Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tens of Thousands March in Cambodia Demanding Hun Sen Quit

Robert Carmichael - Voice of America
December 29, 2013

PHNOM PENH — In Cambodia Sunday, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of the capital calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to quit. The public outpouring of sentiment in recent months against the long-time leader is unprecedented, and has brought together opposition party supporters and many of Cambodia’s 400,000-strong garment workers.

Before leading the huge march through the streets of Phnom Penh, opposition leader Sam Rainsy told the crowd at Freedom Park in the city center that this is a historic day and that the will of the Cambodian people will prevail.

Rainsy said all Cambodians believe Hun Sen’s government is illegal, adding that the prime minister would hear their voice. He said everyone wants to see a change in leadership, and he called for fresh elections.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which Sam Rainsy leads, stunned the ruling party in July when it came close to winning the general election. The opposition has since claimed the election was stolen.

It initially sought an independent investigation into the ballot.

But Prime Minister Hun Sen - who has been in power for nearly three decades - rejected that, and talks between the two sides quickly stagnated.

The 55 opposition MPs-elect have refused to take up their seats in the 123-seat National Assembly. They want Hun Sen to quit and a second election held next year. Hun Sen has rejected both of those demands, too.

So for the past two weeks, the opposition has staged daily rallies and marches in Phnom Penh, drawing between a few thousand supporters and - on Sunday a week ago - as many as an estimated 40,000.

The march this Sunday saw even more people turn out. Counting crowds is a notoriously tricky task, but this march was clearly much larger than last week’s. Once again, the refrain was that Hun Sen must go.

Expressing such sentiments publicly in Cambodia even a year ago would have been unthinkable, and is indicative of how far the country’s political landscape has shifted.

The opposition has been boosted by wide segments of society: from civil servants fed up with low wages, to ordinary citizens tired of corruption, Buddhist monks speaking out against the senior clergy’s coziness to the ruling party, and garment workers, angry at the government’s announcement on Tuesday to raise the minimum wage from $80 a month to just $95.

Garment workers say that is not enough - with prices in the markets rising fast, as are rents. Many are forced to work overtime simply to make ends meet.

Touch is one of the protestors demanding that the minimum wage rises to $160. The 35-year-old Touch has worked for a decade in a factory that makes jeans for Levi-Strauss. She and her husband are able to send home a small monthly sum to her parents in the village who look after their two children.

She says there are two reasons she came Sunday. One is to have the minimum wage increased to $160. The other is for Hun Sen to step down.

Cambodia’s garment industry is the country’s key foreign exchange earner - worth more than $5 billion this year, mostly in exports to the U.S. and the European Union. The sector is also Cambodia’s biggest formal employer, with 400,000 workers.

But wages have not kept pace with inflation, and over the years the industry has been hit by hundreds of strikes. Last year saw more than half a million days lost to strike action; this year will likely see one million days lost, by far the worst in its two-decade-long history.

So it was little surprise that the announcement of the $15 raise saw tens of thousands of garment workers walk out. In response the trade body that represents the factory owners advised its 470 or so members to close, citing the risk of violence. Many have done so.

Although unions affiliated to the ruling party did back the pay rise, independent unions and those linked to the opposition rejected it. On Friday, leaders of the last two groups met senior officials at the Ministry of Labor to discuss new wages terms, while 2,000 workers blocked the road outside. They failed to reach a deal and are scheduled to meet again Monday.

Touch reckons a deal is at some point inevitable - but pledges that until one is concluded, she and her fellow workers will stay on strike.

She says she expects the government will find a solution for the workers, but doesn't know how long that will take.

The opposition continues to reap political capital from the dispute over the minimum wage. Earlier this past week, Sam Rainsy told workers they should stay on strike until they get $160 a month.

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Antigovernment March Draws Diverse Group of Protesters in Cambodia

By THOMAS FULLER - The New York Times
Published: December 29, 2013

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Tens of thousands of antigovernment demonstrators marched through Phnom Penh on Sunday in one of the biggest acts of defiance against the nearly three decades of rule by Cambodia’s authoritarian prime minister, Hun Sen.

The procession, which was peaceful and stretched for several miles through a commercial district of Phnom Penh, the capital, brought together protesters with a diverse list of grievances: Buddhist monks, garment workers, farmers and supporters of the main opposition party.

They were united in their calls for Mr. Hun Sen to step down, their chants — “Hun Sen! Get Out!” — echoing down the broad avenue where they marched.

In July, Mr. Hun Sen’s party claimed victory in disputed elections that the opposition and many independent monitoring organizations said were deeply flawed. Mr. Hun Sen formed a government despite the growing protests by the opposition, which has boycotted Parliament and is calling for new elections.

Cambodia’s political stalemate and protest movement have been somewhat overshadowed by the turmoil in nearby Thailand, where antigovernment demonstrators are rallying to block elections and install a “people’s council” to govern the country during what they describe as a hiatus from democracy.

But some analysts in Cambodia describe the past few months here as a watershed for Cambodian society, which for years has been dominated by the highly personalized rule of Mr. Hun Sen, whose party has tight control over major institutions in the country, including the army, the police, the judiciary and much of the news media.

Protesters blocking traffic and marching through downtown Phnom Penh remain a jarring sight after years during which the main message from the government has been that people should be grateful for the unity and development that Mr. Hun Sen brought to Cambodia after many years of war.

