Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Empty promises from the old new government?

The Cambodian new government's official five-year plan, is highlighting human rights, corruption and the rule of law. But opposition party SRP's lawmaker Ke Sovannroth commented to the Phnom Penh Post that "It is the fourth mandate of a new government, but the officials holding power are not new." The head of the election watchdog Comfrel also agree that the promises doesn't mean much, saying that "every political announcement was good, but the individual officials have no real commitment to following up all these programs" reports Phnom Penh Post.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Prince Ranariddh back in Cambodia

Phnom Penh Post reports that Norodom Ranariddh returned to Cambodia yesterday after 18 months in exile in Malaysia. In March 2007, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for peculating money from the sale of his former party, Funcinpec's property. A few days ago King Norodom Sihamoni issued a royal amnesty on the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen according to Phnom Penh Post.

Cheam Yeap, the ruling party CPP's lawmaker said the Prince's returs was a "symbol of national reconcilation" reports the Post.

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Temple talks continues today

According to Radio Australia, political representatives from Cambodia and Thailand were to meet today at the UN to resume talks about the disputed border area near the temple Preah Vihear.

Background: New temple on the World Heritage list..., Temple talks on hold, and Temple talks soon to start again.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Press release: Human rights defenders silenced through the legal system


Embargoed 0001 GMT Friday 26 September 2008

Cambodia: Human rights defenders silenced through the legal system

Rich and powerful individuals and groups involved in land disputes in Cambodia are increasingly using their power to silence opponents through the criminal justice system, said Amnesty International today, as it called for greater protection for human rights defenders.

In the briefing paper 'A risky business - defending the right to housing',Amnesty International provides examples of abuses of human rights defenders working for the promotion of land rights and against forced evictions in Cambodia in the last two years.

Informal village leader Chhea Ny, released in December 2007 after 16 months in prison, told Amnesty International: "I was chained and held in a dark prison cell for one week. I was so miserable. And I was not allowed to wash. After one week they removed the chain from my legs. When they took off the chain they let me stay outside in daylight, and they offered an apology; they said they had made a mistake and [punished] the wrong man.” He had been arrested in August 2006 over a long-standing land dispute with local officials, business people and high-ranking military in Boeung Pram village, in Battambang province.

"His case is a blatant example of what happens when the legal system fails to protect human rights and to serve justice," said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International’s Cambodia Researcher.

According to local human rights groups, over the past two years the number of land activists arrested has practically doubled from 78 in 2006 to 149 in 2007. This rise corresponds with an increase in the number of reports alleging that police have unfairly arrested land activists; prosecutors have pressed groundless criminal charges against them; and law enforcement and court officials have threatened people protesting against forced evictions with arrest or imprisonment.

"The rapid increase in the number of peaceful land activists in prison is a serious concern in its own right. But every imprisoned human rights defender becomes a tool for intimidation of other activists, demonstrating that detention, trials and imprisonment are a real threat," said Brittis Edman.

"The Cambodian authorities must ensure that the legal system fairly protects all parties involved in land disputes and protecting human rights, and must investigate allegations of intimidation and unlawful arrests of human rights defenders."

Attacks against such activists violate international human rights law provisions guaranteeing the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and the right to participate in public life. They run counter to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which reflects and details these rights. In many cases, other rights of human rights defenders have been violated, including the right to equality before the courts and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.

In 2008, some 150,000 Cambodians were known to live at risk of being forcibly evicted in the wake of land disputes, land grabbing, and agro-industrial and urban redevelopment projects. Tens of thousands have already been forcibly evicted in recent years, many left homeless, others relocated to inadequate resettlement sites with poor infrastructure, lacking basic amenities including sanitation, and with limited access to work opportunities.

In a report released in February 2008, Amnesty International showed how the Cambodian authorities are failing to protect - in law and practice - the population against forced evictions. By contrast, those with political or economic power are allowed to act with impunity in arbitrarily expropriating land. They do so by colluding with local authorities in ways that lead to the issuing of dubious land titles and eviction orders, and the misuse of the court system to prevent victims from acting to defend their rights.


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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Temple talks soon to start again

Thailand's newly elected Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat says he's ready to hold talks with his Cambodian PM Hun Sen to resolve the border dispute near the temple Preah Vihear. This reports Radio Australia.

Earlier this week Radio Australia reported that Hun Sen accused Thai soldiers of "being thieves creating anarchy" around border areas. They further reported that Hun Sen has hinted that he might take his complaints to the UN Security Council if Cambodia and Thailand cannot resolve the disagreement, and that Somchai Wongsawat has said he expects officials to hold talks on the matter during the UN General Assembly in New York next week.

Background: New temple on the World Heritage list... and Temple talks on hold.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

The United States contributes to Khmer Rouge tribunal

According to the Washington Post has the United States agreed to give $1.8 million to ECCC. This is the United States' first contribution to the tribunal.

