Monday, May 31, 2010

Amnesty International 2010 Report. Foreword. Pursuing justice: For all Rights, for all People

Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
Four days ago, Claudio Cordone, (interim) Secretary General of Amnesty International presented the 2010 Report in a press conference. I will republish several parts from the Report, highlighting omissions, oversights and cases of unbalanced presentation.

In the present article, I republish the Foreword. Paradoxically enough, countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and Iran are not mentioned at all! The Foreward offers a general overview of the situation of Human Rights worldwide; despite its accurate contents, I have reasons to believe that the Foreword could be more representative, and focus on the most appalling cases of violations of Human Rights.

In several forthcoming articles, I will republish further parts of the otherwise very informative Report.

The State of the World's Human Rights

Amnesty International's 2010 report documents abuses in 159 countries and shows how powerful governments are blocking advances in international justice by standing above the law on human rights, shielding allies from criticism and acting only when politically convenient.


Pursuing justice: For all rights, for all people

Claudio Cordone – Secretary General (interim)

Between January and May 2009, some 300,000 Sri Lankans were trapped on a narrow strip of land between the retreating Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the advancing Sri Lankan military. As reports of abuses by both sides increased, the UN Security Council failed to intervene. At least 7,000 people were killed – some have put the figure as high as 20,000. The Sri Lankan government dismissed all reports of war crimes by its forces and rejected calls for an international inquiry, while failing to hold any credible, independent investigations of its own. The UN Human Rights Council convened a special session, but power plays led to member states approving a resolution drafted by the Sri Lankan government, complimenting itself on its success against the LTTE. By the end of the year, despite further evidence of war crimes and other abuses, no one had been brought to justice.

One would be hard pressed to imagine a more complete failure to hold to account those who abuse human rights.

Thinking about it, I remembered the foreword to the Amnesty International Report published in 1992. Entitled "Getting away with murder", it highlighted many countries where political and military leaders responsible for ordering or condoning killings, enforced disappearances, systematic rape and other torture, faced no threat of being held to account. Sri Lanka figured prominently as an example, its then government having failed to bring to justice those responsible for tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the violent 1988–90 suppression of an internal insurgency.

So the obvious question is, has anything changed over the last two decades? And looking at Sri Lanka in 2009, or indeed at the situations in Colombia or Gaza, it would be easy to conclude, not really; and if not, why pursue accountability at all? But that would be to overlook the significant progress that has been made in less than 20 years – despite old and new challenges – which ensures it is now harder for perpetrators to secure impunity.

Yes, the law´s reach is still far from complete. Some situations evade scrutiny altogether; in others, justice simply takes too long. But there is progress. Moreover, the demand for accountability has extended beyond the familiar territory of redress for killings or torture, to the denial of basic human rights to food, education, housing and health, which we all also need to live our lives in dignity.

Accountability – the achievements

To be accountable is to be held responsible for an action you have taken, or failed to take, that has a direct consequence on others. It is a broad concept: one can speak of political accountability, tested, for example, in elections; or moral accountability, measured perhaps by a society´s values.

International human rights standards are focused primarily on establishing legal accountability. People have rights that must be set out in and protected by law; those in power have duties, also established in law, to respect, protect and fulfil individual rights.

Ensuring accountability is important because, first and foremost, those who have suffered harm have a right to truth and justice. Victims and their relatives must have the wrongs done to them acknowledged and see those responsible brought to account. If victims are to receive reparation, finding out what happened, by whom and why, is as important as bringing to justice those responsible for abuses.

Accountability also allows us to look ahead. It provides a measure of deterrence for those who might commit crimes, and it provides a basis on which to build reforms of state and international institutions. Efficient and effective mechanisms for accountability can help states make better policies and laws, and monitor their impact on people´s lives.

During the past two decades, a global campaign has succeeded in establishing a role for international justice. Its achievements include the establishment in 1998 of the International Criminal Court (ICC) built on the foundations of international tribunals that dealt with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

2009 was a watershed year, when a sitting head of state, President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan, was named in an arrest warrant by the ICC on five counts of crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, forcible transfer of population, torture and rape) and two counts of war crimes (for the targeting of civilians).

By the end of 2009, the ICC Prosecutor had opened investigations in three situations referred by the states where the crimes occurred – Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR) and one where the Security Council referred the situation (Darfur, Sudan). He also requested authorization from the Pre-Trial Chamber to open another investigation (Kenya). The ICC has summoned a leader of an armed group in Darfur, and issued arrest warrants for a militia leader, a senior government official and the President in Sudan, and issued arrest warrants for leaders of armed groups in Uganda, the DRC and CAR. These are important steps to implement the principle that all those committing war crimes or crimes against humanity should be held equally to account, whether they belong to government or other forces.

In recent years, the ICC Prosecutor has expanded the geographical scope of his work by beginning preliminary examinations of four situations outside Africa – Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, and the 2008–09 conflict in Gaza and southern Israel.

The process whereby states (110 by the end of 2009) ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC has spurred national legal reform so that national courts are being given jurisdiction over crimes under international law, allowing suspects to be brought to book abroad when – and crucially only when – they enjoy impunity at home. Despite some setbacks in the development of universal jurisdiction in 2009, such as the enactment of legislation restricting its scope in Spain, lawyers have initiated cases and some were advancing before national courts across the Americas, Europe and Africa. In South Africa in December, two NGOs challenged in court the decision by the authorities not to open investigations under South Africa´s universal jurisdiction law into alleged crimes against humanity committed in Zimbabwe by individuals known to travel to South Africa. By the end of the year more than 40 states had enacted legislation since 1998 maintaining or strengthening universal jurisdiction over crimes under international law, helping fill a small part of the global justice gap.

Such investigations and prosecutions have transformed the way governments and the general public see crimes under international law. More and more, these cases are seen for what they are: serious crimes to be investigated and prosecuted, as opposed to political issues to be resolved through diplomatic channels. Having campaigned hard with my colleagues to hold former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet to account following his arrest in London in 1998, I am particularly encouraged by this shift in perception.

Throughout Latin America, national courts and governments are re-opening investigations into crimes long shielded by amnesty laws. These developments show how even decades after the events, with numerous amnesties and other measures of impunity designed to block prosecutions, civil society will still fight to tear down barriers to truth, justice and reparation.

Among a number of landmark judgments was the conviction in April 2009 of former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru for crimes against humanity, which brought some closure for the relatives of those kidnapped, tortured and extrajudicially executed by military death squads in three cases in the early 1990s.

In October, the Supreme Court of Uruguay found that the amnesty law enacted to provide impunity for gross human rights violations in the late 1980s was null and void because it was inconsistent with Uruguay´s obligations under international law. And as 2009 drew to a close, Argentine prosecutors began presenting evidence in one of the most important trials since the demise of the military government (1976–1983) involving 17 members of the armed forces and police charged with torture, enforced disappearance and murder at the notorious Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada (Naval Mechanics School).

The pursuit of justice extended far beyond Latin America. Sierra Leone, for example, came closer to reconciliation with its past in 2009 as all trials in the Special Court for Sierra Leone were concluded apart from that of former President of Liberia Charles Taylor, which was ongoing. And in Asia, one of Cambodia´s most notorious Khmer Rouge commanders finally faced trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed more than 30 years ago. Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, was the commander of Security Office S-21 where at least 14,000 people are believed to have been tortured and then killed between April 1975 and January 1979. It was the first trial by the "Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia" – such a temporary tribunal must give way to a functioning national justice system as soon as practical, but at least it allowed survivors to have their suffering acknowledged.