“It seems like a turning point in the history of civil society,” said Yeng Virak, the executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, a Cambodian human rights organization. “People feel more free to join protests and to identify themselves as part of the opposition.”

The continued vigor of the protest movement five months after the elections appears to be a reflection of the deep pool of resentment in the country toward Mr. Hun Sen.

One woman who took part in the march on Sunday, Meng Phang, 59, shouted to onlookers, including stone-face police officers, that “Hun Sen and his family are getting richer but everyone else is getting poorer.”

Ms. Meng Phang’s participation also represented another crucial factor of the protests: the sustained financing of the movement. Ms. Meng Phang said she had donated about $1,000 to the protest movement from money she had saved while working in a factory in Japan.

Kem Sokha, one of the protest leaders, singled out contributions “from our people abroad” in a speech to protesters on Sunday evening. There are large Cambodian populations in Australia, France and the United States, among other countries.

The grievances among protesters on Sunday were varied. Sok Heng, a middle-aged carpenter, lamented the lack of justice in the country and mentioned the case of his brother-in-law, who was killed by a thief. The police asked for a bribe before agreeing to arrest the suspect, he said.

Touch Vandeth, 24, was one of thousands of garment workers on strike, demanding a doubling of the minimum wage to $160 a month, a sharp increase that would put wages well above those of Cambodia’s regional economic competitors, including Myanmar, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Ms. Touch Vandeth, who assembles Adidas footwear at a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, said she had been unable to save much money on her current salary, $80 plus overtime.

Chay Soheaktra, one of the many Buddhist monks taking part in the demonstration, said he was angry that Mr. Hun Sen’s government had given a forestry concession to a Vietnamese company. Anti-Vietnamese rhetoric has been a mainstay of the protest leaders, who portray Mr. Hun Sen as a puppet of Vietnam. (Mr. Hun Sen is Cambodian but came to power with the aid of an invading Vietnamese Army that pushed the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979.)

The Buddhist hierarchy is closely aligned with Mr. Hun Sen, but younger monks have joined the protests — sometimes in defiance of their elders — and are particularly angry at the theft of precious Buddhist relics this month from a Buddhist shrine. Monks question how a national treasure was so poorly guarded — especially when hundreds of security officers guard the residences of Mr. Hun Sen and other top officials.

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, an independent advocacy organization in Phnom Penh, said the theft of the relics might be among the biggest problems for Mr. Hun Sen. In a country where superstition plays an important role, the theft could be taken as a supernatural sign.

Mr. Hun Sen is unpopular with a broad portion of the Cambodian electorate, Mr. Ou Virak said. But many people, especially business leaders, are not convinced that the opposition is ready to govern the country. He cited the opposition’s embrace of the doubling of the minimum wage, claiming that the country could lose tens of thousands of jobs to neighboring countries.

“The majority of the people want change,” Mr. Ou Virak said. “But they don’t know what that change would look like.”

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Striking Garment Workers Join Cambodian Opposition Protests

Dissatisfied by a minimum wage increase, thousands of striking garment factory workers on Thursday joined Cambodia’s opposition supporters in mass demonstrations calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen and a re-election.

The footwear and textile factory workers gathered for the first time with opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) faithful in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, where supporters have held 12 days of “nonstop” mass protests following disputed July elections they say were tainted by fraud.

The government announced earlier this week that the monthly minimum wage for garment workers would be increased from U.S. $80 to U.S. $95 starting from April next year, though unions have been demanding U.S. $160 per month beginning in 2014.

The announcement triggered waves of protests and calls for strikes supported by the CNRP, which during its campaign ahead of the July 28 election had vowed to raise wages for workers in Cambodia’s biggest export earning industry.

On Thursday, the workers gathered with CNRP supporters in the park, airing their grievances before joining a five-hour, 10-kilometer (six-mile) march through the capital.

Authorities monitored the gathering, but allowed it to proceed unhindered.

Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the workers would not accept the newly announced wage increase, adding that the workers’ movement “cannot be stopped” and comparing it to a “dam that has been broken.”

He demanded that the government accept the workers’ demand of U.S. $160 per month “if they want to stop the strikes.”

The Associated Press quoted CNRP leader Sam Rainsy as pledging to assist the workers during Thursday’s gathering.

“I'm aware of the difficulties facing the workers and have helped them for 20 years. Now I am ready to help them again,” he said.

“That is the difference with Hun Sen, who is sticking with factories owners.”

The protest came as roughly 300,000 workers from some 100 of Cambodia’s more than 500 garment and footwear factories went on strike Thursday to protest the wage announcement, reports said.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has recommended that its members stop operations for a week, citing fears that demonstrators might damage factories if workers do not join the strikes.

Invitation to talks

Also on Thursday, the Ministry of Labor’s Committee to Resolve Strikes invited six prominent union leaders, including Ath Thon, Free Trade Union president Chea Moni and Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun to talks, calling on them to end the worker unrest.

Committee secretary general Prak Chanthoeun warned that the government would take legal action against any union that provokes workers to strike.

“We intend to educate [the workers], but if [the unions] continue to provoke the workers to act out in a way that threatens security, they will face legal action,” he said.

Prak Chanthoeun said that the workers are being “exploited by the CNRP” and warned that the strikes would scare off investors, who would turn to other countries to do business.

“The strikes have impacted the workers,” he said. “If the workers continue to strike, the investors will run away and they will only be hurting themselves.”

