Friday, May 31, 2013

Cambodian maids to earn at least RM1,020 a month

May 31, 2013

Salaries which start at S$420 (RM1,020.76), and no placement fees from employers. These proposals were part of a document the Cambodian government sent to selected maid agents, as Singapore moves ahead with a pilot scheme to see how well Cambodian maids adapt to life here.

The scheme, which runs until the end of 2015, will see its first batch of 400 maids arrive in July this year.
Cambodia has proposed employment terms for these maids in a memorandum of understanding (MoU), which was sent this week to the six maid agents picked by the Manpower Ministry to recruit the maids.
Workers with no experience will get a minimum of S$420 (RM1,020.76) a month.

Those with experience will be paid at least S$450 (RM1,093.67). If the maid works on all her four rest days each month, she has to be paid another S$70 (RM170.13).

Also, employers will not have to pay the maid’s placement fees upfront, similar to the recruitment scheme Jakarta introduced for Indonesian maids last year.

Under the previous system, employers paid these fees, and recouped them by deducting from the maid’s monthly salary.

The Singapore agents told The Straits Times that the terms were on a par with those for Indonesian and Filipino maids.

Nation Employment managing director Gary Chin, who travelled with the five other Singapore agents to Phnom Penh earlier this month, was impressed by the maids he met.

“Their English is quite good. Some spoke Mandarin and Chinese dialects which they picked up from working in Malaysia,” he said. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Khmer Rouge leader remorseful over genocide

May 31, 2013
Source: Canberra Times

A frail 86-year-old former Khmer Rouge leader has expressed remorse and accepted responsibility for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people during the organisation's murderous rule in the 1970s.

"I am responsible for what happened during the time of Democratic Kampuchea," said Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologue and "brother number two", referring to Cambodia's name during the Khmer Rouge's "killing fields" era from 1975 to 1979.

"I am very regretful for events that happened intentionally and unintentionally. I am morally responsible," he said, expressing "condolences" to victims sitting in a United Nations tribunal on Phnom Penh's outskirts.
No other Khmer Rouge leader has ever admitted responsibility or apologised for one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

The surprise admission came amid concerns the only two Khmer Rouge leaders facing charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity could die before verdicts are reached at a long-troubled tribunal that was set-up in 2006.

Earlier, 81-year-old Khieu Samphan, the organisation's former head of state, said he regretted the "unspeakable suffering" done to the Cambodian people under the Khmer Rouge and also offered condolences to victims.

But Mr Khieu Samphan continued to maintain his innocence, saying: "I cannot bear responsibility for those actions."

Throughout hearings he has claimed he knew nothing about the mass deaths from starvation, disease and execution because he spent his time in administrative offices in Phnom Penh.

"I was not aware of the heinous acts committed by other leaders that caused tragedy for the nation and people," he said.

Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said many victims had waited 30 years to hear any statement of apology from Khmer Rouge leaders.

The tribunal, partly funded by Australia, costing more than $150 million has been dogged by walk-outs, strikes and allegations of political interference by Cambodian's government, which is refusing to allow more Khmer Rouge leaders to be prosecuted.

The tribunal has delivered only one verdict since it began hearings in 2011: a life sentence to Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, the chief of the notorious Tuol Sleng interrogation and torture centre in Phnom Penh.
Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge's former foreign minister, died in March before the tribunal delivered a verdict in his case.

In September last year the tribunal freed Ieng Sary's 80-year-old wife Ieng Thirith, the Khmer Rouge's most senior woman, on the grounds she had diminished mental capacity.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blackouts in Southeast Asia Hatch Political Conspiracy Theories

 On May 8, a sudden outage in five power plants in the Philippines plunged 40 percent of Luzon Island into darkness, including Metropolitan Manila. Meanwhile, on May 21, mysterious lightning allegedly affected power transmission in Thailand, triggering the kingdom’s “biggest blackout ever” in its 14 southern provinces.
The following day, a crane error knocked out a major transmission line in Vietnam, immediately causing a ten-hour blackout across 22 provinces in the nation’s south. Affected cities included Vietnam’s southern commercial hub, Ho Chi Minh City, and Phnom Penh in neighboring Cambodia. 

Three weeks after the Luzon blackout, Philippine energy officials admitted that they are still clueless as to what caused the power plants to malfunction. But at least they clarified that a total of 14 plants conked out during the unforgettable day of darkness. 

Meanwhile, the Thai blackout inconvenienced eight million residents and was the country’s worst power interruption in 30 years. According to the Federation of Thai Industries, the resultant economic damage could reach 10 billion baht.

In Vietnam, the blackout affected a third of the country and was said to be the first large-scale power breakdown in 100 years. Cambodia suffered, too, because its power supply is partly provided by Vietnam. 
Even if these blackouts were not connected to each other, they remind us that in the age of tablets and smartphones, governments that fail to deliver an uninterrupted power supply will quickly find themselves bombarded by angry comments from even the most apolitical of citizens – especially netizens. Further, politicians must answer not only persistent questions about the causes of blackouts; they must also debunk conspiracy theories – especially those that seem credible. 

In the case of the Philippines, the power went off just a few days before the scheduled midterm polls, which led some to suspect that that unusual blackout could be a rehearsal to stage systematic electoral fraud. Indeed, power interruptions were reported on election day, but they seem to have been isolated cases. 
Meanwhile, in Thailand, the blackout was concentrated in the south where Muslim rebels have been waging an armed insurgency since 2004. This fact prompted many residents to fear that the power outage could have been a prelude to an intense military attack. Soldiers were dispatched to assuage the public’s fear.
Some academics have taken another view, asserting that the blackout was a ploy by the government meant to influence public opinion in favor of building coal power plants in areas where there is strong community resistance to such projects. In the aftermath of the blackout, public opinion favors the resignation of the energy minister.

The blackouts, accidental or not, were too big to ignore and these should force Southeast Asian governments to review their power infrastructure. It is interesting that during the Luzon blackout, the proposal to use the Philippines’ mothballed nuclear plant was revived, triggering a lively debate about the advantages of harnessing the country’s renewable energy potential.

Finally, Cambodia must brainstorm other ways to generate power since it was already experiencing severe power cuts in recent months. The government needs to think of a fast solution before “powerless” citizens take to the streets and demand reliable electricity.

Officials in Phnom Penh – and the whole region for that matter – should learn from the experience of Burma, where protests arose in its major cities during a power shortage crisis exactly a year ago.

Thousands keep up protest at Cambodian garment factory

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - About 3,500 workers protested on Wednesday at a factory in Cambodia that makes clothing for U.S. sportswear company Nike, refusing to give up their campaign for higher pay despite a crackdown by police this week.

At least 23 people were injured on Monday when police with riot gear and stun batons were deployed to disperse about 3,000 workers, most of them women, who had blocked a road outside the factory owned by Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing in Kampong Speu province, west of the capital, Phnom Penh.
One woman who was two months pregnant lost her child after military police pushed her to the ground, according to a trade union representative.

The workers walked out on strike on May 21. Sun Vanny, president of the Free Trade Union (FTU) at Sabrina, said about 4,000 workers were expected to join the protest on Thursday.

"We will continue the strike to demand what they want," Vanny said, adding that union representatives had been invited for talks on Wednesday but no agreement had been reached.

"We want to know why violence was used against the woman and workers, we want to know who hired these officers to come," he added, referring to Monday's clash.

A Nike spokeswoman in the United States told Reuters by email on Monday that the company was "concerned" about the allegations that workers had been hurt and was investigating. Nike requires contract manufacturers to respect employees' rights to freedom of association, the spokeswoman added
Hong Luy, chief of administration for Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing, said the company could not afford to raise workers' pay. She said workers made up to $102 a month and the strike had forced the factory to shut down until Friday.

Kheng Tito, spokesman for military police, who were deployed on Monday, denied that his men had used violence. He said some policemen had been hurt by workers throwing stones and he denied that any women had lost a baby.

