Thursday 27 December 2012

Cambodia: A matter of life and death

Bank Accounts Rare in Cambodia, Even for Rich

By - December 27, 2012

Despite an expanding financial sector, increasing access to credit and strong economic growth in recent years, fewer than 1 in 20 Cambodians has a bank account, according to a new policy working paper by the World Bank.


According to the paper—released earlier this month and based on questions added in 2011 to the Gallup World Poll, which surveyed at least 1,000 people in each of 148 countries—the low number of people covered by the banking sector is a barrier to Cambodia’s economic progress.

“Without financial inclusion, individuals and firms need to rely on their own resources to meet their financial needs, such as saving for retirement, investing in their education, taking advantage of business opportunities, and confronting systemic or idiosyncratic shocks,” the World Bank paper says, adding that those with bank accounts are more likely to save money and be prepared for harder times.

Highlighting how underdeveloped the banking sector still is in Cambodia, the paper says that just 19 percent of Cambodian adults surveyed had received a loan from a financial institution in the past year. But far more, 39 percent, had taken a loan from family or friends.

Only 4 percent of people nationwide have a bank account in which they can deposit money—a figure that is halved when only the poorest 40 percent are looked at. And even among the richest 20 percent of Cambodians, only 12 percent have a bank account, the report says.

Those figures put Cambodia well below its peers in the number of people with a bank account—a key measure of financial inclusion according to the report. Cambodia is among only a few countries—including the Central African Republic, Kyrgyzstan and Yemen—where more than 95 percent of adults are without bank accounts.

The report says rates of financial inclusion depend largely on banking costs, how close people live to a bank and the kind of documentation required to open a bank account.

“Policies targeted to promote inclusion—such as government requirements to offer basic or low-fee accounts, exempting small or rural depositors from onerous documentation requirements, and the use of bank accounts for government payments—are especially effective among rural residents and the poor,” the paper says.

The low banking rate cannot just be explained by Cambodia’s large rural population, said Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association.

“Even in Phnom Penh, many people do not bank and it’s fewer in the provincial towns,” he said. “Because of the upheaval in history, people did not use banks for many years. It’s been changing but it is slow to catch up.”

Still, Mr. Sophal said the low bank coverage in the country did not mean people in the country were not spending or investing.

When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975, the regime abolished money and banks in Cambodia, blowing up the National Bank of Cambodia. Many in the country still remember when the riel was reintroduced in 1980.

“That means they don’t feel secure enough about the social-political situation…. Maybe instead of putting the money in the bank, they use the money to buy property or land,” said independent political analyst Chea Vannath, noting that many believe they can make more money from speculating on land rather than putting it in bank accounts.

“There is a cultural barrier—Cambodian people have not used bank accounts in their lives,” said Bun Mony, chair of the Cambodian Microfinance Association and chief executive at Sethapana Limited microfinance bank.

He said the seven leading microfinance institutions had expanded into all provinces and were now offering deposit accounts, which would make more people aware of the benefits of banking.

“The number of customers using the microfinance banking service accounts is increasing every day, so people will begin to understand why it is helpful,” Mr. Mony said.

© 2012, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

Four years on, Chea Vichea accused back in prison

KR Tribunal Errs in Release of Secret File

By - December 26, 2012

The Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday released on its website, and then quickly removed yesterday, a confidential court document outlining crimes alleged to have been committed during the Pol Pot regime by suspects Meas Muth and Sou Met.


The public dissemination of the confidential 36-page document—in which the Office of the Co-Prosecutors describes why the two former Khmer Rouge officials should be arrested and tried as war criminals—follows the leaking of the information in April 2011.

While the identities of the two suspects at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have been widely known since last year, Monday’s posting of the document online is effectively the first time the court has officially named the suspects in Case 003 publicly.

Yuko Maeda, a public affairs officer at the tribunal, yesterday expressed regret that the document, known as the Second Introductory Submission, had been published and said that its contents should remain classified, despite its wide circulation after being leaked in 2011 and published by the court on Monday.

Ms. Maeda said the appearance of the document online was down to a “technical mistake,” which was only flagged by a member of the tribunal’s Public Affairs office yesterday morning.
“We are going to work on the consequences of what happened today,” she said.
“We’re going to look into the issue. The document is already removed from public domain, and we are looking into any other action that needs to be taken on it.

“At this moment, we don’t know if it was accidental or intentional—we don’t know at this stage,” she added.

The Christian Science Monitor in 2011 quoted extensively from the same document, including the identities of the suspects: Pol Pot’s former Air Force Commander Sou Met and Navy Commander Meas Muth, who are accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity during the 1975 to 1979 regime.

The two former military commanders are accused of participating in purges, forced labor, abuse, torture and killing, and are linked to a dozen crime sites that include the regime’s Kompong Chhnang airfield, the Stung Tauch execution site and the Stung Hav quarry.

On December 14, the Defense Support Section confirmed that Ieng Sary lawyers, Michael Karnavas and Ang Udom, were retained to represent a Case 003 suspect, months after Meas Muth requested that Mr. Udom and a foreign lawyer, the name of whom he couldn’t remember, represent him in court.
Mr. Karnavas declined to comment on the leaked document in an email yesterday.

Anne Heindel, a legal adviser for the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said that even though information in the document is already widely known, the release on the tribunal’s website was “unfortunate.”
“It’s a serious breach of confidentiality, but as far as fair trial rights go, it has been posted before,” Ms. Heindel said of the already wide circulation of the information. “It’s unfortunate.”

Panhavuth Long, a program officer for the Cambodian Justice Initiative, which is part of the George Soros-funded Open Society Justice Initiative, which monitors the court, said there is no great concern for Sou Met’s and Meas Muth’s security because their identities as Khmer Rouge crime suspects have been known for some time.

“I would not think that it’s any bad consequences against the security of the suspects in Case 003, as their names have been known,” Mr. Long said.

Although the document was inadvertently made public, there are still more fundamental doubts as to whether or not the case, known as 003, will ever be heard at the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has been very vocal about his opposition to Case 003 ever going to trial, and the tribunal’s former Co-Investigating Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet claimed that his national counterpart, You Bunleng, had deliberately stymied his efforts to investigate the case.

© 2012, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

Cambodia: Regional single visa launched

Friday 14 December 2012

CAMBODIA: Activists need foreign support, but they themselves must end autocratic rule — Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: Activists need foreign support, but they themselves must end autocratic rule — Asian Human Rights Commission

Contributors: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth
In my adult life, even as a political scientist conscious of the use petitions as a method of nonviolent action and persuasion, I have signed only three.

I signed a first petition a few years ago. The text comprised opposition to land grabbing in Cambodia. In the second and third, I joined others in appealing to President Obama not to visit Cambodia and participate in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Phnom Penh until the Cambodian regime agrees to release Beehive radio station director Mam Sonando; to allow opposition leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia to participate in the 2013 elections; and to undertake reforms as suggested by United Nations Special Rapporteur Professor Surya Subedi.