GMAC senior official Cheath Khemara told RFA’s Khmer Service that if Cambodia’s garment factories were to immediately increase the minimum wage of the workers to U.S. $160 it would negatively impact the sustainability of investment in the industry.

"We can't simply increase wages by 100 percent or it will affect investment,” Cheath Khemara said.

“If we do that, both [the workers and the factories] will die,” he said, adding that investors would look to the Lao and Vietnamese markets for lower worker costs.


Meanwhile on Thursday, Cambodia’s Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) urged the government to hold a re-election to avoid violence that could come from a continued power struggle.

“If you politicians are mature, we must seek a compromise to avoid any violence,” Comfrel board of director committee chairman Thun Saray said during a conference in Phnom Penh held to unveil a report on irregularities in the July election.

“If there is violence, there will be bloodshed and Cambodians will lose their lives,” Thun Saray, who is also director of rights group Adhoc, told reporters.

On Sunday, in the largest demonstration since the disputed July elections, some 500,000 CNRP supporters marched through the streets of Phnom Penh calling for Hun Sen to step down and to announce new polls.

The CNRP, which has boycotted parliament saying it was robbed of victory due to poll fraud, launched daily mass protests on Dec. 15 to force a re-election after its calls for an independent election probe into irregularities were dismissed by the government.

It has vowed to keep up daily protests for three months or until there is a fresh vote.

But Hun Sen last week rejected the call for his resignation and fresh elections, saying there is no provision in the country's constitution that allows for a re-election.

Comfrel director Koul Panha said Thursday that the two parties have exhausted all options through political talks, including the possibility of a power sharing agreement and for an investigation into election irregularities.

“The best choice now is to have an election as soon as possible. That way the victor will win with dignity and the loser will be satisfied.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Hun Sen, Tan Dung Sign 9 Agreements During Vietnam State Visit

By Zsombor Peter, Cambodia Daily
The December 28, 2013

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday signed off on nine wide-ranging deals with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung during a state visit that ends Saturday, including arrangements to tighten media, public security and trade cooperation, according to Cambodian and Vietnamese state media.

Cambodian state news service Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP) also reported that Mr. Tan Dung asked Mr. Hun Sen to “protect” Vietnamese investors in Cambodia and expressed hope that bilateral trade would hit $5 billion by 2015, nearly double the $2.7 billion achieved in 2013.

According to AKP, Mr. Hun Sen in turn asked Vietnam to sell electricity to Cambodia at the price both sides had agreed to, to share water along their common border and to finish a road Vietnam is building in neighboring Ratanakkiri province.

Mr. Hun Sen’s state visit to Vietnam comes amid opposition-led protests in Cambodia calling for the prime minister’s resignation, and the airing of long-running resentments here against Vietnamese illegal immigration and investments accused of encroaching on Cambodian land. The protests themselves were triggered by national elections in July that the opposition accuses the CPP of stealing through fraud.

Among the deals the two leaders signed, AKP said, was a credit agreement of an undisclosed amount of money for construction of the Chrey Thom-Long bridge in Kandal province, an extradition treaty, and unspecified cooperation plans between the ministries of information and education, and state security agencies. Other deals covered bilateral trade enhancement, the shipment of goods and a fertilizer purchase agreement.

AKP reported that Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Tan Dung also discussed their plans to celebrate the 35th anniversary of January 7, the date in 1979 on which Vietnamese forces and Khmer Rouge defectors toppled the Pol Pot regime. Though habitually marked by the CPP, the opposition considers that date the start of a decade of Vietnamese occupation during which Hanoi installed Mr. Hun Sen in power.

Mr. Hun Sen, speaking in fluent Vietnamese, also gave a public address to hundreds of Vietnamese veterans of the war in Cambodia and met with Vietnam’s former President Le Duc Anh, who planned the invasion that toppled Pol Pot. Mr. Hun Sen also laid a wreath at Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, according to a report on the VTV 1 channel.

Mr. Tan Dung is scheduled to pay a state visit of his own to Cambodia on January 13 and 14 for the groundbreaking of the Chrey Thom-Long bridge and the inauguration of a Vietnamese-built hospital in Phnom Penh.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

In Largest Protest Since Polls, Cambodians Demand Re-Election

In the largest demonstration since the disputed July elections, hundreds of thousands of Cambodia's opposition party supporters marched through the streets of the capital Phnom Penh on Sunday calling for Prime Minister Hun to step down and to announce new polls.

"This is a historic day," Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy declared, estimating that about 500,000 people participated in the march seeking the ouster of the longtime premier following July 28 elections marred by fraud and other allegations.

"The demonstrators demand Hun Sen step down," he said, shouting, "Hun Sen please step down." The crowd echoed his demand.

"[T]here were about 500,000 protesters who occupied a length of 5 kilometers [about 3 miles] of the long, wide and straight Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh," Sam Rainsy said on his Facebook page, posting photos of the mass gathering.

"The head of the CNRP procession already reached the corner with Mao Tse Tung Boulevard when its tail was still at Democracy Square [Freedom Park]. Given the people density of the crowd as seen on these photos [about 100 persons per meter] the number of protesters could easily reach 500,000," he said.

The CNRP, which has boycotted parliament saying it was robbed of victory due to poll fraud, launched daily mass protests a week ago to force a re-election after its calls for an independent election probe into irregularities were dismissed by the government.

It has vowed to keep up daily protests for three months or until there is a fresh vote.