Many Western brands, attracted by cheap labor, have turned to Asia to get their garments made at a cost that will make them attractive to customers in the troubled economies of Europe and North America looking for discounted clothing.

A series of deadly incidents at factories in Bangladesh, the world's biggest clothing exporter after China, including the collapse of a building last month that killed more than 1,000 people, has focused the world's attention on safety standards.

Strikes over pay and working conditions have become common in Cambodia, where garments accounted for 75 percent of total exports of $5.22 billion in 2011, according to the International Monetary Fund.
This month, two people were killed at a factory producing running shoes for Asics when part of a warehouse fell in on them.

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)

Nurturing financial journalism in Cambodia

 Author: Mathieu Robbins

It was an absolute joy to have the chance to help run a workshop in Cambodia, a country that after years of turmoil is trying to get a free and credible press off the ground.

Over a dozen local journalists took part in the two-day Economic and Financial news workshop in the capital, Phnom Penh. The sessions were organised by the International Monetary Fund, the Washington, DC-based global lender. Their goal was to help build skills and knowledge about economic and financial reporting in one of south-east Asia's fastest-growing economies, which saw a decade of double-digit growth through 2008, according to the World Bank.

The country however is still recovering from a traumatic political meltdown in the late 1970s that saw more than a fifth of the population, according to UNICEF, die under the Khmer Rouge regime – which targeted intellectuals such as journalists with particular attention. Reporters Sans Frontieres, a Paris, France-based NGO that evaluates the treatment of journalists worldwide, announced while we were running the course that it had pulled Cambodia's rank down 26 places to the 143rd worst country – out of the 179 the organisation ranked -- for press freedom in its 2013 report. To their credit however, the Cambodian authorities allowed our workshop.

Considering the challenges faced by the local press, there was no shortage of intelligent and even humorous questions from the Khmer journalists assembled in the workshop, which Melanie Cheary and I facilitated.
"What happens if you're doing a story where one of your sources is a prostitute, and she asks to be paid?" asked one journalist, during the ethics discussion where we were setting out the need to gain knowledge and information without payment, as according to the Reuters Trust Principles a journalist should never pay a source.
This and so many other questions and valuable discussions came up during the course. We started with a workshop on basic macro-economics and followed this with sessions on the role and importance of financial journalists in developing an economy, as well as markets including bonds and currencies.

The ratio of women in attendance was low - three participants. But despite initially being quiet – partly possibly intimidated by a perceived lack of English language skills – at the start of the course, by the end of the second day they were proudly speaking for themselves in discussions.

Another of the highlights was when the attendees were split into two teams - one playing a rich country and one a poor and dissolute one, which was seeking aid from its rich cousin. This is clearly reminiscent of Europe, where several countries including Greece and Cyprus have recently had to get aid from richer ones like Germany, with help from the IMF.

We then had the idea to invite our IMF contacts to step in, and each to advise one of the groups.
Our students really got the opportunity to learn from the horse's mouth.

Cambodian PM encourages citizens to learn Chinese

Xinhua | 2013-5-30

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday encouraged citizens to study Chinese language, saying that the language could be used as an official language internationally.

Speaking at the opening of the 2013 Joint Conference of Confucius Institutes in Asia at the Peace Palace, the prime minister urged the Confucius Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia to continue its efforts to encourage more Cambodian people to study the Chinese language.

He said currently, the Asian region, especially China, has become the locomotive of global growth and prosperity.

"China has not only had the most population, but also achieved rapidly economic growth. These factors have been enhancing the importance of the Chinese language in the world," he told the conference.

"I think that knowing Chinese language will not only have friends around the world, but also have opportunity to progress higher."

Hun Sen said Cambodia has broadly opened for its people to study foreign languages and foreign language schools have mushroomed nationwide.

"A lot of schools have provided Chinese language courses including the Confucius Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia and its branches," he said.

Khlot Thyda, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said since its establishment in August 2009 to date, the Confucius Institutes at the Royal Academy of Cambodia have provided Chinese language training to more than 6,800 learners.

Besides, there are other 57 Chinese schools in the country teaching Chinese language to more than 40,000 students, according to the Chinese Association in Cambodia.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ambassador opens Kuwaiti projects in Cambodia

May 29, 2013

Kuwaiti Ambassador to Cambodia Dherar Al-Tuwaijri inaugurated several Kuwaiti charity and humanitarian projects in Cambodia's
Kuwaiti Ambassador to Cambodia Dherar Al-Tuwaijri inaugurated several Kuwaiti charity and humanitarian projects in Cambodia's 
(with photos) KUALA LUMPUR, May 29 (KUNA) -- The Kuwaiti Ambassador to Cambodia Dherar Al-Tuwaijri inaugurated several Kuwaiti charity and humanitarian projects in Cambodia's Takeo Province on Wednesday, accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister, Minister in charge of the Office of Council of Ministers Sok An.

The opening ceremony was attended by officials including the undersecretary for vocational training, undersecretary of religious affairs, and the Ambassador of Pakistan.

A statement by the Kuwaiti Embassy on the occasion said the projects were funded by Kuwait's Social Reform Society in cooperation with Al-Barakah charity in Cambodia, at a total of USD 185,000. The projects included construction of two mosques, six schools, and seven housing units, and drilling of 34 wells, purchase of four medical convoys, and distribution of relief supplies to 470 families in need. This was in addition to purchase and distribution of fishing boats, sponsoring 10 students, sponsoring 20 orphans, and paying salaries of three tutors.

The ambassador was honored with a royal medal, as was the representative of Social Reform Society, the statement said, while Al-Barakah Charity chairman was honored with a royal Cambodian order. Another 30 institutions, authorities, and benefactors were also awarded royal orders in appreciation of their support of such projects.

Social Reform Society funded many projects in Cambodia in recent years in cooperation with Al-Barakah Charity. The projects included construction of schools and homes and villages for the poor in many areas of the Takeo Province.(end) mam.rj.wsa KUNA 291115 May 13NNNN

'Three hurt' as Cambodian police break up land protest

PHNOM PENH, May 29, 2013 (AFP) - Three people were knocked unconscious after Cambodian police fired water jets at a protest over disputed land in the capital Wednesday, an activist said.

More than 100 people staged the sit-down protest in the centre of Phnom Penh to call for more compensation or a return of land given by the government to a Chinese company for a commercial development.

Activist Tep Vanny told AFP that three protesters were knocked out after they were hit by water jets.
"Land rights issues are getting worse in Cambodia," she said, adding the protest was all demonstrators could do to force the government to reconsider its decision to evict them -- with little compensation -- from Phnom Penh's lakeside area.

The land belonged to the government and was handed to the Chinese firm, which has so far left it unused.
"We were forced to use fire trucks to spray water on them to clear the street for traffic," Phnom Penh's police chief Chuon Sovann told AFP.

"Blocking the street affects the rights of other people, especially patients who need to go to hospital," he said, referring a nearby hospital.

He said he had heard that some activists may have been hurt, adding officers called ambulances to help them.
The dispute is the latest in a series of high-profile cases of alleged forced evictions and land grabs by powerful interests.

Activists say land conflicts are Cambodia's most pressing human rights issue and protests have intensified since last year.

Forced evictions across the country have displaced thousands of families and prompted protests and violent clashes between residents and armed security forces.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cambodia: Move Forward Judiciary, Land and Electoral Reforms

Cambodia Must Move Forward with Judiciary, Land and Electoral Reforms -- UN Expert

A United Nations independent expert today called on the Cambodian Government to keep moving forward with judiciary, electoral, economic and land reforms, stressing his readiness to assist the country with remaining challenges to implement his recommendations.

"Cambodia has come a long way, but that there is still some way to go in promoting and protecting human rights, strengthening good governance, enhancing the independence and capacity of State institutions responsible for upholding people's rights," said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi at the end of his ninth fact-finding mission to the country.