Yet, I am more a student of the school of realism, power and national interest that acknowledges those elements as primary predictors of a state’s foreign policy actions.
United States President Obama is scheduled to be in Cambodia on November 17-20.
London-based Global Witness director Patrick Alley warned that those in Phnom Penh "simply don't listen" to urgings, and called on the European Union and the United States to "make their aid contingent on ensuring that democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Cambodia are strengthened."
The Asian Human Rights Commission which characterizes the world community as offering "nothing more than empty words" for the people of Cambodia and other peoples with similar problems, questioned the commitment of the United States and other countries: "When things are clearly negative can the United States as well as others ignore that situation and claim that they are committed to the promotion of democracy, rule of law and human rights in Cambodia"?

The AHRC sees the problem going to "the very root" of the Paris agreements and the United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia: "Were not all these ventures merely an attempt to have an election to elect a government for Cambodia only? Did they have any bearing on democracy, rule of law and human rights?"

As democracy, rule of law and human rights cannot exist in Cambodia without a "professional civilian policing system and a competent and independent judiciary," AHRC urges Obama to "initiate a process (for) a proper understanding of the problems involved" with their development in Cambodia as a first step toward some "infrastructural developments relating to democratization, rule of law and human rights."
International and domestic rights groups have lined up to urge Obama to take a strong stand against rights abuses by the government in Cambodia.

I have often written that Cambodian democracy activists need and welcome international support for their cause, but in the end they are on their own and must rely on themselves to bring about change in the country. In Lord Buddha's words, "Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others." Unfortunately, though Cambodia is a country in which most profess to be followers of Buddhism, the ideal of adherence to principles that condemn "evil" acts and impure thoughts seems elusive.

A beginning
In an e-mail from Cambodia from a former comrade-in-arms in the Non-Communist Resistance that fought Vietnam's 1979 military invasion and occupation of the country, he vents his frustrations at the difficulties in trying to persuade the people to understand they are agents of change. My friend spoke of developing "thinking power" (quality thinking?) in a people who have little or no education and poorly developed capacity for logical reasoning.

Last month, my article in this space, The Citizens must help themselves, adapted from my speech to the Cambodian National Conference in Arlington, Virginia, dealt at considerable length with the entrenched Khmer mentality and culture that makes change to the status quo very difficult. Yet, even in such a place as Cambodia has become, change is possible and is never too late. It must begin with Cambodians on the ground taking the lead. Although some people have innate abilities to lead, leadership can be taught and learned, and leaders can be developed.

A few days ago, a young Cambodian graduate in political science from India's Pune University, Ou Ritthy, raised an important and pertinent question in his article, The country's contradictory development policy, published by the Asian Human Rights Commission, about Cambodians' habit of relying on foreigners to help solve problems. He wrote about Cambodian politicians' inclination to sit, talk, and discuss solutions, "only when foreigners act as mediators," and that the Cambodian government releases rights activists "only after foreigners like Americans or Europeans intervene." Ritthy asked: "Can't we, Cambodians, do this ourselves?"
It seems Cambodians are now asking publicly about themselves -- that is progress. A day after Ritthy's article, there was a discussion on the Internet by a Cambodian group about who is more a threat, Cambodia's eastern or western neighbor. A discussant presented his view, "for me the most worrying threat to our nation is ourselves. Many of us consistently downplay that threat and prefer instead to point finger at the neighbors."
Not long ago, a manuscript with restricted circulation written by a former American foreign service officer dealt poignantly with what the writer called Cambodians' "dependency syndrome" and all that the term entails, including displacement, blame, avoidance of responsibility, among others – a manuscript worth reading.
Incidentally, I see the annual Cambodian gatherings in different foreign capitals to appeal to the international community to "reactivate" or "implement" the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, as a perfect example of the "syndrome." Of course, Cambodians don't like that I think so. Even so, not one signatory power nor the United Nations organization has responded with a willingness to initiate the reactivation or implementation of the Paris Accords.

A Cambodian speaker told the Cambodian National Conference participants with gentle humor that one would be wise when being beaten time and again in Taekwondo tournaments to rethink his/her combat techniques and self-defense, or to look for a new martial art master! Listeners laughed but the speaker was not joking. I, too, reminded the conference of Albert Einstein's oft-quoted definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

A reminder, once more
As I have noted previously, I never desired to be a politician or a statesman, and left the Khmer Nationalist Resistance at the Khmer-Thai border before the development of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements. I chose a teaching career in the United States because I never believed the Khmer Rouge or their descendents (Khmer Rouge defectors who fill today's government) were capable of "national reconciliation." Free and fair elections with them were an illusion.

As a teacher and an educator, I follow the conventional goals of a political scientist: To describe as accurately as possible; to explain (interpret) and analyze (look for causes and effects); to forecast what is to come; and to suggest future course(s) of action. This practice is evidenced in my writings. Readers' actions and reactions to what I write are their own.
Based on my direct experiences, my schooling, and my political socialization process, I write to share and hope my friend in Cambodia – and other democracy activists – will be inspired and gain insights to carry on the struggle against autocracy.

A framework
Today, with a simple click of a mouse, we can acquire untold information and learn about anything. But no person learns anything if he or she doesn't want to. We can know a lot. To know a fact is good, but information and knowing are not knowledge. We are capable of storing quantities of data in our brains, but unless we can relate data to other facts and to other situations all around, and unless we can sort, evaluate, and synthesize, all that specific knowledge we acquire is like "rocks in a box." We must learn how to exercise those attributes of synthesis and analysis. Learning may require relearning and unlearning.

Reproductive thinking
Humans are best at reproductive thinking (thinking the same way as they have always thought); and at self-piloted, fossilized responses (acting automatically in the same way as they have always acted). There is no thought required. Happy this way? Why change?

Humans are biologically and socially conditioned. We are conditioned to fear failure, to have low tolerance for risk, to be obsessed with labels, to think in black and white, and constantly look for an easy way out. In anthropology, human beings are seen as creators of their own webs of significance.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt elaborates: Humans live in a world of their own creation, a world of "insults, opportunities, status symbols, betrayals, saints, and sinners." They believe in that world. Haidt reminds us all the world's cultures possess an "excessive and self-righteous tendency to see the world in terms of good versus evil" -- "We are good, they are evil" -- or a "moralism (that) blinds people" and makes agreement, compromise, peaceful coexistence difficult. Haidt encourages us not only to "respect" but to "learn" from those whose morality differs from our own.

Two thousand five hundred years ago, Lord Buddha taught that our capacity to think makes us what we are. In the 19th century, American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) wrote: "The ancestor of every action is a thought." Today, Burma's human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi echoes: "Action comes out of thought."

