A. Gaffar Peang-Meth
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NO LIBERAL GOVERNMENT AS LONG AS HUN SEN LIVES
October 4, 2016
By Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D.
Am I witnessing an encore of Khmers resuming political circle dancing, the Ramvong, moving hands and feet, going around and around in a circle, setting aside their recent posture of traditional Chul Trei Krem, or Siamese (Beta) fish fighting game described in my last article?
Premier Hun Sen warned against CNRP demonstrations. He stepped up intimidation, draconian judicial ruling, arrests. Nineteen 19 opposition figures, several rights workers and women activists are in jail; starting Aug. 31, masked armed soldiers cruised the area around the CNRP headquarters, navy boats with machineguns docked in the Bassac River, and helicopters hovered above.
Politically, he tossed aside the Sep. 12 bipartisan H. Res. 728 resolution of the U.S. House of Representatives that condemns political repressions and rights abuses by his government, and calls for free and fair elections in Cambodia. Regarding the Sep. 13 Geneva statement by 39 governments urging him to respect human rights, “including the freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” Hun Sen told his Ambassador to the UN to respond bluntly: “[W]e do not welcome interference in our political situation.”
On the other hand, CNRP Sam Rainsy spoke via Skype from Paris on Sep. 12, asking Khmer youth activists gathering at the CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh if they were ready to join mass demonstrations of 2013-2014 types. The youth gave him a resounding response “Yes!” Although holed up in the building for more than four months since May to avoid arrest, CNRP Kem Sokha’s speech left no room for misunderstanding: “We cannot lie down, let them tie our hands and legs, close our nose and mouth until we die. Even animals would fight!”
The scene was that of agitated Beta fighting fishes that turned bright and dashing colors, flared their gills, showed their long fins, twisted their bodies, tightened their abdomen, each ready to rip out the other’s gills in a fight? Khmer political opponents huffed and puffed to show their respective real or perceived power. The stage was set for Chul Trei Krem.
And Prime Minister Hun Sen upped the ante. He declared in a speech on Sep. 19 that he was set to unleash armed military violence to “eliminate” those joining mass demonstrations: “Let me challenge all of you to come out and demonstrate now, the sooner the better.” He advised CNRP figures to return to the National Assembly, “the only place to talk,” and added, “I would be a dog if I were to negotiate” with the CNRP (on dropping court cases against Kem Sokha and political prisoners). Recall that Hun Sen swore earlier that he would cut off his own hand if he were to use it to sign a new pardon for Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia. On Sep. 26, Rainsy told BBC-TV he is considering returning, amnesty from arrest notwithstanding. Hun Sen welcomed him to jail.
Op-Ed: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth
Last month, I engaged in an extensive interview by email, responding to questions from Russian journalist Stephan Jarinsky. The convergence of developing responses to those questions and the recent death of a longtime friend with whom I collaborated when fighting Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s caused me to be particularly reflective.
One question that I found intriguing was Mr. Jarinsky’s inquiry about how to describe modern day Cambodia’s regime. I chose Cambodia’s Constitution, adopted in Phnom Penh in 1993, as a point of discussion. The contrast between the promises described in the governing document and the execution of governmental functions by an autocratic and unaccountable regime could not be more stark. I spent more than a decade of my life trying to install a democratic regime in Cambodia. Countless friends and brave combatants were lost in that struggle. What we “won” was a government based on a Constitution that was the foundation for hope.
Article 1 says, “Cambodia is a Kingdom with a King who shall rule according to the Constitution and to the principles of liberal democracy and pluralism.” Article 8 makes the King “a symbol of unity and eternity of the nation”; the “guarantor of national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” “the protector of rights and freedoms of all citizens and the guarantor of international treaties”; and Article 9 assigns the King the “august role of arbitrator to ensure the faithful execution of public powers.” Today the King is a virtual prisoner in the royal palace compound, reminded ominously by the regime in power that his security cannot be guaranteed if he ventures into his country.
Article 31 states, “The Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights.” Article 32 states: “Every Khmer citizen shall have the right to life, personal freedom and security”; Article 38, “The law guarantees there shall be no physical abuse against any individual. The law shall protect life, honor, and dignity of the citizens . . .” These rights are not enforced. Thousands have been forcibly evicted from their lands so that the property may be sold or leased to foreign entities that have paid officials for the privilege. Citizens have been beaten and jailed for civil protests, have had their ballots negated. Neither the security of person or property is assured.
An old friend of mine wrote four decades ago about a false choice between the killing fields of Pol Pot and the new killing fields that were created by Vietnamese invading troops that installed the current regime and by the corrupt regime that has endured. My friend referred to that false choice as being caught between the plague and cholera.
