Sunday, January 24, 2010

UN Agency To Prioritise Development Areas In Cambodia

I'll be eager to know what the UNDP identifies as the five areas for development projects in Cambodia for 2011 to 2015.

PHNOM PENH, Jan 22 (Bernama) -- The Cambodian government has said that its development partner, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is planning to prioritise five areas for development projects in the country from 2011 to 2015, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

A statement released by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) on Friday, said government officials from various institutions had held a meeting with their development partner UNDP to review the implementation of projects assisted by the UNDP in 2009 and the ongoing projects for years ahead.

The statement said the meeting was chaired by Keat Chhon, deputy prime minister and minister of the economy and finance, and also the first vice chairman of the CDC.

From 2006 through 2010, the UNDP were focusing on governance; promotion of human rights protection, agriculture and poverty in rural area; capacity building and human resource development; and national development plan.

UNDP has assisted Cambodia between 80 million and US$120 million a year.

CNN to air "World's Untold Stories: Innocence for Sale"

Unfortunately, nearly everyone who hears of Cambodia automatically associate it with either the Killing Fields or child trafficking. There's so much more to Cambodia than this, but it's still an important issue that needs to be addressed at numerous levels.

January 22nd, 2010
Swati Arya

In a new "World's Untold Stories" program airing on January 26th, CNN travels to Cambodia to examine the heartbreaking stories of Southeast Asia's child sex industry.

Seen through the eyes of Aaron Cohen, CNN goes undercover into the karaoke brothels where sex with a child costs the same as a round of drinks. We witness the destitution and deprivation that keeps the young girls in the brothels and we're there when Cohen pays his final respects to the teenage girl he'd rescued, but couldn't save from the heartless grip of prostitution, in the face of her family's poverty.

What's uncovered in this half-hour will shed new light into the dark corners of the human trafficking problem in Cambodia, where we discover in many cases, the blame for the children's exploitation lies not solely with the pimps and madams.

The documentary will enlighten and inspire new conversation about e challenges currently preventing aid workers and authorities from declaring battle in the struggle to free children from this most despicable form of modern-day slavery.

Airtimes: Indian Standard Time (IST)
Tuesday, January 26th: 1900hrs, 2300hrs
Saturday, January 30th: 2300hrs
Sunday, January 31st: 1730hrs
Monday, February 1st: 0830hrs

CNNs Cambodia Killing Fiels parts 1-3

Part 1
Added On May 1, 2009 CNN's Dan Rivers profiles members of the Khmer Rouge, as they face justice before a U.N.-backed trial.

Part 2
Added On April 30, 2009
CNN's Dan Rivers goes on the hunt for Ta Chan, chief interrogator of the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison camp.

Part 3
Added On April 30, 2009
CNN's Dan Rivers details corruption allegations at the Phnom Penh trial of Khmer Rouge leaders.

Cambodian garment workers threaten week-long strike

This article highlights the continued struggle over workers' rights in Cambodia, particular in the garment industry which is one of the hardest hit industries from the 2008 economic downturn worldwide. I particularly like the audacity of the little girl walking in front of the police and other security officers.

Police officers watch over a march held to mark the anniversary of the death of Chea Vichea, former president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of Cambodia, in Phnom Penh, yesterday. The union, Cambodia's largest, said yesterday it would launch a nationwide strike unless authorities arrest those responsible for shooting dead Vichea at a news stand in the capital in January 2004. Two men were convicted of the deaths and sentenced to 20-year prison terms, but many people believed they were framed and the Supreme Court has ordered a retrial.

PHNOM PENH, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Two of Cambodia's biggest workers' unions on Friday threatened to hold a nationwide garmet-industry strike to protest over low pay and the unsolved murder of the country's most respected union leader.

Two unions said thousands of garment factory workers would halt production for a week to press the government to arrest the killers of top unionist Chea Vichea, as hundreds marched in Phnom Penh to mark the sixth anniversary of his killing.

A workers' strike would represent a rare test for the government of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has used a parliament dominated by his Cambodia People's Party (CPP) to push through tough laws to stifle dissent.

It comes at a tricky time for Cambodia as it tries to recover from a sharp economic decline that followed an unprecedented four-year boom before the global financial crisis took its toll.

Garment factories employ 330,000 workers in Cambodia and are vital to the impoverished country's nascent economy. Garments are Cambodia's third-biggest earner behind agriculture and tourism.

It exported $1.95 billion worth of garments in 2008 to its biggest market, the United States, up from $1.27 billion in 2004, according to the Commerce Ministry. Last year's figures are not yet available.

The workers are supporters of Chea Vichea, a vocal critic of Cambodia's business and political elite who was shot dead in January 2004. Two men were sentenced to 20 years in prison for his murder.


The United Nations said their conviction was a "grave injustice" and rights groups said the pair were framed.

The Supreme Court in December 2008 ordered their release on bail pending a review of the case. There have since been no new arrests.

The two unions threatening action were the Free Trade Union (FTU), which represents 78,000 garment workers and the Cambodian Labour Federation (CLF) with 50,000 members from the same sector.

"We send this message to the government that it's time to find the killers, for the family, to make us calm," said Chea Mony, brother of Chea Vichea and president of the FTA.

CLF president Ath Thon said the outspoken Chea Vihea was a "hero" among garment workers because he fought for an increase in their minimum monthly wage from $30 to $45 during the 1990s.

He said workers were having difficulty making ends meet and they would also use the strike to demand a pay increase.

"Our workers don't have enough to spend, their health is getting weaker, they eat less, live in bad places and work hard," Ath Thon added. The unions did not say whether they would stage a protest alongside the strike. Cambodia's parliament approved a law in October banning demonstrations of more than 200 people and requiring five days notice for smaller protests.