Productive quality thinking
An advocate of direct action as a route to social change, Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically."
An opinion, however, is not thought. Thinking is hard work. All thinking is not of the same quality; left to ourselves much of our thinking is "biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced" But the ability to think well can be taught and learned and includes the development of both critical and creative thinking skills. The first is an analytical skill, the second empowers us to expand our horizons and see new paths.
Aung San Suu Kyi believes every person is capable of developing a "questing mind" – a mind that always questions and always seeks answers. She urges every person to develop that questing mind. As The Foundation of Critical Thinking puts it, "A mind with no question is a mind that is not intellectually alive." The Foundation says, it's impossible to be a good thinker and a poor questioner.
Tim Hurson of a firm that provides global corporations with training, facilitation, and consultation in productive quality thinking and innovation, advises us to "keep asking new questions" and to "resist the urge" to reach a conclusion. A conclusion, by definition, suggests that there is no need for more information, as all questions have been answered.
Behaviorists urge us to avoid reproductive thinking, through which we engage in repetitive thought and response patterns. As Hurson puts it, "patterned thoughts box us in and hold us back from being as creative as we could be." Skilled at following old patterns and at not developing new thoughts and actions, we humans are prisoners of patterning.
The Foundation of Critical Thinking urges us to "think through," to avoid asking peripheral questions but to focus on asking essential questions that deal with "what is necessary, relevant, and indispensable" to a matter we examine. Essential questions "drive thinking forward." An incurious mind does not engage in substantive learning.

Some Cambodians' observations
Cambodians today who are engaged in political discourse are inclined toward debate that belittles or deprecates those who disagree rather than to respectful discussion that produces a useful dialogue in which multiple points of view can be safely shared.
Humility – the opposite of vanity, arrogance, and pride – is in short supply among many Cambodians, who tend to personalize and who like the sensational. It seems that regardless of what topic someone discusses, someone else echoes the same thoughtless messages.
This self-righteous approach breeds a climate of accusation and counter-accusation, and demonization of those who do not share one's opinions. That outsider is likely to be branded a "traitor," a "Vietnamese spy."
Cambodians' environment fits a model described by political columnist John Avalon in his book, Wingnuts, which describes American "professional partisans ... unhinged activists ... hard-core haters ... paranoid conspiracy theorists" who are submerged in a "hydra-headed hysteria" – cut off one accusation, another emerges in its place. Accusation and demonization may hurt and wound another, but they do not promote one's agenda.

Two Cambodians have shared their views through electronic media. James Sok, a systems administrator, and Dr. Lao Monghay, a former senior researcher of the Asian Human Rights Commission.
Sok's three-paragraph piece in Khmer entitled Ignorance is our big problem, posted on the Internet, touched a nerve. He wrote: Cambodians enjoy fabricated stories and perpetrating historical fictions (for example, Queen Monique is alleged to be Vietnamese); Cambodians don't care for serious study on important issues (for example, the deaths of a few million Khmers during the 1975-1979 rule of Pol Pot are said to have been perpetrated by the Vietnamese). For these comments and others, Sok has been subject to considerable personal invective.

In Dr. Lao Monghay's interview broadcast over Radio Free Asia, Lao incited some Cambodians with his statement that Cambodians spend too much time and energy on long-settled territorial disputes involving Koh Tral island and Kampuchea Krom. Now, he suggested, it is time to build friendship and harmony with their neighbors. Dr. Lao, too, has suffered severe and unwarranted personal attacks from his countrymen for expressing this view. Both Sok and Lao are demonized on the Internet as having Khmer bodies with Vietnamese heads.

Sok and Lao said they would not let go of their intellectual integrity, "a rare commodity in the world these days," says Lao; "We have an opinion and others have theirs." "I'm welcoming evidence or reasons to prove me wrong and then we'll have the truth of the matter."
An Arab proverb goes, "Examine what is said, not him who speaks."

Concluding remarks
Here's a thought worth reflection: There are only two kinds of problems, ones that can be solved and those that cannot. Cambodian democracy activists would do well to solve the solvable problem immediately and they should resort to productive quality and positive thought to tackle the problem that appears intractable.
I suggested to the Cambodian National Conference that democracy activists establish long term goals and short term objectives, institute guiding principles for their behavior toward one another and in the wider world, and begin the process of change with areas that constitute common ground for most Khmers. To alleviate fear that a removal of the iron-fisted regime would unleash instability and chaos, it is urgent that activists incorporate guiding principles found in the many great belief systems in the world, and especially in Buddhist principles, into their thoughts and actions.

The time for attempting reconciliation with dictators has passed. The dictators don't cooperate, and they hold on to power through oppressive measures. They sell the nation's natural wealth, they evict people from their homes and their land. Democracy and rights activists need to pool time, energy, money and talent to develop nonviolent strategies that will initiate the end of the dictatorship. Many with expertise in nonviolent action methods have been offering training workshops for Cambodian activists, who should not let this opportunity pass.
As Buddha teaches mankind, "Pay no attention to the faults of others, things done or left undone by others. Consider only what by oneself is done or left undone."

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The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.
About the Author:Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. He currently lives in the United States. He can be reached at peangmeth@gmail.com.

CAMBODIA: LRWC and ALRC denounce attacks against HRDs and problems with judicial independence — Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: LRWC and ALRC denounce attacks against HRDs and problems with judicial independence — Asian Human Rights Commission

date: September 25, 2012
document id: ALRC-COS-21-08-2012
HRC section: Item 10, Cambodia
speaker: Vani Selvarajah


A Joint Oral Statement to the 21st Session of the UN Human Rights Council from Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a non-governmental organization in special consultative status, and Asian Legal Resource Centre, (ALRC), a nongovernmental organization in general consultative status


Madame President:

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and Asian Legal Resource Centre welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia1. We share his view that freedom of expression is a principal concern. Cambodian human rights defenders and journalists regularly experience judicial harassment and violence for upholding human rights, particularly in land rights cases. The trend is alarming and escalating. After the incidents noted in reports of the Special Rapporteur and the Secretary General2, dubious charges were filed against three human rights defenders in August and September 20123.

On 11 September 2012, a journalist covering environmental issues was murdered after exposing illegal logging4. Cambodian authorities and judiciary cannot be counted on for impartial investigations or trials.
We applaud the Special Rapporteur's promotion of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,5 as business enterprises and authorities are frequently involved in human rights violations,6 This and other human rights education is crucial to ensure that public officials are aware of their obligation to encourage civil society human rights training efforts, rather than disrupting them as occurred on 26 July 2012, when armed officials interrupted land rights training of two human rights organizations.
The Special Rapporteur notes continued problems with independence of the judiciary and impunity. He is further concerned about the Government's lack of stated commitment to a time frame and action plan to implement his recommendations for the judiciary. Years of such foot-dragging has contributed to the lack of independence and corruption of judges, prosecutors, court officials and lawyers, whose integrity is crucial to ending the climate of impunity in Cambodia.
We note the OHCHR work with the Cambodian Bar to ensure international human rights perspectives in reviews of the Law on the Bar and Code of Professional Conduct. LRWC would be interested in learning more about future plans to encourage the independence and integrity of Cambodia’s legal profession.