In 2009, even powerful states found they could not always hide from the law. While some European states were lukewarm in pursuing violations within the context of the US-led "war on terror", an Italian court convicted 22 CIA operatives, one US Air Force officer and two Italian military intelligence agents in November for their involvement in the 2003 abduction of Usama Mustafa Hassan Nasr (Abu Omar) from a street in Milan. Abu Omar had then been rendered to Egypt, where he was held in secret for 14 months, and allegedly tortured. The trial took place largely because the Milan prosecutor´s office was determined to enforce the law, despite pressure from its own government to drop the case, and although none of the US agents was ever arrested, or physically present in court.

The existence of the ICC has inspired more serious attention to the issue of accountability even in states where those responsible might otherwise have felt immune because they have not formally accepted the court´s jurisdiction. The UN Human Rights Council created an independent fact-finding mission led by South African judge Richard Goldstone, previously Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, to investigate alleged violations during the 22-day conflict in Gaza and southern Israel that ended in January 2009. The Goldstone report found that both Israeli forces and Hamas (and other Palestinian groups) committed war crimes and, possibly, crimes against humanity. This echoed the findings of Amnesty International´s field missions to Gaza and southern Israel during the conflict and in its immediate aftermath.

The Goldstone report stated that "[t]he prolonged situation of impunity has created a justice crisis". It recommended that if the two sides failed to carry out investigations and ensure accountability, the Security Council should exercise its authority and refer the situation to the ICC. In November 2009, the UN General Assembly gave Israel and the Palestinian side three months to show they were willing and able to undertake investigations that met international standards.

In an example of prompt response by the international community, the UN set up an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate the events of 28 September in Conakry (Guinea), where more than 150 people were killed, and women were raped in public, when security forces violently repressed a peaceful demonstration in a stadium. The Inquiry found in December that crimes against humanity had been committed and recommended a referral to the ICC, which initiated a preliminary examination.

Finally, the last two decades have seen an exponential growth in "transitional justice" mechanisms, with many countries emerging from prolonged armed conflict or political repression to confront their past with different models of accountability. During 2009, truth and reconciliation processes and their follow-up were in progress in Liberia, the Solomon Islands and Morocco/Western Sahara – the only country in the Middle East and North Africa Region to have confronted past abuses in such a way, although without including a criminal justice component. As we gathered Amnesty International´s relevant records to assist that process, covering decades of research on individual cases, it was clear to all of us that accountability must accompany truth-telling if reconciliation based on justice is to be achieved. The temptation remains to ´let bygones be bygones´, but experience has shown that allowing perpetrators, literally, to ´get away with murder´ can make for a precarious and often short-lived peace.

Power and politicization – obstacles to justice

While legal accountability for crimes under international law is more of a possibility today than ever before, events in 2009 confirmed that two formidable obstacles stand in the way. These must be addressed if we hope to spread meaningful accountability across the full spectrum of rights. The first is the fact that powerful states continue to stand above the law, outside effective international scrutiny. The other is that powerful states manipulate the law, shielding their allies from scrutiny and pushing for accountability mainly when politically expedient. In so doing, they provide a pretext for other states or block of states to politicize justice in the same way.

Although 110 states ratified the Rome Statute to the ICC by the end of 2009, only 12 out of the G20 countries had done so. Among others, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey and the USA have stood aside from, if not deliberately undermined, international justice efforts.

Having excluded itself from the jurisdiction of the ICC, the USA faces less external pressure to address its own abuses committed in the context of its counter-terrorism strategy. When President Barack Obama took office and ordered the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility within a year, as well as the end of the secret detention programme and the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques", the signs were promising. However, by the end of 2009 the Guantánamo detentions were still ongoing and little progress had been made in holding anyone accountable for the violations there and in the other aspects of the US-led "war on terror".

China too shields its actions from international scrutiny. In July 2009, violent riots followed a police crackdown on an initially peaceful protest by Uighurs in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The Chinese government restricted access to information, arrested non-violent protesters, and set up quick, unfair trials, sentencing many to death and executing nine within months of the violence. In December, a further 13 were sentenced to death, and 94 more arrested. The short and controlled access journalists were allowed after the violence is no substitute for proper international scrutiny – China failed to respond to a request from the UN Rapporteur on torture to visit the area. Any claim by the government that it is ensuring accountability is not credible when the supposed accountability is cloaked in secrecy and a rush to executions.

Despite an EU-commissioned independent inquiry that concluded that all sides in the 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict were responsible for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, neither Russia nor Georgia had brought anyone to account by the end of the year, and 26,000 people were still unable to return home.

It was increasingly clear that Russia would use its power to shield both its own soldiers and Georgia´s breakaway regions of South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) from international scrutiny. Specifically, Russia opposed the extension of the mandates of two crucial international monitoring missions in Georgia belonging to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the UN. This left the European Union Monitoring Mission as the sole international observer body operating in Georgia, with no access to areas controlled by Russia or the de facto South Ossetian and Abkhazian authorities in the post-conflict zone.

Indonesia, another financial heavyweight with membership of the G20, has for more than 10 years failed to ensure accountability for the victims of human rights violations committed during Timor-Leste´s 1999 UN-sponsored independence referendum and the previous 24 years of Indonesian occupation. Despite various national and internationally sponsored justice initiatives over the last decade, most of those suspected of having committed crimes against humanity in 1999 are still at large. Of those who have been prosecuted in Indonesia, all have been acquitted.

The second obstacle – the politicization of international justice – makes the pursuit of accountability subservient to a political agenda of supporting allies and undermining rivals. The USA, for example, and European Union states, used their position within the UN Security Council to continue to shield Israel from strong measures of accountability for its actions in Gaza. In a display of counter political bias, the UN Human Rights Council, initially resolved to investigate only alleged Israeli violations. To his credit, Judge Richard Goldstone, subsequently appointed to lead that investigation, insisted that the UN Fact-Finding Mission should examine alleged violations by both Israel and Hamas.

Also at the UN Human Rights Council, not a single Asian or African state voted against the resolution that applauded the Sri Lankan government´s conduct of the war against the LTTE.

The unwillingness of the powerful to apply the same standards to themselves and their political allies plays into the hands of others who can then justify their own double standards, sometimes placing a misguided notion of "regional solidarity" above solidarity with the victims. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the initial response of African states to the ICC´s arrest warrant for President Al Bashir. Despite the seriousness of the crimes alleged, in July the Assembly of the African Union (AU), chaired by Libya, reiterated a request to the UN Security Council to suspend the proceedings against the Sudanese President, decided that AU member states would not co-operate with the ICC in his arrest and surrender, and requested the African Commission to convene a preparatory meeting to discuss amendments to the Rome Statute to be submitted to the 2010 Review Conference.

After travelling freely around countries not party to the Rome Statute, President Al Bashir was then invited by Turkey, Nigeria, Uganda and Venezuela. After an outcry from civil society, however, the tide began to shift. South Africa said it would fulfil its obligations as a party to the Rome Statute, and Brazil, Senegal and Botswana made clear their readiness to arrest him if he arrived. Nevertheless, at the end of 2009, President Al Bashir was still at large, and still alleging that the effort to prosecute him was politically motivated and biased against Africa. For hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Darfur, the nightmare of further violence and abuses continues, with the prospect of the war in Southern Sudan resuming and the hardship intensifying.

Challenges ahead – accountability for all rights

The obstacles to implementing accountability for mass atrocities in conflicts or political repression are real, but the debate at least has been won: no one denies the principle that war crimes or crimes against humanity or enforced disappearances should be punished. Yet when it comes to the mass abuses of economic, social and cultural rights, there is no comparable effort to bring law and accountability to bear. Not the same thing, many will say. And true enough, massacring civilians is different from denying a population its right to education. But such denials are still flouting international law and impacting adversely on people´s lives. They must, therefore, be pursued through international accountability.

The task is to convince world leaders that, no less than the conflict in Darfur, the problem is a human rights crisis.