That, and a tightening of defamation laws, sparked criticism from opposition lawmakers and rights groups, which said the government was trying to intimidate its critics and crack down on freedom of expression.

Cambodian national police spokesman Kirth Chantharith declined to comment on Chea Vichea's murder investigation but said there would be no attempt to block the strike as long as workers sought permission from the authorities.

"We have laws on demonstrations and police are ready to respect them," he said.

New Cambodia Economic Watch predicts slow economic recovery

I've got to get my hands on this data! It would come in handy for the current research I am doing on youth employment issues in Cambodia.

By Sam Campbell
Economics Today

Economics Today's new Cambodia Economic Watch hits the newsstand this week, offering the most comprehensive analysis of the past year's economic and business trends of any Cambodian institution, as well as informed predictions about the years to come. The full color graphs and clear explanations that made the publication both accessible and uniquely informative.

A collaborative effort between the Economic Institute of Cambodia (EIC) and Economics Today, the Cambodia Economic Watch offers readers an unmatched analysis of Cambodia's economy.

Report Highlights

By Economic Institute of Cambodia
Edited by Economics Today

After years of galloping growth, 2009 has been a very tough year for Cambodia. The global economic crisis of 2008 and the ensuing downturn continue to impact several of Cambodia's primary economic growth engines. Cambodia experienced its first negative growth since the early 1990s, with a GDP contraction of 1 percent.

It is expected Cambodia will recover in 2010, posting growth of about 3 percent in line with the recovery of other countries. However, this figure has been downgraded from the 4 percent growth expected earlier in the year, a result of the more-serious-than-expected fallout from the global downturn. 2010 could be a difficult year for Cambodia.

Cambodia's main economic growth-supporting industries over the last decade—garments, construction and tourism, all of which are exposed to international markets—contracted sharply or saw feeble growth in 2009.

Industry suffered the biggest contraction, down 8.5 percent in 2009. The reign of Cambodia's garment industry as the driver of the economy could be over, as the sector contracted by a massive 14.7 percent. The industrial sector as a whole is projected to grow just 1.5 percent in 2010, and the garment sector predicted to grow even less, at 0.6 percent. A declining market share in the most valuable markets, especially the US, suggests Cambodia is less competitive than other producers such as Bangladesh.

Real estate prices—which have increased rapidly in recent years—tumbled by as much as 40 percent in 2009, with a knock-on effect for residential real estate and construction activities: these are now in decline. There are few signs of a recovery in real estate, so prices are likely to remain stagnant or decline further in 2010. There are some signs of nonperforming loans linked to the decline in the sector, though data are not comprehensive.

Services have also suffered in the wake of the downturn, posting only 1.2 percent growth in 2009, down from 9 percent the year before.

Tourism still showed growth in 2009, but only 0.6 percent, a large fall from the 9.8 percent growth seen in 2008. Air tourist arrivals fell sharply in 2009. While there was growth in arrivals by land and by water, these visitors tend to spend less than tourists arriving by air. The total number of foreign visitors to Cambodia did continue to increase up to October 2009, but the increase, just 0.3 percent, was tiny compared to previous years.

The agricultural sector was the main bright spot in the Cambodian economy, showing 3.5 percent growth on the back of good weather and strong international demand. Farming, the primary occupation for the majority of Cambodians, has acted as a sponge for laid-off workers in other sectors, though underemployment in the sector is high. The agricultural sector is still natural resource-based and depends largely on rainfall, meaning growth prospects are modest, with a predicted 4 percent growth for the sector in 2010. The growth in paddy has remained stable compared to other commodities, posting 3.6 percent growth in 2008, a predicted 3.4 percent growth in 2009 and a predicted 3.7 percent growth in 2010.

The financial sector seems to be stable despite increasing nonperforming loans, mostly related to real estate speculation, though available data is far from comprehensive.

In short, Cambodia's economy has in 2009 been pulled down by a sharp decline in the industry sector that solid positive growth in agriculture and anemic growth in services could not offset. This contraction is in stark contrast to the brisk 6.7 percent positive growth seen in 2008.

In short, Cambodia is more exposed to the economies most affected by the GEC—such as the US and South Korea—than other regional economies that have remained in the black in 2009.

To live and die with Hun Sen

This article contains some great historical background to Cambodia's current political and economic situation. I am fascinated with H.E. Prime Minister Hun Sen's ascension from a farmer to Cambodia's leader, considering his unique leadership and management capabilities. It an amazing style to note.

Jan 22, 2010
By Paul Vrieze Asia Times Online

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen recently marked his 25th anniversary as the Southeast Asian nation's leader. First appointed by the Cambodian National Assembly on January 14, 1985, he became at 33 years old the youngest prime minister in the world.

Hun Sen's journey from a communist leader to an elected head of government spans a quarter of a century of civil war, domestic and international upheaval, a negotiated peace and transition to democracy through which he and his Cambodia's People's Party (CPP) have imposed themselves as the country's deliverers of stability and order.

By retaining the helm in Cambodia's fractious politics for 25 years, he now stands among a unique category of leaders, ranking as the 11th-longest ruling leader in the world. In Southeast Asia, only the Sultan of Brunei, the number one longest-serving government leader since assuming office in 1967, has been in power longer than Hun Sen. Of the other nine longer-serving leaders, five are heads of governments in Africa and four are from the Middle East.

