview.

Similarly, 28-year old blogher, Sidaroth Kong [6] who had actively worked for more than 7 years with various NGO sectors that promote ICT projects for social development and gender mainstream, voices her concern over the government plan for web monopoly. In her facebook's status, she suggests:

“Government officials should not have a mindset of wanting to control over the sectors of their responsibility but to regulate a free and open environment for the real benefits of their people.”

Via chat interview, Kounila Keo [6], a prominent blogher whose blog covers various sociopolitical issues, voices her concern that the government's move will pose a threat to blogosphere.

Question: What is your opinion about the government's plan to have a state-run exchange point to control all local internet service providers?

Kounila: I really don't like the fact that one Cambodian official says that pornographic sites as well as sites critical of the government will be banned through the process. A few other officials interviewed by the Post try to hide this agenda. In fact, there seem to be two dimensions of this attempt. First, the government secretly want to make more money and second, it rises out of the national security interest.

Q: Have there been any discussion among bloggers?

Kounila: I've talked to a few bloggers about it..and many don't like them…

Q: What will be the impact on the local blogosphere?

Kounila: If this internet control were to be successful, it would pose a threat to the blogosphere…The reason is that the state-run company who could control the exchange point would have the power to censor content critical of the government or whatever shows critical comments or ideas from bloggers. Even though this idea hasn't been clearly voiced by the government, at least some hint (provided by one or two officials and even contradictory answers by two different officials) has caused uncertainty and fear among bloggers who like to express their opinions over governance, politics and social issues.

Q: Do you think Cambodia will follow the China model on internet control?

Kounila: I hope that Cambodia would not head its way like China…Cambodia needs a lot of development in every sector..and people's opinions should be really highly appreciated or valued. Criticism by bloggers or political commentators should be taken into consideration rather than condemned. We should look at it this way because both the government and the people involved all want Cambodia to move fast forward. This is the only way we can improve our country. But if the internet control were to be successful, I suspect Cambodia would fall into the domino effect that a few neighbouring countries have fallen to.

In early February, Detail are Sketchy [7] rebutted the government's initiative to filter internet content under the claim of national value and morality.

“Details of the initiative are still sketchy. But like most efforts of the morality police, this one too seems destined to become a monument to bureaucratic folly. Considering the fact that prostitution is rampant throughout the country, efforts to censor short-shorts in cyberspace seems more than just a bit misguided. It’s a wonder they even bother trying.”

====

By Sopheap Chak
Sopheap Chak is a graduate student of peace studies at the International University of Japan. Meanwhile, she is also running the Cambodian Youth Network for Change mobilizing young activists around the country. She was previously advocacy officer of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights .

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Sam Rainsy charges draw criticism

In this photo taken May 1, 2009, Cambodian opposition party leader Sam Rainsy stands in front of the national assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. On Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, Cambodia's Parliament stripped the country's outspoken opposition leader of his immunity from prosecution for uprooting border markers on the frontier with Vietnam.

Meas Sokchea and Sebastian Strangio (Phnom Penh Post)

A COALITION of civil society groups has criticised the filing of new criminal charges against opposition leader Sam Rainsy, calling for a “political solution” to the current row with the government.

On Friday, government lawyers filed two more charges against the embattled Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) president, accusing him of falsifying public documents in order to prove Vietnamese encroachment into Svay Rieng province.

“In Phnom Penh we have charged him with two offences. The first is involved with falsifying public documents, and the other is for spreading disinformation,” Ky Tech, a government lawyer, said on Sunday. If found guilty on both counts, he said, Sam Rainsy could face up to 18 years in prison.

On Friday, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of 23 local NGOs, said the new lawsuits had shined a light on the shrinking of the country’s democratic space, calling for all parties to come together in a spirit of “national reconciliation”.

“CHRAC … urges our political leaders to mutually respect each other and negotiate with political maturity in order to address national issues,” the statement read.

