Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Khmer Rouge victims in U.S. to get their day in court

By John Boudreau
Posted: 02/26/2011 09:27:41 PM PST

Many Cambodians have lived the lives of ghosts in Silicon Valley, not seen or heard from much, quietly tormented every day and every night with unbearable memories of the genocide that wiped out entire families -- parents, spouses, children, extended relatives.

Now, finally, some of them will have their day in international court. When the second trial of alleged perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge genocide begins in a few months, members of the Cambodian community in the United States will be represented by attorneys at the proceedings.

On Saturday, about 50 members of Silicon Valley's 10,000 strong Cambodian community gathered at the Wat Khemara Rangsey Buddhist temple in East San Jose to hear about the upcoming trial of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders charged in connection with the deaths of 1.7 million people from execution, torture, starvation and disease from 1975 to 1979.

"For our clients, who have waited so long for this, it can be overwhelming to revisit the past," said Andrea Evans, legal director at the Center for Justice and Accountability, a San Francisco human rights legal group that will represent scores of Cambodians living in the U.S. before the United Nations-backed tribunal.

Sophany Bay, a 65-year-old San Jose counselor, is providing written testimony.

"For more than three decades, I waited to see justice," she said in a statement to the international court. "We are getting old. We want to see justice before we die."

The reason, Bay said Saturday, is that the nightmares never stop.

"I lost all my family," said Bay, whose three children died. One of them, a baby girl named Pom, died after a Khmer Rouge soldier injected something into her head.

"I don't have any siblings," she said. "I don't have any nephews. They killed my whole family."

Bay said she hasn't dreamed in the present ever since. All her dreams, she said, are of the past horrors in her homeland.

The once-powerful Khmer Rouge leaders who will stand before the tribunal as early as June are now in their late 70s and mid-80s. The complex trial could last as long as two to three years.

The defendants are Ieng Sary, who was foreign minister; his wife, Ieng Thirith, minister of social welfare; Khieu Samphan, head of state; and Nuon Chea, known as Brother No 2. The top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998. In the earlier trial, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the torture and death of at least 14,000 people in the Tuol Sleng prison in the capital of Phnom Penh.

The regime took control in 1975 after the war in next-door Vietnam spread to Cambodia. Khmer Rouge leaders believed they could create a utopian communist society by purging the country of intellectuals, business leaders, government officials and anyone else considered a threat to their revolution.

Approximately 157,500 Cambodians resettled in the U.S. from 1975 to 1994, the vast majority as refugees. Many still suffer serious mental health problems as a result of experiencing torture and witnessing killings of their family members.

In 2009, researcher Leakhena Nou, a medical sociologist at Cal State Long Beach, began documenting the stories of genocide survivors in the United States. She discovered that Cambodian-Americans, like their countrymen, could offer testimony and have legal representation at the tribunal proceedings.

During her research, she discovered that many Cambodians in America experienced the same symptoms of young people living in Cambodia.

"I found the same hopelessness, helplessness and lack of trust in themselves, family and government leaders," Nou said.

Nou's research is deeply personal. Her family escaped the reign of terror because her father, a Cambodian military officer who had been living in Thailand with his family when the Khmer Rouge took over, sensed grave danger when he and others were asked to return. Those who answered the call were executed immediately upon their return or taken to prison and tortured to death.

"The instinct my dad had saved our lives," she said.

The process of retelling stories can, at least in the short run, cause substantial emotional trauma for survivors, said Dr. Daryn Reicherter, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine who treats many Cambodian emigres in San Jose.

"They had this rough patch," he said. But, Reicherter added, "Not one of them had a regret" about their decision to retell their experiences in excruciating detail.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Criticism is not a crime, UN tells Cambodia


PHNOM PENH — The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia on Thursday voiced disquiet about a crackdown on freedom of expression in the country and the growing problem of land rights violations.

"I am concerned about the narrowing of space for the people to express their views peacefully and without fear, including those belongings to different political parties," Surya Subedi said at the end of his fourth 10-day fact-finding mission to the country.

The Cambodian government has come under fire from rights groups in recent years for launching a number of defamation and disinformation lawsuits against critics and opposition members.

A controversial new penal code launched in December introduced a string of laws that could see a person jailed or fined for expressing dissenting views.

"Peaceful expression of opinion should not be dealt with under the penal code," Surya said during a press conference in the capital, adding that it was one of the main issues he had discussed with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"Those holding public positions should be willing to accept criticism for their decisions. Criticism is not a crime but an exercise of freedom of conscience, an act of intelligence," he said.