Consider the right to health, and specifically the scourge of maternal mortality. Every year, more than half a million women die from pregnancy-related complications. Maternal mortality rates for women in Sierra Leone, Peru, Burkina Faso and Nicaragua – to name a few countries on which Amnesty International focused in 2009 – are directly affected by human rights abuses. As I witnessed personally in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso, the governments in these countries acknowledge the problem and are taking steps to tackle it. But they – along with civil society – need to make greater efforts to address the key human rights issues that contribute to the high rates of preventable deaths, such as gender discrimination, early marriage, the denial of women´s sexual and reproductive rights, and barriers to accessing essential health care. In this, they must be supported by the international community.

Human rights law recognizes that adequate resources are a crucial condition for the realization of some aspects of economic, social and cultural rights and so demands "progressive realization" of those aspects "to the maximum of available resources".

But governments cannot simply use the issue of resource constraint as an excuse. The existence of preventable maternal mortality in a country is not just a simple reflection of how poor or rich a country is. Angola, for example, has a much higher maternal mortality ratio than Mozambique, despite the fact that Mozambique is much poorer. Or take Guatemala, with a GDP per capita nearly double the size of Nicaragua, but higher maternal mortality ratios.

Consider also the right to housing. In 2009 Amnesty International addressed the plight of tens of thousands left homeless in N´Djamena, Chad, after forced evictions, as well as that of the inhabitants of slums in Cairo, Egypt, who remained at risk of being killed by landslides or other hazards, due to the authorities´ failure to provide adequate housing. In Nairobi, Kenya, Amnesty International marched with inhabitants from Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and other slums to demand their right to adequate housing and services. In Gaza, one of the consequences of the 2008–09 conflict highlighted by Amnesty International has been the extensive destruction of houses coupled with a continuing blockade which prevents construction materials from entering Gaza. The blockade, which amounts to collective punishment, a crime under international law, hits hardest the most vulnerable.

What the people in the situations mentioned above have in common more than anything else is their poverty. It is the poor who are most discriminated against and where the need for protection of all the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is most evident. Discrimination is a key driver of poverty, and is often reflected in the allocation of government spending and policies. And most of the people living in poverty in the world, and the ones suffering most discrimination in law and practice, are women. Safe pregnancies, safe homes, safe routes to school or work – none of these should be the preserve of men or of the wealthy.

There are some positive steps towards ensuring legal accountability for the denial of basic economic, social and cultural rights. Increasingly, national courts are intervening to protect these rights and to demand changes to government policy so that minimum rights to health, housing, education and food do not go unfulfilled. And they are being spurred to go further by international mechanisms.

In a ground-breaking decision in November 2009, for example, the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Community Court of Justice in Abuja declared that education is a human right to which all Nigerians are entitled. The Court said that the right to education can be enforced legally and dismissed all objections brought by the government that education was "a mere directive policy of the government and not a legal entitlement of the citizens".

In another example, in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, a Roma community which has been living in metal cabins and shacks next to a sewage treatment plant since 2004, after being forcibly evicted from a crumbling building in the centre of the town, lodged an appeal in December 2008 with the European Court of Human Rights. The community, supported by local NGOs, had exhausted national remedies for reparations when rulings in their favour by national courts amounted to nothing in practical terms.

The possibility of international accountability in this field took a leap forward in September 2009 with the opening for signature of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Protocol establishes, for the first time, an international mechanism for individual complaints. It will also support efforts within countries to ensure that effective remedies are available to victims.

Increased accountability for the denial of basic economic, social and cultural rights has become ever more important in view of the combined effects of the food, energy, and financial crises which are estimated to have pushed many million more people into poverty. The respect for all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, must be an integral part of all national and international responses to the crises.

But governments are not the only actors contributing to such a crisis. Global business is growing in power and influence. Decisions companies make and the influence they wield can profoundly impact people´s human rights. Too many companies exploit the absence of effective regulation or work hand in glove with abusive and often corrupt governments, with devastating consequences.

Over the past 15 years, we have seen the expansion of law to protect global economic interests, through a range of international investment and trade agreements backed by enforcement mechanisms. But while economic interests have been able to make the law work for them, those harmed by their operations have often seen the law recede in the face of corporate power.

December 2009 marked the 25th anniversary of the catastrophic leak of deadly chemicals from Union Carbide´s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. Thousands died and an estimated 100,000 people are still suffering the health consequences of that leak today. Despite efforts by survivors of the Bhopal disaster to pursue justice through courts in India and the USA, a quarter of a century after the leak, rehabilitation is still far short of what is needed and no one has ever been held to account for the leak or its aftermath.

Meaningful accountability for corporations remains rare. Attempts to secure justice are thwarted by ineffective legal systems, lack of access to information, corporate interference with legal and regulatory systems, corruption and powerful state-corporate alliances. Although transnational businesses, by definition, operate across borders, the legal and jurisdictional obstacles to bringing court actions against companies abroad remain significant. Global business operates in a global economy but in the absence of a global rule of law.

Yet, despite the enormous challenges, individuals and communities affected by transnational companies are increasingly bringing civil actions in an effort to both hold companies to account and gain some form of remedy. In Nigeria, the oil industry has operated for 50 years without effective regulatory controls. The consequence has been widespread damage to the environment and human rights. Justice in Nigeria has proved elusive for most of the communities whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged. In December 2009 a Dutch court agreed to proceed in a civil case against Shell brought by four Nigerians seeking compensation for oil-spill damages to their livelihood.

In a high-profile civil action in the UK in 2009, the oil-trading company Trafigura agreed a US$45 million out of court settlement with some 30,000 people affected by the dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan in Côte d´Ivoire. The waste was brought to Abidjan in 2006 on board the ship Probo Koala, which had been chartered by Trafigura. The waste was then dumped in various locations around the city. More than 100,000 people sought medical attention for a range of health problems and there were 15 reported deaths.

Such out of court settlements may bring a small measure of justice for victims, but they often involve serious limitations and do not offer full reparation or accountability.

In the Côte d´Ivoire case, critical aspects of the human rights impact of the toxic waste dumping remain unaddressed. Far more needs to be done to address the legal and jurisdictional gaps that currently facilitate corporate impunity. Companies which in increasing numbers profess commitment to human rights should actively promote such efforts.

The next global plan – accountability for all rights

World leaders will gather at the UN in September 2010 to review progress on their promises to improve the lives of the world´s poor, set out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). On the evidence available, we are falling far short of the goals set for 2015. The cost of this failure is to deprive hundreds of millions of people of their right to live in dignity – not just to enjoy their political freedoms, but also to have access to food, housing, health care, education and security, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom from fear, and freedom from want – that remains the goal.

There must now be a comparable effort to harness the same energy used to set up the ICC and the international mechanisms for justice, to bring more accountability to a global economic and political order that fails to take all human rights into account. New thinking is needed. The MDG targets cannot simply be just promises. They must be based on the legal commitments governments have made to meet basic human rights, and as such there must be mechanisms to hold governments to account to meet these commitments. There must be effective remedies when states fail to do so.

Accountability would be enhanced if efforts to meet the MDGs took full account of the views of those living in poverty. Individuals have the right to participate in and to have free access to information about decisions that affect their lives. There has been little genuine participation of rights holders themselves in the MDGs. And the MDG process must also ensure proper scrutiny of those governments who pursue national policies – including those with international effect – that undermine the realization of the basic rights embedded in the Goals. All governments, but especially those of the G20, which claim a greater role in global leadership, should be held accountable for whether their policies translate into tangible improvements in the lives of the world´s poor.