But Hun Sen on Friday rejected the call for his resignation and fresh elections, saying there is no provision in the country's constitution that allows for a re-election.

“They ask me to resign, but what have I done wrong?” Hun Sen said. “I obtained my position by means of the constitution and I will only leave it by means of the constitution,” he said.

Hun Sen, who has been premier for the last 28 years, said that according to article 78 of the constitution, the National Assembly shall not be dissolved before the end of its five-year term, except when the government is twice deposed within a period of 12 months.

'People's strength'

Sam Rainsy insists that the party is determined to get to the bottom of the election irregularities, saying the people had been denied of their choice of government.

"CNRP's strength comes from the people's strength. Nobody can win over the people's strength," he said.

After the July polls, the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the country’s polls, declared Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) the winner with 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP claimed it won at least 63.

The NEC and the CCP have both said that all claims of poll irregularities have been investigated and rejected, making an independent probe sought by the opposition as unnecessary.

Talks between the two parties to break the political stalemate have stalled after their latest meeting last month yielded little progress, with the CPP calling on elected CNRP lawmakers to end their boycott and resolve any complaints from within parliament.

The CNRP last week threatened to block key highways leading into the capital Phnom Penh and seize state buildings if the government continues to ignore opposition demands.

Hun Sen had said the CNRP’s plan could harm the country’s “national security” and warned of government action.

“The government is tolerant of peaceful demonstrations but will not allow any illegal activities that provoke social instability,” he said on Friday.

Protesters fed up

Some of the demonstrators who participated in the march Sunday from their base at Freedom Park to the city center said in speeches that they were fed up with various issues affecting the country, citing social injustice, corruption, unemployment and land grabs.

One protester, speaking from the top of a CNRP vehicle, told the crowd that she joined the demonstration because she could not find a job after graduation and after her father invested heavily on her education.

"I would like to ask Hun Sen to resign [so that] Sam Rainsy and [deputy CNRP president] Kem Sokha can help the students, regardless of whether they are poor or rich," she said.

Another protester said she wants Sam Rainsy to be the new prime minister.

The CNRP has deployed thousands of supporters to help maintain security during the protest marches and at Freedom Park, where many of them have camped out.

The heightened security came after several vehicles dumped garbage transported from elsewhere at the park in an apparent attempt to blame the party for the piles of trash accumulated in the area.

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai

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Friday, December 20, 2013

In Cambodian Development, Bad Examples for Burma, Expert Says

Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
19 December 2013

WASHINGTON DC — Cambodia’s development through international aid could hold some lessons for Burma, some of them not so good, as that country opens up, experts said at a recent roundtable.

At the meeting, sponsored by the US Council on Foreign Relations, one Cambodia expert said a lack of coordinated effort by donors meant  overspending and a lack of development.

Donors lack leverage in Cambodia, despite their funding, said Ear Sophal, author of “How Aid Dependence Undermines Cambodian Democracy.”

Cambodia’s government has restricted basic freedoms and limited the activities of civil society, he said. So there are lessons that Burma, also known as Myanmar, should not learn from Cambodia, he said.

“Myanmar, hopefully, seeing Cambodia’s experience, would not follow that,” he said. “But of course examples are already out there on how to confuse donors, how to use your ability to see to a lack of coordination, to essentially draw more resources and prevent [donors] from having much leverage over you.”

Ear Sophal presented a history of development in Cambodia, beginning from the 1950s, through the UN transition to democracy in 1993 and the present. About 30 people attended the meeting, including representatives of the World Bank, USAID and other US agencies.

Ear Sophal highlighted abuses of the rule of law in Cambodia, especially in the evictions of impoverished residents of the Phnom Penh neighborhood Boeung Kak, as well as labor abuses in the garment industry, which employs around 350,000 people.

Like Cambodia, Burma will have to deal with corruption, rights abuses and the challenges of democracy and good governance, he said.

Burma’s transition to democracy has earned approval from the international community, including the US and the UK. Japan, which is competing with Chinese influence in Asia, recently pledged $1.5 billion in development aid to Burma, while canceling nearly $3 billion in debt.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Most corrupt in ASEAN

Wed, 4 December 2013
Stuart White
The Phnom Penh Post

Amid a flurry of post-election promises of reform by the government, an index released by Transparency International (TI) yesterday shows that Cambodia’s public sector is perceived to be the most corrupt in ASEAN, and second only to North Korea in all of East Asia.

Since being added to TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the Kingdom’s scores have remained largely stagnant as the country has been outstripped by its regional peers. In 2005, when it joined the survey, Indonesia and Myanmar were behind Cambodia, which was ranked 130th out of 159 nations that year.

But in this year’s index, Cambodia fell to 160th out of 177 nations, with Indonesia and Myanmar holding the 114th and 157th spots, respectively. Laos, which slipped behind Cambodia in 2007, now ranks 140th, and even Bangladesh, which tied for last place in 2005’s index, has climbed to 136th this year.

“While it is encouraging to hear the highest level of Cambodia’s government reiterate their commitment to tackle corruption, corrupt practices will continue and become even more entrenched unless rhetoric is matched by actions,” Sophoan Rath, chairman of TI Cambodia’s board, said in a statement released alongside the index yesterday.