The new charges come after Svay Rieng provincial court sentenced Sam Rainsy to two years in prison in absentia on January 27 in relation to an October incident in which he joined villagers in uprooting six temporary border markers in Chantrea district. Villagers alleged that Vietnamese authorities planted the posts in their rice fields.

In January, the SRP released what it described as “unprecedented evidence” that four Vietnamese border markers in Svay Rieng sit well inside Cambodia’s legal territory as defined by French and American maps.

CHRAC’s chairman, Hang Chhaya, said that using the court for an endless procession of lawsuits was useless and added that a political resolution would allow people to “live in peace”. “This is intimidation – it affects the democratic process,” he said.

“We must guarantee safety for people so that they can live in peace. Resorting to the courts for lawsuits like this is useless.”

When contacted on Sunday, SRP spokesman Kimsour Phirith said that, despite what he described as intimidation on the part of the ruling party, the opposition was not scared and would continue voicing concerns about the Vietnamese border.

“Their aim is to remove Sam Rainsy from the country so that he does not disturb their affairs which were done already. This is a political issue, not a criminal issue as they are saying,” he said.

Some observers said the new lawsuits were aimed at preventing the SRP leader from participating in the 2013 elections. “I think it’s a kind of threat, to give an example for other people who dare to do the same thing,” said Son Soubert, a member of the Constitution Council and an independent political analyst, comparing the attacks on Sam Rainsy to the treatment of Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The government, for the interests of all Cambodian people, should seriously dialogue with the opposition. Instead of listening to that foreign country, they should listen to their own compatriots.” He added: “There should be a serious investigation of all the maps by a neutral party.”

The Vietnamese border issue last prompted a government crackdown in 2005, when critics came out in opposition to the government’s border-demarcation treaty with Vietnam – the basis, along with a 1985 treaty, for the current demarcation efforts.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the government’s offensive against Sam Rainsy was an indication that the situation on the eastern border was still a sore issue for Prime Minister Hun Sen even after the 2005-06 crackdown.

He also said it had distracted attention from Hun Sen’s own border stand-off with Thailand observing that the filing of the charges was bookended by two visits by Hun Sen to address soldiers at the Thai border and rally support for the military. “I’m sure the government is not happy that the issue is back again,” Ou Virak said.

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Cambodia Cooking: Czech Out These Angkor Nuts



An Asian bar, I believe, is a private corner in hell for any man from the Czech Republic. Consider the setting: balmy nights, dim lights, beer pouring forth from brassy taps-all good signs on the surface. But then, the Czech man lifts lips to glass and the local lager slips across his tongue. Perhaps a bit flat, possibly sour, often skunky. And always followed by a vague but perceptible sensation of something likely toxic. It offends any connoisseur of worldly beers.

It is among such brews and shared lamentations that my husband, Jerry, and I meet Ota Veverka one night in Siem Reap, on the edge of Cambodia’s exalted Angkor temples. Four years with mediocre beer in these climes, and Ota still maintains a smile. I later learn he has no intention of living at home again; life is short, and he wants to view it from an unfamiliar vantage. He chose Asia, moving first to northern Thailand, where he met his now-wife; then Siem Reap, where they can live amid the spiritual aura of the Angkorian colossus.

We chat pleasantly, and exchange addresses and numbers. Later, when the night has ended and the beer taps drool their last, I see on Ota’s card that he runs the Angkor Harvest Family Co. He is a self-described peanut man. What does that mean? I want to know what this Czech man does with his nuts!

So we meet again, in the same quiet bar with pale yellow light, and this time Ota brings samples to munch as we sip and chat. His company consists of him; his wife, Nadchalee Chantakarana; and a young Khmer cook named Amouy, in a small kitchen beside the couple’s apartment west of the Old Market downtown. The Angkor Peanuts label is stuck on 100g packages sold at shops around Siem Reap, and the nuts are served (complimentary) with beer at several local bars. The company produces four flavors of sweet caramelized nuts (coconut, ginger, white sesame and black sesame), as well as the drinker’s favored savories-spicy salted peanuts with garlic, herbs and chiles.