Thank you, Madame President
----------
Notes:
1 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/21/63, 16 July 2012, www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session21/A-HRC-21-63_en.pdf
2 The role and achievements of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights: Report of the Secretary-GeneralA/HRC/21/35, 20 August, 2012, www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session21/A.HRC.21.35_en.pdf
3 In August 2012, ADHOC human rights worker, Mr. Chan Soveth, was charged with "providing assistance to the perpetrator" of a "crime" under Article 544 of the Cambodian Penal Code. On 4 September 2012, land rights activist, Ms.Yorm Bopha, was arrested and charged with "intentional violence with aggravating circumstances" under Article 218 of the Cambodian Penal Code. Ms. Bopha states she was not present at the scene of the alleged violence. On 5 September, 2012, land rights activist, Ms. Tim Sakmony, was arrested and charged with making a "false declaration to a public body for the purpose of obtaining an allowance, a payment or any unlawful advantage" under Article 633 of the Cambodian Penal Code after the owner of developer, Phanimex Company, complained she made a "false declaration" in a request that Phanimex compensate her disabled son after failingto provide him with an apartment after his January 2012 eviction from Borei Keila.
4 The body of Mr. Hang Serei Oudom, a reporter for the Vorakchun Khmer Daily was found on 11 September in his car at a cashew nut plantation in Ratanakiri province. The Director-General of UNESCO has called for an investigation. See http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/singleview/news/director_general_condemns_killing_of_cambodian_journalist_hang_serei_oudom/back/18256/ 5 Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/GuidingPrinciplesBusinessHR_EN.pdf
6 Abuses in 2012 are outlined in a joint statement by LRWC and Asian Legal Resource Centre made at the 20th Session of the Human Rights Council, , 21 June 2012, http://www.lrwc.org/?p=3940

CAMBODIA: The country must not repeat Burma's mistake — Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: The country must not repeat Burma's mistake — Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: The country must not repeat Burma's mistake

Contributors: Ou Ritthy
Many opposition politicians, NGO personnel, students, researchers, taxi drivers, vendors and city dwellers expected US president Barack Obama, who attended the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, to push the Cambodian government to better respect human rights and democratic principles, especially free and fair elections in the Kingdom. They hoped for a US pressure to release political prisoners, notably Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando, land-dispute protestors, and to allow opposition leader Sam Rainsy in self-exiled in Paris, to return to Cambodia to participate in the 2013 election.
Many opposition politicians, NGO personnel, students, researchers, taxi drivers, vendors and city dwellers expected US president Barack Obama, who attended the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, to push the Cambodian government to better respect human rights and democratic principles, especially free and fair elections in the Kingdom. They hoped for a US pressure to release political prisoners, notably Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando, land-dispute protestors, and to allow opposition leader Sam Rainsy in self-exiled in Paris, to return to Cambodia to participate in the 2013 election.

Sadly, even before President Obama's visit, indications were clear that Phnom Penh had no genuine intention to stop its rights violations, embrace the rule of law, or combat rampant corruption.

Cambodia's minister of information and government spokesman declared publicly that Obama is not Premier Hun Sen's boss or Cambodian government's guru. Such unwelcome and fighting words stand opposite of the Cambodian people's culture of warmth and generosity toward all.

In Burma, thousands of Burmese wearing T-shirts with Obama's portraits lined up the streets, and democracy icon Aug Sann Suu Kyi and reform-minded dictator president Thein Sein, welcomed the US president. Hundreds of students listened to Obama's speech at Rangoon University. In Cambodia, eight citizens were arrested for displaying Obama's portrait and an SOS message on the roofs of their homes. The citizens were facing eviction from their homes at Thmar Kaul village. Worse, people weren't allowed to line up along the Russian Boulevard to welcome Obama. The government said this was due to security reason and traffic congestion. 

Though the US President made no public announcement, in a face-to-face meeting with Premier Hun Sen, President Obama raised several issues as suggested by US republican senators and other national and international rights groups. Impressively, Obama raised concerns over political prisoners and did mention Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando. But Premier Hun Sen replied there is no political prisoner in Cambodia, only politicians with criminal offences.

U.S. deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes described the private Obama-Hun Sen meeting as "tense." The Daily Mail reported Cambodia's First Lady Bun Rany Hun Sen was disrespectful of President Obama when she used the Khmer sampeah at chest level reserved for greeting a low level person.

Many Cambodians looked at the White House's photo album of 41 photos of President Obama's visit to ASEAN countries: No photo of Premier Hun Sen whose name was misspelled.

While Obama was in Phnom Penh, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged a $300-$500 yearly loan to Cambodia. Premier Hun Sen was hugely complementing China's support and generosity. Why should there be a surprise when the 21st ASEAN Summit failed to produce a joint resolution, except in economics and trade? Unhappy, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, four claimant countries in dispute with China over the South China Sea, decided to meet in Manila on 12 December to discuss the issue without China.

The summit was a shining opportunity for Cambodia as chair of ASEAN to perform impartially, conforming to Article 1 of the country's Constitution: The Kingdom of Cambodia shall be independent, sovereign, peaceful, permanently neutral and non-aligned country.

Cambodia should have demonstrated respect for ASEAN member states' national interests to contribute toward the building of a more cohesive 2015 ASEAN Community. Facing US "pivot" or "rebalancing strategy" in Asia, especially South East Asia, ASEAN member states need to be united and protect each other's national interests, rather than siding with China or the US, to avoid jeopardizing ASEAN prosperity and harmony and endangering the region's peace.

Presently among ASEAN member states, Burma is on the road to reforms as she gradually breaks away from China, but Cambodia remains a subordinate to China, which finds Cambodia's vital geostrategic location to serve Beijing's national security in region. Beijing also needs Cambodia's natural resources for China's economic miracle.

On the other hand, Cambodia sees China as a vast dependable source of aid and loan, supposedly without strings; a huge market for Cambodia's economic growth; a super military power that can help Phnom Penh to have some influence, and undermine threats from neighboring countries. Cambodia sees China as her strong supporter on international stage.

But I am not convinced that Chinese aid and loan have no strings attached. As a saying goes, "there is no free lunch in the world". China needs Cambodia as a faithful subordinate to support and protect Beijing's national interests.

Geopolitically speaking, Cambodia's special strategic location is most desirable for China. In case of conflict with Vietnam, the S-shaped Vietnam can be easily attacked by land from Cambodia. Through water, China can use Sihanoukville, Kampong Som, Kompot and Koh Kong, and can straightforwardly access the Gulf of Thailand, the Straits of Malacca, and the Indian Ocean.

While Cambodia has faithfully opted for a One-China Policy, this policy has broadened its scope beyond Taiwan. Cambodia has supported China in almost all aspects of Chinese domestic and foreign policies. Thus, Cambodia forcibly deported 20 Uighur ethic asylum-seekers to China; pays no attention to the devastation, and suffering of Cambodian citizens, along the Mekong as a result of Chinese hydropower dams built in Yunnan province and on the Upper Mekong Basin; Cambodia supports China on the South China Sea dispute; and Phnom Penh ignores Chinese rights abuses.

