Monthly Archives: September 2010

There are Millions of Sam Rainsys. I am Sam Rainsy.

On September 29, 2010, KambodschaBlog posted an article titled, ‘Mu Sochua: “There are Millions of Sam Rainsys. I am Sam Rainsy.”‘ Posted in German, an English language translation can be found here.

Sochua is quoted saying, “Even today, every day … I get inside the car and say: ‘This is my last moment.’ But it is personal and I try to push it out because then you live in fear and it’s the fear that haunts you, it’s the fear that paralyses you, it’s the fear that ends your fight for justice. And it gets to the point where I say: ‘Let it be.’ I don’t know how my life is going to end but life has to end. If it has to end this way it’s an end for the people, for justice, for a cause. I think it … helps me not to live in fear.”

Read the full article (in German language) here.

Organizing Farmers in Cambodia’s Last Frontier

Battambang. September 21, 2010

Lush corn, cassava and bean fields stretch a far as the foot of the limestone mountain range that separates Cambodia from Thailand, in the North West districts of Kom Rieng, Sompuev Loun and Phnom Preuk of Battambang province. It is the Cambodia that tourists don’t see, where little of the annual $2 billion U.S. development package is spent. This is the last frontier and one of the areas with the highest number of landmine victims in the country; an area in which malaria is still feared by the local residents.

Kon Reng, Cambodia

For years, the government has declared its strong commitment to the agricultural sector. However, such promise has brought no real results to improve the living conditions of the farmers in these three districts. Although the farmers have moved to the area more than two decades ago from all over the country, their rights to land tenure are not guaranteed until they have registered their land with the land management ministry the full title is issued to them. The land title registration process has benefited only 30% of Cambodians. Like farmers throughout the country, farmers in these three districts stand vulnerable to government’s economic land concessions policy that benefits mega companies at the expense of small farmers. Since 2009 over 150,000 families have been victims of land grabbing and economic land concessions.

Phnom Preuk: the Morning Mountain

Farmers work the land twelve months a year but due to lack of capital and access to credit, they depend on Thai farmers who are free to cross the border to sell seeds, fertilizers and farming equipment to Cambodian farmers. Thai farmers are well organized and have the backing of Cambodian local officials local who receive payments and cuts from deals; made at the expense of Cambodian farmers. Thai farmers set the price of the crops and this form of trade translates to Cambodian farmers using their own land to work for Thai farmers. Small farmers- who are mainly women and families of victims of landmines- talk of their concerns and fear of losing their land as they fall further into debt year after year.

Sampov Loun, Cambodia mung beans

Farmers hire extra labor, mainly women and children, to work in the fields, paying them less than US$ 1 a day. A great majority of workers are youth whose luck of finding work in their villages has failed. They work wherever they can, crossing the border every day to Thailand where they are offered US$3 per day. Border police and the middlemen take one third of their earnings and their savings are sent back home.

Organizing local farmers

Organizing farmers is essential to ensure that our farmers- Cambodian farmers- have bargaining power with Thai farmers.

Children working on the corn farms for daily survival

Loans at low interest rate and technical inputs should be provided to our farmers in order to assist them in obtaining higher yield and better use of their land. Special assistance should be provided to women farmers and farmers with disabilities.

Economic land concessions must stop. Furthermore, the Courts must not be used as a tool for the government to prevent farmers from exercising their right to protest against illegal land concessions to powerful companies.

Female Face of Poverty in Issue of Land Tenure

On September 14, 2010 Cambodia Daily published my article:

The Female Face of Poverty is Seen in Issue of Land Tenure.

“I wish to congratulate Kuch Naren for her excellent report on the high number of women in land protests in her recent article (“The Increasingly Female Face of Land Protests,”Sept 2 page 1).

The article focused on the number of women. I wish to draw the attention of policy makers and lawmakers to the serious social and economic impact on women, families and on society in our women’s desperate fight for land tenure.

Denying people their right to land tenure is a violation of their constitutional rights, a deprivation of their basic human right for security, an affront to their dignity and their right to development.”

Read the full article in the link above.

Workshop on Achieving MDG3 by 2015

Raffles Hotel, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

On Wednesday 8th September, Mu Sochua’s team participated in an all-day “Workshop on Achieving MDG3 [in Cambodia] by 2015”, organized by the Technical Coordination Secretariat, in collaboration with the Ministry of Woman’s Affairs and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (co-funded by UNDP/Legislative Assistant Project, UNIFEM, UNMC and Action Aid).