In this effort to secure the delivery of all human rights for all people, states and non-state actors should be constantly reminded of their legal obligations and responsibilities. More than ever before, human rights activists, community organizations, lawyers and others are joining together to do so, working with those in power when sharing common objectives, but otherwise challenging them by seeking institutional and individual measures of accountability. The human rights movement is itself becoming more global and diverse, connecting ever better across borders and disciplines in pursuit of a comprehensive human rights project.

As we enter the second decade of the millennium, Amnesty International is working alongside partners in such a global movement, seeking to reassert the value of universal human rights; to show how they cannot be divided up or parcelled off, and how they are directly relevant to people´s full life experience. In so doing, we recommit ourselves to a vision of human rights whereby – beyond states, armed groups and companies – each individual is an agent of change, with rights as well as responsibilities. Each of us has rights to demand respect, protection and fulfilment from the state and society, but also responsibilities to respect the rights of others and act in solidarity with each other to fulfil the promise of the Universal Declaration.

Mekong river dolphin 'nearly extinct'

by Patrick Falby, AFP

PHNOM PENH – Pollution in southeast Asia's Mekong River has pushed freshwater dolphins in Cambodia and Laos to the brink of extinction, a conservation report said Thursday, sparking a furious government denial.

The WWF said only 64 to 76 Irrawaddy dolphins remain in the Mekong after toxic levels of pesticides, mercury and other pollutants were found in more than 50 calves who have died since 2003.

"These pollutants are widely distributed in the environment and so the source of this pollution may involve several countries through which the Mekong River flows," said WWF veterinary surgeon Verne Dove in a press statement.

The organisation said it was investigating how environmental contaminants got into the Mekong, which flows through Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.

However, the Cambodian government official tasked with caring for the country's Irrawaddy dolphins said there remained "about 150 to 160" of them in the Mekong, and alleged the WWF's report used flawed research methodology.

"It's big trouble -- they (the WWF) should resign. They should leave Cambodia," Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission to Conserve Mekong River Dolphins and Develop Eco-tourism, told AFP.

"They published this without consulting me, and I'm the authority here," he said, adding he did not believe the river contained the pollutants listed in the WWF's report.

The WWF said it suspected that high levels of mercury found in some dead dolphins came from gold mining activities.

It added that Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia and Laos urgently needed a health programme to counter the effects of pollution on their immune systems.

Inbreeding among the small population could have also contributed to weakened immune systems in the dead young dolphins, all of whom were under two weeks old.

"The Mekong River dolphins are isolated from other members of their species and they need our help," said WWF Cambodia country director Seng Teak, adding the mammals "can show remarkable resilience" if their habitat is protected.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin, which inhabits a 190-kilometre (118-mile) stretch in Cambodia and Laos, has been listed as critically endangered since 2004, the WWF said.

Thousands of Irrawaddy dolphins once swam in the Mekong. Although regarded as sacred in Cambodia and Laos, their numbers were cut by the use of illegal fishing nets and Cambodia's drawn-out civil conflict, in which dolphin blubber was used to lubricate machine parts and fuel lamps.

The Cambodian government, however, has been promoting dolphin-watching to attract eco-tourism and cracked down on the use of illegal nets which entangled them.

It hopes such measures and establishing protected areas will raise their numbers over the next few years.

The Mekong is one of only five freshwater habitats in the world for the Irrawaddy dolphin, and Cambodia is thought to support its largest remaining population.

With their pale grey skin and blunt beaks, Irrawaddy dolphins resemble porpoises more than their sea-going cousins, and congregate in a handful of the Mekong's natural deep-water pools.

The river is the world's largest inland fishery, producing some 2.5 million tonnes of fish per year valued at more than 2 billion dollars.

The Mekong also provides 80 percent of the animal protein for 60 million people who live along its lower basin.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Police failed to act on RBA corruption claims

By Samantha Donovan

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has admitted it failed to act quickly on claims of corruption in the Reserve Bank's currency subsidiary.

Investigations are now underway into allegations that Securency International paid millions of dollars in commissions to overseas middlemen to secure note-printing contracts.

Meanwhile, one Labor backbencher has broken the Government's silence on the scandal and joined calls for a public inquiry.

The AFP is investigating allegations that Securency International and its sister company, Note Printing Australia, paid more than $50 million in bribes to get lucrative note-printing contracts.

Greens Senator Bob Brown believes the AFP investigation is taking too long and he is calling for a public inquiry.

At a Senate Committee hearing yesterday, Senator Brown asked AFP Commissioner Tony Negus if it were true that the AFP failed to act when a Securency employee reported the alleged corruption in April 2008.

"There was an initial assessment of that material and at that time, over the coming months, it was decided that there was insufficient material to launch an investigation," Commissioner Negus said.

"Looking back there could have been more done at that time to look further and deeper into the issue.

"At a later stage there was more material provided to the Australian Crime Commission, which was again provided to the AFP, and about that time the matter was formally referred to us by the RBA after the matter was featured by The Age newspaper."

That was a year after the initial report by the Securency whistleblower and Senator Brown asked Commissioner Negus just what efforts the AFP had made to assess the claims.

"Certain checks were done, but again, in the context of what we now know, I think that could have gone further at the time and I've had that reviewed to have a look at how that process was undertaken," Commissioner Negus said.

"As you've said it is a very serious matter. We currently have up to 20 investigators working on this full-time now, in a number of countries around the world."

Senator Brown noted that government officials in countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, Nigeria, Nepal, South Africa and Cambodia may be involved in the alleged corruption.

Commissioner Negus and his AFP colleagues would not confirm where their investigations were leading them, except to say they were working with the Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom and had made mutual assistance requests to a number of countries.

The Federal Government has been keeping quiet on the Securency scandal, but Kelvin Thomson, the ALP Member for the Victorian seat of Wills, is now speaking out.

"The AWB oil-for-food scandal put a stain on Australia's international reputation by suggesting that Australia was prepared to pay bribes and kickbacks to advance our international business interests and promote our exports, and regrettably the Securency scandal has reinforced this impression," Mr Thompson said.

"There needs to be action either from the Australian Federal Police or from a public inquiry to make it clear to the world that we do not regard the payment of bribes, kickbacks or commissions as an acceptable way to promote our exports."

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon agrees, saying the corruption allegations are "truly disturbing".

In a statement to AM he called for a broad independent inquiry with the powers of a Royal Commission to be held over and above the AFP investigation.

Thaksin wanted on terrorism charges


BANGKOK - A Thai court issued orders yesterday to arrest former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges in connection with riots over the past two months that were the worst in the country's modern history.

Thai prosecutors and the foreign ministry will now launch a global hunt for the fugitive telecoms tycoon, a senior government official said. Mr Thaksin was last believed to be in France for the Cannes Film Festival, but he keeps his location secret.

"The court said there was enough evidence to believe that Thaksin was the mastermind [ of the riots], having played a significant role in instructing and manipulating the incidents," said Tharit Pengdit of the department of special investigations.

Government officials say Mr Thaksin funded the 10-week, anti-government protests to the tune of about $1.5 million (€1.22 million) a day, and is believed to have organised the smuggling of arms and fighters from Cambodia. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to death.

Mr Thaksin denied the terrorism charges via Twitter.

"As a prime minister who won two landslide election victories, I was ousted in a coup," he wrote in Thai. "As I was fighting peacefully for justice for the return of my robbed assets, I was slapped with terrorism charges."

At least 85 people were killed in Bangkok and more than 1,400 were wounded in violence that began in April.

There have been no reports of violence in Bangkok since Thursday, when the so-called "red-shirt" protesters started to withdraw. But some have threatened to resume their campaign next month.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cambodia, An Giang boost trade, investment ties

A worker of the Ha Long Viglacera Co in the  northern Quang Ninh Province stacks newly- made bricks for exports to  Cambodia. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyen Dan

A worker of the Ha Long Viglacera Co in the northern Quang Ninh Province stacks newly- made bricks for exports to Cambodia. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyen Dan

AN GIANG — Vietnamese and Cambodian firms would gain valuable insights into business dealings in either country through increased interaction and exchange of views and experiences, a senior official of An Giang Province said last Saturday.