Nadchalee learned the recipes from her mother in Chiang Mai. I know well the addictively hot-salty-crunchy-crumbly-garlicky good little nuts, which are sold by the kilogram across Thailand. Something extraordinary happens to shaved garlic when you drop it in oil and fry it to just the right crispness, before it turns too bitter. Something equally phenomenal happens to Thai bergamot leaves when you do the same. Mix them with nuts, and suddenly Asian beer tastes better.

When Nadchalee brought her recipes to Siem Reap, she also brought a few new ideas. “In Thailand, they have just one or two flavors,” she says. “Not coconut, not ginger,” both of which add complexity to the sugary-sweet nuts.

Ota invites us one afternoon to their little purple kitchen in a Khmer neighborhood that falls somewhere between city and village. A giant wok rests upon a gas burner full of peanuts and long, white shavings of coconut with the thin brown edges of their shell. Nadchalee gets to work, preparing a 2-kilogram batch, which Ota will deliver by motorcycle to customers in town.

“Everything is handmade,” and the nuts are prepared to order. “We are not a factory. We always make fresh,” Ota says. “Call the day before, and the next day you will have fresh peanuts.” Order a special ingredient-palm oil, cashews, brown sugar-and they will try to accommodate. “Because we are small. A factory won’t do that.” They’ll even ship overseas, if someone asks, though no one has ever asked.

They buy their ingredients from the local markets, though Ota suspects the nuts are imported from Vietnam (he’s trying to find Khmer suppliers). They purchase dried red chiles, then sort them by hand, removing impurities and sad specimens. Eventually, Ota hopes their garden will supply the herbs-but alas, their little bergamot (Kaffir lime) tree stands just a foot tall.

It’s a hot day, and the room grows toastier. I watch Nadchalee sweating and stirring a mountain of nuts, margarine, coconut and white sugar. It smells like a carnival, with a childlike sense of sweet warmth.

“It’s not easy. It looks easy but there is a timing that is very important,” Ota says. A good batch requires careful balance over the flame. “You are one minute late, and it’s burnt, and you can throw it away.” Plus, the skins must remain on the nuts. “It is very important. If there is no skin, the sugar won’t hold.”

When Ota first arrived in Asia, he ate raw peanuts by the handful. He quickly learned the consequences in his digestive tract. “You will fart a lot,” he says. Nadchalee agrees. He farted a lot.

“OK, done,” she says after half an hour on the burner. Ota’s fresh nuts (freshness, he says, is key to his product’s quality) sizzle like Rice Krispies, smothered in a coating of sugar and butter transformed. The crescent-shaped coconut has tanned, like thin slivers of pencil shavings. I have never before tasted such a fresh, warm handful of nuts.

But these aren’t Nadchalee’s favorites—and neither are they mine. It turns out, we’re all partial to the spicy type. She prepares an alluring plate of peanuts with curled green leaves and golden garlic, topped with rufous chiles on long stems. It’s a snack that calls for beer.

Which is exactly why Nadchalee says she prefers salty over sweet. “I like spicy more because I’m a drunker.”

Ota laughs. “This is the reason she loves me-because I am from the beer country.”


Angkor Peanuts are sold and served at about 20 Siem Reap outlets, usually less than $2 for a 100g bag. Email Ota at otakarv@volny.cz or call him in Cambodia at +855-11-380-421 for more information. He is willing to entertain individual requests, and to negotiate overseas shipments.

Photos by Jerry Redfern. See more images from the story on Rambling Spoon.

Karen Coates

When she’s not crashing her bike or running up mountains in New Mexico, Karen Coates covers food, environment, science, health and social issues. She splits her time between the American Southwest and any other place in the world that interests her (particularly Southeast

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