Mr. Subedi noted that progress on judiciary reforms "remains very slow" but was encouraged by the fact that his recommendations to strengthen the parliament's role in protective human rights appear to be under active consideration by the National Assembly and Senate.

Regarding land reform, Mr. Subedi pointed out that two of his recommendations -- a moratorium on economic land concessions and more speedy land titling -- were moving forward.

The current land titling programme, he said, "is a unique opportunity to address the tenure security of many families, including those excluded from this and previous titling efforts, and those in conflict with more powerful individuals and private sector interests."

However, he stressed that further implementation of the existing framework on land rights and strengthening of land management institutions is necessary for gains to be sustainable.

Recommendations on electoral reform are also being considered, and Mr. Subedi urged all parties and the National Election Committee to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections in the upcoming national elections in July.

"All sides should play by the rules, demonstrate maturity in debate, and not engage in insulting games. All sides must be able to play on a level playing field," he said.

The independent expert also expressed concern at the restrictions of freedom of expression in the country, and impunity for a long list of crimes for which no one has been brought to justice. "I urge the Government to expedite its investigation of such cases and bring to justice the perpetrators," Mr. Subedi said.

During his visit, Mr. Subedi met with Government officials, as well as members of the National Assembly and the judiciary. He is also held meetings with human rights defenders, representatives from civil society organizations and communities as well as the donor community.

Special rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. Mr. Subedi will present his next report to the Council at its September 2013 session.

Cambodia: UN Ready to Assist with Remaining Challenges

“Ready to Assist with Remaining Challenges” – UN Special Rapporteur On Human Rights In Cambodia 

GENEVA / PHNOM PENH (27 May 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, called on the Cambodian Government to keep moving forward on the implementation of his recommendations regarding the judiciary, parliament, electoral reform and economic and land concessions. Mr. Subedi reiterated that he “stands ready to assist with remaining challenges.”

“Cambodia has come a long way, but that there is still some way to go in promoting and protecting human rights, strengthening good governance, enhancing the independence and capacity of State institutions responsible for upholding people’s rights”, the independent expert said* at the end of his ninth fact-finding mission to the country. Mr. Subedi has thus far submitted four substantive reports to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.  

On reform of the judiciary, the Special Rapporteur noted that progress “remains very slow.” However, he noted that “recommendations to strengthen parliament’s role in protecting human rights appear to be under active consideration by the National Assembly and Senate.”

On land issues, the rights expert pointed out that two of his recommendations were moving forward, namely a moratorium on economic land concessions and more speedy land titling. The current land titling programme “is a unique opportunity to address the tenure security of many families, including those excluded from this and previous titling efforts, and those in conflict with more powerful individuals and private sector interests,” he said.

“Nevertheless, further implementation of the existing framework on land rights and strengthening of land management institutions is necessary for these gains to be sustainable,” Mr. Subedi said, stressing however that little progress has been made in some chronic land disputes, and in reducing the criminalization of land activists.

Similarly, recommendations on electoral reform are being considered. Although access to the voter list and the composition of the National Election Committee (NEC) have been improved, the Special Rapporteur said he was aware of concerns raised, in particular over the voter registration list. “If founded, these concerns should be addressed,” he said.

As the country approached the national elections due in July 2013, Mr. Subedi urged all parties and the NEC to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections. “All sides should play by the rules, demonstrate maturity in debate, and not engage in insulting games. All sides must be able to play on a level playing field,” he underscored.  

The human rights expert also expressed concern at the restrictions of freedom of expression in the country, and impunity for a long list of crimes for which no one has been brought to justice. “I urge the Government to expedite its investigation of such cases and bring to justice the perpetrators,” he said.

“It is imperative in the exercise of my mandate to have the opportunity to interact with all segments of the society,” Mr. Subedi said, underscoring that the key pillars to his work as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia are independence, impartiality and objectivity.

The expert welcomed the “candid, cordial and constructive” dialogue he held with senior members of the Royal Government during the mission. “They were forthcoming with information, acknowledged deficiencies where they exist, and prepared to work with me,” he said.

Speaking of protests organised against his work during the visit, the Special Rapporteur said that they seem to have been orchestrated and represented the views of a tiny minority in the country. “The protests have not and will not distract the work that I am mandated to do in Cambodia by the United Nations,” he underlined. Mr. Subedi also expressed appreciation for the messages of support he had received in reaction from people from various walks of life.

During his visit, the human rights expert met with key Government leaders, as well as members of the National Assembly and the judiciary. He is also held meetings with human rights defenders, representatives from civil society organizations and communities as well as the donor community and the United Nations Country Team.

Mr Subedi will present his next report to the Human Rights Council at its September 2013 session.
(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement:

Thailand to meet Cambodia on special economic zones

BANGKOK, 28 May 2013 (NNT) – Thailand and Cambodia are set to meet on June 10-11, during which Thailand will propose two special economic zones in Sa Kaeo and Trat provinces.

The Thai team comprising 10 ministers will be led by Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who will meet with Mr Hor Namhong, Cambodia’s Foreign Minister, to discuss economic cooperation.

According to Mr Surapong, Thailand will propose two special economic zones linking Sa Keo’s Aranyaprathet District and Poipet town in Banteay Meancheay Province, and between Trat’s Khlong Yai district and Cambodia's Koh Kong Province.

Furthermore, Mr Surapong said there would be talks about public utility development, energy cooperation, human resource development, and improvement of the Cambodian people's quality of life.

The meeting will be held on June 10-11, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Cambodia marks ancient royal plowing ceremony in eastern province

May 28, 2013

Cambodia on Tuesday observed the ancient royal plowing ceremony, a ritual to mark the annual start of agricultural season in this Southeast Asian nation, where about 80 percent of the population are farmers.

The ceremony, held in Kampong Cham provincial town, was presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni and attended by President of the National Assembly Heng Samrin. Officials and representatives from the diplomatic corps and several hundred spectators were also present.

At the event, royal oxen were used to plow and predict crop yields and weather in the year.

King Sihamoni designated Lun Limthai, governor of Kampong Cham province, as the King of the plowing ceremony and the governor's wife, Sun Nang as the Queen of sowing ceremony.

The designated King plowed the rice field by using royal oxen and the appointed Queen sowed seeds on the furrow as the symbol of planting.

After three rounds of plowing across the field, the oxen were offered 7 plates of food: rice, corn, green beans, sesame, water, fresh-cut grass, and wine.

Customarily, if the oxen eat a lot of the offered food, a bumper harvest is expected in the year, but if they eat little, it is believed that the yields will be low.

If the oxen eat grass and wine, it will be predicted that cattle will be plagued by epidemics, and if they drink a lot of water, plenty of water is expected.

At the event on Tuesday, the oxen ate only corn. A court soothsayer predicted that corn crops would give good yields this year.

"This is just the prediction based on the custom of the royal plowing ceremony in the ancient time," Kang Keng, chief of the soothsayers at the Royal Palace, said at the event. "This event is to announce that the agricultural crop planting season has come. "

During the ceremony, there is also a one-day fair of agricultural products, which are made in the province.

Cambodia P.M. seeks law to punish denial of atrocities

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The Cambodian prime minister said he wants a law to punish people who deny that atrocities occurred during the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, apparently trying to link his political opponents to the widely despised movement.

Hun Sen's appeal to Parliament on Monday comes ahead of a July 28 election his Cambodian People's Party is expected to win by a landslide. Hun Sen has been campaigning aggressively and has suggested several times that an opposition victory would be akin to bringing back the Khmer Rouge, even though there is no connection between the two.

Hun Sen, an authoritarian elected leader, was once a Khmer Rouge cadre himself, and his political allies include people linked by scholars to Khmer Rouge atrocities. The Khmer Rouge are widely held responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people.

Pro-government media have publicized comments allegedly made by Kem Sokha, deputy president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, that exhibits at the famous Tuol Sleng genocide museum were faked, even though the camp's commander confessed that it was a Khmer Rouge torture center and he was found guilty by a U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal.