Vuong Binh Thanh, deputy chairman of the An Giang People's Committee, told a seminar held in the Mekong Delta province that this would, in turn, enhance bilateral trade between the two countries.

The seminar was attended by nearly 50 Vietnamese and Cambodian enterprises seeking to exchange their business profiles.

An Giang has great advantages in boosting economic cooperation with Cambodian provinces because it shares a border of almost 100km with the neighbouring kingdom, not to mention the Vinh Xuong and Tinh Bien border gates, Thanh said.

The province had implemented many trade promotion programmes as well as signed many cooperation agreements with provinces in Cambodia, he noted.

The province enjoys a high import-export turnover with Cambodia, and has set a target of increasing trading at border gates by 30 per cent this year.

Import-export turnover between Viet Nam and Cambodia through the border gates in An Giang province reached US$360 million last year from $353 million in 2008.

"This year's $2 billion target of two-way trade between the two countries can be achieved if Vietnamese and Cambodian enterprises are more active in exploiting the existing potential to expand production and commercial activities",Thach said.

"Cambodia is a country with great unexploited potential in agriculture, agro-industry and agro-processing," said Chhoun Dara, Secretary of State in the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce.

However, it still needed better infrastructure including transportation systems, telecommunications, electricity and irrigation, he said.

"The diversity of historical and cultural heritage, as well as natural and cultural parks have made the tourism sector attractive for investment in Cambodia. Development of the tourism sector will play a key role in the production of goods and services as demand for hotels, restaurants and other establishments rises, Chhoun Dara said.

"All local and foreign businessmen or investors can own 100 per cent of their business in Cambodia while most countries do not allow this," he said.

He said the country would work together with the private sector to improve its investment climate, benefiting both local and foreign investors.

"Two-way trade between Viet Nam and Cambodia has been kept stable despite the impacts of the global economic downturn," he said, adding that the bilateral trade between the two countries increased to $1.33 billion in 2009 from $1.19 billion in 2007.

In the first quarter of this year, two-way trade between the two neighbours reached $431 million, with Viet Nam exporting products worth $345 million to Cambodia and importing goods worth $86 million.

Three memoranda of understanding between Vietnamese and Cambodian companies were signed during the seminar.

The seminar was organised by the Viet Nam Trade Promotion Agency and the An Giang Investment and Trade Promotion Centre on the sidelines of the Mekong Delta Trade, Tourism and Investment Fair that is being held from May 21-26. — VNS

Govt calls for Thais to free Cambodian

24 May 2010
Cheang Sokha
Phnom Penh Post

HE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called on Thailand to immediately release a Cambodian man accused of committing an arson attack on a bank during violent protests in Bangkok last week.

Koy Kuong, the ministry’s spokesman, said Thai authorities arrested the man on Wednesday in the Thai capital while he was standing outside the beverage shop where he worked.

Koy Kuong said the man, a native of Battambang province who is married to a Thai woman and has lived in Bangkok for about five years, had no involvement with the antigovernment Red Shirts.

“We ask the Abhisit government to urgently release him,” he said, and added that the embassy in Bangkok was seeking a lawyer to represent the man.

“We cannot accept such accusations. I think the accusation is meant to make trouble with Cambodia.”

Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, identified the man as San Mony Phet, 27, and said Thai police claimed to have confiscated a lighter, pieces of clothing and fuel after his arrest.

He denied reports, published by Thailand’s Krung Thep Thurakej Online on Friday, that Cambodians had taken part in the Red Shirt protests.

“No Cambodian people have joined the protests in Bangkok,” he said. “This information is completely exaggerated, which could cause diplomatic relations between the two nations to worsen.”

Australia’s ABC also noted the alleged involvement of a Briton and an unidentified “Asian national” in Bangkok arson attacks last week.

But Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that he had not heard reports of foreigners’ involvement in last week’s clashes, which left 86 dead and around 1,900 injured.

“I haven’t heard anything specifically,” he said. “Let’s wait until something’s clear.”

The Cambodian government has warned its citizens to avoid travel to Bangkok since the protests started in mid-February.


US selects Cambodia as a focus country in food aid programme

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Typhoon Ketsana destroyed hundreds of homes – including this one in Kampong Thom province – and spurred nationwide concerns about food security last year.

Cameron Wells and Phak Seangly
Phnom Penh Post

THE United States has selected Cambodia as one of 20 countries to receive part of a multi-billion-dollar package to combat hunger by promoting farming and agriculture, government and US officials said Sunday.

The US will funnel at least US$3.5 billion over three years into the “Feed the Future” plan, US Agency for International Development (USAID) head Rajiv Shah said Thursday in Washington.

“Agricultural development is a springboard for broader economic development, and food security is the foundation for peace and opportunity and, therefore, our own national security,” Shah told a symposium on agriculture and food security.

Cambodia is one of four focus countries in Asia, along with Bangladesh, Nepal and Tajikistan.

US embassy spokesman John Johnson said Sunday it was too early to comment on the specifics of the plan.

“Cambodia has been selected as a focus country,” he said. “There will be discussions with the Cambodian government and NGOs, but it’s really too early to speak on the specifics. It’s a huge project.”

He also could not comment on the amount of financial assistance that Cambodia would receive. “Again, it’s still too early,” he said.

Srun Darith, deputy secretary general for the Council of Agriculture and Rural Development, also said he was unsure how much funding Cambodia would receive, but acknowledged that the money would be “very important for Cambodia”.


Cambodia's Khmer Rouge trial verdict due July 26

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia's genocide tribunal announced Monday that it will give its verdict in July in the case of a notorious Khmer Rouge prison chief accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture.

Cambodian students re-enact torture executed by the Khmer Rouge to mark the annual "Day of Anger" at Choeung Ek, a former Khmer Rouge "killing field" dotted with mass graves about nine miles (15 kilometers) south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, May 20, 2010. Cambodia marked the annual commemoration Thursday by re-enacting torture and executions inflicted by the Khmer Rouge during their reign of terror in the 1970s. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Lars Olsen, spokesman for the U.N.-backed tribunal, said the court will hand down the verdict against Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, on July 26.

Duch, 67, commanded the notorious S-21 prison where as many as 16,000 people were tortured before being sent for execution in the late 1970s. He is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. He was tried last year.

The tribunal is seeking justice for an estimated 1.7 million people who died from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition under the 1975-79 communist Khmer Rouge regime.

"We hope that the verdict will mark an important milestone for the Cambodian people who are waiting for more than 30 years to see someone being brought to justice," Olsen said.

Four other Khmer Rouge leaders are facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. They are the group's top ideologist, Nuon Chea; former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary; his wife, former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith; and former head of state Khieu Samphan.

Their trial is expected to begin late this year or early next year.

Khmer dinner will raise awareness for Cambodian charity

cambodian awareness charity dinnerCambodian Awareness Organization at the University of California, Irvine is a newly-founded club dedicated to bringing Cambodia and its culture to the front of public thought. The service-based club believes in helping loving and caring for others.

The charity group will host their first Cultural Charity Banquet on Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. at Recreation 18-hole Golf Course, 5001 Deukmejian Drive. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

A full-course Khmer dinner will be served family-style outside in a beautiful garden with a gazebo. Attire for the evening is semi-formal. Guests are encouraged to come decked out in their best Khmer outfit.

There will be a silent auction with many hand-made items.