Article 150 says, “This Constitution shall be the Supreme law of the Kingdom of Cambodia.” Perhaps one day it shall be. But today it is not.
Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam where he taught political science for 13 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peang-Meth(Photo: PDN file)
Watching the snow piles that line streets and parking lots here, refusing to melt in the cold winter sunshine, my thoughts wander to Ypao Beach where more than a decade ago I swam, watching the coconut leaves dancing against the backdrop of a blue sky, and to decades earlier when I sat on the floor with my father to hear the Buddhist sermon broadcast on state radio.
Now in my seventies, I still hear the Buddhist preaching, “There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it.”
In this world of blame and denial, I am more than ever attracted to the words of French Renaissance statesman Michel de Montaigne: “There is no man so good that if he placed all his actions and thought under the scrutiny of the laws, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.” And to the words of one of my favorite American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt: “There is not one among us in whom a devil does not dwell; at some time, on some point, that devil masters each of us. … It is not having been in the Dark House, but having left it, that counts.” Roosevelt counseled, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
PACIFIC DAILY NEWS
Be thoughtful and imaginative
The son of Khmer farmers in Kampong Speu, Chuon Nath grew up to become a Buddhist monk, an author, a composer, a poet and the head of a Khmer Buddhist reformist movement, the Dhammayuttika Nikaya, a model of Buddhism that relies on reason and intellectual conception as valid bases for action and belief. This “rationalist-scholastic model” influenced young Khmer monks in the early 20th century during France’s colonial rule in Cambodia.
Revered as “probably the most famous and most knowledgeable monk Cambodia had ever had,” Chuon Nath became an ardent protector of the Khmer identity, culture and history, and a conservator of the Khmer language. In 1948, at age 65, he was elevated to be the kingdom’s supreme patriarch of the Maha Nikaya with the title Samdech Preah Moha Sumetheathippadei (“wise lord”) Chota’nhea’nor Chuon Nath, a de facto leader of Khmer Buddhism.
A “master of Khmer literature,” Chuon Nath’s innovations included printed sacred texts (replacing hand-inscribed palm-leaf writings), the translation of Buddhist Pali canon into the Khmer language, the introduction of Khmer Buddhist monks to higher learning in Pali and Sanskrit studies, the modernization of Buddhist teaching methods. In 1915 (at age 32) Chuon Nath became a member of the committee by the Kingdom’s royal order to compile a Khmer dictionary.
Dear Dr.:In my humble opinion: may I thank you for giving me all these credits. I am certain that every body has a story…wether it is told or not, every body has one or even more than one stories….And I am very greatful for having you telling mine.Best Regards,
Gaffar Peang-MethMy last column, in the May 31 Pacific Daily News, “Sophal is a rare voice of calm,” brought a slew of e-mails from readers who expressed admiration for Chan Sophal’s life struggle and how her story has inspired them. Readers’ emails inspired today’s follow-up on Sophal: A lesson to learn.
Sophal’s parents’ cultural clashes (a passive, compassionate, tolerant Khmer Buddhist father in discord with a fiercely authoritarian, industrious, determined Chinese Confucian mother) made Sophal’s childhood less than happy. But she transformed her challenges into strength.
Through socialization, children learn values and attitudes and how to fit them into their new adult roles. Children watch, listen, imitate. In Sophal’s childhood socialization, she picked up the manners, behavior, attitudes and values from her parents — values and attitudes that were always being adapted and reinforced as she grew and passed through new experiences.
Socialization is a continuous, lifelong process.
Helped her survive
Thus what the 17-year-old 11th grader in Cambodia’s northwestern Battambang province learned, adapted and readapted helped her survive the Khmer Rouge Otaki youth camp in 1975-1979. Sophal endured hardships in the ricefields for Angkar (the Khmer Rouge Organization’s all-encompassing designation for its leader) and was “investigated” for having demonstrated an ability to write, having agreed to record for Angkar the names and personal data of her campmates, and for refusing to complain.
She politely declined offers of extra food. She upheld her Chinese mother’s teaching of the Confucian Constants, and her Khmer Buddhist father’s teaching of a person’s ability to improve.
Incredibly, Sophal and a Khmer Rouge chieftain, Mit (Comrade) Bang Rin, a thirty-something woman who left her family at age 10 to serve Angkar, developed a bond — so close and so special that Mit Bang Rin became Sophal’s protector. When Angkar ordered its troops to evacuate Otaki after Vietnam’s invasion in 1979, Sophal pleaded with Mit Bang Rin to go with her. Mit Bang Rin said she couldn’t even assure her own survival, so ordered Sophal to take care of herself. They parted in tears.