Monthly Archives: December 2014

Building a Culture of Dialogue for Cambodia

2014 began with the killings of workers by paratroopers and the year was filled with other challenges to democracy, including the detention of my colleagues and myself.

Those challenges were somewhat the perfect storm as the people of Cambodia continue to move forward with our determination for change.

By the end of the year we turned a new page and move forward with a new culture of dialogue.

Here is the summary of 2014 and the beginning of 2015

I wish to thank you all for your support.

Defending Khmer Citizens’ Right to Vote

CNRP calls for overseas polls

Wed, 24 December 2014
Meas Sokchea
The Phnom Penh Post

Election officials tally vote numbers in Phnom Penh last year during the Kingdom’s national elections. The CNRP is calling on the government to create overseas polling stations before the next election. Hong Menea

The opposition has called on the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to agree to create new overseas polling stations ahead of the next election to allow more expatriate Cambodians to vote.

Kuoy Bunroeun, a Cambodia National Rescue Party candidate for a place on a reformed National Election Committee (NEC), said yesterday that more polling stations should be created in Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia to serve the needs of the many thousands of Cambodians working abroad.

“There are people and officials working abroad. It’s our principle that we want all Khmer people to have the right to vote,” he said. “As election organisers, we must be open [for voters].”

He added that it was common practice for democratic countries to offer voting procedures for expatriates and urged the CPP to agree to the proposal.

During ongoing negotiations over electoral reform, the CNRP is also pushing the CPP to agree to greater restrictions on voter registration, which would include thumb-printing, photo identification and unique code numbers in an effort to curb duplicate votes.

“If the NEC is in charge, the procedure will be unclear,” Bunroeun said. “To have the restrictions written into the law is better.”

The opposition enjoys strong support abroad, and workers in South Korea recently staged a protest calling for the release of jailed opposition activists.

Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin could not be reached yesterday, but he told the National Assembly on Monday that the costs of arranging the overseas voting proposed by Bunroeun would outweigh the benefits.

The parties have agreed in principle to work against the use of duplicate names in the voter list. “We agreed together to guarantee to have transparency, quality and safety, and to avoid duplicated names,” Bunroeun said yesterday.

Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog COMFREL, said the group supported the prospect of setting up more overseas voting stations.

“We can organise the election abroad [and] let our embassies do it. But there must be regulations, in case there is fraud when the ballots are sent back [to Cambodia],” he said.

Who Is Advising the PM?

While all this is going on, the prime minister said yesterday :I do not believe there is a HIV/AIDS infection in Battambang.

Who is advising our prime minister? Or only half of the truth gets to him?

Villagers are still testing positive as of today.

This is my constituency and many of the villagers infected are feeling desperate for the tainted future of their infected children.




Fear, anger in Battambang

Thu, 18 December 2014 The Phnom Penh Post

May Titthara, Mom Kunthear and Shane Worrell
Battambang province

People provide information to medical workers yesterday as they prepare to take HIV tests in Battambang’s Sangke district. Heng Chivoan

An allegedly unlicensed doctor was taken into police custody yesterday as anger escalated in response to 106 people testing positive for HIV in Battambang’s Sangke district.

As the grim reality of the infections began sinking in, villagers made threats to kill a “famous” doctor they allege administered injections to at least 30 people in the area. Those who have tested positive for HIV are aged between 3 and 82 years old and include monks.

A source close to the case confirmed that a doctor had been detained by police in Battambang province.

“He is assisting with inquiries at this stage,” the source said.

The family of the man villagers accuse, Yem Chroeum, confirmed that he was “with police” but said it was for his own protection. They were adamant that he was not facing charges.

“He did not flee. He has been busy [elsewhere],” said son-in-law Chhem Choeun, 32. “When he knew there were problems, he wanted to return to face the villagers. But police told him to wait.… They needed him to appear in front of police if needed.”

Chet Vanny, Battambang provincial deputy police chief, denied that Chroeum was in custody.

“We have not arrested anyone or provided protection for a doctor at our station,” he said. “We are still investigating.”

Officials began health examinations in the district on December 8, and by Tuesday had discovered that at least 72 people had tested positive for HIV.

As health officials and NGOs rushed to the area yesterday, by 5:30pm further tests inflated that figure to 106 out of 895 people examined, according to National AIDS Authority (NAA) figures.

NAA Secretary-General Dr Teng Kunthy said the reason for the infections was not yet clear.

“The people who know clearly that they have not got this through sex may have got this through an injection from the village physician,” he said. “But we need more evidence, and we have to study and interview more people.”

Health officials, Kunthy added, wanted to speak with Chroeum to determine what kind of procedures he had been following.

But Roeun Butreth, Battambang director of the provincial health department, said a preliminary report had shown that the HIV infections were “not due to injections”.

“Authorities are investigating the cause of the infections,” he said.

However, as the number of positive tests grew yesterday, so did the attendant anger.

“If the other villagers and I see [Chroeum], then we will kill him,” said Seoum Chhorm, deputy chief of Roka commune.