A disadvantage of being too close to China is that it makes Cambodia's human rights and fledgling democracy worse. China is not interested in these matters so long as Cambodia serves China's interests.

As an impartial judiciary and the rule of law do not exist in Cambodia, a foreign direct investment (FDI) cannot be established. Democratic countries like Japan, America, Canada, Australia and the EU do not want to risk greater investments in Cambodia. Yet, many Chinese and Vietnamese people are in Cambodia, along with their investments.

Since 2006, Chinese companies have invested $8.2 billion; Vietnam has invested over $2 billion, according to the Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia Economic Co-operation Development Association. Conflicts with the local people have occurred due to land conflicts and environment issues, and the failure to respect the local people's rights.

As long as Cambodia is attached to China, Cambodia remains authoritarian. Burma's four decades of military rule witnessed Burma's violations of human rights, and a dictatorship ruled by military junta. Burma relied on China in many respects. For the Cambodian government, please don't do what Burma did!        

US President Thomas Jefferson said, public debt is the greatest of dangers to nation. Look! Cambodia has been heavily indebted to China and is trapped in indebtedness, with a long-term impact on Cambodian young generation.

As the US rearranges its 'pivot' in Asia, Cambodia has become an arena for US-China competition, geopolitically and ideologically.

Historically, Cambodia endured a bitter lesson when the US and the Soviet Union fought their proxy war in Indochina in the 1960s. We must work to remain non-aligned and balance the interests of today's super powers, the US and China. Plus, being so cohesively attached to China creates problems for ASEAN member states' team spirit and trustworthiness, making a commitment to ASEAN prosperity and harmony doubtful.

A colleague asked me if our government is not allied with China, where would Cambodia get money to run the government and to use for development. I replied, "I see many doable mechanisms to avoid being a Chinese subordinate".

The government needs to have a transparent and accountable tax policy. Tax the rich and wealthy classes who possess a large number of hectares of land, buildings, luxurious cars, lucrative private-sector businesses, land concessions, casinos and other alcohol-producing companies. And gradually government should also tax the middle class.

According to Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index in 2012, Cambodia was ranked 157/176 countries and scored: 22/100: corruption leads to many chronically critical social, economic, legal and political issues.

To avoid too much loans for national development, the government must fight corruption genuinely. In Cambodia, corruption is rampant in all levels of society. The jailed owner of Beehive Radio and president of the Democrats Association, Mam Sonando, once said he would give $100 to anyone who knows of any government ministry that is not corrupt. In an interview with the VOA in Khmer, Preab Kol, Executive Director of Transparency International in Cambodia, affirmed there are not enough prisons in Cambodia for the corrupt to stay in if they were arrested.

Establishing a transparent and trustworthy policy to fight corruption is a must. But make sure to avoid applying anti-corruption law discriminately.

The government must reduce the large number of advisors, undersecretaries and secretaries of state and council ministers. This will save a lot of money for the national budget. Then the government can use the money to develop prioritized sectors.            

Last but not least, Cambodia is rich in natural wealth. We have all kinds of trees, fishes, oil, minerals and others. They are priceless renewable and sustainable sources of economic development. Through effective and efficient management, we avoid loans from abroad.

The groundwork of any country's economic success comprises of an educated, healthy and employable citizens. To reach this goal, Cambodia needs to focus on agriculture and education.

The government needs a specific and long-term development plan on agriculture, industry and service. Cambodia needs to focus on agriculture for food grain sufficiency and on a basic principle of income for each household. Agriculture sector helps make strong economic households nationwide. It is imperative to focus on agriculture and to jump to industry and service.

Take one example. After independence in 1947, India was poor and lacked food grain supply for her people. In the late 1960s, the government started paying serious attention to agriculture by initiating what was called Green Revolution. Thanks to the Green Revolution, the government built a solid foundation of micro economy, generated income for the people, and India took another step toward industry and service sectors. Presently, the Indian people are thankful to the Green Revolution, which made India's industry and service booming. Basically, India has become food sufficient and the world's leading rice exporting country! Owing to the long-term impact of the Green Revolution, India's service sector is becoming the world's largest software exporting country to the US, Japan, Canada and the EU. An economic super power has been born.

Back to Cambodia, at the peak of the Arab spring, many Cambodians including a leader of opposition party flirted with Arab-style revolution as a mean to topple Premier Hun Sen and his one-party system in Cambodia. I begged to differ. I want no bloody revolution.

But I strongly wish to see Green Revolution in my country. Whenever I speak and write, I choose the peaceful approach to insist that my government should spend a large portion of the national budget on agriculture and education as the only way for poverty eradication and for sound industry and service sectors in the future.

Green revolution cultivates rice, provides high-yield seeds, doubles crops existing farmland and irrigation facilities. It also renovates the agro-industrial products like coffee, rubber plantation, cashews, cassava, silk, corn and food processing among others. Basically, it transforms the traditional and extensive agriculture to intensive and commercial agriculture with the help of research, development, and technology transfer initiatives.

Tourism is the main source of Cambodian economy. But tourism in Cambodia is just "cultural tourism" that depended only on temples like Angkor Wat and other cultural heritages. In this context, through Green Revolution, the Cambodian government could link up with tourism, and develop 'agri-tourism.' Through cultural tourism and agri-tourism, Cambodia would attract many more tourists than ever before.

Unfortunately, the projected 2013 national budget reveals Cambodia would spend only $35.3 million for agriculture sector, or one percent of the $3 billion budget; and only about $280 million for education sector.

Without paying attention to Cambodia's agriculture sector, more than 80% of Cambodian population will never be prosperous and can never break away from chronic poverty. The large number of Cambodian laborers will keep migrating to other countries like Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and others for work.

..................
The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.

About the Author:

Ou Ritthy is a graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Fergusson College, Pune University, India (2008-2011). He can be reached at ouritthy@socialworker.net / Twitter: @ritthyou.

CAMBODIA: Cambodian activists must believe in individuals’ capacity to accomplish the impossible — Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: Cambodian activists must believe in individuals’ capacity to accomplish the impossible — Asian Human Rights Commission

Last week, a young political science graduate from a foreign university vented his frustrations in an e-mail from Cambodia at many Cambodian compatriots who don’t like to read. If they don’t read, they don’t learn. And if reading articles is painful, they certainly won’t read an entire book!
Initially, I planned to write about US President Barack Obama's visit to Cambodia, during which he reportedly spoke forcefully to Cambodian premier Hun Sen regarding the administration's abysmal record of human rights violations. But e-mails from Cambodians in the country and abroad reoriented my focus, hence, today's article.

Don't like to read

Last week, a young political science graduate from a foreign university vented his frustrations in an e-mail from Cambodia at many Cambodian compatriots who don't like to read. If they don't read, they don't learn. And if reading articles is painful, they certainly won't read an entire book!