Hun Sen reflected on his long political career and humble beginnings in a speech at the National Institute for Education in Phnom Penh on January 12. "I became [foreign] minister when I was 27 years old, deputy prime minister when I was 29 years old and prime minister at 33 years old," Hun Sen said of his appointments in the People's Republic of Kampuchea - the communist state set up by Vietnam in 1979 after it toppled the Khmer Rouge, whose bloody regime caused the death of about 1.7 million Cambodians.

He recalled how he joined the anti-republican maquis, a movement which consisted of several resistance groups including the Khmer Rouge, in April 1970, explaining his move was "based on an appeal from King [Norodom] Sihanouk", Cambodia's monarch who had been ousted in a coup d'etat earlier that year. "Throughout 40 years, I have known all kinds of tastes. I knew how my commander commanded the troops and I knew how to make tea for him. I knew how to wash clothes for him," Hun Sen said in his now trademark plain-speaking public-address style.

The prime minister went on to talk about his political future, confirming his intention to run in the next election in 2013. "The party conference announced my candidacy for the future prime minister and ... last week Chea Sim [president of the CPP] also reconfirmed my nomination for the premiership," Hun Sen said before taking aim at opposition parties.

"Please do not try to limit the mandate of the premiership. You want the mandate limited because you are worrying you will lose to me," he said, while also reminding the audience he still had another three-and-a-half years in office under the mandate of the 2008 election, which his party, the CPP, won with a two-thirds legislative majority.

Hun Sen started on his political path in 1978, when he became a founding member of the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation after fleeing to Vietnam in 1977 to avoid Khmer Rouge purges in the Eastern Zone, where he had been a Khmer Rouge regimental commander. The Front consisted of former Khmer Rouge cadres who were prepared by Vietnamese officials to become Cambodia's new leadership after the removal of the Khmer Rouge government.

The Vietnamese army and the Front brought down the Democratic Kampuchea regime on January 7, 1979, in reaction to bloody raids by Khmer Rouge forces into Vietnamese territory in 1978. As the Front's leaders assumed their positions in the new PRK government after the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled, Hun Sen became foreign minister.

The early years

Current and former government officials and people who knew Hun Sen in his youth or as a budding young communist leader said his rhetorical talents and ability to lead, learn, adapt and survive the changing political and ideological terrain in Cambodia were apparent from the start in his personality.

Hun Sen was born as Hun Bunnal on August 5, 1952, in Peam Koh Snar in Kompong Cham province, a village of tobacco farmers located on the banks of the Mekong River. Local villager Chhe Noeun, 61, who claimed to be a childhood friend of the premier, said during a visit to the village that he spent much time listening to his younger friend talk. "He was one of the kids who was smarter than the others. His speaking, his rhetoric, was very good. During farm work, he liked to chat a lot, he made a lot of jokes," he said.

Noeun said Hun Sen left the village to stay in a Buddhist pagoda in the capital when he was about 16 years old. The Hun family, he said, had left the village in about 1963 to move to Memot district, located on the Vietnamese border, but they returned in 1969 after the start of the American bombing campaign in east Cambodia.

After Hun Sen left the village, Noeun said, he did not see him again until 1974 when he showed up on a motorbike at a local primary school as a Khmer Rouge cadre carrying an AK-47 rifle. Hun Sen told his friend, "I just came again today and I don't know when I will come back or if I will die."

Veteran CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said during an interview last week that he remembered Hun Sen exhibited leadership qualities and a capacity to learn quickly early in his career. These skills, Yeap said, allowed Hun Sen to gain loyalty from his staff, to impress officials from Vietnam, whose military remained in Cambodia from 1979 to 1989, and to sway members of the Khmer People's Revolutionary Party - the previous name of the CPP.

"I met him in 1979 ... He was the youngest foreign minister in the world," Yeap recounted. "Even though he was five years younger than me, I saw he was hard working," he said. "[Hun Sen] only finished grade 3 or 4, before joining the resistance movement. Even though he studied a little bit, he learned very fast," Yeap said. "He liked to communicate with people, especially with those with more experience."

One man who takes a darker view of the young Hun Sen and his rise to power is Pen Sovann, the first prime minister of the PRK, who served as premier for only a few months in 1981 before being arrested and held under house arrest in Hanoi for nine years by the Vietnamese government. "Vietnam ordered me to be arrested by 12 armed soldiers. Hun Sen was there to read the charges against me," Sovann said during an interview at his Takeo province home. Sovann said he was purged by the Vietnamese authorities because of his independent political leadership and his opposition to a number of government policies proposed by Vietnam.

He claimed Hun Sen was appointed prime minister in 1985 because "[Vietnamese authorities] believed and depended on Hun Sen as they believed he would do everything for Vietnam." The former prime minister, who knew Hun Sen from the time he joined the Front in Vietnam, characterized him as smart and a talented public speaker, but also as an authoritarian with few scruples.

"He learns very fast and then he can lecture [on a topic] later on," he said. "Hun Sen has outstanding capacities. His intellect is strong, but he has no morals to go along with it." Sovann said he was "not surprised" by Hun Sen's world-beating political longevity. "Hun Sen likes power; he wants to increase his power. He doesn't listen to anyone ... If anyone criticizes him, he will do anything to defend his power."

Following the Paris Peace Agreements in the early 1990s and the subsequent United Nations-supervised transition from a Vietnamese-backed communist government to a fledgling democracy, Hun Sen quickly showed he was a clever politician who could woo Cambodia's largely rural and uneducated electorate. By the end of the decade, he had also managed to disband the Khmer Rouge step by step by offering amnesty to defectors.