Performances include: Khmer classical dance, rap, singing, a showcase of CAO, debut of the full version of the song “Show the World We Exist” and more. Speakers for the evening will include Prany Sananikone, Director of Diversity Relations and educational programs, Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD), at the University of California, Irvine, and another special guest as yet unnamed.

This coming Summer 2010, CAO will make a trip to Cambodia as an exchange with the university students at Panasastra University in Phnom Penh with a goal of doing humanitarian work among the village poor in Cambodia. Funds raised during this event will go towards providing for the needy in different provinces of Cambodia, more specifically towards poor children and orphans.

Even those that are unable to attend the event can still make contributions. Donors that give more than $10 will receive a free CAO t-shirt. Include your address along with your donations and tax-deductible receipts can be issued. All profits go towards the poor children in Cambodia.

Tickets must be purchased by May 26 and are $35, or $22 for students. Student id’s will be checked at the door. Tickets may be purchased online at or make checks payable to “Cambodian Awareness Organization” and send to: Attn: Phanith Rama Sovann, 438 Stanford Court, Irvine, CA 92612.

For more information about the Cambodian Awareness Organization or to make a reservation for the charity dinner, please contact Phanith Rama Sovann at (562) 522-4217 or

Thai auteur stuns with Cannes win

Source: Bangkok Post

CANNES : Film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul has made history by winning the Palme d'Or at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival with his film Loong Boonmee Raluek Chat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives).

The film is the first from Southeast Asia to win the world's most prestigious film award.

The nine-member jury led by Tim Burton, director of this year's Alice in Wonderland, handed the top prize to Uncle Boonmee amid loud cheers from international journalists who rooted for the dark horse from Thailand.

"This is surreal," Mr Apichatpong, 40, said in his acceptance speech. "I thank all the ghosts and spirits in Thailand that made this possible."

Uncle Boonmee, the most narrative-driven of Mr Apichatpong's films, shows the possible coexistence between humans, ghosts, spirits and animals.

In the story about a northeastern beekeeper who is dying from kidney disease and who is visited by the spirit of his dead wife, the film alludes to the troubled history of the Northeast, the communist uprising, the reincarnation of body and soul, and also provides a meta-thesis on the death and rebirth of cinema through a subtly comical and mystical narrative.

The news came at the end of a tumultuous week in Bangkok. The director said: "Thailand needs some kind of hope in other ways. We're very depressed about the confrontation of different ideologies.

"I hope, more or less, the news of the prize in the culture sector will help cool down the situation."

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Mr Apichatpong said it was not clear if, or when, he would release the movie in Bangkok.

"To release a film, I need to go through many processes. But maybe I'll show it in one theatre."

Mr Apichatpong's previous film, Syndromes and a Century, ran into trouble with the censorship board who ordered him to cut four scenes, which the director refused to do.

Uncle Boonmee contains a scene showing a monk engaged in an activity to which the authority might object. However, the film's credits show that it has received support from the Culture Ministry.

Uncle Boonmee was screened late in the festival. It won praise from journalists after the press screening, with a long queue of requested interviews.

The jury shared the same passion for Uncle Boonmee. The Thai film won over two French favourites, Of Gods and Men, which won the second prize, and Tournee, which won best director for Mathieu Amalric.

"Cinema is a personal pursuit," Mr Apichatpong said. "To present my point of view is to present a different kind of cinema, to push the boundary and to see what cinema can do.

"Everywhere in the world now, even in Cambodia or Laos, we've become something like a monoculture. We have the same logic about narrative, and minority culture has been prevented from being expressed.

"Cinema is one of the components that can foster the understanding in the culture."

Australia's Oz Minerals finds gold in Cambodia

Published: 24 May 2010

* Australia's Oz Minerals finds 8.1 million tonnes of ore

* Believes 605,000 ounces gold can be extracted

* Poor infrastructure hindering exploration, govt says

PHNOM PENH, May 24 - Australian miner OZ Minerals Ltd has discovered 8.1 million tonnes of ore in rural Cambodia it believes can produce 605,000 ounces of gold, OZ and energy officials said on Monday.

The discovery could be the country's biggest since exploration began 17 years ago, said Sok Leng, director-general of mineral resources at Cambodia's Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy.

Cambodia's government says the country is yet to make any revenues from its mining industry, despite the presence of at least 60 foreign and domestic companies seeking to tap mineral resources.

The gold discovery was made by OZ Minerals in the remote and sparsely-populated province of Mondulkiri in eastern Cambodia, bordering Vietnam, 521 km (324 miles) from the capital Phnom Penh.

"We have high mineral potential in this area, belonging to OZ Company and they found 8.1 million tonnes (of ore)," Sok Leng told a news conference.

He said copper, gold, iron ore, zinc, lead, tin, bauxite, sapphires, rubies, kaolin and limestone were among the untapped resources in Cambodia, but said the impoverished country's poor infrastructure made exploration difficult.

"It's not at all there is poor infrastructure and exploration has to be conducted in the remote jungles. Companies need more time and capital."


"Companies also face high risks if the discoveries prove to be economically non-viable," he added.

Companies from Australia, China, Vietnam and South Korea are among those searching for mineral resources in Cambodia.

Douglas Broderick, a representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said developing Cambodia's nascent mining sector would take time.

"It's a five- to 10-year period that we're talking about, not something that will happen overnight," he said, adding that rural communities where the exploration takes places should be entitled to benefits.

Foreign investment in Cambodia has risen in recent years but forced evictions and insufficient compensation paid to local people living in areas made available to industry has led to angry and occasionally violent demonstrations.

Cambodia's economy, which is fuelled by agriculture, tourism and garment manufacturing, is likely to grow 5 percent this year, driven mostly by increased agricultural output, Prime Minister Hun Sen said last month.

The International Monetary Fund is forecasting GDP growth of 4.8 percent this year. The World Bank's estimate is 4.4 percent and the Asian Development Bank, 4.5 percent.

"The Council for the Development of Cambodia said the value of approved mining projects in the country peaked at $181 million in 2005.

In 2008 and 2009, several exploration plans and mining projects were suspended following the decline in the global recession, the council said in a report.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Siem Reap's night markets

  • The latest night market has opened diagonally across from Pub Street. Photo courtesy: Cambodia Sin Chew Daily

SIEM REAP, Cambodia: Tourists heading to Angkor Wat can now take a stroll among over 600 stalls in Siem Reap's four night markets, offering even cheaper leisure and shopping pleasures. These fairs, which are called "night markets" by tourists, have each become more unique due to the increasing competition.

The Siem Reap Night Market opposite Siem Reap's Pub Street just opened for business last month, and has made Siem Reap's nightlife even livelier.

All kinds of tourist attractions are competing fiercely with one another, bringing prices down and making businesses devise all kinds of stunts to lure customers. For example, there's a spa at the night market that offers foot reflexology for US$2 with a free drink. There are also businesses that hire children from orphanages to put on performances such as clown shows and apsara dances in the street to attract customers.

The night market as another selling point for Cambodia's tourism began in Siem Reap. Unfortunately, due to ever-changing government policies, Night markets have opened for business and then shut down, with new ones sprouting up. Since businessmen have no long-term guarantees for investment, they use the simplest and most economical spaces to sell their wares which are little different from one another in quality.

Despite this, even when the economy is bad and tourists are tightening up their belts, night markets remain an affordable shopping option for locals and tourists alike.

The night markets in Siem Reap are growing in number, resulting in fierce competition. The newest night market to open in town is located on Sivatha Road diagonally across from Pub Street.

The night market's neon sign arcs across the street in a dazzling display. Another night market invested by South Koreans is located on the street on the opposite bank of Siem Reap River.

The night markets have not only created a business opportunity for small tourist items, but their culture has also spread to Phnom Penh.