He observed with frustration that there is no learning without reading, and life is not meaningful if one has no basis to compare, to understand, to improve. He dismissed suggestions that there is a dearth of reading material available in Cambodia. Cambodia, he said, lacks people who want to read.  Across the oceans I can sense his irritation– vexations of a young man who has put hours of hard work into a second language, to earn a degree from a reputable university. Now, back in his homeland, he is working to sensitize his relatives, friends, and colleagues to value education as a key to personal and national development. I have never met this young man. He sought me out through the Internet when he was a student. We discussed political socialization and political culture as he considered ways to bring about change to Cambodia's status quo and to better serve society.

Still young, must think of living longer

A few days ago, he wrote about the low price growers received for their rice harvest. This has negatively affected his parents' livelihood. As a result he may have to forego advanced studies and continue working so that his four siblings may finish their education in Cambodia.

Nevertheless, this young man remains committed to improving governance in Cambodia. To that end, he attended a recent workshop in Phnom Penh on the topic of governance and reform. He was disheartened by this meeting of "civil servants, military, police and royal armed forces" personnel. They rejected the need for adherence to the rule of law by a politically impartial police and military, blindly citing the regime's party line in support of that position. During the coffee break, some told him that he is an "extremist," that he is still "too young and still has a long time to live"; they advised him to be careful and live longer!

I have been made aware of this kind of threat and intimidation before – orchestrated accidents that take lives. Some incidents like the story of an armored vehicle from a security unit deliberately hitting a driver who had exited his vehicle at a security checkpoint.  The driver was hospitalized for three months as a result.  Other Cambodians relate stories of food poisoning and break-ins, among other violations.

Human Rights Watch published a 68-page report, Tell Them That I Want to Kill Them: Two Decades of Impunity in Hun Sen's Cambodia. It describes cases of unsolved killings of more than 300 political activists, journalists, opposition politicians, among others by Hun Sen's security forces since the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements. It identifies many senior Cambodian government officials involved in serious abuses and their current positions in the administration.

The report's title is said to be a quote from the then deputy-chief of Hun Sen's bodyguard, Hing Bun Heang. He answered a journalist's question about his reported role in the killing of 16 people in the 1997 hand grenade attack that wounded Sam Rainsy. Heang was promoted to lieutenant-general and is currently deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

The report was released before Obama's trip to Cambodia. It called for systemic reforms.

Dislike politics, Love 'Thveu Bon'

At about the same time as my recent correspondence with the young graduate, an e-mail from a leader of a Cambodian non-governmental organization asked for my thoughts on an attitude she found to be prevalent among Khmers inside and outside the country. She wrote, many Khmers profess to dislike politics, an involvement they see as "scary." She said they prefer Thveu Bon, engaging in a religious ceremony to earn merit in this life in order to cross into a "beautiful next life"; and that the hardships and sufferings of the people are a product of karma that sufferers must endure. This way of thinking is, she asserts, an impediment to the creation of a dynamic society of citizens engaged in improving circumstances for everyone.

Misdirected political socialization, a stagnant political culture, and the unavailability of high quality education are among the elements that cause such beliefs and behaviors to proliferate.

Politics

Those who profess to dislike politics have themselves practiced politics throughout their lives. We all exercise political skills on a daily basis as we navigate through life.

In China, early Chinese settlers practiced politics 350,000 years ago! They migrated, organized, worked together, planned, and made decisions. This included the use of psychological and physical power, the development of effective procedures on the best ways to attain objectives and goals to keep their settlements safe and prosperous. Each person, each group, seeks to maximize his/her or its interests as s/he defines them. In general, the human person develops interests comprising good health, the meeting of economic needs, and a degree of contentment in life.

Politics refers to human activities in their interpersonal relationships to achieve targeted objectives and goals. There are family politics, peer group politics, office politics, pagoda politics, community politics, national politics and world politics.

When Cambodians, like many a people, say they "hate" politics, they usually mean the politics of government: They don't like demagoguery, demonization of opponents, corruption, cruelty, the accumulation of power, or the trampling of the rights of the less-privileged.

But didn't Lord Buddha teach against the "evils of the tongue" that humans practice? Didn't Buddha teach mankind to do all good, avoid all evil, and purify the mind?

There is an old saying, "You get the government you deserve." It means in a democracy, citizens can take actions to elect candidates they deem best to form a government to serve them, or citizens can remain inactive and get a government that doesn't serve them well.

Classical Greeks used the term politikos to describe the relationships between the citizens and their city state. In the 5th century, Athens emerged as the world's first democracy: demos means people, kratia means government – demokratia, a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Athens was built on the principle that citizens' free and well-informed participation in Athens' affairs was an honor and the duty of every citizen.

But as my young correspondent noted, without reading one does not learn about his/her own and his/her government's rights and duties.

It is worth recalling that when the French General, Charles de Gaulle entered politics, he declared, "I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians."

How "serious a matter" is politics? According to China's Mao Tse-tung, "Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed." For England's Winston Churchill, "In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times."

More than 2,000 years ago, Greek philosopher Plato (428B.C.-347B.C.) warned that, we would end up "being governed by those who are less intelligent" or "inferior" to ourselves if we refuse to participate in politics.

"Thveu Bon" for Next Life

I have written a great deal about politics and the teachings of Buddha. But learning requires a desire to both learn and unlearn. Without the motivation to learn, as the Khmer saying goes, Doch chak toek leu kbal tia – literally, it's like pouring water on a duck's head.

A former Khmer Buddhist monk, Bouawat Sithi, a graduate of Thailand's Djittabhawan College, affirmed time and again that Lord Buddha never taught humankind to believe in fate, but "to believe in our own action (karma)." He lamented that Buddha's teaching has been incorrectly taught and understood. This has led to the situation where many Cambodians have been overwhelmed with "egoism, anger, greed, delusion, desire, craving, hate and aversion."

"Nothing is permanent," Lord Buddha says, and he preaches, "Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most." "I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done," Buddha says, and "We are what we think, with our thought we make the world." Men and women are masters of their own destiny.  We should be self-reliant and take responsibility for our own lives, Buddha urges, and "work out your own salvation."

Believe in ourselves?

In my last article I quoted from Cambodian Ou Ritthy's article, published by AHRC, about the Cambodians' habit of relying on foreigners to help solve problems. Politicians sit and talk "only when foreigners act as mediators," the government releases rights activists "only after foreigners . . . intervene." "Can't we, Cambodians, take these actions ourselves?" Ritthy asked.

Last week, Cambodian Pong Pheakdey Boramy's writing in Facebook and communication posted on the Internet, spoke of Cambodians' excitement to see President Obama. "He came, he came out of his airplane"! Boramy wrote: "What I learned is we actually do not rely and trust in ourselves . . . we do not trust ourselves but Obama . . . to help our country."

"Why do we not choose to be ourselves, to believe in ourselves?" Boramy asked. He referenced the Phnom Penh Post and other media outlets that reported "how people felt very disappointed when Obama did not say a word to give them (a) stimulus" upon departing from Cambodia.

