By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Pacific Daily News, July 21, 2010
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Obama national security strategy “to achieve
the world that we seek” through pursuing “four enduring national interests” —
security, prosperity, values, international order — that are “inextricably
linked. … No single interest can be pursued in isolation.”
Critics find the strategy weak on human rights.
Yet, the NSS paper says in a section on values (Page 35), “The U.S. believes
certain values are universal” — peoples’ “freedom to speak their minds,
assemble without fear, worship as they please, and choose their own leaders” —
and the U.S. “will work to promote them worldwide.”
It admits that autocratic rulers “have repressed basic human rights and
democratic principles,” but declares, “The U.S. supports those who seek to
exercise universal rights around the world.”
To many international rights reformers, U.S. words and actions don’t jibe.
Some critics say there are rights and policies the U.S. should support
unconditionally, regardless of how many other nations in the world oppose them.
Some Obama supporters say that condemning every rights violator would leave the
U.S. with few to work with; U.S. national interests are better served through
Yet, the “inextricably linked” four enduring national interests mean unless the
U.S. upholds “respect for universal values at home and around the world,” it
can’t “achieve the world that we seek.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s U.S. leadership consists of “providing
incentives for states who are part of the solution, … and disincentives for
those who do not … live up to responsibilities.”
On July 8, Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. to halt aid to Premier Hun
Sen’s “abusive military units.” It criticized Washington for selecting Cambodian
military units with a record of human rights abuses to be host of the largest
multinational peacekeeping military exercise in Asia July 12-30, co-hosted by
the U.S. Pacific Command.
HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson chastised the Pentagon and the State
Department: to “permit abusive Cambodian military units to host a high-profile
regional peacekeeping exercise is outrageous.” It “undermines (U.S.) protests
against the (Sen) government for rampant rights abuses like forced evictions
when it showers international attention and funds on military units involved in
land grabbing and other human rights violations.”
HRW charges that the U.S has provided more than $4.5 million worth of military
equipment and training to Cambodia since 2006. “Some of that aid has gone to
units and individuals within the Cambodian military with records of serious
human rights violations.”
It linked Premier Sen’s personal bodyguards and Brigade 70 to the 1997 grenade
attack on the political opposition; Airborne Brigade 911 to arbitrary
detentions, political violence, torture and summary executions; Brigade 31 to
forced evictions of Kampot villagers, illegal logging, land grabbing,
intimidation of opposition party activists during the 2008 national elections
and to summary executions of captured soldiers loyal to the royalist FUNCINPEC
party during Sen’s 1997 coup.
On July 13, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights’s legal analysis shows the
Cambodian judicial system is “broken” and is used as a tool to intimidate
opposition voices, including the Supreme Court’s conviction of lawmaker Mu
Sochua for defaming Sen.
Sochua sued premier Sen for the equivalent of 12 cents for calling her “cheung
klang,” or “strong legs,” a derogatory term, in a public address, saying she
unbuttoned her blouse in front of an officer. Sen counter-sued Sochua for
defaming him. Sen’s Municipal Court dismissed Sochua’s suit for lack of
evidence, but upheld Sen’s. It ordered Sochua to pay approximately $4,000 in
fines by July 15 or go to prison.
On June 2, as Sen’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict and ordered Sochua to pay
fines or go to prison, foreign donors awarded $1.1 billion in development aid to
the Sen regime.
So, what were Clinton’s incentives and disincentives?
Cambodia may yet experience Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” — “that magic
moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and
spreads like wildfire” — as Sochua stands her ground. She would rather go to
prison than pay fines for a crime she never committed.
“It is my conscience that tells me that we have to stop living in fear, and fear
of one man who has ruled Cambodia for over 30 years. … And for me, it’s a
gender issue as well. Because if I allow it to happen, if I pay the fine, what
does it mean to the value of women who represent more than half of the people of
Cambodia?” Sochua told Voice of America.
Gladwell suggested that the world “may seem like an immovable, implacable place.
It is not. With the slightest push — in just the right place — it can be
tipped.” But, there must be “a bedrock belief that change is possible.”
Sochua, a 56-year-old mother of three daughters, a nominee for the 2005 Nobel
Peace Prize, may well provide Gladwell’s “right kind of impetus” to the tipping
The Sen regime was not so foolish as not to see the trap, however. By the
weekend, the regime backtracked. It no longer seeks a jail term for Sochua, but
will impound Sochua’s parliamentary salary for the fines.
The Sen regime has initiated a new round of political Ramvong — a circle dance
in which participants go around and around as long as the drumbeats continue. It
has averted international embarrassment for now.
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he
taught political science for 13 years. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original article here.