The UN representative also urged the government to apply the land law properly, saying he was "deeply concerned about plight of the people who are facing the threat of eviction or have been evicted from their land."

He said he had visited several disputed sites, including a lake area in Phnom Penh where thousands of people have been forcibly evicted to make way for a private development project.

Land disputes are a major problem in Cambodia. In 2009 alone, at least 26 cases of mass evictions displaced approximately 27,000 people across the country, according to a UN report issued last year.

During his last visit to the kingdom in June, Surya suggested a host of reforms to improve Cambodia's judicial system, which he said lacked independence.

He told reporters the progress in that area "hasn't been as speedy as it should have been".

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UN Rights Envoy Sees Mixed Results After Visit to Cambodia

Friday, 25 February 2011
Robert Carmichael, VOA Phnom Penh

The United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights wrapped up his fourth visit to Cambodia on Thursday saying significant issues remained unresolved.

Surya Subedi said his fourth visit to Cambodia had produced a mixed bag of results, with limited government cooperation on measures for judicial reform that he had recommended after his last trip here in June.

On Thursday Subedi highlighted freedom of expression and land rights as key ongoing issues.

Phnom Penh has for several years pursued its perceived critics through the courts, with some people jailed or forced overseas to avoid prison sentences handed down by a compliant judiciary.

Subedi said there were still significant problems with freedom of expression, and spoke of his concerns that the space to express criticism was narrowing.

He said the peaceful expression of opinion should not be dealt with under the criminal code.

“Those holding public positions should be willing to accept criticism for their decisions. Criticism is not a crime, but an exercise of freedom of conscience, and an act of intelligence,” said Subedi.

Subedi was in Cambodia on a 10-day visit to assess how effectively parliament upholds human rights. He will report on that aspect later this year.

During his stay he met senior government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The UN special rapporteur for human rights also spoke with donors, representatives from civil society, members of the political opposition and ordinary Cambodians.

On the subject of land rights, Subedi said the government needed to ensure improvements were made.

Tens of thousands of mainly poor Cambodians have been thrown off their land in recent years as the rich and powerful have exploited their position to grab the increasingly valuable resource.

Subedi did praise an ongoing effort by the government to improve the framework around which land is dealt with, but said the problem in Cambodia was typically not a lack of laws.

“The challenge in Cambodia as far as I’m concerned is more a matter of the implementation of the existing laws than not having some laws in place in the first place,” he added.

After Subedi completed his third visit in June, he drafted a series of recommendations to reform the judiciary. He had found that it faced what he called “tremendous challenges” in delivering justice for ordinary Cambodians.

He said Thursday that he was encouraged by the government’s acknowledgment of problems with the judiciary, and its agreement that those needed to be addressed.

But Subedi implied Phnom Penh had largely failed to do much to improve the judicial system, telling the media he would have preferred better cooperation from the government in implementing his recommendations.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan told VOA that Phnom Penh acknowledged the judiciary was inadequate, but said improvements took time.

Among the changes already underway, Phay Siphan said, are moves to improve the skills of existing prosecutors and efforts to boost training for new judicial staff.

Subedi is scheduled to leave Cambodia on Friday.

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Watchdog decries website blockage

James O'Toole
The Phnom Penh Post

AN international press freedom group has registered concern over the government’s apparent attempts to block opposition blog KI-Media and other anti-government websites.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the United States-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the move was part of a worrying trend of online censorship in the Kingdom.

“We are troubled by reports that Cambodia is increasingly curbing online freedom,” Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Senior Southeast Asia Representative, said in the statement.

“We urge Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to immediately reverse course. The Internet is one of the few spaces left for free expression in Cambodia and that is how it should remain.”

Earlier this month, users of local Internet Service Providers including WiCam, Ezecom and Metfone reported that they were unable to access Ki-Media. WiCam users briefly received a message stating that the site had been “blocked as ordered by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Cambodia”.

MPTC officials initially denied ordering that KI-Media be blocked, though in an email to local ISPs that was leaked earlier this month, Sieng Sithy, deputy director of the Directorate of Telecommunications Policy Regulation at the MPTC, chided several firms that had yet to block KI-Media and other opposition sites and urged them to do so.