Yash Gai resigns

The UN's special envoy for human rights to Cambodia Yash Ghai has resigned, reports Radio Australia. The lawyer was unusually blunt in his criticism of the human rights situation in Cambodia, and has been arguing with Cambodian officials.

Cambodia has lodged a formal complaint against Yash Ghai with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

I liked Yash Ghai, I hope his successor will be as daringly straightforward as he has been.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Surprisingly large primate population discovered

According to Red Orbit a WCS report reveals large populations of two globally threatened primates in a protected area in Cambodia.

Dr. John G. Robinson, Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science for the Wildlife Conservation Society sais that they now have to put into place "the management to truly protect these populations and apply the approach to other regions where primates are in trouble", informs Red Orbit.

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Victim of sexual abuse files complaint to the genocide tribunal

Sou Sotheavy, a Cambodian transgender woman, filed a complaint last week with the ECCC alleging that the Khmer Rouge exposed her to sexual abuse, reports the Herald Tribune. She sais soldiers repeatedly raped her as punishment for "moral offenses", and she was forced to marry a woman and have sexual intercourse to produce a child. Sou Sotheavy, who is now 68 years old, was born male but has been living as a woman since she was a teenager.

The Khmer Rouge imposed strict rules against sexual misconduct. Sou Sotheavy's lawyer, sais she hopes that this case will encourage others who has been subject to sexual abuse during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79), to come forward and demand acknowledgment and justice. The Herald Tribune reports that these victims suffering has largely been ignored until now, according to the lawyer.

The Herald Tribune reports that the genocide researchers have found many cases of rape and sexual violence committed by Khmer Rouge soldiers, while at the same time the Khmer Rouge banned romance, forced many men and women into mass marriages and tortured or killed those who engaged in unsanctioned sexual relations.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Personnel drain from the garment industry

The Herald Tribune reports the high inflation and stagnant wages have prompted several thousands of workers to leave their jobs in the garment industry to look for better-paid jobs. According to the president of the Free Trade Union of Workers, Chea Mony, 27 000 workers have quit their jobs so far this year. He sais many of them are working in entertainment clubs like karaoke parlors, reports the Herald Tribune.

The Cambodian minister of planning, Chhay Thansaid, said inflation in July, 22 percent, was the highest rate recorded in 15 years.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Temple talks on hold

After several talks without any success in resolving the deadlock situation around Preah Vihear, further talks are now on hold because of the political situation in Thailand. The Earth Times reports that the Cambodian government said on Thursday that Cambodia will wait as long as it takes for Thailand to settle the political chaos.

Background about the dispute: New temple on the World Heritage List...

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Threat of new HIV infection wave

A new anti-sex trafficking law poses a threat to Cambodia's "100 percent comdom use programme". The programme provides sex information and distributes condoms to sex workers. Asia One News reports that the new law was followed by police crackdowns on brothels, which has forced prostitutes to move from place to place leaving their condoms behind. A statement from the Cambodia AIDS authority said the main risk of a second wave of HIV infections is from female sex workers, reports Aisa One.

According to Asia One, Cambodia's HIV rate before the 100 percent comdom use program was initiated was the worst in the region. In 1997 3.7 percent of the population was infected, and the rate among prostitutes were estimated to as high as 40 percent. Since the programme began, the overall HIV rate has dropped to 0.9 percent.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

A long way to democracy? - some thoughts about the political situation in Cambodia

I believe that the main obstacles to make Cambodia democratic are the widespread poverty and illiteracy together with CPP controlling most of the media (many poor people know of no good alternatives than the party who build the roads and the schools). And of course, the biggest obstacle to change the system and make people literate and richer is the corruption (Cambodia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world), and a ruling party which is unwilling to make changes…

And to me it's quite obvious that CPP lacks the political will to make any big changes, they have too much to gain personally on keeping things the way they are. Especially the corruption... I find it hard to believe that, even if they finally will adopt the anti-corruption law, they will do much to implement it.

I think it's quite troublesome though, that the biggest opposition party, SRP, is making use of the widespread racism against ethnic Vietnamese to get supporters by spurring the feelings of hatred. I have spoken to Khmers who have the opinion that all ethnic Vietnamese are corrupt and that the solution to that problem is to send all ethnic Vietnamese to Vietnam. This feeling of hatred against Cambodian Vietnamese affects of course even the poorest refugees, not only the rich Vietnamese. It seems like many people are unable of separating the idea of Vietnam as a country (a richer, big brother-, neighbouring country…) and Vietnams government from the idea of Vietnamese individuals (who might have been living in Cambodia for generations, who have emigrated from Vietnam for some reason, and who might feel as much Cambodian as Vietnamese…). A widespread idea seems to be that ethnic Vietnamese are some sort of spies for Vietnam – that for example an ethnic Vietnamese politician would work for the best of Vietnam, not of Cambodia.

I was hoping for the new Human Rights Party, but they didn’t get much more than 6% of the votes…

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