Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer
April 20, 2011
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth
PACIFIC DAILY NEWS
My email box has been flooded with messages. Some made me smile. Two hard-hitting messages from Cambodia made me look for some spiritual balance. A friend from a different continent who used to discuss with me the value of education wrote, after reading my columns, about the necessary "critical mass" needed to catalyze change.
I combined all three messages to writing this column.
It's no revelation that if we want to look for something in a person or a regime, negative or positive, we can find it. And we can be sure that there are supporters and critics of any position: A thesis is followed by antithesis. Opposites are a fact of life -- the yin and the yang
I have written about alleged bribes demanded by instructors at Cambodia's universities, but an email from a reader in Cambodia, most likely from a teaching circle, reported also on corrupt practices among primary and secondary school teachers in his area. The writer reported that teachers extort money from students in return for one thing or another. The reader was livid, saying the "authorities concerned" know but do nothing: "I fear if these practices are ingrained in the culture of corruption, the young Cambodian generation will be severely affected in thoughts and behaviors."
Another email, under the rubric, "Cambodian people are living in starvation, except corrupt officials," reads: "Millions of times, millions of words from officials, millions of promises and of plans, but nothing has changed: The rich become richer, the poor become poorer. ... I saw people in my village ... including my parents, go hungry because they can't pay the loans from banks and financial institutions, and are forced to sell their lands and their homes. Some decided to go to Thailand for work. My parents and their neighbors used to live without worries, but now they are miserable. At each election, money was waved in their faces, they needed the money, they voted for the money."
On April 6, I quoted a Cambodian reader's email about the "visible hardware" -- the new buildings, bridges and roads which led 76 percent of respondents in a survey to cheer about progress and development under Premier Hun Sen, as opposed to the lack of much-needed "software" -- informed citizens and critical thinkers. The reader charged that Cambodia's "strong culture of suspicion and mistrust will cripple society even deeper into a passive coma." He lamented, "Even many of the young are now in this unfortunate trend."
Of course, I expected supporters of Premier Hun Sen to vociferously denounce the authors of the emails above. Yet, even Hun Sen agreed that 35 percent of Cambodia's populace live below the poverty line, and rights groups continue to accuse government officials of stealing the nation's resources for personal gain.
In physics, a "critical mass" refers to necessary amount of fissionable material to maintain a chain reaction at a constant rate.
Buddha's truth of the inevitability of change means that at a certain point or time or situation, change occurs, and that "something" must reach a certain level, amount or size, and then it will unleash an activity or event that will change the status quo. Thus, the water that is hot at 211 degrees boils at 212. It produces steam; steam yields energy. [KI-Media Note: water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius]
My friend reminded me: You need a "critical mass" to bring about change, sustain it and render it long-lasting. Amen.
As I examined statistics compiled by the United Nations Children's Fund, I saw vicious circles that should drive conscientious citizens to coalesce to create that critical mass. UNICEF reported Cambodia's net secondary school enrollment for 2005-2009 for males at 36 percent and females at 32 percent -- a net secondary school enrollment ratio of 34 percent.
This refers to students who are actually enrolled in school. How many of them actually attend (Cambodia's schools are open only a few hours per day) or how many actually graduate from secondary school are different problems.
Though unlikely, let's assume that 90 percent of young Cambodians who are enrolled in secondary school do graduate. That's only 90 percent of the total 34 percent enrolled.
To develop quality thinking to contribute to Cambodia's development and progress, we should want to know how many graduates go on to university. Let's assume that half of the graduates (which is, again, very unlikely) go to university. Statistically, half of the 90 percent of the total enrollees of 34 percent yields about 15 percent who may go to university. Of course, not everyone of those who go to university graduates, but let's say 70 percent do. This would yield about 10 percent of a certain age group who might be considered educated.
This is hardly a "critical mass" to bring change to Cambodia.