Although Phnom Penh is Cambodia's capital, in terms of number and the scale of stalls, the night markets there cannot match those in Siem Reap due to poor management and lack of tourists.

Phnom Penh's first tourist night market was originally located on the river bank beside Sisowath Quay. Later, due to the municipal government's beautification programme, the night market was relocated to the square near the docks.

As the stalls there are temporary structures, and the market has not been planned out properly. Besides, the selection of goods is also limited. The pedestrian traffic through the area is also pretty hectic and when there are lots of tourists there is a real cause for concern as snatch thieves would make off with their wallets and mobile phones.

By comparison, Siem Reap's night markets are much safer.

Also unlike Siem Reap's night markets, Phnom Penh's markets do not open every night, and the goods on sale are unremarkable. On top of that, the municipal government frequently sets up a stage in the middle of the park and rents it out to telecommunications companies for promotional events that make a huge racket. The haphazard management fails to attract more foreign tourists but has instead made the place a popular hangout for local youths.

The Phnom Penh night market is only open three days a week, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. When the night market is held, parking fee of 3,000 riels is charged, five times higher than during normal times.

Siem Reap currently has four night markets of differing scales, three of these on Sivatha Boulevard near Pub Street while the international night market near the river bank and smaller in scale has been established by the South Koreans.

The first night market, Angkor Night Market, has been operating for more than two years. It is larger than the other night markets and has a floor covered in gravel. Each of the 450 stalls is one square metre in size.

The stalls sell goods that are mostly the same, such as silk, accessories, wood carvings, etc. They are mostly souvenirs targeted at foreign tourists.

The goods which tourists like most are local handicraft, silk, souvenir T-shirts, etc.

Some night markets also include facilities for the convenience of tourists such as bars, fish reflexology spas, etc. When a tourist gets tired from walking, the bar is a good place to sit down and rest while having a few drinks. Alternatively, US$3 will allow a customer to soak their feet in the waters of a fish reflexology spa, while tiny fish would nibble away the dead skin on their feet.

While roaming the night markets in Siem Reap, you only need to spend a few dollars to while away the night. The selection of goods is extensive while the prices are good.

The third night market in Siem Reap, known as the Siem Reap Night Market, just opened this February. It is located in a strategic spot diagonally across from Pub Street (the two are separated by just one street) and has over a hundred stalls selling all sorts of tourist souvenirs.

The uniqueness of Siem Reap's night markets lies in the wide variety of options available to tourists. After dinner and drinks at Pub Street, they can go for a stroll in an adjacent night market and spend 20 to 30 US dollars buying a pile of silk or carvings as gifts for friends and families back home.

At the same time, they can also enjoy free performances such as apsara dances and shadow puppet plays. There are also small restaurants and massage parlours in the night markets offering their services.

Although the number of tourists visiting Siem Reap has dropped compared to several years ago, in the two years since the night markets have opened for business, they have brought many employment opportunities for the locals, and the city now has one additional attraction for tourists to spend their time at night. (Translated by ALEX YUEN/Cambodia Sin Chew Daily)

Foreign tourists to Cambodia increase by 10.55 pct in first 4 months

PHNOM PENH, May 23 (Xinhua) -- Foreign tourists to Cambodia increased by 10.55 percent to 884,657 in the first four months of this year compared to 800,243 at the same period last year.

According to the statistics released by the Ministry of Tourism on Sunday, Vietnam and South Korea listed No. 1 and No. 2 foreign tourist arrivals in the January-April period of this year, increased by 38.39 percent to 138,945 and 31.81 percent to 106,347 respectively, compared with corresponding period of 2009.

Chinese tourists to Cambodia increased by 30.25 percent to 63, 396 in the four-month period, ranking the third among the top ten market arrivals, compared to the same period of last year that had only 48,672.

For the month of April alone, Chinese tourists to Cambodia rose by 41.66 percent to 14,455 from 10,204 in April last year, while tourists from Vietnam and South Korea increased by 65.05 percent to 46,340 and 33.09 percent to 22,285 respectively in the month.

Editor: Mo Hong'e

Officials seek ways to boost cross-border trade with Cambodia

Source: SGGP

To better tap the great potential in cross-border trade with Cambodia, Vietnam has much to do, including improving the traffic infrastructure in the border area and simplify customs and trade regulations, officials have said.

Kien Giang Province, one of the province bordering Cambodia in the South West, now has 69 businesses engaged in cross-border trade with Cambodia. The province expects to see two-way trade with its Cambodian partners reach US$150 million this year. The amount will include $100 million worth of its exports to Cambodia.

The State Bank of Vietnam’s branch in Kien Giang has opened three foreign exchange agents in the province to facilitate trade, service, and tourism activities between Vietnamese and Cambodian businesses.

Trade with Cambodia has also developed in Tay Ninh Province’s Moc Bai Border Economic Zone, which attracted about 80,000 Cambodian customers last year, earning total sales of VND1.35 trillion ($71 million).

Meanwhile, An Giang Province’s Tinh Bien Border Economic Zone, which began operation in August 2009, aims to increase its sales with Cambodian companies by 30 percent to VND1 trillion this year.

Shoppers at the duty-free hypermarket in the Moc Bai Border Economic Zone, Tay Ninh Province (Photo: VNP)

Problems to resolve

Nguyen Minh Tri, head of the Management Board of An Giang Province’s Border Economic Zone, said: “The cross-border trade with Cambodia has a lot of development potential, but many Vietnamese businesses hesitate to be engaged in it due to some impediments.

One of the main hindrances is the cap on value of duty-free goods customers can buy at the zone, Mr. Tri said. “The cap has been fixed at VND500,000 ($26.3) per customer, and this rate fails to meet increasing demand for such goods.”

In addition, the offer of duty-free goods to customers is regulated to be terminated in 2012. This regulation is likely to constrain the development of border trade, he said. “If the Government does not to extend the term, many businesses will ‘die’.”

“Customers will never travel a long way here only to buy goods at the same prices anywhere else,” he explained. "For that reason, we have not dared to expanding business although the number of customers is on the rise.”

Another problems to the cross-border trade are the poor traffic infrastructure and cumbersome customs and quarantine procedures, he said.

To facilitate the cross-border trade, a one-stop custom policy should be adopted by both Vietnam and Cambodia in their border gate areas, Pham Thien Nghia, deputy head of the Office of the Dong Thap Province People’s Committee, said.

Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Nguyen Thanh Bien said the ministry would propose the government to step up the infrastructure improvement in the borderland with Cambodia, and streamline regulations on cross-border trade.

“Vietnam-Cambodia market” to be set up

The ministry is working with the Cambodian Trade Ministry to reach an agreement on tariff preference for farm produce, Mr. Bien said.

The two agencies are also proceeding with a plan to set up a “Vietnam-Cambodia border market” to boost bilateral trade, he said.

Mr. Nghia said Dong Thap Province would concentrate efforts on developing its border economy by 2015.

The province will strengthen trade, service, and tourism activities at the Dinh Ba border gate area and expand waterway goods transport at the Thuong Phuoc border gate, he said.

Meanwhile, Vuong Binh Thanh, standing deputy chairman of An Giang Province People’ s Committee, said the province would initiate a plan to build two corridors for trade and tourism between the Mekong Delta region and Cambodia.

The trade corridor will be an expressway connecting Can Tho Province with Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, while the tourism corridor will run along southern coastal provinces of both countries, he said.

9 die, 300 others suffer from diarrhea in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, May 23 (Xinhua) -- At least nine Cambodians have died and about 300 others have been medically treated and hospitalized by diarrhea in Cambodia's northeast province of Kratie, a provincial official said Sunday.

Chhneang Vutha, chief of Kratie provincial health department, told Xinhua by telephone from the province that at least nine people have died and about 300 others have been medically treated and hospitalized by diarrhea since March this year.