However, that may prove a troublesome prospect if Cambodia’s performance over the past nine years is any indication. In 2005, when the CPI still used a 10-point scale, Cambodia’s score on the index was 2.3. In 2010, the year the Anti-Corruption Unit was formed, Cambodia’s score had actually fallen to 2.1. This year, on the CPI’s 100-point scale – implemented in 2012 – Cambodia scored 20, down two points from last year’s 22.

ACU spokesman Keo Remy declined to comment yesterday on the contents of the 2013 CPI, and referred questions to ACU Chairman Om Yentieng, who could not be reached after repeated attempts.

The drop between 2012 and 2013 can be accounted for by substantial declines in two of the third-party metrics used by Transparency International. The studies, performed by the World Economic Forum and Global Insight, assessed how commonly businesses face corruption in a given country and to what extent it affects their operations.

“Both the World Economic Forum and Global Insight focus on the business environment,” Preap Kol, TI Cambodia’s executive director, told reporters at yesterday’s unveiling of the CPI. “It is seen that the investment climate is not favourable in Cambodia.

“In my personal opinion, in 2013, we had the election, and businesses may have faced some challenges,” he added.

European Chamber of Commerce vice-president Dominique Catry, on the other hand, attributed the lack of progress over the last few years to a lack of motivation on the part of authorities.

“I don’t think there has been any change at all,” Catry said.

“If corruption was more controlled, that could probably attract more foreign investors from countries like the US or from Europe, but I’m not sure it is a concern [among officials] in Cambodia,” he continued.

“They don’t see the advantage in changing the way of operating, so there is no incentive for those people to change their behaviour.”

Though some businesses are able to operate above board, he concluded, those that seek government contracts are especially likely to run into graft-related problems.

TIC board member Ok Serei Sopheak, speaking at the unveiling, also acknowledged the apparent lack of progress.

“We have the feeling that over the past years, it seems like there is no improvement,” he said. “We need to recognise that we are at a level that is not acceptable.

“We need to reflect and clean ourselves, and this is a mirror that allows us to see ourselves,” he added.

While progress was slow, he noted, there was a time when officials enjoyed total impunity when it came to corruption. In recent years, however, the ACU has begun arresting junior officials on corruption charges. In the future, Sopheak continued, even senior officials may find themselves facing prosecution.

“It’s like evolution,” he said.


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Cambodia: Investigate Politician In Hit-and-Run Death

Human Rights - Brad Adams (New York) – Political considerations should not be allowed to obstruct a full investigation and possible prosecution of a senior ruling party politician by Cambodian authorities in connection with a fatal hit-and-run traffic accident.

On the morning of November 22, 2013, a Lexus sports utility vehicle carrying Cheam Yeap, a Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) member of the National Assembly, and driven by his bodyguard collided head-on with a motorbike on a national highway in Kien Svay district of Kandal province. The driver of the motorbike, Pin Sophea, died while her husband, Moeun Tha, sitting behind her, was seriously injured.

Witnesses quoted in news reports said that the Lexus dragged the motorbike for approximately 50 meters before driving on without stopping, leaving the injured couple behind and heading off at high speed towards the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. The two victims lay on the roadside for 30 minutes before medical assistance arrived. Pin Sophea died the next day in the hospital of head trauma. It is unclear whether she would have survived if Cheam Yeap had transported her to the nearest hospital.

“The wealthy and powerful in Cambodia have a long history of involvement in hit-and-runs of local people on the country’s highways, fueling public anger,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should enforce the law instead of protecting senior CPP politicians. Donors should tell the government that it should not pervert the law to protect a party official.

Cheam Yeap’s lawyer has asserted that his vehicle did not stop and therefore did not provide assistance because he feared that because he was a CPP official, he would be at great risk of violent attack by the local population, even though he was not at fault, and that his flight was therefore not in order to evade any of his legal responsibilities. However, the lawyer has not publicly provided evidence that Cheam Yeap would have been at risk. The lawyer said that Cheam Yeap was asleep at the time of the collision, and that after awakening, telephoned the lawyer to tell him what had happened, after which the lawyer contacted the competent authorities to report. Ear Chariya, the road safety program manager at Handicap International, told the media that “while many drivers in Cambodia fear being attacked by angry witnesses in the wake of a crash, only those who attempt to flee the scene are generally at risk of mob violence.”

Cheam Yeap paid funeral costs for the woman who died and medical fees for her husband, to whom he has also given financial compensation. This has resulted in a decision by the husband not to file a civil complaint against Cheam Yeap. However, this has no effect on his potential criminal liability, Human Rights Watch said.

“One reason the rule of law has not been established in Cambodia is that wealthy and powerful people often pay or threaten victims to keep quiet and not cooperate with criminal investigations,” Adams said.

The Kien Svay district police have put together a file on the incident for the Kandal provincial court for possible further criminal investigation. The provincial police also said they are investigating and will send the results to the provincial court, adding that the file “won’t be long.”

However, a senior Cambodian national judicial official, speaking confidentially, told Human Rights Watch that “there is no possibility” the Kandal court will seriously pursue a judicial inquiry, because like other public institutions in the province it acts under CPP instructions. The police are “just going through the motions to please public opinion,” this source stated. He added that it was particularly unlikely that a Kandal province investigating judge would ever issue an indictment or arrest warrant against Cheam Yeap.