No room for despair
Even if the Hun Sen regime returned all the dollars from theft of national resources to the education pot, it would take a long, long time before young Cambodians' secondary school net enrollment would move from the current dismal 34 percent of eligible students to even 80 percent, which might be the percentage that would create the catalyst to foment meaningful change.
Until then, Cambodians will have to rely on the handful of educated individuals and independent non-governmental organizations -- a small "critical" group to swim against the current to inspire the young ones in the face of corruption, violations of rights and freedom, to want to go to school, to stay in school, to graduate.
They are the "critical mass" needed to effect the change!
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam. Write him at
Labels: Education, Gaffar Peang-Meth, Prime Minister Hun Sen
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By now, you must be aware of Kem Sokha's letter to me dated April 18. All the press has received it and has asked for my reply to Kem Sokha's question about the formula for uniting the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party: Creation of a new party with a new name, or merger with the SRP?
I've just replied to VOA and RFA that before choosing any FORMULA for a union, we must first show the required SPIRIT for a genuine and sincere union. Such a spirit requires mutual respect and mutual solidarity as real partners in a real union would show to each other.
Therefore, the HRP, if it is sincere, must stop publicly treating the SRP as an enemy by using the same language, the same propaganda tools and the same political tricks (such as displaying "defectors") as the ones used by the CPP in their continuous attempt to "break" the SRP.
If the HRP treats the SRP as an ENNEMY, as the CPP does, how could they hope to become our PARTNER? What ground does the HRP have to treat us as an enemy? We have never committed any crime against the Cambodian people compared to the multiple crimes we reproach the ruling CPP to have committed. On the contrary, we have done our best to defend our country and all the victims of injustices in Cambodia.
In fact, by adopting the CPP's attitude toward us, the HRP is -- willingly or not -- serving the CPP interest and they have become a CPP de facto ally, at a time when the SRP is the main target for the CPP in the face of very serious national problems. Everybody can see that the SRP bears the brunt of the CPP attack on the opposition and the civil society. And curiously the HRP now joins hands with the CPP in attacking the SRP.
This is not the first time that an "Alliance" of democratic forces is due to collapse: Remember the past "alliances" between the SRP and the royalist FUNCINPEC party. Eventually, only the SRP has proved to abide by principles whereas its short-term “allies” proved to be political opportunists manipulated and bought by the CPP.
All the best,
Labels: HRP, Kem Sokha, Sam Rainsy, Sam Rainsy Party
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Elizabeth Becker, Special to The Chronicle
Sunday, April 17, 2011
The Modern History of a Troubled Land
By Joel Brinkley
This year Arab leaders have been caught off balance by their citizens, who have shown unexpected courage and come out in force to demand democracy and an end to corruption and cruel inequities. Those protests are proof that the truism that Arabs needed "strongmen" to rule them was wrong. In just weeks, the nonviolent demonstrators overthrew the ruling tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt, inspiring other uprisings in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. Now, no matter how these revolts play out, Arabs have broken out of racial and cultural stereotypes that said they were unfit for democracy.
In his new book "Cambodia's Curse," the former New York Times journalist Joel Brinkley comes very close to offering a similar dead-end theory to explain why he thinks the people of Cambodia are "cursed" by history to live under abusive tyrants. In his telling, Cambodians are passive Buddhists who have accepted their stern overlords since the days of the Angkor Empire. "Far more than almost any other state, modern Cambodia is a product of customs and practices set in stone a millennium ago," he writes, blaming that history for the ability of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to squash meaningful dissent against his corrupt regime.
As a young reporter, Brinkley won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for his coverage of the Cambodian refugee crisis. Returning to the region 30 years later, Brinkley - now a professor of journalism at Stanford - chose his subject well. Hun Sen deserves a thorough examination. Along with his cronies, he has amassed extraordinary wealth selling off the country's assets to the highest bidder. Everything is up for grabs - land wrested from peasants to be sold to corporations and turned into plantations or tourist resorts, young girls and boys sold into prostitution, and dense forests cut down and the lumber sold abroad. Corruption is everywhere. Underpaid schoolteachers demand bribes from their students, judges issue rulings based on the amount of money paid on the side or the dictates of the government, businesses flourish by paying handsome bribes for licenses and to avoid unwelcome regulations.