Kem Sokha's party says his words were taken out of context.

Last week, Hun Sen suggested that the opposition party shares the philosophy of the long-defunct Khmer Rouge regime.

In a speech to villagers in southern Cambodia, he said the Cambodia National Rescue Party was promising voters it would cancel their banking debts if it won the election. He likened the idea to the communist Khmer Rouge's eradication of the banking system when they took over Cambodia in 1975.

Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann denied the allegation, saying his party is seeking only to have onerous interest rates reduced.

Speaking Monday at the inauguration of a Buddhist pagoda, Hun Sen called for a law to be implemented to silence people who deny that genocide took place and to ensure that the Khmer Rouge movement cannot return. Two top Khmer Rouge leaders who are still alive are currently in U.N. custody being tried on charges of genocide and other crimes.

"Anyone who says there was no Khmer Rouge genocidal regime in Cambodia has to be punished," Hun Sen said, adding that similar laws have been implemented in Europe.

Several European countries have Holocaust denial laws which ban the dissemination of materials seeking to deny that Hitler carried out a mass extermination of Jews and others.

Kem Sokha could not be reached for comment Monday but his party issued a statement calling Hun Sen's statement politically motivated and saying that Kem Sokha's words had been distorted.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party faces an uphill battle against Hun Sen's well-organized and financed political machine, and is handicapped by having its leader, Sam Rainsy, forced into exile to avoid jail on what are widely seen as politically motivated charges.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering the ‘Vietnam War’ in Cambodia

 By May 27, 2013
By Michelle Tolson 
Memorial Day is traditionally a time for remembering war veterans in the U.S. and this year it coincides with a 13-year initiative created by President Obama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
Taking into consideration Cambodia’s part in the war, the month of May in 1970 heralded a tumultuous period after President Nixon announced the “official” U.S. invasion of Cambodia to flush out North Vietnamese troops.  Disgusted, anti-war activists mobilized at Kent State on May 1, protesting through the 4th, when four students were shot to death and nine wounded in a violent crackdown by the National Guard.  This sparked national outrage and further protests erupted across the country including one at Jackson State, an African American university protest which received little press, on May 14 where two black students were killed and 12 wounded by police.

While these events sparked changes in U.S. policy toward handling protests and its involvement in Vietnam, life became much worse for Cambodians.
A column of US infantrymen, soldiers of the Third Brigade task force of the 25th infantry Division, seen patrolling the Cambodia-Vietnam border in 1966. Pic: AP.

Unofficially Cambodia had been bombed by the U.S. since March, 1969 which continued until August 1973, in a campaign called “Operation Menu”.  A researcher at Yale estimated 2.7 million tons of ordinance was dropped from U.S. planes (exceeding WWII bombings), which actually began under the Johnson administration in 1965.  Cambodians fled to Phnom Penh for safety, or joined the ranks of a guerilla war known as the Khmer Rouge, which is said to have grown in response to the bombing.

When Saigon fell to communists in the spring of 1975, Phnom Penh also fell to the Khmer Rouge, who unleashed a reign of terror.  The refugee-packed capital was forced into the countryside by the new socialist regime that modeled itself after China’s Cultural Revolution.  An estimated two to three million were starved to death in extreme communist work camps from 1975 until 1979, or killed outright.

The Khmer Rouge Years

Sek Sokunroth, an NGO worker in Phnom Penh said, “My dad was young, so didn’t remember much [of the fall of Phnom Penh].  He just knew that [his dad] went missing after an explosion.” Sokunroth’s 10-year-old father fled south with his four siblings and mother near Kampong Speu.  When the Khmer Rouge came, the family was separated into different work camps. “My dad and his brother went to a children’s camp but escaped one day to visit [their mom].  They saw each other for just a few moments before the Khmer Rouge saw them.  [Knowing they could be killed] they swam across the river to get away and jumped into a pit filled with dead people [to hide],” said Sokunroth.
Human skulls of the Khmer Rouge's victims are on display at Choeung Ek stupa, former Khmer Rouge killing field in the outskirt of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Pic: AP.

“There were five kids but three died and two lived— my father and his brother.  My grandma had to watch her children die in front of her.  [They would beg] ‘Mom I need food, I need to eat.’  My grandma would tell them that the whole family would be killed if she took some food.”  Even children and old people were forced to grow crops for the Khmer Rouge but could not eat them and were given meager rice rations instead.  Those caught taking crops could be killed, said Sokunroth.

Vietnamese Occupation

Vietnam invaded Cambodia and drove the Khmer Rouge from the capital in 1979, but for many Cambodians these years were just as deadly.

Reacxmey Angkor was born “between 1976 and 1977” in Battambang, where her parents met at a work camp.  In 1979 when the Vietnamese came, her family got separated, fled to Malaysia but fortunately reunited there.

In 1983 her family decided to return to Cambodia, thinking the war had officially ended. “The war was not over.  We were being bombed left and right by the Vietnamese. Landmines exploded, villages were gunned and burned down to the ground,” she said. Refugees who fled to Thailand were forced back.  “I spent a few years of childhood on both sides of [Dangrek Mountain]. My parents call it ‘Landmine Garden,” said Reacxmey, now a mental health worker and activist living in NYC.

Those that lived near the Vietnamese border also struggled.  Srun Srorn, a human rights activist in Phnom Penh, was born in the 1980s.  “It was the hardest time of my life and the rest of the family.  Nothing was left from the Khmer Rouge. Twelve members were in the family [and] we never had enough food to eat. My dad told [me] each family received 12m x 200m of land, no matter if you had a big or small family.   All economic flow was controlled by government… They limited the price — we could not bargain,” said Srun.

A Traumatized Nation

Bill Herod worked in Vietnam during the war for an NGO in the late ’60s and early ’70s.  During the 1980s, he made work trips into Cambodia twice a year.  “Cambodia was much, much worse in many respects than Vietnam.  The whole society, the community, family, were torn apart.  This was because of the Khmer Rouge, the American bombing, the civil war, the destruction of the infrastructure — all the professional classes were destroyed.”  Herod, who has lived in Cambodia since 1994, said Cambodians still remember the conflict which continued through the 1980s. “All survivors of that period are permanently scarred from the experience and some of that is passed on to their children and grandchildren,” he said.

Daniel McLaughlin, one of the researchers of a recent study published by the Leitner Center on Cambodia’s mental health system, said Cambodia has some of the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the world, from 14.2 percent to 33.4 percent in survivors of the Khmer Rouge and following conflict.  The global average is under 0.4 percent. While PTSD has been shown to pass down through generations, McLaughlin said many respondents attributed Cambodia’s alarming mental health statistics to the poor human rights situation and extreme poverty.

However, despite the country’s many problems, many Cambodians accept things as they are.  Herod explained that the relative calm is seen as “tenuous” by survivors of the conflict.

Sokunroth agreed.  His parents worry about his activism, telling him: “You don’t know how hard it is to build a life up from ground zero.  Every second, you enjoy your life.  It’s living from second to second—American bombs, KR bombs.”

But there are some Cambodians who think the U.S. should address its part in the war.  “Many Khmer people who are older than me still want [the U.S.] to look at what they made and created during that time.  Many [were] killed, disabled, [with] mental problems and side affects till now,” said Srun.

While the Obama administration is now working to honor Vietnam veterans, a third of who were drafted, for their part in the controversial war, no U.S. president has officially apologized for the suffering caused to Cambodians from Operation Menu.

About the author
Michelle Tolson has contributed to Inter Press Service (IPS), the Global Post, Women’s Media Center, Women’s International Perspective,  Women’s News Network, the UB Post of Mongol News Group and the Phnom Penh Post.  She has also worked on research projects in New York City and Cambodia.   