He said five districts in the province have been affected by the cause of diarrhea, and he attributed the deaths and suffering of the disease to lack of personal sanitation precaution as well as the lack of toilets in rural areas.

The first diarrhea case was reported in March this year during the dry season which normally begins from November through April.

Kratie is located about 320 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh.

Recently, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen has alerted his people to take more precaution on several causes including diarrhea and lighting that are harmful to human lives in recent months.

He, also, appealed to doctors and health officers around the country to provide more care to the people.

Editor: Deng Shasha

US funds poor farmers to make world safer

US Agency for International Development Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah speaks to journalists at Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya in this May 15, 2010 photo. AP photo

US Agency for International Development Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah speaks to journalists at Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya in this May 15, 2010 photo. AP photo

U.S. officials earlier this month unveiled a plan to fight hunger and promote global security by investing in agriculture in developing countries.

The United States will plow at least $3.5 billion over three years into programs to promote farming and fight hunger in low-income countries, mainly in Africa, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, chief Rajiv Shah said as he unveiled the plan called "Feed the Future."

"Combined with the investments of our partner countries, we believe this will lead to 40 million people over 10 years increasing their incomes by more than 10 percent a year, and we expect to reach 25 million children with nutritional interventions that will prevent stunting in 10 million kids," Shah told a symposium on agriculture and food security.

"Agricultural development is a springboard for broader economic development, and food security is the foundation for peace and opportunity and, therefore, our own national security," Shah told the gathering that included Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the agriculture ministers of Bangladesh and Mali.

"Feed the Future" is being launched at a time when more than one billion people are chronically hungry.

To U.S. Congresswoman Rosa de Lauro, that is one billion people who could be forced "into desperate acts" because of hunger. "Famine and starvation create the conditions for extremism around the world, the same extremism our men and women in the armed forces are fighting right now in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere," said de Lauro.

"We fight hunger and we undercut the recruiting base of those who would threaten our families," she said.

Recovery in Africa:

Sirleaf said rebuilding Liberia's farming sector was a key driver in the west African country's recovery, after back-to-back civil wars that claimed more than a quarter of a million lives between 1989 and 2003 and left the infrastructure in ruins.

"Recognizing that agricultural growth is more effective in reducing poverty than any other effort in any sector, our government is placing emphasis on this strategic sector," which ground to a halt during the years of war as farmers abandoned their fields to seek shelter in cities, said Sirleaf.

"Our policy goal in the sector is to revitalize operations that contribute to sustainable economic growth and development, to provide for security and nutrition, and to increase employment and income - all aimed at measurably reducing poverty," she said.

Since Sirleaf took office in 2006, Liberia has boosted production of rice by 43 percent, and seen annual economic growth of around seven percent.

Liberia is one of 20 countries named last month by USAID that will receive funding under "Feed the Future."

The "focus countries" were chosen based on how widespread hunger and poverty were and on how committed the countries were to developing opportunities for agriculture-led growth.

Twelve of the focus countries are in Africa: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

"By the end of this year, we should have 15 African country investment plans, representing a total population of 650 million people," said Shah, although he did not name the other three African countries.

Four focus countries are in Asia - Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal and Tajikistan.

The remainder are in Latin America: Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Khmer Krom Continue Push for Rights in Vietnam

Photo: Courtecy of Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation

Thach Ngoc Thach, left and newly re-ordained monk Tim Sakhorn, middle, drops by VOA Khmer while on a visit in the US.

Source : VOA

“The purpose of distorting history and slandering Vietnam’s policy toward the Khmer community is to undermine our national solidarity and to sabotage the fine relationship between the S.R.Vietnam and the Kingdom of Cambodia.”

Activists for the Khmer Kampuchea Krom have been asking for more help from US officials in what they say are rights abuses in Vietnam, but in a statement to VOA Khmer this week, the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington said their efforts amounted to “sabotage.”

“The purpose of distorting history and slandering Vietnam’s policy toward the Khmer community is to undermine our national solidarity and to sabotage the fine relationship between the S.R.Vietnam and the Kingdom of Cambodia,” the Vietnamese Embassy said in a statement to VOA Khmer.

The statement referred to a delegation of Khmer Krom to policymakers in Washington in recent weeks that included Tim Sakhorn, a monk who was imprisoned in Vietnam in 2007, and other monks and representatives.

The delegation is seeking a congressional hearing on their rights along with laws to protect ethnic Khmers in southern Vietnam, where they say rights to religion, education, land and other freedoms are limited by Vietnamese authorities.

In its statement, the Vietnamese Embassy said the government does not discriminate against the Khmer in the Mekong Delta, sometimes referred to in Cambodia as Kampuchea Krom, or Lower Cambodia.

“The Vietnamese State pursues a policy that ensures equality, unity and mutual assistance between and among these ethnic groups,” the embassy said. “Ethnic minorities including the Khmers are equally treated and receive due care from the State, which is trying its best to unceasingly improve their material and spiritual life including the needs of cultivation and housing land. Vietnamese laws ensure the right to freedom of beliefs and religions and freedom of non-beliefs or religion of all citizens.”

Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the US-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation, who was also a member of the Washington delegation, urged Vietnam to open itself to a fact-finding mission between the UN, US, human rights groups and other diplomats.

“The Khmer Kampuchea Krom delegation also wants to visit Kampuchea Krom with an escort by the media and an international delegation to find out the truth, as we do not want to see mutual accusations,” he said.

Khmer Krom activists want Vietnam to publicly apologize for rights abuses there and to grant more freedom of religion to Khmers in Vietnam, who practice a different form of Buddhism than the Vietnamese.

The issue of the Khmer Krom is highly charged in Cambodia, where many are still rankled by the loss of the Mekong Delta from a former Cambodian empire to the Vietnamese.

Thach Ngoc Thach said the region should be recognized as formerly Cambodian, as evidenced by Khmer Krom temples in the delta.

The Vietnamese Embassy said the area “has been a part of Vietnamese territory for hundreds of years” and called the Khmers living there “an inseparable part of the community of 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam.”

Nevertheless, each year a number of Khmer Krom seek to flee Vietnam, and Human Rights Watch has said their religious freedoms are often restricted in Vietnam, where many Khmer Krom fought alongside the US in the Vietnam War.

Some 100 asylum seekers are currently in Thailand, where they are seeking protection. However, those like Leang Sokha, a 50-year-old monk, say they are living in deteriorating circumstances and are not always able to achieve asylum status with the UN’s refugee office.

“The reason that the UNHCR rejected my refugee status was because they first asked me what nationality I was, and where did I come from,” Leang Sokha told VOA Khmer by phone from Thailand. Without the proper documents, he was unable to answer them convincingly.

Leang Sokha said he had fled Vietnam after the authorities there asked him to watch members of his Khmer Krom community, jailing him when he refused. He declined a second offer and fled, he said.

A UNHCR representative in Washington referred Khmer Krom questions to the office in Bangkok. Officials there could not be reached for comment.

Another 25 Khmer Krom who have fled Vietnam are seeking protection in Cambodia, but they two face hardships, activists say.

Thach Ngoc Thach said Cambodian policies that would allow citizenship for Khmer Krom have many criteria, including a Cambodian residence, birth certificate as Khmer, Khmer parentage and other documents.

He said he was confidence US officials would take a closer look at the Khmer Krom issue.

Venerable monk Kim Moul, who was another member of the Washington delegation, told VOA Khmer in a recent interview that he hoped the US would follow up.

He said he and other monks were defrocked by Vietnamese authorities, imprisoned and monitored after they were freed.

“We all fled to Cambodia and they came to arrest us in Cambodia,” he said. “Until I fled to Thailand, then UNHCR sent me to Sweden.”