In 2000, the United Nations recognized the central role of women in development in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which has the empowerment of women as one of its measurable goals (MDG3 – as “the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament).

As stated by the UN, Cambodia has made significant gains in changing attitudes towards women, as shown, for instance, by the rise in numbers of women in decision-making positions. However, there is still a lot to be done for women, and to achieve the MDG 3, especially in terms of domestic violence, which remains a very important issues in the daily life of Cambodian women.

The workshop organized yesterday was thus aimed at discussing the recent developments and the challenges remaining. Infront of a national and international audience of political figures, civil society staff, academics, and journalists, the speakers focused on 4 main set topics:

  • Women’s Political Participation
  • Political Parties and Women’s Participation
  • International and Regional Experiences in Achieving MDG3
  • Achieving MDG3 by 2015.

Speakers included national representatives (including Dr Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Mrs Thida Khus, Representing Committee to Promote Women in Politics, Executive Director of SILAKA), international academics (Prof. Drude Dahlerup, Political Science Dept, Stockholm University, Sweden), and international civil society members (Ms Wenny Kusuma, Country Director, UNIFEM) and politicians (Ms Nguyen Thi Kim Thuy, MP National Assembly Vietnam, member Committee on Social Affairs). All agreed on the positive evolution of the women’s status in Cambodia but underlined many points which still need to be advanced, including in terms of domestic violence and psychological discrimination. As Mr Douglas Broderick, UN Resident Coordinator himself declared, “immediate and urgent action is required […] we must double our efforts”.

Please click the link for the Workshop Agenda and speakers’ list.

Forced Labor Must be Attacked at Roots to Protect Workers

Mu Sochua. Cambodia Daily. September 06, 2010

A 25 year-old woman from Prey Veng province is desperately looking for help to avoid getting her land confiscated by the employment agency that has trained her as preparation for a job in Malaysia.

She wants to back out of the contract she signed with the agency, fearing her fate would be the as that of so many young women who have returned to Cambodia after their dream of a brighter future working as maids has actually resulted in a more difficult life.

She was told that she would have to repay the agency for the passport, visa and training costs they provided. She is more than desperate as she has in her hand an order from police to appear for questioning.

In the past few months, a series of recent articles about two labor recruitment first accused of illegally detaining hundreds of women seeking employment abroad have been reported by local and international media.

Read the full The Cambodia daily article.

Assassination of a Union Leader

  • Published: 1/09/2010 in The Bangkok Post.
  • Photos: Bangkok Post

Chea Vichea was the leader of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, seeking higher wages and improved conditions for garment workers. Frequently harassed, at times beaten, he worked on despite death threats and the attempted intimidation. On January 22, 2004 he was shot in the head and chest in the morning while reading a newspaper by two men driving by on a motorcycle.

Union Leader Chea Vichea

A few days after Vichea’s assassination, Cambodian police arrested two men and charged them with the murder. Born Samnang initially admitted to the killing but then publicly retracted, claiming to have been tortured into confessing. Witnesses placed Born Samnang in a different part of the country at the time of the murder. The second suspect, Sok Sam Oeun, denied any involvement and had alibis placing him with friends at the time.

The criminal investigation was done by Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district police and plagued by irregularities. Officers focused on threatening and rounding up those who provided alibis for the suspects, while witnesses were intimidated. Eventually on December 31, 2008, supreme court judge Dith Monty dismissed the conviction, and the two were provisionally released.

Who Killed Chea Vichea?, which captures the story as it unfolds, recently screened at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. Director Bradley Cox, who had interviewed Chea Vichea about his labour union activism, was on the scene moments after the murder, and followed the subsequent trial and conducted his own investigation. Jim Pollard, FCCT board member, called it one of the best documentaries ever made on Cambodia. Public screenings of the film have been banned in Cambodia.