UN Envoy Remains Defiant Despite Student Protest

U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi wrapped up his ninth mission to Cambodia on Saturday, saying the criticism he has received, including a protest last week by students calling for an end to his mandate, had only strengthened his resolve to continue his work.

Though Mr. Subedi took away some positives from his weeklong mission, it was again blighted by unfavorable remarks from members of government, allegations that some media organizations were instructed not to re­port about his visit and a student protest at a lecture he was delivering about investment that ap­peared to be organized by one of the ruling CPP’s youth movements.
U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi holds a press conference at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Lauren Crothers/The Cambodia Daily)
U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi holds a press conference at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Lauren Crothers/The Cambodia Daily)

Still, speaking at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia on Saturday, Mr. Subedi told reporters that he was satisfied with the outcome of several meetings held with senior government officials and that he was encouraged by signs that the government is implementing his recommendations, particularly related to judicial reform.

“There were two protests organized during my mission against my human rights work in the country, but they have not and will not deflate or distract me from the work that I am mandated to do in the country by the United Nations,” Mr. Subedi said in prepared remarks.

“If one were to go by the media reports, both protests seem to have been orchestrated and seem to represent the views of a tiny minority in the country whose intention was to destabilize me. On the contrary, I was greatly encouraged by the huge volume of messages of support that I received from people from various walks of life for the work that I am doing in Cambodia for the greater good of the country and for a sustainable peace, democracy and prosperity and I will continue in my endeavor.”

In an interview after his statement, Mr. Subedi said he intends to continue his work in Cambodia and that, unlike his predecessors, he would not stand down from his position due to opposition from the government.
“Many people may think because of the protest that I’m disheartened and discredited—I’m not. Actually, my resolve to help the people of this county has actually increased during this mission,” Mr. Subedi said, referring to a protest on Tuesday evening during which students angrily unveiled banners demanding that he end his mandate in the country.

“Some people are saying it has generated much interest among the youth in issues like democracy and good governance in this country. If that’s the case, it’s a welcome development. The younger people should be interested in these issues. If it contributed in any manner to that effect, it’s welcome.”

Mr. Subedi said that if his mandate—which is typically renewed on an annual basis—is renewed, he will review his position. “But at the moment, I’m not tired of Cambodia,” he said.

His predecessor, Kenyan law professor Yash Ghai, endured a litany of verbal abuse from government officials, particularly Prime Minister Hun Sen, over the course of his three-year term as special rapporteur.
It drove him to resign in late 2008, and in his resignation letter he decried a lack of support from the U.N. as he withstood the government backlash against his work.

Likewise, Mr. Ghai’s predecessor, Austrian law professor Peter Leuprecht, stepped down after five years of fractious relations with the government.

But Mr. Subedi said such criticism was just part of the human rights envoy’s role in Cambodia, and that he was committed to seeing beyond the tension that comes with each mission to the country.

“The treatment meted out to me and the comments made about me are nothing new and they don’t surprise me,” he said.

“The relationship between the special rapporteur and government here has always been a difficult one. But I think I’m someone with a high degree of resilience.

“I’m personally and professionally committed to human rights. As a lawyer, my first and foremost loyalty is to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. That’s what I believe in. There­fore, the main objective is to do your best under the circumstances. What I’m doing is [an] unpaid job, but I’m doing something for a higher objective. Those of us who have the ability, those of us appointed by the U.N., should not shy away from this higher objective because you are subject to harassment and intimidation,” he added.

Last week, Mr. Subedi met privately with Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Cambodian Human Rights Committee Chairman Om Yentieng and National Election Committee President Im Suosdey.

“The dialogue was candid, cordial and constructive,” he said. “They were forthcoming with information, acknowledged deficiencies where they exist, and prepared to work with me in a constructive manner to address the remaining challenges concerning greater protection of human rights, stronger democracy and genuine rule of law.

“Regarding the recommendations made in my report on the ways and means of enhancing the independence and capacity of the judiciary, I note that progress in the implementation of these recommendations has been very slow,” Mr. Subedi’s statement says.

“Nonetheless, I was encouraged by the assurance given to me that drafts of the three fundamental laws [on the status of judges and prosecutors, on organizing the courts and on the Supreme Council of Magistracy] that were part of my key recommendations are almost ready and will be tabled before Parliament in the first semester of 2014.”

He said that while he was informed about the difficulties involved in implementing some of his recommendations on parliamentary reform, he was “encouraged by a positive response and a willingness” to make as many changes as possible.

The visit came just two months before the July 28 national election and amid concerns from independent election monitors that the vote would be the least fair in the 20 years since the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cam­bodia organized the country’s first election since the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

Mr. Subedi, however, said this visit to Cambodia stood in stark contrast to his previous one when no government officials agreed to meet with him.

“It has been up and down,” he said in an interview.

“For instance, during my last mission, no government minister was willing to meet with me, but this time they were not only willing but forthcoming with information, saying that my recommendations were being implemented, taken on board, and even giving me a strict timeframe…it gives me a sense of satisfaction that my work is making a contribution here.”

He said he is not sure why there was an apparent change of heart, but that there appears to be an understanding that the government would benefit more if it cooperated.

“No matter what they will try to do to distract me, deflate me, destabilize me, I have maintained my independence, objectivity and impartiality,” he said. “Perhaps there was a greater realization of the work that I do here…the nature of the job. Not having a sense of cooperation isn’t helpful for the government either in the eyes of the international community. So they seem to have taken a decision to interact with me this time.”

Friday, May 24, 2013

Khmer Krom Witness Quizzes Khieu Samphan on Missing Relative

The Cambodia Daily

Civil party witness Chau Ny—who was the first member of the Khmer Krom community to testify at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in November—was recalled to the stand Thursday to answer questions on claims he made previously that defendant Khieu Samphan had information related to the death of one of his relatives.
In court Thursday, he was given the opportunity to directly address former head of state Khieu Samphan about the disappearance of his family member and receive an immediate response.

In his victim impact statement on November 23, 59-year-old Mr. Ny—who survived Pol Pot’s brutal regime partly by changing his name and accent—told the court that Khieu Samphan had allegedly written to his wife’s uncle, Chau Sao, a prominent Khmer Krom banker.

The letter allegedly called for Chau Sao to come to Phnom Penh. When Chau Sao refused, a second letter was sent, after which he disappeared.

Mr. Ny asked Khieu Samphan at the time: “Where did he die? This is what I want to know. If I know where he died, I can find his skeletal remains, so that I can carry out a religious ceremony for his soul.”

This exchange prompted Khieu Samphan’s defense team to call on the Trial Chamber to have Mr. Ny return to the stand so that he could be asked about the allegations.

In having that request granted, Mr. Ny was on Thursday able to directly ask Khieu Samphan, who has been charged with crimes against humanity, genocide and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Con­ventions, about the fate of his relative, who he described as “famous” in the Khmer Krom community and “a person of justice, not corrupt.”

“Mr. Khieu Samphan, what was the letter you sent to my uncle about? Because during the first time, he refused to return to Phnom Penh unless all the people were allowed to return,” he said.

“Why has Mr. Chau Sao disappeared ever since? If Khieu Samphan knows where Chau Sao died or disappeared, if so, can Mr. Khieu Samphan tell me please where he could have disappeared…where we can hold a traditional ritual ceremony?”

Khieu Samphan, 81, then stood to directly respond to the question and denied having ever written the letters.
“Allow me to inform you that I used to know Mr. Chau Sao during the 1960s,” Khieu Samphan said. “He was the president of a bank, the National Credit Bank. I understand your feelings, your suffering, and how your family could have felt by trying to find out about your uncle’s whereabouts and information on his fate…. Unfortunately, I have no information at all about the fate of your uncle. And I did not have any information about him during Democratic Kampuchea.”

Khieu Samphan insisted that there were no soldiers under his command that he could compel to deliver such a letter, and said that he too had had to flee Phnom Penh and abandon his family.