KI-Media made the news in December when Seng Kunnaka, a security guard employed by the United Nations World Food Programme, received a six-month jail term for incitement just days after he was arrested for printing out an article from the website and sharing it with co-workers.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Youths apply for dance contest much more then a job

“Toum Peang Snong Reusey” [The Bamboo shoot grows up to be bamboo] is a most popular for Cambodian people referred to children reflected their older in the future. When you “children and young people grow up, what will you want to be in future?

In the years 80s and 90s, the many of children responded variety to their parents and other old people that they want to become teachers, medical doctors, soldiers, polices, engineers and agriculturists. But at moment, this trend is more likely to change the perspective’s children want to be a star “DARA” which refer to a singer, film actor, Karaoke actor or TV commentator when they grow up rather than preferring these job options above during one or two decades in the past. While, some parents are so happy and show off their neighbors as a smart guy, and saying that they sing and dance very well as the stats “DARA” on televisions. I think that it is good that every child has ambitious different goals and change all the time. But if majority of them expected to be a star, the question would be ask why the children’s attitudes change like that? Due to influence of media, their parents or their family?

In general, Cambodian parents or family’s concept are happy if their children are upper classification in the class or won a scholarship and these parents or neighbors argued that this or that child is following their parents or uncle/aunt who are higher education or higher position in an establishment. But if these parents or children’s family always excuses to the teachers when their children study low score in the class or dropped class. This perception reflects to the children’s environment today expected to be a star when they grow up. Base on the Indochina Marketing Research surveyed on media in Cambodia found recently that almost Cambodians prefer to watch TV rather than radio or newspaper; especially CTN channel and its bench MYTV are the most and for the old men prefer kick-boxing and football but for women and young people prefer movie, concert, Karaoke, sing and dance contest and freshie.

With the same situation, there are very a low number of young people who are applying for jobs, but vast CV and application forms that young people submitted their documents to TV song, dance or freshie contests. The question would be ask, what TVs teach and direct Cambodian children and youths? And they always want to be a start “DARA”? These due to Cambodian youth are hoping less to find a job fit their education as The Ministry of Education Youth and Sports estimated that only one in nine students are able to find a career which is suitable to their background.

In my observation, TVs today are more likely to show political argument, entertainment, joking [that young people learned and imitated with using very rough words and physical abuse from the comedies] and rather than education, it is a different TV in more than 10 years ago that Mathematics and English language were taught on TVs and also a lot of Khmer culture and explore the temple in the forest. I think that TV teaching support the poor student who cannot go to private courses and remind or learn new thing or method for students after school and it was a fundamental for students who will study higher education or study abroad.

What is the government hope “Toum Peang Snong Reusey” to build the Kingdom in the future if the majority of children and young people are enjoy with TV and to be a star “DARA” than other job options. Therefore government should improve Cambodian TV channels for youths and TV programmers should learn any success of education program rather than imitate from neighbor countries.

Tong Soprach, MPH
Public Health Freelance Consultant
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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Monday, February 21, 2011

The view from Cambodia

By Michael Hayes

When I was publisher and editor-in-chief of the Phnom Penh Post I was sued once by then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, accused of spreading disinformation and trying to create political instability. Over the years, several Cambodian government officials even accused me and my newspaper of attempting to “destroy the nation”.

At the very least I’ve never been called a spin doctor for the Cambodian government. But on the issue of the current border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand surrounding Wat Preah Vihear I’m as angry as all Cambodians are at what we perceive as a Thai-initiated conflict of grossly unjust proportions.

We are not alone. Since this issue flared up two years ago, I have not met one Asian or Western diplomat, one foreign aid worker or one expatriate businessman in Phnom Penh who disagrees. Even a few Thai friends have sheepishly expressed support for the Cambodian side on this spat.

The nagging question that perplexes us all is why Thailand is trying to export its domestic political problems and dump them on poor Cambodia? The sentiment here is that if the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts want to fight it out, do so somewhere in Thailand, but don’t use Cambodia as a scapegoat.

The view from Cambodia is simple: the issue of sovereignty over the temple was decided back in 1962 when the case was submitted to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

If Thailand didn’t want to abide by the court’s ruling then why did it agree to submit the case in the first place? And why are they groaning now and firing artillery shells at the temple almost 50 years later?

Moreover, when Thailand says: Well, we controlled the temple in the 1800s and before, the Khmers have a simpler reply: Yeah, but WE BUILT IT! We started construction in the early 9th century, modified and improved it for 250 years and then continued to pray there and celebrate our Gods for another three centuries until you guys stole it after you sacked and looted our capital at Angkor Wat three times between 1352 and 1431. Thank you very much. End of story.