Brinkley admirably highlights nearly all of these crimes and demonstrates that Hun Sen's administration has been a disaster for many Cambodians. His portrait of the businessman Mong Reththy is a gem, showing how businessmen enrich themselves through corrupt government concessions and then underwrite charities or schools in the areas impoverished by their corruption.
Yet there are only two types of Cambodians in these pages - either victims (passive, poverty-stricken Cambodians for whom Brinkley shows great sympathy) or villains (cruel, selfish politicians and businessmen). Missing are normal Cambodians who work day jobs and study at night to get ahead; Cambodians who return from abroad with dreams of a better life; Cambodians who promote human rights or flourish in the arts and sciences.
The few people painted in full, heroic strokes are American diplomats who served as ambassadors to Cambodia. Brinkley focuses on them and the foreign community of aid groups and governments who spend billions of dollars to improve the lives of Cambodia's poor. He correctly asks whether much of that money has gone to waste or into bank accounts of corrupt officials, and chastises foreign governments for not demanding real reforms for the aid.
Undermining his reporting is his thesis that thousand-year-old traditions are to blame for this state of affairs rather than 21st century realities. Brinkley fails to track the extraordinary sums of foreign investment fueling official corruption. Crooked signing bonuses and commissions, money laundering, selling off government land to foreign investors, human trafficking - these modern plagues are hardly confined to Cambodia. International businesses are pouring billions into Cambodia. China and South Korea are at the top of that list, giving them an outsize influence in Cambodia, yet they barely appear in Brinkley's book.
To retain control over all that money, Hun Sen has amassed a monopoly on power through the army and police, buying off or killing off dissidents. His path to power has been anything but democratic: Trained as a young Khmer Rouge officer, Hun Sen defected and was installed as prime minister by the Vietnamese occupiers; later he bullied the United Nations into appointing him a co-prime minister even though he lost the country's first election, then rigged subsequent elections.
Brinkley makes the blanket claim that Cambodians accept this because they are a people who "could not, would not, stand up and advocate for themselves," forgetting Cambodia's history of revolts or movements against French colonial rule, King Sihanouk's autocracy, the corrupt Lon Nol regime, the Khmer Rouge, Vietnam's occupation and Hun Sen himself. In more recent times, Chea Vichea led a free-trade union movement and became a serious challenger to Hun Sen's power until he was gunned down by thugs. Brink- ley mentions Vichea's murder in a short paragraph without fully describing his impact or the courage and skill he showed organizing Cambodia's textile workers.
And countless Cambodians have fought back when soldiers and police have thrown them off their lands. Cambodian activists like Dr. Pung Chhiv Kek have been so successful defending against human rights abuses that the government issued a draft law in December to effectively put them under government control. Brinkley might have also given greater weight to Cambodia's short experience with fully free elections and the legacy of the Khmer Rouge revolution, which could put a damper on anyone's desire to revolt again.
Further clouding his book are frequent errors. He describes the United Nations' 1993 peacekeeping operation as an "occupation," and then compares it unfavorably to the Allied occupation of Germany. He claims it is "rare to see Cambodians laugh." He confuses the Hindu faith with the Hindi language. He has China invading Vietnam in 1989, rather than in 1979. And why does he make the exaggerated claim that Cambodians are "the most abused people in the world"?
By arguing that Cambodians are passive and that the "Buddhist notion of individual helplessness" is a central factor holding them down, he dismisses the possibility that Cambodians could reform their own country. Instead he concludes that the country's best hope is in the hands of foreigners. He challenges the foreign governments to withhold aid money until Hun Sen lives up to his promises to enact reforms and respect human rights. "Maybe, just maybe, after 1,000 years, Cambodia's rulers might finally be forced to give the people their due," he writes.