Despite his political skills, Hun Sen did not shy away from using violence against political opposition. In 1997, he took over the government by force and the ensuing fighting killed about 100 people, mostly from the rival Funcinpec Party, according to a 2008 US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, which referred to the takeover as an "unlawful seizure of power".

Before the military takeover, a grenade attack hit a peaceful opposition rally in Phnom Penh, which killed 16 children, men and women and wounded more than 100 others. Recent disclosures of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) probe into the attack, which was conducted because an American citizen was injured in the blast, were made under a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Cambodia Daily, a local English-language newspaper.

The investigation, which was cut short due to intensifying threats to the FBI agent, found evidence that directly implicated Hun Sen's bodyguard unit and the CPP, while highly placed witnesses declined to cooperate with the FBI, according to the records disclosed to the newspaper. The US government reacted to the violent events of 1997 by banning direct aid to Cambodia for a decade. As the US Congressional Research Service noted, "The autocratic tendencies of Prime Minister Hun Sen have discouraged foreign investment and strained US-Cambodian relations."

Mixed reviews

Although opinions vary among researchers and observers on Hun Sen's accomplishments during his 25-year reign, most acknowledged the transformation of war-torn Cambodia into a stable, peaceful country with an open and growing economy as his principal achievement. Before economic growth came to a halt last year due to the global economic crisis, Cambodia's economy grew an average 9.5% per year from 2002 to 2008, according to a recent World Bank report.

However, human-rights abuses, land evictions, rampant corruption among government officials, a lack of an independent judiciary and intimidation of political opponents have also been part of life in Cambodia under Hun Sen, local and international human-rights groups have said. Last year saw a rise in court cases against political opponents and other critics of Hun Sen.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, of the eponymous political party, is currently in France but facing criminal charges in Cambodia over the removal of boundary posts along the border with Vietnam. Rainsy said Hun Sen had shown during his long premiership that his objectives were personal and did not serve ordinary Cambodians. "It is obvious that Hun Sen's only or predominant goal is to remain in power, to survive politically ... Power is everything for him. But above all, power means impunity for him and his clan," Rainsy wrote in an e-mail.

"But when survival is your life goal you cannot have any vision. This is why Cambodia under Hun Sen is going nowhere, if not down the drain, [through] corruption, poverty, human-rights abuses, in spite of competent civil servants, dedicated civil society and abundant natural resources," he wrote. "Hun Sen has had only two ways in dealing with his political opponents: Buy them or eliminate them either physically, [through] grenade attack, military coup [...] or politically, [through] sham lawsuits ... There is no example in the whole world of any country being a democratic and prosperous one with the same top leader for decades," Rainsy added.

According to historian Evan Gottesman, author of the 2003 book Cambodia After the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen's durability is in itself exceptional. "The fact that the same man who led Cambodia in 1985 could also run the Cambodia of 2010 is remarkable," Gottesman said via e-mail. "Hun Sen's most impressive achievement was his ability to lead Cambodia from being an isolated communist country to economic and political integration with the non-communist countries of the region," he said.

"Hun Sen's greatest failure is his failure to promote, in fact, his willingness to undermine democratic institutions such as an independent judiciary, accountable security forces and a professional civil service," he added. According to Gottesman, three qualities are central to Hun Sen's hold on power: The first is ideological flexibility, which he said became apparent when Hun Sen decided to quickly abandon communist orthodox ideas in the late 1980s when it suited the situation.

"The second is a willingness to be absolutely ruthless with his opponents when he feels it necessary. The third is his cultivation of a patronage system that supports him," Gottesman wrote. "[A] lack of an independent judiciary or accountability for human-rights abuses persist because these hallmarks of modern democracies do not serve the interests of leaders who intend to remain in power indefinitely," he added. Reflecting on how the character of the 1980s communist PRK regime, many of whose officials are still in the government, influences Cambodia today, Gottesman said, "Cambodia's government is still built on patronage systems that support top officials, with Hun Sen at the top."

Rights and wrongs

International environmental watchdog Global Witness said in a February 2009 report entitled "Country for Sale" that its research indicated revenues from Cambodia's growing oil and mining industries were being siphoned off by a network of corrupt officials. "Rather than using these millions to lift its people out of poverty, Cambodia's government could instead continue to follow the example of neighboring Burma [Myanmar], where an autocratic elite uses money generated from the country's natural resource wealth to rule over an impoverished majority," the report warned.

Janice Beanland from rights group Amnesty International's Southeast Asia Team said in an e-mail that the protection of human rights in Cambodia under Hun Sen had come "a very long way" since the 1985 communist regime. However, she added that his government had often failed to undertake serious attempts to further improve the country's human-rights record, which remains poor. "[T]he lack of accountability and the culture of impunity that held sway [in the 1980s] remains in place to quite a degree. Judicial reform remains a plan, rule of law is not yet in place and for most Cambodians, there is very limited protection for human rights," Beanland said.

"[I]f the prime minister had wanted to institutionalize human-rights protection - through the legal system, the government administrative structures and independent institutions - he would have had the power to do so," she said. "The continued lack of integrity and independence within the court system, for instance, testifies to the limited human-rights commitment of the government."

Chea Vannath, a local independent political analyst, said Hun Sen's most important accomplishment was restoring peace in Cambodia, while adding that his premiership had lacked in economic management and improving child and maternal health. "His achievement is that he was able to bring peace to Cambodia, a very valuable achievement. His shortcoming is the economy, it moves but it stumbles ... It seems the economy could have done better, maternal and child health should also be better," she said.

Vannath said Hun Sen's strengths included his ability to cope and navigate a changing political climate and system, his ability to equitably share political power with others and his vigilance to not rest on his laurels."So far, another blessing is [his] good health," she added.