Under Cambodian traffic law, Cheam Yeap may be liable for up to three years in prison. Although he was not the driver, he left the scene of an accident while failing to urgently transport an injured person who later died to the hospital.Article 36 of Cambodia’s Land Traffic Law states that in the event of a traffic accident, “the drivers and all persons using the road involved in the accident, and those seeing the event” must “urgently halt their vehicles” and “urgently inform the local authorities or traffic police.” They are “forbidden from leaving the scene before this is mutually agreed or this is authorized by the traffic police.” Article 38 reiterates that they must “remain at the scene until such time that traffic police arrive.” It adds that if the accident involves injuries or death, these same specified persons must “most urgently” inform the authorities or the traffic police and “most urgently” inform the nearest hospital or transport the injured to that hospital. Furthermore, those in possession of any kind of vehicle are prohibited from “unreasonably rejecting requests” for such assistance.

Several articles in chapter 10 of the traffic law set forth criminal penalties to be determined by the courts. The articles specify that the most serious penalty of imprisonment must be imposed in cases of accidents resulting, even if unintentionally, in injury or death, whenever the perpetrator “flees to absent themselves from the scene with the objective of evading their responsibilities” arising from the accident. A sentence of between one and three years in prison is provided.

Cheam Yeap, a member of the CPP Standing Committee and Central Committee, is likely to be protected from prosecution by the fact that the political administration, police, other security forces and judiciary in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred are strictly controlled by CPP and highly partisan in its favor, as in other parts of Cambodia (see details below). He is currently listed on the CPP website as the 23rd ranking member of the party and is a prominent national assembly spokesperson for the party. He has spearheaded the CPP’s rejection of any independent investigation of malpractices during the July elections. In an October 11 interview, he suggested that heavenly intervention might cause Sam Rainsy, president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, to be killed in an airplane crash as punishment for seeking an electoral investigation and disrupting Cambodian politics. More recently he has endorsed the methods security forces have employed to deter and suppress anti-CPP demonstrations and unrest, including during incidents in which the use of excessive force has resulted in death and injury, saying the government’s measures are necessary to maintain political security and social order.

Cheam Yeap and his lawyer have pointed out that as a member of parliament he is entitled to parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution. The CPP has for political reasons on many occasions stripped parliamentary immunity from opposition members of parliament, including of Sam Rainsy, former prime minister Norodom Ranariddh, and former foreign minister Norodom Sirivudh, among others. However, no CPP National Assembly member has ever been stripped of immunity, including in non-political cases.

Cambodia’s roads are dangerous, with an average of more than five traffic-related deaths and 15 injuries daily, according to official statistics. This has prompted a high-level campaign led by Prime Minister Hun Sen and promoted by his children. Persons alleged to be criminally liable in connection with traffic accidents resulting in death or injury are routinely detained for trial.

“If Hun Sen wants to tackle road safety and show that he is serious about ending impunity for powerful officials, he will ensure that a serious investigation is conducted into this fatal hit and run,” Adams said.

Political Biography of Cheam Yeap
Cheam Yeap has been a CPP member of the national assembly since the current institution was established in 1981. In the national elections of July 28, he was elected from the Prey Veng province constituency. He is a member of the Standing Committee of the CPP Central Committee and is a frequent party spokesperson. The CPP has designated him a member of the current, contested national assembly standing committee and chairman of its Economy, Finance, Banking, and Audit Commission.

The July elections were neither free nor fair. The results are contested by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The CNRP has refused to take its seats until an independent and internationally assisted investigation into election fraud and irregularities is conducted. CPP members of the National Assembly have meanwhile reappointed Hun Sen as prime minister, continuing him in a post he has held since 1985, and also established an all-CPP government.

CPP Domination of Kien Svay District and Kandal Province
The CPP senior leader with centrally-delegated authority over party affairs in Kien Svay district of Kandal province is Gen. Mok Chito, chairman of the Central Justice Directorate of the National Police. Mok Chito is concurrently chairman of a CPP work team assigned to advance CPP political interests in the district, in which capacity he acted in an openly partisan manner in connection with the recent national elections. He has a long history of committing, ordering, and covering up human rights violations, including killings, on behalf of the CPP.

In Kandal, like in other Cambodian provinces, the politically most senior judicial police official is the provincial governor (article 60 of the Code of Criminal Procedure), who is also legally the senior security force official, representing the government “on issues related to security, social and public order, law and human rights” within the provincial jurisdiction (article 154 of the Law on the Administrative Management of the Capital, Provinces, Municipalities, Districts and Khans (municipal wards). A senior national security officer has explained to Human Rights Watch, that in line with such authority, governors chair “Unified Command Committees” that formally oversee the work of the police, gendarmes, local army units, militia and public order personnel throughout their areas of administrative responsibility. Such committees date back to the 1980s and are frequently mentioned in the Khmer media, including with reference to Kandal.

The current Kandal governor, Phay Bunchhoeun, is a political appointee of the CPP and a veteran CPP official in the province. Previously, he was a CPP National Assembly member from Kandal.

Kandal Police Commissioner Eav Chamraoen, who is a personal assistant to Hun Sen, also has responsibilities for strengthening the CPP within the province and has repeatedly acted publicly in support of the CPP.

In conversations with Human Rights Watch, Kien Svay residents have described its governor and chief of police as “CPP loyalists.” District Governor Heng Thiem, who chairs the district Unified Command Committee that oversees all district security forces, has deployed them as part of the CPP’s efforts to deter CNRP demonstrations, supposedly to prevent “social turmoil.” The district police inspector, Pa Sàm-et, has referred to the CNRP as “opportunist no-good elements” whose activities threaten public order and security and which must be suppressed to preempt political “anarchy.” He also oversees matters related to traffic. Within the higher police structure, the traffic police are subordinated to the public order police, the same overarching unit that also commands the intervention police, who have played a leading role in the suppression of anti-government unrest.