“I fully understand that you have the sympathy toward your uncle and for this reason, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk to you in person so that you understand my heart. I am talking from the bottom of my heart so that everything is clear and your mind is clear.”

Jennifer Holligan, a senior legal associate with Access to Justice Asia, which represents 134 Khmer Krom civil parties in Case 002, said the direct exchange was un­precedented in the case, and made her “pleasantly surprised.”

“[Mr. Ny] felt extremely grateful to the court for being there and having the opportunity to raise questions about Khieu Samphan, but he’s not satisfied with the answer,” she added.

Khmer Krom, or lower Khmer, which refers to the ethnic Khmer community in Southern Vietnam, were specifically targeted under the Khmer Rouge regime. Next week, hearings will focus primarily on the suffering experienced by civil parties.

Cambodia records 30% premium growth in first quarter

PHNOM PENH, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia's insurance industry earned a total premium of 12 million U.S. dollars in the first three months of 2013, up 30 percent compared with the same period last year, according to the industry's report released Wednesday.

The main sources of the premium were from fire insurance of 28 percent, motor insurance of 18 percent, personal accident insurance of 18 percent, health insurance of 14 percent and miscellaneous insurance, said the report of the General Insurance Association of Cambodia (GIAC).

It said during January-March period this year, the total amount of claims paid out by local insurers was 1.5 million U.S. dollars, down 78 percent compared with the same period last year.

GIAC's President Chhay Rattanak said Wednesday that sharp growth in the sector was thanks to better economic performance and more trust from the public.

Currently, the country has nine insurers including six general insurance companies and three life insurers.
In the whole year of 2012, the sector earned a total revenue of 36 million U.S. dollars, up 21 percent year-on-year.
Editor: Wang Yuanyuan

Thursday, May 23, 2013

ASEAN power chiefs to follow up power grid plan

May 23 (Xinhua)

PHNOM PENH-- Leaders of ASEAN power utilities and authorities gathered on Thursday to follow up the progress of the ambitious ASEAN power grid action plan, which was set to inter-connect power lines in the 10 ASEAN member states by 2020.

Speaking to reporters after the opening of the 29th meeting of the Heads of ASEAN Power Utilities and Authorities Council, Keo Rottanak, director general of the Electricity of Cambodia, said the meeting enabled the bloc's member states to be informed of the latest development and development objectives of the energy sector in each ASEAN country.

"Heads of ASEAN power utilities will discuss ways to accelerate the development of energy sector in order to fully realize ASEAN power grid by 2020 under the ASEAN Vision 2020," he said.

Meanwhile, Rottanak said that by 2020, about 80 percent of the Cambodian population would be able to access to electricity.

Ith Praing, secretary of state at Cambodian Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said that the regional power grid inter-connection would be the main driver for green energy and reduced damages to the environment.

"To achieve this objective, it requires a more effective framework of regional cooperation," he said at the meeting.

Musa Bin Metali, acting director of the Department of Electrical Services of Brunei, said at the meeting that ASEAN power grid was still a big task for ASEAN.

"We have yet to accomplish the realization of the ASEAN power grip," he said, adding that some issues need to be addressed including regulations, commercial, legal, and technical standards, and other related matters.

He urged all ASEAN states to increase all efforts in sharing energy information, technology and know-how in order to realize the ambitious goal for the prosperous future of ASEAN.

Founded in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

ILO to Release More Information on Non-Compliant Factories

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program has agreed to release more information on garment factories that fail to comply with labor standards, in an effort to hold manufacturers accountable for their employees’ safety.

“BFC will be releasing selected non-compliance information linked to factory names,” Mau­rizio Bussi, director of ILO’s Decent Work Team for South­east Asia, said by email on Tuesday. “We intend to roll out this public disclosure approach during the course of this year.”

Mr. Bussi did not say how much information related to factories would be released. However, the move does show a willingness by the ILO to render the current system—which does not disclose the names of factories flouting safety regulations—more transparent.

A report published in February by researchers from Stanford Law School charged that the lack of transparency in the Better Factories program had actually set back garment industry standards for Cambodian workers, compared to their counterparts in China, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Earlier this month, the ceiling of the Taiwanese-owned Wing Star Shoes factory collapsed in Kompong Speu province, leaving two young workers dead. And earlier this week, a concrete building on stilts being used as a dinning hall at the Top World Garment factory in Phnom Penh collapsed, injuring 23 workers.

Mr. Bussi said the main challenge with full public disclosure is doing it in a way that is “meaningful and targeted and a catalyst for change.”

Currently, the Better Factories program is voluntary, and many factories participate precisely because their names are not publicly released when safety problems are uncovered.

“We want to give factories the opportunity to be the architects of their own improvements but there are certain issues that some factories have had high non-compliance on for many years and certain factories that show little signs of change after many opportunities,” Mr. Bussi said.

While the Better Factories program does not monitor Wing Star Shoes, Top World Garment, which produces clothes for the U.S. label Gap, is monitored.

According to Mr. Bussi, the structure that collapsed on Monday at the factory was brought to the attention of ILO monitors two years ago, when it was being used as a child care facility for the children of workers at the factory.

Although the factory relocated the child care center, it continued to be used by workers as a place to eat during their break.

“At the moment, we are un­aware of any factories under the BFC program that currently have significant structural problems which could lead to serious worker injury,” Mr. Bussi said.

David Welsh, country director of the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based organization that advocates for workers, said that while the ILO’s decision to disclose more information linked to non-compliant factories is a positive step, the program can only go so far before running risks of being shut down.

“The more transparent [the Better Factories program] becomes or the more power they try to acquire to enforce that factories make changes or penalize those where the findings aren’t up to scratch, the less likely they will be able to stay in the country,” Mr. Welsh said.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Anti-Corruption Unit Issues Warning to Prince Thomico

The Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has issued a warning letter to Prince Sisowath Thomico, an election candidate for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), telling him to declare his assets with the body within a week or face the possibility of imprisonment, according to a letter obtained Tuesday.

The letter, which was signed Monday by Om Yentieng, president of the ACU and an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, states that Prince Thomico is the only one among 149 officials or members of the royal family not to have declared his assets to the government in 2013, an act that is required under Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Law.

“The ACU would like to warn Prince Thomico and insist that he declares his assets and debts,” Mr. Yentieng said in the letter.

“If Prince Thomico will not declare his assets and debts within a week after this warning letter is issued, excluding holidays, the ACU will take the case to the court.”

The letter added that the ACU had already asked Prince Thomico on two earlier occasions to declare his assets and that if he did not abide by the law he could face up to one year in jail.

Prince Thomico, who recently joined the CNRP and is the personal secretary for the Queen Mother, said Tuesday that officials from the Royal Palace had arrived at his home on Monday night and handed him a plain white envelope containing the letter. He said that he refused to take the letter since the envelope did not come bearing the emblem of the ACU. He also said that the royal family had not engaged in any corruption.
“First, the letter was inside an unmarked white envelope,” Prince Thomico said.

“Secondly, I am the member of the Royal Palace, which is an independent institution that is not involved in any corruption.”

He added that he had already declared his assets two years ago after being advised to do so by late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, to whom he served as personal assistant for many years.

“They [the CPP] are using this issue to intimidate me. The ACU is a tool of the CPP and is being used in the same way that the judicial system is used to attack the opposition party,” the Prince said.

Prince Thomico received the letter just hours after he had participated in a 3,000-strong rally organized by the CNRP at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on Monday, where he spoke out against the government’s policies and the leadership of Mr. Hun Sen.

Top Sam, who chairs the National Council for Anti-Corruption, defended the warning letter sent by Mr. Yentieng.

“This is not to intimidate, it is just the implementation of the law, which everyone needs to follow,” he said.
By law, all government officials ranked above department director are obligated to declare their assets and debts once every two years. Those declarations are made privately to the ACU.