In spite of the enormous problems that emanate from Cambodians' attitudes toward change, and from the lack of a broad-based quality education system, I conclude this article not pessimistically but positively because Cambodians have come a long way. Now there are increasing numbers who ask questions.  As we know, this is the first step in developing the capacity to think critically, analyze, and take action.  A questing mind is being developed.  It is late, yes, but better late than never.

The road ahead is still long and unknown. But if nothing is possible without human engagement, so I would like to think that nothing is impossible when men and women become engaged and develop the will and the imaginative creativity to achieve a goal.

……………..

The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.
About the Author:Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. He currently lives in the United States. He can be reached at peangmeth@gmail.com.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

ADB Links Corruption, Political Culture

By - December 10, 2012

The government is beset with high-level corruption, a lack of transparency in public procurements, poor auditing practices and political interference in the country’s main anti-corruption body, a report produced by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) sent to the media yesterday states.


In a 66-page report that looks at how the government is managing its finances and fighting corruption, the ADB says that many of the country’s laws on public finances are simply not being implemented and that public procurement of goods and services needs to be improved at all levels of government, especially at a national level.

“Most aspects of governance need to recognize ongoing informal links between the dominant political party, medium-sized and large-sized businesses, and senior levels of government,” the ADB report, which was originally published in January, says.

“Furthermore, there is a limited tradition of accountability for performance through either financial oversight or political mechanisms.”

“Much of the public sector leakage that occurs in Cambodia is thought to occur in and around the systems applied in both domestically and externally financed procurement. Significant leakage is also thought to occur after the awarding of contracts, suggesting that contract management by executing agencies is weak and that penalties are seldom enforced,” the report continues.

The report also says that while corruption at lower levels of government appears to be decreasing, there is no such sign of such stabilization at higher levels of government.

“Corruption at all levels has long been regarded as the main area of concern for improving the business environment and overall governance in Cambodia, and this remains the case,” the report states.
The ADB also found that the main corruption risks likely to be experienced in the future by the government include “major challenges in building capacities in the new [Anti-Corruption Unit];” and “cultural constraints to questioning authority.”

“Though their ratings [in surveys of public opinion] have improved, the police, judges and courts, public registry, taxation, and customs, as well as the education system, continue to be perceived as the most corrupt institutions,” the report states.

Although the report notes that significant efforts have been made in the drafting of anti-corruption policy and the formation of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), the ACU “has many challenges to overcome and it remains to be seen if it can become administratively and operationally effective.”

On the government’s management of finances, the ADB said that positive strides have been made in the past decade, but that progress in areas crucial to building investor confidence is still lacking. For example, the procurement process for government-funded projects still lacks transparency and regulations around procurement are insufficient and poorly enforced.

One reason for this is the fact that the Ministry of Economy and Finance acts as both a regulator and monitor in government procurement transactions.

“The need for greater transparency in public procurement is a common perception in Cambodia,” the report states.

“Also, there are suspicions (as yet not acted on) that some executing agency senior officials control some local consulting firms, who then tie up with foreign consulting firms when bidding on projects.”
The report also cites limited transparency in public projects due to few audits being carried out by the National Audit Authority (NAA).

“[O]nly around 50 percent of central government entities are covered by an external audit and the breadth of audit work undertaken within entities is limited.”

Still, the report says that the NAA “has made solid progress in recent years and, given its important strategic role in monitoring and managing governance risks, further ADB support in the years ahead is warranted.”
Vice president of the National Assembly Ngoun Nhel and Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Finance Suong Mengkea both declined to comment on the ADB’s findings. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan referred questions to the Ministry of Finance.

Peter Brimble, country director for the ADB in Cambodia, said the report was meant as an indicator of where the country stands regarding financial management and where resources should be allocated as the country’s partnership with the ADB moves forward.

“No one is denying the need for major civil service reform,” Mr. Brimble said.
“The message is that we want to work with the government and strengthen country systems to go ahead in our partnership,” he added.

Mr. Brimble also noted that indicators of investor confidence in the country are improving despite the concerns over how the government handles its finances.

For instance, a January report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that Cambodia’s debt distress level would be upgraded from moderate risk to low risk. Still, the IMF report also noted that for confidence in Cambodia to continue to grow, improvements had to be made to the country’s borrowing strategy and financial management systems.

A report released last week by Transparency International (T.I.), also concluded that Cambodia’s government has done little to shake its reputation for corruption.

In T.I.’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia ranked 157th among 176 countries and territories listed, with a score of just 22 out of 100—a slight improvement on last year’s ranking of 164.

(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)
© 2012, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

UN Says Information Ministry Decided to Halt Equity Weekly

By and - December 10, 2012

The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) said last month’s suspension of the “Equity Weekly” television program was uniquely due to a decision made by the Ministry of Information after the show aired a feature on economic land concessions in Ratanakkiri province.


“[T]he suspension was initially suggested by the Ministry of Information and agreed to by UNDP Cambodia,” a UNDP spokesperson said in an email.

“Equity Weekly,” which is broadcast every Sunday on the state-run channel TVK, funded by UNDP and aims at promoting good governance through investigative journalism, was taken off the air after the station received a complaint from the Ministry of Information announcing its displeasure over archive footage showing images of logging in the country.

“The decision was taken following a technical error in the identity of a portion of the footage used in a story related to the [Virachey] National Park in Ratanakkiri province. That portion of the footage was an archive but was not properly identified as such, which resulted in a misunderstanding,” the UNDP spokesperson said.

Environment Minister Mok Mareth confirmed that a letter he had sent to the Information Ministry had brought about the popular show’s suspension from broadcast.

“Yes, because if there’s wrong information, [there’s] no show,” Mr. Mareth said. “I wrote down the mistakes and sent it to the Ministry of Information,” which then informed TVK’s “Equity Weekly.”

Asked to comment on the government’s suspension of the show, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith referred a reporter to a letter his ministry had written to the UNDP.

“As for the letter, we unfortunately are unable to share with you as it is a formal correspondence addressed to UNDP specifically,” the UNDP spokesperson said.

On November 11, the last time “Equity Weekly” was broadcast, the host, Khem Vuthy, spent almost 25 minutes apologizing for the report made on September 30, which discussed the impacts of 50,000 hectares of economic land concessions used for rubber plantations in the Virachey National Park in Ratanakkiri—a province beset by land disputes and logging.

Ouy Bounmy, “Equity Weekly’s” senior producer, said that after the broadcast, he had to meet with Minister of Information Mr. Kanharith.

“Now it is just suspended. We are under discussion to improve reporting skills, because we don’t want to make or repeat the same mistakes again,” he said.

Spokesman for the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan said he did not believe that the show was suspended for its investigative journalism.

“This is not the government’s attitude. I know [Mr. Kanharith] very well and he wants to maintain different voices to be heard. There is no attitude to block free flow of ideas.”