Or maybe Hun Sen doesn't need that money so desperately and those donor governments are not such disinterested parties.
Brinkley may blame the legacy of Angkor kings for Hun Sen's ability to keep down Cambodians. But the Cambodian leader's recent actions suggest otherwise. When Egypt's Hosni Mu- barak started tottering under the demands of protesters, Hun Sen shut down the opposition websites in Cambodia.
Elizabeth Becker, a former correspondent for the New York Times and Washington Post, is the author of "When the War Was Over" (1986), a history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page GF - 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Labels: Cambodia Democracy, Prime Minister Hun Sen
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By Joel Brinkley, Sunday, April 17, 7:45 PM
The Washington Post - Post Opinions
Representatives of more than 3,000 governments and donor organizations are meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Wednesday. If past experience is indicative, they will pledge to provide hundreds of millions in aid.
Year after year, smiling Cambodian government leaders attend these pledge conferences, holding out their hands. But first they have to listen as ambassadors and aid officers stand at the podium, look them in the eye, and lambast them for corruption and jaw-dropping human rights abuses. (Photo: Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer Service)
Most of these donors should simply stay home.
Year after year, smiling Cambodian government leaders attend these pledge conferences, holding out their hands. But first they have to listen as ambassadors and aid officers stand at the podium, look them in the eye, and lambast them for corruption and jaw-dropping human rights abuses.
Each year Prime Minister Hun Sen promises to reform. The donors nod and make their pledges — $1.1 billion last year. Then everyone goes home and nothing changes. In the following months, officials dip into the foreign aid accounts and build themselves mansions the size of small hotels, while 40 percent of Cambodia’s children grow up stunted for lack of nutrition during infancy.
This year should be different. Over the past two decades, the Cambodian government has grown ever more repressive. Now it is actually planning to bite the hand that feeds it: The legislature is enacting a law that would require nongovernmental organizations to register with the government, giving venal bureaucrats the ability to shut them down unless they become toadies of the state.
Eight major international human rights organizations are calling on Cambodia to back down, saying the bill is “the most significant threat to the country’s civil society in many years.” Donors, they say, should hold back their pledges. But they say that every year, and each year the donors ignore them. Meanwhile, the status of the Cambodian people the aid is supposed to help improves little if at all. Nearly 80 percent of Cambodians live in the countryside with no electricity, clean water, toilets, telephone service or other evidence of the modern world.
All of this might surprise most Americans. It has been decades since many people here have given Cambodia even a thought. Forty years ago, Cambodia was on the front pages almost every day as the United States bombed and briefly invaded the state during the Vietnam War. Then came the genocidal Khmer Rouge era, when 2 million people died.
How many know what has happened there since? Last month, the Nexis news-research service carried 6,335 stories with Thailand in the headline. Vietnam had 5,196. For Cambodia, 578.
Most people don’t know that Cambodians are ruled by a government that sells off the nation’s rice harvest each year and pockets the money, leaving its people without enough to eat. That it evicts thousands of people from their homes, burns down the houses, then dumps the victims into empty fields and sells their property to developers.
That it amasses vast personal fortunes while the nation’s average annual per capita income stands at $650. Or that it allows school teachers to demand daily bribes from 6-year-olds and doctors to extort money from dirt-poor patients, letting them die if they do not pay.
This is a government that stands by and watches as 75 percent of its citizens contract dysentery each year, and 10,000 die — largely because only 16 percent of Cambodians have access to a toilet. As Beat Richner, who runs children’s hospitals there, puts it, “the passive genocide continues.”
You wouldn’t know any of that from the donors’ behavior. You see, for foreigners Phnom Penh is a relatively pleasant place to live. Rents are cheap and household help is even cheaper. Espresso bars and stylish restaurants dot the river front — primarily for diplomats and aid workers.
Donors have largely been able to pursue whatever project they wanted without interference. They knew that the government would steal some of their money. But so what?