Cambodian Parliamentary Immunity Provisions
Referring to the general provisions of the Cambodian Constitution, article 4 of the Law on the Statute for Members of the National Assembly guarantees that by virtue of their immunity they “are not to be charged, arrested, held or detained” for ordinary criminal acts, unless – according to article 7 – that immunity is first lifted. Article 8 specifies that the request for the lifting must come from the minister of justice. According to article 9, lifting parliamentary immunity requires a vote of more than two-thirds of all National Assembly members.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Buddhist Monks Did Long March to Capital for International Human Rights Day

Mon, 2 December 2013
Meas Sokchea
The Phnom Penh Post

The long journey on foot from the provinces to Phnom Penh began yesterday for hundreds of villagers and monks who intend to mark December 10’s International Human Rights Day by protesting outside the National Assembly.

Parades of people, expected to grow in size the closer they get to the capital, set off from 16 provincial towns, some of them along national roads, human rights workers said.

Vorn Pov, president of civil-society group Independent Democracy of Informal Economic Association, who headed the parade from Kampong Thom province, said the marchers would trek for nine days to deliver petitions to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party asking for action to be taken against human rights abuses.

“We want to send a message to the government to stop the abuse of people’s rights,” he said.

About 1,000 people were marching along five national roads and those involved expected up to 30,000 people on December 10, he added.

Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, who led the parade from Pursat town, said there were about 80 people – some monks – in his group.

“We do not have war – but we do not yet have peace,” he said.

National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun declined to comment yesterday. The CNRP announced last week it is moving a rally planned for the day from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to avoid hampering NGOs’ efforts to get permission to use public spaces.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday that he has yet to receive letters from NGOs asking to use Freedom Park for the event.

“When they file the letter requesting permission, we will consider this request and call them for a meeting,” he said. “We can’t say now whether they will be allowed.”



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Sunday, December 01, 2013

Lawyers Against ‘Blood Sugar’ Launch Fundraising Campaign

by Kimseng Men VOA Khmer

A US-based group of lawyers has launched an online campaign to raise funding to support a lawsuit against a UK company that bought sugar from a Cambodian plantations linked to human rights abuses.

The campaign is being undertaken by the International Senior Lawyers Project, which is representing a number of displaced villagers.

A successful model “can be used to seek justice for victims of land grabbing not just in Cambodia, but really all around the world,” Heather Einsenlord, human rights program director for the project, said. “The potential impact of a small donation can be quite profound and quite broad.”

Lawyers at the project is investigating the 2006 evictions of 200 families in Koh Kong province, who were forced from their plots of land to make way for industrial sugar plantations. Crops were destroyed, and villagers who resisted say they were brutally attacked. Villagers insist they are the lawful holders of the land.

Rights workers have called the products that come from such operations “blood sugar.”

The International Senior Lawyers Project is bringing suit against the UK company Tate and Lyle, claiming it failed at due diligence and did not confirm that operations at its sugar sources were in accordance with international human rights norms. Officials at Tate and Lyle did not immediately comment.

“We can no longer permit multinational corporations to make enormous profit at the expense of other people’s livelihood, and in some cases, other people’s lives,” Einsenlord said.

The project is aiming to raise $15,000 to cover printing costs for maps that would show villagers’ holdings, to help travel costs for villagers to meet with attorneys in Phnom Penh, and to pay local Cambodian lawyers legal fees, as well as other expenses.

Mark Morstein, a lawyer who is working on the case, said the proceedings will provide a foundation for a number of small farmers to understand Cambodia’s legal system—and that if it fails, they have the ability to seek judgement in international courts.

“It recognizes that many of the human rights violations that are occurring in Cambodia actually have a commercial basis,” he said. “There are commercial courts that have the credibility and have the enforcement mechanisms to compel a remedy where the Cambodian courts either cannot or refuse to do so.”

The project’s website was launched Monday: www.globalgiving.org/projects/islp-cambodian-land-grab

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Regional peers urge gov’t to probe deaths

Thu, 28 November 2013
Eddie Morton
The Phnom Penh Post

An organisation made up of current and former elected representatives from across Southeast Asia has called on the United Nations to investigate the deaths of two people shot by police during protests over the past three months.

In a statement released yesterday, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) slammed the Cambodian government’s failure to “properly investigate” the deaths of Mao Sok Chan and Eng Sokhom.

Sok Chan, 29, was shot in the forehead on September 15 when security forces began firing into a crowd near a police barricade at Phnom Penh’s Kbal Thnal overpass. Uninvolved in the protest, he had been attempting to return to his home after finishing his day’s work as a newspaper binder.

On November 12, 49-year-old Sokhom was shot dead by police when garment workers from SL Garment Processing factory clashed with riot police near her food stand in the capital’s Stung Meanchey district.

Vice president of APHR and former Thai Senator Kraisak Choonhaven pointed the finger squarely at the Cambodian government yesterday, accusing them of not meeting international human rights standards.

“The United Nations and the international community must take a stand on these blatant miscarriages of justice. It has been over two months since security forces shot dead Mao Sok Chan.… The state is clearly not following through with a genuine investigation,” he said.