According to historian Henri Locard, who has taught at the Royal University of Phnom Penh since the early 1990s, one of Hun Sen's primary skills is his ability to fascinate the Cambodian public. "Hun Sen is a past-master in the control of rhetoric ... He is sure to hold the majority of the population by the invisible thread and the fascination of his words," Locard said. After the dark days of the Khmer Rouge and the communist government, Cambodians now "relish all their newly-acquired freedoms", he said, adding, "With one major exception: the freedom to challenge his all-embracing power ... there is a great deal of self-censorship exerted in this country."

Indeed, many civil society members and researchers consulted for this article, foreign and local, declined to comment directly on Hun Sen's premiership. CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap contested Hun Sen's record of human-rights abuses, tolerance of corruption and intimidation of political opponents. "Fighting corruption is not easy. Europe and the US have these problems too," he said. "Sam Rainsy breaks the law and then he says his rights are violated when he gets charged."

Yeap contended that Hun Sen and other CPP members had built up the country after its near-complete destruction by the Khmer Rouge. "I would like to ask you who could do it? [Opposition leaders] Sam Rainsy, Ranariddh, Kem Sokha couldn't do it ... They came later on, then they demanded this, they demanded that. They want freedom to attack everyone, everything. The CPP cannot allow them to do that."

On December 27, the 25th anniversary of his appointment as acting prime minister, Hun Sen met with members of his family at a hotel in Phnom Penh and contemplated a time when he no longer ruled Cambodia. Should that day come, according to Hun Sen, members of his powerful extended family could find the tables turned against them if they alienated ordinary Cambodians.

"If Hun Sen loses power, you will become a target for attacks if you do not follow my advice," he said during his televised remarks, advising his family that they should show charity and concern for the less fortunate. It was a rare reflection by the strongman leader on the eventual limits of his rule.

Paul Vrieze
is a reporter with the Phnom Penh-based The Cambodia Daily.
Phann Ana
, also a reporter at the newspaper, contributed to the reporting

Healing a fractured nation: Cambodians seek justice

I selected this article mostly because of the political science background of the people mentioned in the article. It also gives me some ideas for what I can or should be doing with my background.

Thursday, January 21, 2010
By Kate Fechter

Washburn University and the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice came together to hold the fifth forum in the series Resolving Conflict in a Fractured World Thursday, Jan. 14 at the Washburn School of Law.

Co-sponsored by Phi Alpha Theta, the presentation, “Seeking Justice After Genocide: International Courts and Cambodia,” featured Washburn alumna Samantha Gassie who shared her knowledge of the Cambodian hybrid judicial system. The system includes the Extraordinary Chambers and Courts of Cambodia, which is currently trying to provide justice for the people of Cambodia over the war crimes committed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Gassie, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Washburn, studied in Cambodia when writing her thesis. Bob Beatty, Gassie’s mentor, who told her about the opportunity in Cambodia also spoke at the event, along with Thomas Prasch.

During her time in Cambodia in the fall of 2008, Gassie conducted 17 interviews in fall of 2008. Her interviews ranged from people from the U.S. and Canada who were involved in the legalities, to Cambodian citizens who shared with her their personal accounts of surviving the Khmer Rouge. Everyone above a certain age is either a victim or a perpetrator.

The Khmer Rouge was in total power from 1975-1979. During that time period, an estimated 1.3 to 3.3 million were massacred in the killing fields, amounting to almost 50 percent of the country’s population.

People were brought into S-21 or Tuol Sleng, a school turned into an interrogation center, for questioning. They were tortured until they named five names of usually innocent friends or neighbors and then killed. The people named were then brought in for the same treatment, creating a deadly cycle of violence. Of the 17,000 people that went in, only 12 people total walked out. There are four survivors of S-21 alive today.

The ECCC was established in 2001 by negotiations between the United Nations and Cambodian officials. Gassie said it is a unique war crimes tribunal because it is inside Cambodia, meaning there is a lot of victim involvement. The ECCC and the Cambodian national government are working to set up education to strengthen and improve the credibility of the justice system in the country.

However, the tribunal does have its problems. The process has suffered from a lack of impartiality, because most judges and lawyers are from the victim community. Beyond that, the process itself has been slowed by issues reaching a consensus between the Cambodian judges and the U.N., and finding a balance for victim involvement in the process.

Translation has also been a problem for the tribunal because the court works in three languages: French, Khmer and English. There has been an issue with possible corruption in the translations because Cambodians translate.

Problems aside, there are five people from the Khmer Rouge leaders waiting to stand trial. Gassie spoke about one trial that was already conducted by the ECCC. Comrade Duch, the commander of S-21 was tried in 2009. During his trial, the defense wanted to have him released because they said the court was not credible.

The ECCC cannot hand down death sentences, only life in prison. Most defendants are 80 or older now meaning the trials are more of a healing process for the Cambodians than powerful punishments for the perpetrators. The hope is that the process will help Cambodians to move forward.

“The most hopeful thing is that Cambodians can build a sense of law and order,” Gassie said. “Cambodians can use the ECCC as a stepping stone to move forward and collectively face the atrocities as a nation.”

Gassie is currently working on her doctorate at Arizona State for political science with a major in comparative politics and a minor in international relations. Her capstone project featuring the interviews from her time in Cambodia can be found in the Mabee Library.

“I think ECCC is something everyone should be aware of,” said Dan Locey, a Washburn alumnus who went to Cambodia with Beatty in May 2008. “People my age and younger can’t remember the Khmer Rouge. Any attempt to bring ECCC to light is helpful.”