“Some money goes this way or that way,” said In Samrithy, an officer with a donor umbrella group. “But it’s useful if some of it reaches the poor. Not all of it does but some does. That’s better than nothing.”
Even with that, many donors feel the way Teruo Jinnai does. He’s the longtime head of the UNESCO office in Phnom Penh. “Here I have found my own passion,” he told me. “Here, I can set my own target. So that gives you more power, more energy, more passion.”
Well, Mr. Jinnai, the noose is tightening. If, as expected, the NGO bill becomes law, government repression will reach out for you, too. Isn’t it time, then, for all those donors to make a statement? On Wednesday stand up and tell the government: I am withholding my aid.
Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is the author of “Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land.”
Labels: donors, Prime Minister Hun Sen
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April 11, 2011
In a surprise move, the Cambodian Prime Minister, Sandech Hun Sen, has cancelled a titanium strip mine project in one of Southeast Asia’s last great intact forest ecosystems, the Cardamom Mountains. According to a press release sent out by the Cambodian government the mine was canceled due to "concerns of the impact on the environment, biodiversity and local livelihoods" of villagers. The mine, which was planned to sit directly in the migration route for the largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia, had been largely opposed by locals in the region who spent years developing eco-tourism in the region.
"We were under the impression the battle was lost. We are very pleased that the prime minister has weighed the environmental impact," Wildlife Alliance Communications Officer John Maloy told AFP.
Wildlife Alliance, a conservation NGO, has worked extensively in Cambodia for nearly a decade, including with the village of Chi Phat near the area slated to be strip-mined. Many local had residents given up logging and poaching to focus on tourism efforts; for its part, Wildlife Alliance invested over half a million US dollars to build infrastructure.
"We are elated by the decision of Prime Minister Hun Sen. It is incredibly encouraging to see that the prime minister has looked so deeply into this proposed titanium mine and taken the effort to weigh the consequences that this project would have on the rainforest and the local people," said Wildlife Alliance CEO Suwanna Gauntlett in a statement. "[Mining company] United Khmer Group had promised staggering revenues for the government, and we applaud the courageous decision of the prime minister to see the greater value of the forest as it currently stands."
United Khmer Group publically projected that the mine would bring in $1.3 billion dollars a year, but Wildlife Alliance and the Cambodian newspaper Phnom Penh Post questioned the company's projections. According to the Phnom Penh Post, the company was citing prices for titanium that were three times current market price and was projecting a big haul of titanium without ever conducting a comprehensive study of the ore deposit.
Incredibly rich in wildlife, the Cardamom Mountains is home to Indochinese tigers, Malayan sun bears, and pileated gibbons, in addition to 250 species of birds. According to Wildlife Alliance 70 threatened species live in the area, including the Siamese crocodile, which is listed as Critically Endangered.
- Endangered species found in the Cardamom Mountains according to the IUCN Red List:
- Asian elephant (Elephas maximums): Endangered
- Banteng (Bos javanicus): Endangered
- Burmese python (Python molurus): Near Threatened
- Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa): Vulnerable
- Dhole (Cuon alpinus): Endangered
- Frog-faced softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii): Endangered
- Gaur (Bos gaurus): Vulnerable
- Green peafowl (Pavo muticus): Endangered
- Indochinese tiger ( Panthera tigris corbetti): Endangered
- Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus): Vulnerable
- Pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus): Endangered
- Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis): Critically Endangered
- Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata): Vulnerable
- Southwest Chinese serow (Capricornis sumatraensis): Near Threatened
Labels: forest ecosystems, hun sen, Prime Minister Hun Sen, titanium
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10 December 2007
PEKAN: The existence of seven pyramid-like hills near Tasik Chini has again sparked interest in the legend of a lost civilisation in the area that could date back to the 12th century.
While there is no proof that the hills are man-made, there is a possibility that it is part of a lost city or may at least shed some light on the mystery.