© 2012, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

TV Program Halted After Government Criticism

By and - December 9, 2012

The U.N.-funded television program “Equity Weekly,” whose stated aim is to promote good governance through short investigative journalism pieces broadcast on state-run TVK, was suspended last month, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) said.


The suspension of the popular show followed criticism from the government over the content of a recent feature on economic land concessions.

“It was a joint decision between the Ministry of Information and UNDP to temporarily suspend the ‘Equity Weekly’ show,” a spokesperson from the UNDP said in an email. “Several stories elicited strong reactions from the government and the general public.”

The UNDP did not say which stories in particular had spurred strong reaction from the government. The UNDP spokesperson said U.N. officials will be meeting with TVK soon to discuss the future of the program, funding for which will continue.

Broadcast for about 40 minutes every Sunday evening since 2007, “Equity Weekly’s” uncensored content is more hard-hitting by far than TVK’s closely vetted news content.

In their final broadcast, the host of “Equity Weekly,” Khem Vuthy, spent 25 minutes apologizing for a report made on September 30, which discussed the positive and negative effects of 50,000 hectares of economic land concessions shared by at least six private companies in the Virachey National Park in Ratanakkiri province.

“We would like to start the show with a correction. On our show aired on September 30, during our story about the alleged land concessions in the [Virachey] National Park, we failed to notify the viewers on the screen that some of the video used was archive footage from a different location,” Mr. Vuthy said.
“This was an unintentional error from our part and we apologize to all our viewers for the misunderstanding and confusion that this may have caused.”

Conservationists and human rights groups have strongly criticized the recent surge in land concessions in Ratanakkiri and elsewhere, saying that some plantations cut deep into Cambodia’s remaining pristine forests, while they also affect local farmland and the forest-based livelihoods of indigenous people.
During the last episode of the show on November 11, the host also announced that the Ministry of Information had sent TVK a five-page letter with a complaint from the Ministry of Environment over the Virachey National Park land concessions program.

“[It’s] an appropriate time to review [‘Equity Weekly’] and try to set new objectives to adapt to the fast changing media landscape in Cambodia. The UNDP has suggested to have a joint review taskforce between UNDP and TVK teams to review the production process and explore the best possible ways to move forward,” the UNDP spokesperson added.

A source working for the TV show, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity surrounding the show’s suspension, said that the contract between The UNDP and TVK to produce “Equity Weekly” programs runs until April 2013 and that staff will continue getting paid until then.
TVK Director-General Kem Gunawadh said that he had no knowledge of the matter.

“I did not hear about it yet because I received no information from [the] Ministry of Information,” he said.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be contacted for comment.

Ouy Bounmy, a senior producer for “Equity Weekly,” said the decision to cut the program had been made due to a scheduled break during the Asean Summit last month, as well as financial problems. He also said the suspension would only be temporary.

“[The suspension] is about funding shortage and we will resume in the next two weeks.”
Brian Lund, director of Oxfam America’s East Asia regional office, which is part of Oxfam International and also funds “Equity Weekly” alongside the UNDP, said he did not want to comment on the programming controversy.

“We are still supporting ‘Equity [Weekly]’ until April next year and probably beyond that because it is a valuable platform,” Mr. Lund said.

© 2012, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

EU Ambassador Says Listen to Envoy’s Advice



By - December 11, 2012

The European Union’s ambassador to Cambodia yesterday urged the government to heed the advice of the U.N.’s visiting human rights envoy, who has come under increasing rebuke from officials for his unflattering reports.


Addressing a crowd of about 3,000, mostly garment factory workers, at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park to mark International Human Rights Day, E.U. Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain spoke up for the work of the U.N.’s local human rights office and of the U.N.’s human rights envoy to the country, Surya Subedi.
“We believe the work of this office has contributed tremendously to the promotion and protection of human rights,” Mr. Cautain said of the U.N.’s human rights office in Cambodia.

“Similarly, the work of the U.N. special rapporteur, professor Subedi, who is here…in Cambodia, provides a unique opportunity for the government of Cambodia to receive expert recommendations for improving human rights,” he continued.

Government officials have recently stepped up their public criticism of Mr. Subedi, who arrived here on Sunday for his eighth fact-finding mission since taking up the unpaid post in 2009.
At least two officials, including the head of the government’s Human Rights Committee, Om Yentieng, have accused the U.N. envoy of effectively working for the political opposition. In October, Mr. Hun Sen referred to the envoy’s last report on the government’s highly controversial economic land concessions as “flimsy.”
The E.U. is currently reviewing Mr. Subedi’s report on land evictions in order to decide whether or not to launch its own investigation into possible human rights violations committed by Cambodia vis-a-vis free trade rules with Europe.

Also present at yesterday’s demonstration was the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires, Jeff Daigle, who reminded the crowd of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Cambodia last month, during which he pressed Mr. Hun Sen on the country’s deteriorating human rights record.
“Protecting human rights is essential to strong rule of law, civilian security, economic development and, ultimately, lasting peace,” Mr. Daigle said.

“This was a key message of President Obama during his visit to Cambodia last month, when he urged progress on these issues and stressed that the promise of Cambodia’s great people would only be realized when human rights are fully respected and all voices are heard,” Mr. Daigle added.
The U.S. president urged Mr. Hun Sen to create an independent election committee, let opposition parties work freely and release all political prisoners—including imprisoned radio station owner Mam Sonando.
Rights groups claim that the government has been regressing on its human rights record in recent years, increasingly using the police and courts to clamp down on dissenters and peaceful protesters.
In February, Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith shot into a crowd of demonstrating garment workers, hitting three women, one through the lung. Though charged and implicated by eyewitnesses, the courts have made no attempt to arrest Mr. Bundith and could still drop the case.
Nuth Sokhorn, one of the women shot, allegedly by Mr. Bundith, reminded the crowds gathered at Freedom Park of the case.

“We are three women who were shot by Chhouk Bundith, who is still free. Please find justice for us,” she said, before breaking down in tears.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said several government officials had been invited to the event, including Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema and Mr. Yentieng, but were told they would all be busy.

Police presence around the park was light. But just a few blocks away near the corner of Monivong and Russian boulevards, about 100 riot police officers blocked about as many anti-eviction activists from staging their own march to Mr. Hun Sen’s Peace Palace to deliver a petition requesting his help in their land disputes.
As the police confronted protesters, one police officer was seen knocking a female protester to the ground then kicking her in the abdomen. Once the protesters decided to disperse at about 10:30 a.m., police officers detained Nhep Ly, a community empowerment officer for the Housing Rights Task Force, for taking photographs.

Mr. Ly was taken to Srah Chak commune police headquarters in Daun Penh district but released soon after.
“The police accused me of taking pictures of the protest without asking permission in advance from authorities, but I told them that I just took pictures of the general activity like the other photographers,” he said after being released from custody.

Commune police chief Kan Vannak declined to comment on the violence and detention of Mr. Ly.
(Reporting by Aun Pheap, Khoun Narim, Phok Dorn and Zsombor Peter)
© 2012, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

Great Huangs of history

Time to invest in people