CAMBODIA: The country must not repeat Burma’s mistake

Contributors: Ou Ritthy

Op-Ed: Human Rights Asia

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

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

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

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

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Time to invest in people

Op-Ed: Phnom Penh Post

IN ANALYSIS LAST UPDATED ON 07 DECEMBER 2012 BY PAMELA COX

For more than a decade, Cambodia has sustained impressive economic growth.

The World Bank expects real gross domestic product to increase by 6.6 per cent this year – a figure to be envied in today’s fragile global economy.

At this pace, Cambodia can rapidly become the industrialised and productive economy it aspires to be.

Is this the future that Cambodians can rightfully look forward to?

The answer is yes, but only if Cambodia invests in its most precious resource – its people – to enable each individual to realise his or her potential and productively contribute to the nation’s economy.

Until now, much of Cambodia’s investment has focused on infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing – priority areas during the early stages of the country’s economic development.

But with economic progress, it has become increasingly clear that these efforts are not enough to help the country achieve equitable, sustainable growth and, most important, reduce poverty.
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CAMBODIA: Cambodian activists must believe in individuals’ capacity to accomplish the impossible

FOR PUBLICATION
AHRC-ETC-038-2012
December 1, 2012

An article by Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: Cambodian activists must believe in individuals’ capacity to accomplish the impossible

Initially, I planned to write about US President Barack Obama’s visit to Cambodia, during which he reportedly spoke forcefully to Cambodian premier Hun Sen regarding the administration’s abysmal record of human rights violations. But e-mails from Cambodians in the country and abroad reoriented my focus, hence, today’s article.

Don’t like to read

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

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

Still young, must think of living longer

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

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

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

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

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