The pyramid-like hills near Tasik Chini have sparked interest in the legend of a lost civilisation.
It is long believed that the ancient city could only be found in the depths of the lake. This is based on a theory that the area was inundated with water after the fall of the Khmer empire, of which the city was a part of in the 15th century.
Although many people have made claims of a sunken city, little effort has been made to unravel the mystery. Based on pieces of porcelain found in the area, the city could have been built when the Khmer empire was at the height of its power.
The Khmer empire was ruled, between 802 and 1432, by a succession of "god kings" and had its capital in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where the famed Angkor Wat temple complex stands.
According to a villager, the "pyramid" was more evident when one of the unique hills in Padang Kerbau was cleared by a plantation company recently.
"Before this, all the hills looked normal. However, the way they were 'positioned' is not natural and that is quite interesting," said Ahmad Najib Mohd Don of Kampung Melayu, Chini.
Ahmad Najib, 57 and his wife, Pauziyah Abdullah, 49, later drove their pick-up truck to the hills and found that the formations stood in a swampy area.
Although she was born in Kampung Melayu, Pauziyah said she never realised the peculiar shape of the hills as they were covered by vegetation.
"The hills are also inaccessible because of the swampy land which surrounds them."
The new development has excited archaeologist, Professor Datuk Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman, who was known for his leading role in the expedition to locate the lost city in 1998.
"There's a possibility as we cannot say for sure its exact location. It can be in the lake or on land," said the senior research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia when contacted.
He said there was no conclusion during the two-week exploration nine years ago as the team had lacked funds.
"We managed to drain a small part of the lake but the compartment walls collapsed when we were about to clear a layer of mud on top of a rocky base."
Labels: Khmer, Khmer Empire
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Monday, 11 April 2011
The Phnom Penh Post
The United States has registered sharp criticism of the Cambodian government in its annual human rights report, raising long-standing concerns about land rights, corruption and judicial independence.
A protester speaks in October of the eviction of residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake. (Photo by: Uy Nousereimony)
Released on Friday in Washington, the US report covers 194 countries and spans more than 7,000 pages. The section on Cambodia stretches 42 pages and paints a grim picture of human rights in the Kingdom, calling rule of law weak and corruption “endemic”.
“Members of security forces committed arbitrary killings and acted with impunity. Detainees were abused, often to extract confessions, and prison conditions were harsh,” the report states.
“Human rights monitors reported arbitrary arrests and prolonged pretrial detention, underscoring a weak judiciary and denial of the right to a fair trial. Land disputes and forced evictions, sometimes violent, continued.”
The report depicts a two-tiered society in which the well-connected rarely face legal action and are able to strip state and private assets with impunity. The poor, meanwhile, have difficulty navigating the court system and have little recourse in the face of violations such as land-grabbing and unlawful detention.
With just 30 percent of the country’s 751 lawyers offering pro bono services, the US said, basic legal rights are inaccessible to most of the population.
Reports of beatings and forced confessions in police custody were common, with illiterate defendants sometimes forced to sign confessions they did not understand. Defamation cases against poor villagers and government critics continued, and more than half of all appeals cases took place without defendants present.
Forced relocations increased in 2010 compared to the previous year, the US said, amid “ineffective” work by the government’s Cadastral Commission and National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution.
There were no reports of politically motivated murders, though the Kingdom’s security forces were responsible for at least 12 extrajudicial killings last year, the US said, citing data from local rights group Adhoc.
The government did receive credit for its religious tolerance and its cooperation with development groups on prison and refugee issues. The report also noted the passage of the country’s long-awaited Anticorruption Law last year, though it said government officials “frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity”.
Past US rights reports have drawn criticism from Cambodian officials, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs calling the publication “a routine that has nothing to do with human rights reality in Cambodia” following the 2008 report. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that he had not yet seen the latest report, though he nonetheless dismissed its findings as “out of date”.