A second blood test yesterday showed another positive HIV reading for Chhorm, 63, his wife and two grandchildren. “Police cannot stop us killing him.”

Chhorm said he has known Chroeum for more than 10 years, because Chroeum had married one of his relatives.

“I also knew that he himself has HIV, but I forgot; I did not think he would do that to us,” he said.

Choeun, Chroeum’s son-in-law, denied this, saying that “all of us, including my father-in-law, have been blood-tested. They have found nothing.”

Chroeum, he added, was a gentle man who treated people day and night when needed.

Sam Lorm, 80, told the Post outside the Roka commune health centre that he had tested positive to HIV.

“I always call this doctor to get intravenous injections whenever I have a cold or the flu. But if I had not had my blood tested, I would not have believed this. I am still strong,” he said.

People queue at a medical clinic to be tested for HIV in Battambang’s Sangke district yesterday. Heng Chivoan
“I am not afraid, because I am old now. But I am sorry for my 16-year-old [relative] who is studying. He just got injected three months ago.”

Other villagers stood crying outside the health centre. Among them, a devastated Leap Loeut, 55, said she was still coming to terms with the fact that she had tested positive.

She had never had sex with anyone but her husband and regularly warned her children about health risks.

“I tell them to be careful of HIV, but now I have had it without knowing,” she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An urged police to arrest any unlicensed doctors responsible for spreading HIV among the population.

“We have to find the reason why it has spread like this,” Sam An said. “We have to take strong action against perpetrators. We cannot allow unlicensed doctors to open clinics that make villagers suffer.”

But James McCabe, director of operations at the Child Protection Unit, said a thorough investigation was needed before the cause of the infections in Sangke district could be established.

“We’re still in the very early stages of investigating,” he said. “This will not happen overnight. We need to find out what actually happened and make sure it cannot happen again.”

Buth Bunthoeun, Sangke district police chief, said police had yet to determine a cause.

Despite rumours Chroeum had fled the province, he had actually gone to Takeo province on December 8 for his mother’s funeral, Bunthoeun said.

“How can we arrest him without evidence?”

Kunthy, from the NAA, said a team had visited the area to provide support to the victims.

“It’s not a problem, we have provided them care packages,” he said. Kunthy clarified this comment by saying that those who had tested positive were being offered adequate support and that the NAA was “very sorry” about what had happened.

UNAIDS country director Marie-Odile Emond declined to comment yesterday.

Blame was also being directed towards a system that enabled people to get away with working as unlicensed as doctors.

“From now on, I will stop believing in all doctors. They do not pay attention to the patients; they think about only themselves,” said Chhorm, the deputy commune chief.

“The state hospitals never care about the health of their own people – that’s why they allow the private clinics and private doctors to spread their services everywhere and end up with a situation like this.”


Alms for Justice

Today over 40 monks used their alms to adk for justice: the release of the 18. 8 women have been on hunger strike since last Sunday.

The minister of justice did not come out after more than an hour’s prayers and speeches.

The monks flipped their alms: justice not served.

My report to the monks:

Tomorrow, MPs will submit a letter to the appeal Court for the release for lack of evidence and grave impact on children and families without their caretakers and breadwinners.

MPs will visit the 18 in jail next Monday.





The Culture of Impunity in Cambodia

In Cambodia, this is how it goes:

After a sexual assault, a traffic accident, an acid attack, a gross safety neglect that lead to injuries or deaths, compensations are made involving negotiation facilitated by the police then the case is closed. No further prosecution from the prosecutor.

I am taking steps to address this issue by taking up some selected cases to the President of the Supreme Council of a Magistracy, His Majesty the King.

These cases will be crimes committed by the armed forces or people in power.

This is a campaign that will involve the following steps:

1/ to start a prosecution process by the prosecutor after compensation is made;

2/ to engage the public in reporting crimes;

3/ to engage the public in monitoring court procedures;

4/ to educate the public about Impunity;

Unless we stand up and speak out, Impunity will continue part of the culture.

The Prime Minister has spoken and expressed his political determination. Let’s help him in this daunting task.

My functions and rights as oversight are determined in the Constitution.

7 December 2014 Last updated at 16:33 ET
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Cambodia’s culture of impunity: What price for a life?

By Kevin Doyle
Phnom Penh

Earlier this year, karaoke parlour singer, Sam Yin, 29, was shot dead by a police officer. 

He escaped – but then resurfaced in August as a free man. He had reached a deal, it was reported, with the court, which closed the case after he paid $1,500 (£960) to Sam Yin’s relatives.

“I heard about the compensation, but I can’t confirm it,” Takeo province’s deputy police chief Suon Phon said in September.

Officers could only be dispatched to apprehend the suspected killer when the court issued an arrest warrant, the deputy police chief said, adding this week that he has yet to receive one.

“I don’t know what happened because everything has been done at the provincial court.”

In Cambodia, a small cash payment is often the most people can hope for when the rich and powerful are involved – and cases such as Sam Yin are far from unique. 