Cambodian union leader Chea Vichea in 2003

Cox previously made the documentary Cambodia: Anatomy of an Election, was a co-founder of Bhutan’s first film school, has worked as a screenwriter and director in Los Angeles and has won numerous film festival awards. While filming the army crackdown on the red-shirt protests on May 19, Cox was shot in the leg at the same time that Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi was shot and killed. He took video of Polenghi as he was being carried away. We talked with Bradley Cox about Chea Vichea, reaction to the film and broader problems in Cambodia.
Is ‘Who Killed Chea Vichea?’ about the assassination of one individual or as much about broader issues in Cambodia? The movie is primarily an investigation into the murder of Chea Vichea and about the two men convicted for the crime. But I use the case to highlight a much bigger problem, that of the unchecked corruption and impunity that continues to plague Cambodia. Although there are plenty of movies about Cambodia, almost all of them focus on the past and the Khmer Rouge era. This film focuses on the present, Cambodia as it is now.
You knew Chea Vichea before his death. What was he like as an individual? I think the term “hero” is one of the most overused words in the English language but Chea Vichea was the real deal. He had a dangerous job and was beaten, arrested and threatened many times. Yet he refused to be intimidated and continued his work despite the risks. And in the end, he was killed for it.
The extraordinary aspect of the film is that it follows developments before and after the murder; viewers can watch the events unfold. But what brought you to Cambodia initially? I first met Vichea when he received a death threat just before the 2003 national election. According to police, it came from a high-ranking official in the government and they were powerless to intervene. My videotaped interview with Vichea was his last. Six months later to the day, he was assassinated. I arrived at the murder scene only minutes after it happened and followed the case closely, filming the funeral, the arrests of the two men and their conviction in court. I also conducted my own investigation into the case, something the police never bothered to do. The results, as seen in the movie, show quite clearly the two men are innocent.

What reasons did the Cambodian government give for banning the film? The government has given a litany of reasons, or should I say excuses, for not allowing the movie to be shown in Cambodia. Among them, it was not approved by the Ministry of Culture. It was also called an “illegal import” and, according to the Ministry of Interior, it was an incitement of the public. In addition, the Press and Quick Response Unit vowed to stop any future screenings wherever they are held. I should add that no government official has yet seen the movie. The real message here is that the authorities will censure anyone and any film that criticises the government.

In the media there seems to have been as many stories about the banning of your film as about the film itself. Did the government’s stance backfire in giving it more publicity? Prime Minister Hun Sen does not respond well to criticism. In the past, UN peace envoys who publicly decried Cambodia’s human rights abuses have been told they are no longer welcome in the kingdom. NGOs have been threatened with expulsion. More recently, journalists are threatened, arrested and jailed for articles critical of the government. The Minister of Information Khieu Kanarith was quoted as saying, “It might have been that the documentary intends to accuse the government of murder.” It may be one of the few true statements he’s ever made.

Have some of Chea Vichea’s union goals, like raising the minimum wage of garment factory workers, since been achieved? Although there have been small increases in salaries over the last few years, they have been outstripped by cost of living increases. Discontent among workers has been increasing and there are now plans afoot to mount big strikes sometime in the next month.

Has anyone else stepped into the void left by his murder – or was it successful in creating fear among potential activists? Fear has always been present among labour organisations in Cambodia trying to increase wages or improve working conditions. But the bar was raised substantially when Vichea was killed. In fact, two other organisers from Vichea’s union were killed subsequently to him. And all were done in the same way, by two men on a motorcycle. Many organisers are harassed, threatened and fired by their employers. This is a direct violation of the law but the law seldom matters when dealing with the police and the courts. What matters is who has the money and power. The workers have neither so it is always an uphill battle.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, initially arrested for and convicted of Chea’s murder, have been released from prison, and rights groups have said they were framed. Do you think those responsible for his murder will ever be held to account? Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have been released but only provisionally. In other words, if the court decided, they could be sent back to prison. So although I’m happy that they are free, the case continues to hang over their heads. They deserve to have the charges officially dropped, but it could be months or years before this happens. Why? Because this case has been an embarrassment to the Cambodian government since the beginning. The police frame-up of the two men was inept and the trial was a mockery of justice. I think the last thing the government wants is more headlines on this case. For this reason, I doubt there will be any more arrests or, for that matter, any real investigation.

Cambodia relies a lot on foreign aid and investment. Are these improving the country, or will corruption and mismanagement continue to hinder development? International donors gave $1.1 billion [34.4 billion baht] in aid to Cambodia this past year. According to Carol Rodley, the US ambassador to Cambodia, the country loses about $500 million a year to corruption. That’s a quarter of the national budget. One has to wonder who’s getting all that money. Top government officials give speeches about cracking down on corruption, but that’s for the benefit of donor countries with deep pockets. The truth is that the government is a kleptocracy and no one wants to kill the golden goose. For things to improve, there needs to political will, and there is none.
Are you working on other projects at the moment? I am finishing work on the DVD of Who Killed Chea Vichea?, which can be purchased through the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

Bradley Cox, director of ‘Who Killed Chea Vichea?’