Kraisak criticised Cambodia’s criminal justice system, saying it “fails to deliver” when allegations are made against state-owned bodies such as the police.

Indonesian lawmaker Eva Kusuma Sundari backed the former senator’s calls amid fears inaction could set a dangerous precedent and lead to further politically motivated violence.

“I am deeply concerned that the common trend of state violence and impunity in ASEAN member states will only worsen if this serious problem is continually brushed under the carpet to ensure a blinkered focus on economics and trade.” Robert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, urged the Cambodian government to investigate the deaths.

“We are following up with the concerned authorities and urging them to launch a prompt and thorough investigation into these clashes and to ensure full accountability for members of security forces found to have used disproportionate and excessive force.”

Cambodia’s OHCHR representative Wan-Hea Leefurther also condemned the violence, saying there was no excuse for excessive force from either side.

“All use of force should be investigated, particularly when they lead to fatalities or injuries,” she said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday responded to those calls, saying any move by a non-government body to interfere in the case would be seen as a direct insult to Cambodia’s sovereignty.

“The government has employed a ‘special committee’ to investigate the deaths, but have not yet found anything.… Cambodia is a sovereign state and any NGO that interferes must have respect for that,” Siphan told the Post. The spokesman added that police and security forces had been cooperating with the so-far-fruitless investigation.

Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said that while the matter was for the National Police to deal with, he welcomed the idea of a UN investigation into the shootings.

“I welcome a UN investigation in order to find the truth and to have a true report from the incident and for the sake of transparency,” he said.

National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith could not be reached.


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The hazards of youth

Thu, 28 November 2013
Shane Worrell
The Phnom Penh Post

About 10 per cent of Cambodian children aged between five and 17 are “child labourers” – undertaking work deemed unsuitable or illegal for them – while almost 240,000 children are working in hazardous conditions, a report released yesterday says.

The Cambodia Child Labour 2012 report, compiled by the National Institute of Statistics (NIS), the Ministry of Planning and the International Labour Organisation, says the Kingdom has about 429,000 child labourers, 383,000 of whom live in rural areas.

According to the report, half of the total number of child labourers had either dropped out of school or never attended in the first place.

About 236,000 of those children were undertaking hazardous work, the majority of them in rural areas, it adds.

“Five of every nine child labourers were engaged in hazardous labour.”

Speaking at the launch of the report yesterday, Bijoy Raychaudhuri, project director for an ILO child labour elimination program, said the study was the first of its kind in Cambodia since 2001.

“One thing we find … Cambodia being a rural economy, most of the child labour is in the agricultural sector and working in informal business,” he said.

The total number of children aged five to 17 considered to be “working children” is 750,000 out of a nationwide population of about four million children in the age group.

And while many of them undertook employment that was permissible under the law, Raychaudhuri said, “about 57 per cent of the working children are in child labour that should be eliminated”.

“This is one clear message that this report brings out,” he said.

The definition of “child labour” used by the report’s authors is broad. If a child aged 5 to 11 engages in just one hour of “economic activity” in one week, she or he is considered a child labourer. Children aged 12 to 14 must work more than 12 hours per week or any amount of time in hazardous conditions to fit the category. And children aged 15 to 17 – who are legally allowed to undertake non-hazardous work – are considered child labourers if they work more than 48 hours in one week or work at all in hazardous conditions.

By definition, hazardous tasks can include working at a construction site or factory, logging, operating heavy machinery and brick-making.

Despite perceptions that young children were being widely exploited, Raychaudhuri said, most of the “child labourers” are aged 12 to 17.

“So five to 11, the child population is very limited.”

The child labour report was released simultaneously yesterday with the Cambodia Labour Force 2012 report.

In that report, it was revealed that the working-age population – people aged 15 and over – had increased to 10.7 million in 2012, up 1.9 million people from 2008. Sixty-nine per cent of those of working age are part of the labour force. Of that figure, only 2.7 per cent are unemployed.

Data in both reports was collected by surveying almost 10,000 households in every province.

Those conducting the surveys, however, did not have access to children who live at workplaces or those who have been exploited for sex- or drug-trafficking purposes.

“Children living outside the household are not captured by this survey.… That’s a different survey,” Raychaudhuri said.

Asked whether responses garnered from households reflected the true nature of how those within them were affected by child labour, he added that the survey assumed that parents answering questions knew how many hours per week their children worked.

“It could be that if they know it is illegal, they would not give the right answer. It is possible.”

In a statement, Maurizio Bussi, officer-in-charge of the ILO’s Cambodia office, said regular follow-up surveys were essential to working towards ending child labour in the country.

Heang Kanol, deputy director-general of the National Institute of Statistics at the Ministry of Planning, did not say at the launch how frequently the surveys would be repeated.

In the child labour report’s foreword, Minister of Planning Chhay Than said he expected the report would be useful to “planners and policy-makers”.

“Eliminating child labour in Cambodia is one of the most urgent challenges of the government,” he says.

Despite some high-profile issues with underage workers in factories, incidents of child labour in garment factories are in the minority, the report says.

“That’s been the case for the past 10 years,” Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo said yesterday.

Underage workers using fake identification to gain work, however, remained an issue. “But we have been advocating … to help factories identify that.”

As for agricultural workers and construction workers in rural areas, Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at Community Legal Education Centre, said it was difficult to know the full extent of the child labour problem.

“We don’t have concrete reports [on rural areas]. It’s a concern.”


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