The Topeka Center for Peace and Justice will be working with Washburn to bring more forums on international justice to campus in the coming months.

Kate Fechter is a junior mass media major. Reach her at

Fishermen drowning under threats to livelihood

This article features a friend from Scotland, David Thomson, whom I met while I was living and working in Siem Reap until 2007. The premise of this article emphasizes the struggle over growth which Cambodia is experiencing due to its push for development. A lot of this struggle is at the hands of the increasing number of foreigners descending on Cambodia like a "gold rush", therefore increasing the demands for infrastructure that cannot be readily supplied in Cambodia without great costs to its natural and cultural resources. It is the very real dilemma of development that many nations have faced, are currently facing or will be facing. And none seem to take a look at history beforehand.

January 21, 2010
By Nicholas Dynan (Tufts University)
Student Correspondent Corps
Global Post

CHONG KHNEAS, Cambodia — The crowd waits on the muddy banks of the lake in a throng of motorbikes, trucks, bicycles and people. When the colorful fishing boats slide onto shore, the fish buyers clamber onto the decks of the boast and scramble to unpack the fish within the hulls.

The importance of the Tonle Sap Lake in the Mekong Basin cannot be overstated. It provides a major source of protein for Cambodians, including the more than 1 million people who live around the lake.

Fishing is also the sole source of income for most lake residents, though a number of small business enterprises have also sprouted up — including vegetable gardens, fruit and flower tree plantations and hydroponic farming. For most, fishing is all they have, and it keeps them poor.

In recent years, things have gotten even worse. A multitude of issues currently affects the Tonle Sap Lake — among them dams upstream, deforestation, pesticides and overfishing.


An economic boom in Cambodia has increased the country's need for electricity, which in turn is bringing foreign investment in dams. Electricity is projected to grow at a rate of 20 percent per year over the next several years. China, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand have planned and already begun construction on hydroelectric dams along the Mekong and its tributaries. Many of these dams are being supported by funds from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The dams will begin to have an impact in one to two years, threatening the lake's ecology. Since China is responsible for many of the dams and is the largest international investor in the country in general, Cambodia is reluctant to challenge its neighbor to the north.

Access to power will likely improve as a result of the dams, but marine life will perish: Eighty-seven percent of fish species in the Mekong migrate annually to feed and breed. Upstream dams are expected to raise water levels that would widen the lake and destroy up to one-third of the flooded forests where fish spawn.


While deforestation has abated in Cambodia, it continues around the lake. People seeking to develop areas of the flooded forests around the lake clear trees en masse and without thought to the environment. David Thomson, director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Cambodia repeats an old Khmer proverb: “No forests, no fish, no Cambodia.”


Chong Kneas is located in Siem Reap province, which is home to famed Angkor Wat and draws millions of tourists every year. According to Thomson, there is a demand for local produce among the growing number of foreign tourists in the area, but he says the tourists don't want food grown with pesticides, which most of the farmers use. Local farmers and fishermen have resisted farming without pesticides, mainly due the fact that many think they will suffer a loss in profit.

Illegal fishing

Illegal fishing — often for family consumption rather than commercial profit — is particularly destructive to the lake's ecosystem since it circumvents fishing limits. Illegal techniques include poison and electric fishing gear, which is used to electrocute fish. Some fishermen bribe their way into restricted areas, and encroach upon fishing sanctuaries.

Government efforts

In 2001, the government made radical changes in fishing policies. More than half of the sections, or “lots” of the lake — about 239,000 square miles of fishing grounds — previously controlled by commercial fisheries were released to lakeside communities.

Thomson calls this an exceptional improvement in fishing management.

“It is almost unique in the world” to take domain from commercial entities and relinquish it to local fishermen. “It is tremendously commendable.”

At the same time, “it is also fraught with great difficulties,” such as management and implementation of a new sustainable fishing policy.

“It is not that easy, but it is a tremendous step forward because all over the world ... fishing rights and fishing access are being taken away from small-scale fishers.”

The trend toward consolidating large-scale fishing has been seen in many African nations, such as Senegal, Angola and Mozambique.

Community fisheries
In Cambodia, community fisheries have been established by the FAO with funds from the ADB (Ironically, the community fisheries are under threat from upstream dams which, are also supported by the ADB). The system of community fisheries works against clearing the flooded forest and pesticides. It also supports community input as well as transparency in the fishing village. The FAO hopes that empowerment will help to reduce corruption and illegal fishing.

A report on this 10-year project of community fisheries is expected to be released within the next few weeks. Local fishermen say they hope progress is notable, but it hasn't been easy to include everyone in the system of community fisheries.

Obstacles to outreach

On his rickety houseboat in the floating village of Chong Khneas, Tan Van Minh, a Vietnamese national living in this Cambodian village, picks at his calloused hands, rough from hours tending his set nets in the Tonle Sap. Tan is one of 2,070 Vietnamese fishermen living in the 6,100-member village.

While he is a resident fisherman, he cannot participate or attend community fisheries meetings because the 2002 Fisheries Sub-Decree includes only Cambodian nationals. Excluding him from the system means he learns less about sustainable fishing. Only the Vietnamese village chief serves as the voice of the Vietnamese during community fishery meetings.

However, many Vietnamese fishers, including Tan, say they know nothing about community fisheries.

Conflict erupts between the Vietnamese and Cambodian fishers at times because of difference in fish catches. Some Vietnamese fishermen are known for staying out on the lake longer and catching more fish as a result. Many also have more money to buy larger nets. The discrepancy in catch between a Cambodian fisherman and a Vietnamese fisherman can fuel ethnic conflict.