“Some issues are out of date – we’ve solved the problem already – and some issues, we can’t work 24 hours,” he said. The government, he said, is working “to build a culture of human rights respect through the law”.
US assistant secretary of state Michael Posner told reporters in Washington on Friday that growing restrictions on civil society organisations, of the sort now being considered in Cambodia with the government’s controversial draft NGO Law, are among the global human rights trends about which the US is most concerned.
“This week, for example, we’re in a diplomatic negotiation with the government of Cambodia, which is now considering adopting a new law to this effect, which would make it much more difficult for Cambodian human rights and other organisations to operate,” Posner said.
Restrictions on internet freedom and “discrimination against vulnerable groups” are the US’s other key global rights concerns for this year, he said.
Labels: eviction, Human Rights, United States of America
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Bangkok - The Thai-Cambodian border dispute has set a precedent for regional problem solving by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Indonesian foreign minister said Monday.
Indonesia, which now holds the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN, has been active over the past two months in promoting a ceasefire and facilitating talks between Thailand and Cambodia over their joint claims to a plot of land adjacent to an 11th-century Hindu temple on their border and hosted talks Thursday and Friday between them in Bogor.
'I think we have the potential for this episode to have a silver lining, a positive long-term impact in the sense that we are setting a precedent,' Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in Bangkok.
ASEAN has in the past maintained a stance of non-interference in it 10 member states' internal or bilateral affairs, raising questions about the group's effectiveness as a regional problem solver.
'I think it has had a potentially positive impact, for it shows ASEAN for the first time addressing an issue of this type directly and not simply producing documents,' Natalegawa said.
Both Cambodian and Thailand are members of ASEAN, which also includes Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
Preah Vihear temple has been a bone of contention between Thailand and Cambodia for the past five decades, leading to a cessation of diplomatic ties in 1958.
The two countries agreed to have the sovereignty spat settled at the International Court, which in 1962 ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia.
Fighting broke out between Thai and Cambodian troops near the temple February 4-7, killing three Thais and five Cambodians and leaving dozens wounded on both sides.
The conflict raised questioned about solidarity within ASEAN, which is striving to be an economic community similar to the European Union by 2015.
Although Indonesia has played a role in bringing both sides to the negotiating table, Thailand and Cambodia remained at loggerheads over joint claims to a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land adjacent to Preah Vihear that was not including in The Hague's 1962 ruling.
Nalalegawa was in Bangkok to lead an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on the upcoming East Asia Summit, one of Asia's pivotal security forums, which Indonesia is to host in October or November.
Labels: Cambodia Thailand Border, Preah Vihear
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By SETH MYDANS - The New York Times - Asia Paciic
Published: April 7, 2011
BANGKOK — A proposed law to control nongovernmental groups in Cambodia threatens to silence some of the last independent voices in an increasingly repressed nation, a group of leading international human rights agencies said Thursday.
Calling the proposal “the most significant threat to the country’s civil society in many years,” the agencies urged foreign nations and aid groups to oppose the law, which they said would undermine much of the nation-building work the donors have supported at a cost of billions of dollars.
The measure, which is moving toward enactment by Parliament, would for the first time require nongovernmental organizations of all types and sizes to register and to follow complex reporting procedures. The law would give the government new leverage to shut down any group it considers to be opposed to it.
Human rights advocates said the law would cap a long process during which Prime Minister Hun Sen has imposed controls over his political opponents, the security forces and the judiciary, leaving the independent groups and civil society the country’s only independent voices.
“Should this law pass as it is currently formulated, the survival of each and every N.G.O. in Cambodia will be at the whim of the government,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, referring to nongovernmental agencies that monitor and act on areas like human rights, legal affairs, the environment, land issues, public health and the role and rights of women.
“Emboldened by the legitimacy that they believe a law gives to abusive behavior, the government is likely to use the N.G.O. law to silence its people and to tighten its control on their daily lives,” he said. “The international community needs to act now, or Cambodia will continue in its march away from democracy and toward autocracy.”
Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness, an independent rights monitoring group, said the proposed law was a test of the commitment of donor nations and international agencies to the future of the civil society they had worked for two decades to foster.
“If the donors stand by while the government adopts this law, they cannot in good conscience claim to be working in the interests of Cambodia’s development objectives,” he said.
Despite Cambodia’s continuing pressures on human rights and its failure to control corruption, illegal logging and an epidemic of sometimes violent land seizures by powerful interests, international financial support for Mr. Hun Sen’s government has continued to increase.
At their most recent annual conference last June, donor nations and international agencies pledged $1.1 billion in aid for this year, a record amount, up from $950 million last year, despite widespread criticism that much of the money was misspent or diverted.
The aid is equal to roughly half the country’s official budget. In principle, it gives the international community leverage to maintain or strengthen basic freedoms and democratic institutions.
The amount has risen even as Cambodia’s economy has steadied itself and begun to grow, and even as China has matched Western donors with its own financial support, which comes unencumbered by the human rights conditions imposed by the West.
In December 2009, China awarded Cambodia $1.2 billion in aid and soft loans. That pledge came immediately after Cambodia deported 20 ethnic Uighur refugees to China over the strong objections of the United States and the United Nations, which called the deportation a violation of human rights.
“It must be remembered that the freedoms of association, expression and assembly in Cambodia are already heavily restricted, particularly at the community level,” said one of Cambodia’s oldest human rights groups, Licadho, in a separate report last week on the proposed law.
In their statement on Thursday, the international human rights agencies said that the strict financial conditions of the proposed law would disproportionately affect small groups with limited resources operating at the local level, “making them vulnerable to prosecution for carrying out legitimate activities without the proper legal status.”
The agencies voiced concern over what they called a lack of safeguards and meaningful judicial review mechanisms and pointed to the vague wording regarding a right of appeal of government sanctions.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, “Cambodia’s proposed law could too easily be used to refuse registration or close down organizations that serve the public interest.”
“Over the past 20 years, the development of civil society has been one of Cambodia’s few enduring achievements,” he said. “This law threatens to reverse that progress.”
In the early 1990s, Cambodia emerged from two decades of civil war and mass killings by the Khmer Rouge, which left the country brutalized, without an educated class or civic institutions.
As part of a $2 billion nation-building effort, the United Nations established democratic forms of government and introduced standards of human rights that soon became a part of political discourse.
The concept and practice of human rights and political freedoms grew hand in hand with the introduction of the nongovernmental organizations that are now under threat.
Labels: A proposed law to control nongovernmental groups, Human Rights
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By Guy De Launey, BBC News
Campaigners against cluster munitions say Thailand has admitted it used the weapons against Cambodia in February.
The Cluster Munition Coalition called the decision “appalling” and “unconscionable”.
The weapons were banned by an international convention three years ago, but neither Thailand nor Cambodia have signed the agreement.
Admitting the use of cluster munitions would represent a significant shift in Thailand’s position.
Cambodia was quick to accuse its larger neighbour of using the weapons during four days of border fighting in February.
Thailand denied the allegation – saying that if anyone had used cluster munitions, it was Cambodian forces.
But several humanitarian organisations have visited the border area around Preah Vihear temple, and they reported finding unexploded cluster bomblets.
This evidence appears to have caused the shift in Bangkok’s stance.
The Cluster Munition Coalition says that Thailand has confirmed that it fired the weapons, claiming that it was self defence against heavy artillery from Cambodia landing in civilian areas.
The coalition says that should not be a justification for using weapons which are banned by more than 100 countries.
According to the campaigners, thousands of villagers are now at risk of death or serious injury because of unexploded ordnance near their homes.
Part of the reason for the weapons notoriety is that children find the brightly-coloured bomblets attractive and get badly hurt if they pick them up.
Labels: Ban Cluster Bombs, Cambodia Thailand Border, Preah Vihear
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