Students Protest At UN Envoy’s University Lecture

The Cambodia Daily
No more UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia? Photo: RFA

U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi on Tuesday received a thorny reception from hundreds of students at a Phnom Penh university, who angrily questioned his impartiality and unfurled banners calling for him to end his work in Cambodia.

Special rapporteur Subedi delivered a lecture to about 1,000 students packed into a room at the Cambodian Mekong University (CMU) on the theme of “The challenge of reconciling competing interests in the law of foreign investment.”

Mr. Subedi, a professor in international law at the University of Leeds, England, spoke technically and generally about the importance of legal protections for international investors as well as the rules to prevent abuses by companies, making only slight references to Cambodia.

“You young people are the hope for this country,” Mr. Subedi concluded at the end of his lecture. “The future belongs to you, and be alert and aware of this development and prepare yourselves to be the future leaders of this society. Thank you.”

As the floor was opened up for questions from students, 23-year-old Chea Chheng, a student of public administration at the Royal University of Law and Econom­ics, took the microphone.

“You say Cambodia is the hell of human rights. Your report contains 180 pages describing all bad things about Cambodia. Why?” asked Mr. Chheng, referring to a report on Cambodia by Mr. Subedi in July, which was met with an angry response from the government at the time.

“Another question is: Why do we need a special rapporteur for Cambodia? Because in Cambodia, compared with other countries, the human rights situation is much better,” the student continued.
Receiving strong applause from the crowd, Mr. Chheng carried on, “Cambodia has no human rights problems. Cambodia is a sovereign state.”

Five other students from CMU and other universities around Phnom Penh then took the microphone to set about dishing out similar critiques of Mr. Subedi’s reports, which have covered matters such as land rights, independence of the judiciary and electoral reform, to yet more enthusiastic applause from the assembled young people.

Another student, who gave his name as Roth and described himself as “a normal student,” said he had read Mr. Subedi’s reports.

“It’s about a million bad things that relate to elections, law, land, property. The result [is that you agree with] the small group that we call the opposition party,” he told the U.N. envoy.

“So today, I don’t have any question, because I’m so disappointed with you,” he said.

Another student, who did not give his name, said Mr. Subedi’s reports were “full of darkness.”
“Foreigners do not know about Cambodia well. But as a Cambodian, when I read, it is impossible to believe your report,” the student said.

Another of Mr. Subedi’s inquis­itors, Chet Sidet, 24, who is studying for a master’s degree in human rights law at CMU, said after the event that she asked a question simply because she thought Mr. Subedi had treated Cambodia unfairly.

“Other countries have human rights problems, why don’t they have a special rapporteur?” she asked.
Mr. Subedi told the students that he welcomed their questions.

“I was very pleased that you have the courage to ask such questions. As I said when I concluded my lecture, the future belongs to you,” he told the audience.

“But each of you will know the importance of my work in 20 years time—when you enter the real world, when you know the plight of a person who is facing the threat of eviction from land they have been living on for a long time,” he said.

Mr. Subedi also pointed out that Cambodia was not being singled out by the U.N., which has 74 rapporteurs around the world covering specific countries and issues.

“I am impartial, I’m objective, I’m independent,” Mr. Subedi insisted.

“I can understand your sentiments, but at the same time, the purpose of my lecture was not to talk about human rights in Cambodia, it was [about] the international investment law,” he added.

Once the envoy’s lecture came to a close, the students brought out banners which they had prepared with messages, in English, including, “No more U.N. Special Rapportur for Human Rights in Cambodia, please,” and “Surya Subedi—No Justice for Cambodia.” As they unveiled the banners they shouted in unison “very bad” in English.

The event finished with the university’s chancellor, Ich Seng, saying that it was “important to have a human rights forum.”

Mr. Subedi left the lecture room quietly through a back exit as groups of students held up their anti-Subedi banners and posed for photographs.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Global Witness responds to HAGL’s claims over inaccuracy of Rubber Barons report

For Immediaterelease
20th May 2013
Global Witness understands that Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) CEO Doan Nguyen Duc held a press conference during which the company contested evidence in Global Witness’ report ‘Rubber Barons’. This report highlights how the company’s rubber plantations in Cambodia and Laos are violating laws and contributing to environmental and human rights abuses.

Global Witness stands by all of its assertions and evidence. The organisation has documented systemic legal violations by HAGL’s rubber plantations in both Cambodia and Laos during 2012. The extensive evidence presented in ‘Rubber Barons’ exposes how HAGL has acquired vast amounts of land, almost five times the maximum legal size limit in Cambodia, and how the company has openly ignored legal environmental and social safeguards, devastating local livelihoods and intact forests in the process.

“Instead of addressing the evidence in the report and improving the situation for the hundreds of affected peoples on the ground, HAGL seems more concerned with protecting its public image. What is the company going to do to bring a stop to the destruction it is responsible for?” said Megan MacInnes, Head of the Land campaign at Global Witness.

Global Witness met with HAGL representatives on August 22 2012 in Pleiku, Vietnam, to present this evidence and recommend steps the company should take to remedy these problems. Mr. Duc now denies that this meeting ever took place, which is untrue. The meeting was followed by several email exchanges over a number of weeks, during which the company stated it was not willing to implement these recommendations. In March 2013 Global Witness wrote to HAGL asking for an update on what action the company had taken since August 2012, but the company declined to answer.

Global Witness is in dialogue with Mr. Duc and his colleagues about meeting again in Pleiku in June 2013. Whilst Global Witness welcomes the invitation from the company to visit their rubber plantations, we have already visited these projects a number of times during 2012. At this stage, we therefore believe it would be more productive to sit down with the company directly to discuss the findings of our research and what action can be taken to address the problems.

Cambodia sells more, buys less

May 21, 2013
Bangkok Post

Trade between Thailand and Cambodia went off in a wild divergence in the first quarter of this year.
Exports from Cambodia rose 19% to US$102 million (2.9 billion baht) year-on-year, while Thailand's imports recorded a 4% decline to $1 billion, the Phnom Penh Post reported on Monday, citing figures from the Cambodian Commerce Ministry.

"A lot of Cambodian agricultural products are being exported to Thailand as some barriers have been [adjusted] and thats why we are seeing imports from Cambodia to Thailand increasing quite a lot," Thai trade counsellor Jiranun Wongmongkol told the newspaper.

The diplomat cited the baht's appreciation as a factor leading to the dip of Thai products being exported to Cambodia.

Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh told the Koh Kong Trade-Investment expo last week that his government was concentrating on bilateral trade agreements with neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam.

Thailand's exports to Cambodia include petroleum, processed goods, cement, consumer products, construction materials, fruits, vegetables and cosmetics, while Cambodia ships agricultural products, second hand garments, recyclable metal and fish.

Rising exports from Cambodia to Thailand are following a similar trend overall. Cambodian exports to other countries jumped more than 20% in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, according to the ministry.

UN Human Rights Envoy to Meet Hun Sen

U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi met with CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun at the National Assembly on Monday and was told he would be granted a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen during his current, ninth visit to Cambodia.

During Mr. Subedi’s most recent visit in December, not one government official followed through on his request for a meeting and Mr. Hun Sen said he had no time to take advice from “foreigners,” a sign of the envoy’s increasingly rocky relations with the government.

During Monday’s meeting with Mr. Vun, Mr. Subedi started by saying that he appreciated “the leadership that [Mr. Hun Sen] has provided…the country to achieve and maintain political stability.”

“I would like to congratulate you, since this time the prime minister of Cambodia will meet you,” Mr. Vun said in response. “This time you will meet the prime minister. He’ll arrive from abroad to see you,” he said.
The issues Mr. Subedi is specifically interested in tackling during this visit relate to parliamentary, electoral and judicial reform as well as the impact of economic land concessions on people’s rights. In a 2011 report, Mr. Subedi expressed his concern that the National Assembly was “declining” as an effective place of debate, where opposition or minority parties are viewed more as enemies of the state than “as political partners with differing views.”