In addition, Cambodian inspection officials have been known to target the Vietnamese fishermen. Each year, Tan must put much of his $1-a-day profit toward payment to the fishery inspectors and district inspector. There isn't much left to care for his family.

It is an open secret among fishing villagers in Chong Khneas that rising prices and lack of alternative income has increased illegal fishing. While many of these villagers understand the drawbacks of illegal fishing, daily survival wins out.

As Thomson says, “the problem with the project in early stages is ... it doesn’t put any more rice on the table.”

With the list of threats mounting, the future of the Tonle Sap remains unsure.

Back on shore, the racket of bargaining persists. Crates are filled tight with fish, and men strain under their heavy loads as they carry the boxes to awaiting vehicles. As the last fish is purchased, the noise dies away, and only the carcasses of gutted fish float gently on the surface of the water.

This report comes from a journalist in our Student Correspondent Corps, a GlobalPost project training the next generation of foreign correspondents while they study abroad.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cambodia seeks to end child labour

While I'm not specifically researching child labor, it is definitely relevant to the desired outcomes of the research analysis: a better prepared and more capable human resource capacity.

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
20 January 2010

Poor families in poor health, the loss of land and the legacy of war are all contributing to a child labor problem in Cambodia, the country’s national International Labor Organization coordinator said Monday.

“The latest studies we have show that in many countries, if there exists child labor, that country is in heavy poverty,” said the coordinator, Chhorvirith Theng, as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “In a country where educational development exists, that country has no child labor. So on both these tendencies, the government of Cambodia is paying attention. For instance, we take education as a core sector.”

The government and private sector are working to jointly eliminate child labor in Cambodia by 2015, Chhorvirith Theng said, through plans to educate people at the grassroots level, as well as vocational and skills training and microfinance.

A national survey in 2001 found 1.5 million children aged 5 to 17 who were economically active in Cambodia. Around 250,000 were working in risky occupations.

Child labor is not only a problem in Cambodia, but around the world, Chhorvirith Theng said. The ILO estimates as many as 250 million children involved in labor, with the majority involved in dangerous jobs that can be damaging physically, mentally and spiritually.

Going places in Phnom Penh

A Cambodian man transports goods by motorbike as he heads to a main market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010. Traffic injuries are a major problem in Cambodia, where about 4 people per day are killed in accidents, according to a government report. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Nobel Laureate: Human Resource is the Major Problem Facing Cambodia

This article emphasizes what I'm in the middle of analyzing in my public policy research concerning what affects the employment status of Cambodian youth.

As other developing countries in the world, the major problem facing Cambodia is the serious lack of human resources for the country’s development, according to Professor David Jonathan Gross, a Nobel Laureate for Physics.

Prof. Gross said through his lecture and dialogue with some participants and people he met, he observes that there are quite a lot of brilliant young people in Cambodia, which will be important for Cambodia’s future development, but the most important thing is whether they are given opportunity to develop their skills.

“It’s a major problem - human resources,” Gross said in a phone interview with VOA Khmer during his visit to Cambodia’s Siem Reap province. “I’ve met a lot of very hopeful people. You know that’s the most important thing. People are very optimistic about the future. Cambodia has a lot of great resources. I have a lot of faith in young people, very brilliant young minds that could do great things just given the opportunity. I have tried to tell them that they should dream big. I have talked to people about giving young people opportunity.”

Prof. Gross is a Nobel Laureate for Physics in 2004. He has discovered and explored the force that binds particles inside an atomic nucleus. This phenomenon led to a whole new physical theory and enabled scientists to complete the standard model of particle physics, which describes the fundamental particles in nature, and how they interact with one another.

Gross said there are two kinds of human resources. While the majority of people are just working forces, others have special talents and great minds, who make great contributions to the country’s development. This kind of people should be given special opportunity.

"And then, very gifted people, whose minds you really don’t want to waste and who will contribute very important contributions to the society,’’ Prof. Gross said. ‘’And it’s important to make sure you don’t lose those really special people, and you give them opportunities. You will have to enable them to go abroad. It’s also important to identify very brilliant people and give them special opportunities because those people can make important contributions.”

Chek Chan Oeun, a physics lecturer at Royal University of Phnom Penh, who participated in the Professor Gross’s lecture, said the lecture paves the way for participants, especially for students to a broader scientific research and open their minds to how science can help social development.

“Through this lecture, we have acquired some knowledge related to universe, dark energy, dark materials, and the evolution of the universe,” Chek Chan Oeun said. “In addition, it encourages students to find out what has been discovered by scientists, what is still unknown, and what they are doing to help the world.”

“In the future I want to be like him and discover new things to meet the needs of the world,” said Sun Limhour, a 4th year student in physics department of Royal University of Phnom Penh. “I have loved electronics since I was young. It is a true science.”

The visit by Prof. David Jonathan Gross intends to strengthen the relationship among nations in Southeast Asia and ASEAN with the rest of the world, according to the organizer.

“It’s our aim really to build these bridges not only with Nobel laureates from the United States or Europe and the societies here in Southeast Asia, but between the societies in ASEAN to reach more cooperation on the level of education because education as we think is basic for peace and that’s why we are doing this program at the universities and at schools here in Cambodia and also in other countries in the region,” said Morawetz, director of International Peace Foundation.

Born in Washington, D.C., Professor David Jonathan Gross, received his undergraduate degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1962 and then continued his education at University of California, Berkley, from where he received his Ph.D. in physics in 1966. He then served as a junior fellow at Harvard University. Professor Gross is now a director and holder of the Frederick W. Gluck Chair in Theoretical Physics at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of California in Santa Barbara and a member of the Advisory Board of the Intentional Peace Foundation.