Cambodia has no interest whatsoever in another protracted violent conflict with anybody. The Kingdom is still trying to recover from 30 years of civil war, Pol Pot madness and the ensuing guerilla conflict in the 80’s and 90’s that in total cost the lives of over 2.5 million Cambodians and left the country in ruins. Every dollar spent on the military conflict there is a dollar lost for building desperately needed roads, schools and hospitals.

The Thai accusation that Cambodia has had some secret plot to steal Thai land along the border is also seen as ludicrous.

Everybody knows that since 1970 Cambodia has been too consumed with domestic strife to take even one meter of land from any of its neighbors. In fact, foreign aid officials who worked on the Thai border in the 80s will readily admit that border creep worked in reverse. It was Thai farmers living in peace—and I’m not accusing the Thai government of some orchestrated campaign here—who took the opportunity to plant a few extra hectares in disputed border areas while internally Cambodia was in complete disarray.

If there is one thing that is clear, it is that the entire border needs to be systematically surveyed and demarcated, step by step, once and for all.

As for the disputed 4.5 square kms just north of temple, why not consider this: Turn the area into the Cambodian-Thai International Friendship Park and set it up as a jointly managed enterprise by both countries’ Ministries of Tourism. Invite in hawkers, entrepreneurs, whatever from both sides of the border to set up businesses to cater to the millions of tourists who will want to visit the site in the coming decades and beyond. Tax revenues could be shared by both nations equally. Everybody wins.

It could also be a model for other border disputes around the globe.

If the Thais want a protracted, bloody fight on their hands over the temple, they’ve got one. In the 20 years I’ve been in Cambodia the Preah Vihear issue is without question the only one I’ve seen that has united the entire nation. Cambodian TV stations have been running fundraisers off and on with donations large and small pouring in from all quarters for two years. Even the normally truculent Sam Rainsy Party and others in the opposition are fully on board.

It’s clear from a visit to the temple last week that the Cambodian military has dug in for the long haul. New heavy tanks, armored personnel carriers and ammunition “donated by friendly countries” are evident all over the base of the escarpment. Battle-scarred veterans, no doubt from all of Cambodia’s four previously warring factions and including ex-Khmer Rouge who controlled the temple from 1975 to 1998, are now all operating under one flag. And yes, of course there are Cambodian soldiers with weapons bunkered around the temple. If they weren’t there the Thai military could literally walk in and take control of it in five minutes. What government in Phnom Penh could allow that?

If this dispute goes real hot, relations between Cambodia and Thailand will be ruined for years, hundreds on both sides will die needlessly and the economic costs to the two countries will be astronomical.

Cooler heads need to prevail but rest assured the Cambodians will never, no matter what the price, give up control of Wat Preah Vihear.

Why should they? It’s theirs.

Michael Hayes co-founded the Phnom Penh Post in 1992 and was Publisher & Editor-in-Chief from 1992 to 2008.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

What is behind the latest Thailand-Cambodian conflict?

As so often the disputed 11th century Preah Vihear temple in Cambodia, long a source of anger for Thai nationalists who believe it rightly belongs to Bangkok, has become the focus of the renewed spat between the countries.

By Ian MacKinnon, Bangkok 2:09PM GMT 07 Feb 2011

But it was the arrest of seven Thai nationalists – including an MP from the ruling Democrat Party - who deliberately strayed over the disputed border into Cambodia, that ratcheted up anger in Bangkok. The jailing of two for long terms on spying charges probably started the ball rolling.

Yellow Shirt demonstrators – who once supported the Democrat-led coalition but have since turned against it – have again taken to the streets of Bangkok to protest the jailing of the pair as well as a host of other issues, including the government's impotence over the border dispute.

Some analysts believe that hawkish elements within the government and military are whipping up the nationalist fervour by provoking the fighting to show a strong hand to curry favour with hard-line voters in the upcoming poll.

With elections due this year the government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva needs to keep both elements on board, some say he is declining to rein in the extreme elements. His noisy demands that the Cambodians remove their national flag flying over the temple site and Thai army anger over a plaque on the site proclaiming "This is Cambodia" lend weight to the theory.

But some commentators go further. They suggest the fighting is the result of a secret pact between nationalist elements and hawkish generals in an effort to unseat the government, or even provoke a coup in a country where army takeovers are common-place.


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