Mr. Vun told Mr. Subedi on Monday that while opposition lawmakers were welcome to join the various working groups and committees within the assembly, they had declined during the course of the last mandate, which ended May 10.

“I regret that the opposition party rejected to join the National Assembly committees,” Mr. Vun said, adding that he was also sorry Mr. Subedi did not get a chance to see lawmakers in action during his visit.

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said that the opposition refused committee memberships when their request to chair one of the assembly’s nine committees was denied.

Mr. Subedi and Mr. Vun also discussed the constitutional requirement that an annual national congress be held every December, which is to be presided over by the King and is supposed to “enable the people to be directly informed on various matters of national interests and to raise issues and requests for the state authority to solve.”

The congress has never been held, and the government has indicated that it sees no use for it and wants to change the Constitution to remove the requirement.

“You’ve given me very good in­sight as to why the national congress was put in the Constitution,” Mr. Subedi told Mr. Vun. “Cambodia is a sovereign country and the national Parliament has sovereign powers, and if it decides to amend the Constitution, I’ll accept it,” he added.

Cambodia launches cassava development project under China, UNDP support

May 21, 2013

PHNOM PENH -- Cambodia launched Tuesday the second phase of cassava development project under the support of China and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Speaking at the launching ceremony, Teng Lao, secretary of state of Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, said the second phase of the project, which will last until September 2014, was made possible with the funding of 400,000 U.S. dollars from China. "It aims to help a core group of cassava farmers, processors and exporters to meet the quality and quantity requirements to be able to export more processed cassava to China, thus generating more revenue and employment opportunities for Cambodian smallholders in rural areas,"he said.

Cambodia and China signed a Protocol on the Exports of Cambodian Cassava to Chinese Market in December 2010, under which China allowed Cambodia to export its standardized cassava chips to China.

Teng Lao said cassava is the second agricultural crop in Cambodia and plays a very important role in Cambodia's agriculture and economic development.

He said last year, the country grew cassava crop on an area of 337,440 hectares, producing about 8 million tons of fresh cassava. "About 50 percent of fresh cassava, 40 percent of dry cassava and 10 percent of cassava powder were sold to Vietnam and Thailand, "he said."And Vietnam and Thailand re-sell those cassava products to international markets, particularly China."

Agriculture official and project coordinator Ratana Norng said the cassava sector might generate between 200-300 million U.S. dollars worth of"informal"export revenues a year.

Lu Zhouxiang, first secretary at the department of international trade and economic affairs at China's Ministry of Commerce, said at the event that in the first phase of the project, China had contributed 212,000 U.S. dollars to support 30 Cambodian officials to train in China's Hainan province on the cassava cultivation techniques in late 2011 and early 2012.

"Based on the successful results of the first phase, the second phase project will help move Cambodian producers, processors and exporters of cassava up the value chain," she said."It is our hope that this project will contribute to the Cambodia' s efforts in capacity building, economic diversification and poverty reduction. "

Setsuko Yamazaki, country director of UNDP to Cambodia, said that currently, Cambodian cassava farmers, processors and exporters are facing enormous constraints such as price distortions in neighboring countries, lack of information on price and quality criteria of importing markets and lack of access to technology. "Though cassava has become the second largest agricultural crop in term of income, employment, hectares cultivated and exports, there is very little technical assistance support provided to the sector,"she said.

She added that under the project, UNDP would give particular attention to environment sustainability of cassava cultivation, improved standard quality to promote raw and processed cassava exports to China and the ultimate benefits and sustainability for the poor.

Setsuko said Cambodia is now the seventh largest producer of cassava in Asia and projected that the country would move to the fifth largest producer following Thailand, Indonesia, India and China by 2018.

Another Cambodian Factory Has a Collapse

PHNOM PENH—More than 20 people were injured on Monday when a rest shelter outside a Cambodian garment factory collapsed into a pond, adding to recent worries about safety in the country's garment industry.

A Cambodian rescue team searched Monday for workers after a shelter at a garment factory collapsed in Phnom Penh.

The incident came just a few days after portions of another Cambodian garment factory collapsed, killing three people and injuring several others.

The Cambodian incidents follow several more-deadly accidents in Bangladesh, where more than 1,000 people died in a garment building collapse last month and others have perished in garment factory fires over the past year.

Kuoch Chamreoun, a district chief of Phnom Penh, said Monday's incident occurred around 11:15 a.m., when a concrete and metal shelter where workers can rest and look out over a pond suddenly tumbled into the water, taking with it several workers from the Phnom Penh-area factory.

The cause was unclear. Mr. Chamreoun said 23 workers were injured, including a pregnant woman, with no fatalities. An employee of the company, Sieng Yun, 34, said the pregnant woman was seriously injured, but that the baby was fine.

 Koch Ousphea, chief administrator at the factory, said the facility was operated by Top World Garment (Cambodia) Ltd., which is listed as a Hong Kong company making jeans and trousers, according to the website of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia. "It was an incident we couldn't expect," Mr. Ousphea said, adding that the company was still investigating.

Cambodia has benefited in recent years from rising factory wages in China that have pushed some apparel retailers to look for cheaper places to source their products. But as the country's garment sector has boomed, turning into its biggest export earner, concerns about safety have risen.

Among other problems, workers have reported a series of "mass fainting" incidents in which large numbers of workers have collapsed. Activists say they believe the incidents are caused by heat, bad ventilation and poor nutrition.

"The garment industry has operated for more than 10 years in Cambodia, so the buildings are getting old," increasing the need for tighter inspections, said Kong Athit, secretary general of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, which represents garment workers, including some at Top World. He added that incidents involving structural building issues such as the last two factory accidents were "not common" in Cambodia, despite worries about poor working conditions in the country.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cambodia's Opposition Party Stages 2nd Protest to Demand Election Reforms

Kem Sokha, the CNRP's vice-president speaking to demonstrators in May 20, 2013. PHOTO: QUOC VIET/RFA
TEHRAN (FNA)- Cambodia National Rescue Party ( CNRP), the kingdom's main opposition party, held the second peaceful protest on Monday to demand election reforms and return of its self-exiled leader Sam Rainsy ahead of a general election in July.

Some 2,500 protesters gathered at the capital's Freedom Park, holding posters read "Support UN recommendations", "Change the National Election Committee", and "No Sam Rainsy, No Free and Fair Election", Xinhua reported.

Speaking through a microphone to the rally, Kem Sokha, the CNRP's vice-president, said the 2nd protest was to demand the change of key members at the National Election Committee, saying that they are biased towards the ruling Cambodian People's Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The protesters also appealed to the National Election Committee to accept the recommendations of Surya P. Subedi, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to Cambodia, who has urged election reforms, and called for an audit of the national voter list, which is believed that it is inaccurate.

In addition, they demanded the return of their self-exiled leader Sam Rainsy in order to join the forthcoming polls.

Sam Rainsy, 63, fled the country in late 2009 before Cambodian court sentenced him to 11 years in prison in absentia for two charges-removing border poles and publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam and accusing Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong of being a member of the Democratic Kampuchea, or known as Khmer Rouge.

After the gathering for a couple of hours at the Freedom Park, protestors marched to the headquarters of the European Commission to Cambodia to submit a petition; then, they marched to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia to file the same petition to Surya P. Subedi, visiting United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to Cambodia.

"We seek interventions from them in order to push for reforms at the National Election Committee to ensure a free and fair election in Cambodia," said Kem Sokha.

The opposition members held such protest on April 24, but their demand was rejected by Secretary General of the National Election Committee Tep Nytha.

Nytha defended that the committee is "independent and does everything in accordance with the law".

Cambodia is scheduled to hold a general election on July 28. According the National Election Committee, eight political parties had registered to run in the upcoming election, which will be voted by some 9.67 million Cambodians.

Analysts predict that the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen will definitely win the majority in the upcoming polls.

Hun Sen, 61, has been in power for 28 years and vowed to stay in the office until he is 74.