Most policemen don’t do anything… Some, when they are drunk, are very noisy and a little crazy”

Lak Youry
Cambodian singer

Shootings of women in Cambodia’s entertainment sector were so frequent in 2006 that an opposition MP wrote to the defence and interior ministries demanding prosecutions.

In the weeks prior to his letter, police officers and soldiers had shot and wounded three beer promotion workers and a karaoke singer in separate incidents. 

In one of those cases, a soldier shot a woman because she was too slow to bring ice for his drink.

Responding at the time, Defence Minister Tea Banh said the incident had been dealt with.

“Both the victim and my officials have a mutual understanding,” he told a local newspaper, using the euphemism for paying cash compensation to circumvent justice.

‘Gentle’ friend
On a quiet Sunday morning in Takeo town, singer Lak Youry has a few hours free before returning to work at the karaoke parlour where she worked with Sam Yin.

This was where Sam Yin had lived before she was shot dead earlier this year
Sam Yin “was very gentle”, the 22-year-old said, recounting how they had gone to the beach the day her friend was killed. 

The police officer, Sin Pov, 48, was furious that Sam Yin, his mistress, had gone on the day trip without his permission.

Three witnesses told of seeing the officer kick at the metal door to the tiny concrete room where Sam Yin lived with her 10-year-old son.

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It is the fault of individuals; the government does not allow it to happen”

Lt-Gen Kirth Chantharith 
National Police spokesman
Sam Yin would not unlock the door until the officer cooled down. He stopped kicking. She unbolted the door and within seconds there was a gunshot. 

The office was last seen walking from the room, getting on his police motorcycle and driving away.

Lak Youry said that authorities with guns were part of the karaoke scene.

“Most policemen don’t do anything. They just have their guns but don’t take them out. Some, when they are drunk, are very noisy and a little crazy,” she said.

A touch of fear, and keeping it under control, was part of the job, added Yong Srey Pov, 25, another singer.

Escaping justice?
Impunity enjoyed by the rich and powerful helps explain a lack of public trust in Cambodia’s judicial and law enforcement institutions. 

There is a lack of public trust in Cambodia’s law and judicial bodies
Anti-corruption monitor Transparency International reported in 2013 that Cambodia’s judiciary “was perceived to be the most corrupt institution out of 12 public institutions reviewed”.

Police officers fared no better. Bribery of officers was “widespread across the country,” Transparency reported, noting that 65% of respondents reported paying a police office a bribe in the previous 12 months.

In a 24 September statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN human rights envoy to Cambodia Surya Subedi said the list of impunity cases was “long and growing”.

“Little has been done to bring perpetrators to justice,” he said.

It is not just the rural karaoke clubs that are affected – famous entertainers have also been targeted. 

Cambodia’s Royal Ballet star Piseth Pilika was shot and killed in 1999. 

In 2003, popular singer Touch Srey Nich was left paralysed after a shooting attack that also killed her mother. Another singer, Pov Panhapich, was left paralysed by a gunman’s bullets in 2007.

Cambodian singer Pov Panhapich was left paralysed after she was shot by a gunman in 2007
No one has ever been held accountable for the attacks, which police commonly attribute to “revenge”. 

Among the public, rumours swirl of political motives or affairs with powerful officials and retribution by their vengeful wives.

More widely, a list of impunity cases should also include garment factory protesters killed by the security forces earlier this year, victims of a grenade attack on an opposition party rally in 1997, widespread land grabbing from the poor, and victims of hit-and-runs involving the rich and connected.

‘No justice’
National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith denies there is a culture of impunity in Cambodia.

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There is no real avenue for Cambodian victims to obtain fair and meaningful justice in Cambodian courts when cases are brought against the ruling elite”

Richard Rogers
British lawyer
“‘Culture’ means everybody is happy to do it. It means the police and the court like to do it,” he said. “I accept it is happening. But it is the fault of individuals. The government does not allow it to happen.”

Sar Mora, president of the Cambodia Food and Service Workers’ Federation, has set up a hotline workers in the entertainment sector can call for help after an incident.

The union helps to prepare complaints for prosecution – but often that is as far as it goes, because the victims do not want to take on the rich. 

“They do not believe or trust that they will get justice,” he said. “They just accept money and go away.”

British lawyer Richard J. Rogers is now seeking to internationalise the issue of impunity. He has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Cambodia’s “ruling elite”, alleging “systematic land grabbing” over 14 years that has “adversely affected” some 770,000 Cambodians.

Government officials have dismissed the complaint, saying the figures are inaccurate and the facts erroneous.

Mr Rogers said the ICC “is the Cambodian people’s last resort to obtain justice and escape the cycle of human rights abuses and impunity”.

“There is no real avenue for Cambodian victims to obtain fair and meaningful justice in Cambodian courts when cases are brought against the ruling elite,” he said.

Chhai Veasna, 45, who lives a few doors from the room where Sam Yin was killed in March, agreed.

“If I can say it bluntly: there is no justice,” he said. “We feel very sorry that the woman was killed and [the police officer] got away free.”

(Additional reporting by Van Roeun and Phorn Bopha)