As part of the “Bridges” program by the International Peace Foundation, the next Nobel Laureate who will pay a visit to Cambodia on January 20 is Professor Eric Stark Maskin, a 2007 Nobel Laureate for Economics.

By Im Sothearith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
19 January 2010

Paving Over Cambodia's Violent Past

Infrastructure is just one of the many areas of Cambodia's development where progress brings numerous benefits to the masses: economics, health, education and more!

This article highlights some of the pro's and con's of building, or re-building, Cambodia's road system.

With financing from several foreign governments and the Asian Development Bank, hundreds of miles of roads are being completed and many more hundreds are under construction in Cambodia.

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA — Bullet by bullet, workers removed the detritus of Cambodia’s past. They pulled 300 land mines and 30,000 rounds of ammunition from the red dirt and then laid down a thick layer of asphalt. Today, what would pass for a very ordinary road in wealthier parts of the world is precious pavement for a country motoring toward prosperity and trying to leave its bloody past behind.

Last month, the government inaugurated the newly refurbished Routes 5 and 6, both built during the French colonial era to connect the capital, Phnom Penh, with the Thai border.

Western Cambodia was the last holdout of the Khmer Rouge, the brutal regime toppled three decades ago. Rebel units held onto remote areas into the 1990s, skirmishing periodically with government forces and leaving the roads in total disrepair, a moonscape of potholes and mud that gave travelers sore backs and made for a crater-dodging, head-bumping ride.

Now enjoying the dividends of peace, Cambodia is halfway through a road-building spree with 10 projects totaling 1,173 kilometers, or 730 miles, of pavement still under way, said Prime Minister Hun Sen, who presided over the ceremony on Dec. 28. A further 11 major roads are under negotiation, he said.

The new roads make the storied temples of Angkor Wat a comfortable drive from the Thai border — and a short day’s drive from Bangkok. The roads also put more remote historic sites — in a country filled with them — within easy reach for tourists.

Roads are a big deal in Cambodia, and more than 5,000 villagers were summoned to attend the road’s official inauguration — farmers who arrived by bicycle, monks with freshly shaved heads, children in school uniforms. Organizers stenciled messages onto large banners strung across the canopy that gave shade from the searing sun: “Where there are bridges and roads there is hope.”

Cambodia’s road-building program is now taking “elephant steps, not mouse steps,” Mr. Hun Sen told the crowd.

Like the North-South Expressway in peninsular Malaysia, the American-built Friendship Road across Thailand’s northeast and the vast network of roads built by China over the past decade, roads are a key milestone of development in Asia.

For Cambodia, in particular, good roads help bring together a country fractured by civil war.

“This section was a very heavy battlefield,” said Pheng Sovicheano, the project manager of the road to the Thai border.

Mr. Pheng Sovicheano, who is also Cambodia’s deputy director general for public works, knows firsthand how bad the road was. During construction his driver drove into what looked like a large muddy pothole but turned out to be a small pond, flooding the car up to his chest.

Now, as a measure of Cambodia’s national reconciliation, some of the 360 workers Mr. Pheng Sovicheano hired to build the road were former Khmer Rouge soldiers.

Roads are expensive — $350,000 per kilometer for the road to the Thai border. But with many countries jockeying for influence in Cambodia the government appears to have no trouble finding financing. China is building a number of roads here, including one that passes through the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin.

Route 5 and Route 6 were financed with a low-interest, 32-year loan by the Asian Development Bank in Manila, an institution whose largest shareholders are Japan and the United States. South Korea is financing other road projects.

Mr. Hun Sen seems to enjoy playing these donors off each other. In his speech he chided the Asian Development Bank for its sluggish and bureaucratic two-year bidding process and praised the speed of Chinese projects.

“I compliment the way the Chinese companies work — very fast,” Mr. Hun Sen said, pointedly glancing over at the representative from the Asian Development Bank.

Political ties between Thailand and Cambodia have been strained by a territorial dispute near a 900-year-old mountaintop temple, Preah Vihear, but officials made no mention of the troubles.

Economic ties endure: By the end of this year western Cambodia will have three good roads leading to Thailand, connections that the government hopes will increase trade and investment. Western Cambodia gets most of its electricity from Thailand, and the company that built the road to the border, S.P.T. Civil Group, is based in Thailand. (The company has ties to Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai prime minister deposed in the military coup of 2006 who last year was named Mr. Hun Sen’s economic adviser.)

The new roads will make it easier for Thai companies to sell more cement, instant noodles and other products across the border. For Japanese companies, the roads will link the supply chains of factories in Bangkok and in Ho Chi Minh City.

And for villagers in western Cambodia, it may help lift rock-bottom incomes.

Yong Da, a 39-year-old deliveryman in the town of Kralanh, has more than doubled his income because of the new road. “The road was bumpy, and I could not take much stuff on my motorcycle,” he said. He now makes $2.50 a day, up from a dollar a day.

The sheets of dust that enveloped the roadside are also gone, and villagers say their children no longer have trouble breathing.

Good roads and the end of the civil war have allowed villagers to take back the night. Travel after dark was discouraged two decades ago because of poor security and the perils of bad pavement.

But with modernity comes another type of danger. Mr. Pheng Sovicheano says he was driving to Phnom Penh one night recently when he came upon a road accident.

A young man had been killed on his motorcycle when he rammed into the back of a poorly lighted truck. The boy’s distraught mother blamed the good road, Mr. Pheng Sovicheano remembers.

“She said, ‘Before, when there were bad roads, he never drove this fast.”’

January 18, 2010
The New York Times