Thursday, 7 May 2009

Vietnam to face UN rights council

Written by Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 07 May 2009

THE Vietnamese government will appear before the UN's Council of Human Rights in Geneva for its five-yearly rights review Friday, with local rights activists and politicians hoping that Hanoi will be forced to account for its treatment of the country's ethnic Khmer population, the Khmer Krom.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yont Tharo - himself a member of the Khmer Krom community - claimed the Vietnamese government continues to abuse the human rights of ethnic Khmers in Vietnam, confiscating their land, interfering with religious ceremonies and preventing the use of Khmer language and customs.

"I would like the United Nations to check Vietnam's reports properly because Vietnam has always talked contrary to how it has acted," he said in the letter. "The Vietnamese government must clarify these abuses."

Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Krom Human Rights Organisation, said the group had made a submission to the UN council in early April, detailing reported abuses against the Khmer Krom.

UN member states are obliged to appear before the UN Council of Human Rights every five years for a review of their human rights records. Cambodia will appear before the council for its own review in November.

Vietnamese embassy officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Cambodian officials, when asked if the government was concerned over reports of abuses against ethnic Khmers in Vietnam, would not comment on the issue.

HIV families to get housing

access to vital antiretroviral drugs, but a further 23 still face eviction in the coming weeks.

Written by May Titthara and Christopher Say
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Nine families at the Borei Keila community to receive on-site housing, but another 23 still face eviction later this month.

NINE Borei Keila families with at least one member with HIV/AIDS will receive onsite housing, meaning they will move to a new apartment adjacent to their current shelters, say community members.

But 23 other families say they will be forcibly relocated to the outskirts of Phnom Penh by the end of the month.

All 32 Phnom Penh families currently living in squalid green shelters at the site have at least one person receiving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to fight HIV/AIDS.

Sao Vanna, head of the community in the green shelters, said that at Borei Keila there are 42 families now facing eviction, 23 from his community. They will be moved to Tuol Sambo in Dangkor district, far from any source of ARVs.

The Ministry of Tourism told Sao Vanna that it needs the land to start planting a garden in front of its new building.

"The community will be moved to Tuol Sambo village as soon as this month because the Ministry of Tourism is scheduled to finish construction in September, and they need the green zinc shelter land for a garden," he said.

Ten families in total - one family does not live in the green shelters - heard Tuesday that they would receive apartments in Borei Keila because of 2003 photographs showing that they had been on the land for more than five years, said Sao Vanna.

But he and community members say most of the families have been on the land since before 2003 and that authorities missed them in past counts of the community's residents.

"Some of the families affected by HIV/AIDS have been here since 1998 or 1999, but they were absent when the authorities came to investigate, so they don't have the documents," he said.

Suon Davy, a 41-year-old with HIV/AIDS who says she has been living in Borei Keila since 1999, did not have her photo taken more than five years ago and expects to be evicted soon.

"In 2003 when the authorities came to investigate, I was in the hospital. I had no hope I would survive until today, so I missed the photo," she said, adding that she would not go to Tuol Sambo because "it is far from the city and would be difficult to get my medicine".

Seang Vy, a blind mother living with HIV, found out Wednesday that her family would receive an apartment, but after so much disappointment, she said she would believe it only when she has moved in.

"I am feeling happy because I will have a new house for my child ... but what I am worried about is that I have only heard [the news]," she said.

"I am afraid that they are just saying that to make us feel safe, and then they will relocate us."

Srun Sran, Prampi Makara district governor, refused to comment Wednesday.

Judges must address alleged ECCC kickback scheme, lawyers say

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Calls mount for judges to take action over graft allegations following the UN and government's failure to agree to anti-corruption measures.

DEFENCE lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal said Wednesday that trial judges had no choice but to investigate graft claims at the UN-backed court, a day after filing separate motions urging the judges to uphold the court's "inherent power" to ensure proceedings are free and fair.

"I don't see any way for the [pretrial chamber] to wriggle out of this one," Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for Nuon Chea's defence team, said.

"They've already shown that they have inherent power over the court. So they cannot deny it," he added.

Lawyers for all defence teams bar one filed separate appeals to the pretrial chamber on Monday in a sign that they will not let the corruption issue go away.

All say that claims that staff on the Cambodian side of the court were forced to pay portions of their salaries to their bosses tainted the judicial process and could rob their clients of a fair trial.

"This really shows that we're not just an annoying lone voice in this issue. It's something that's affecting all defence lawyers - and even now the prosecution," Ianuzzi said, referring to comments made by international Co-prosecutor Robert Petit in an interview with Asia Sentinel at the end of last month.

When contacted on Wednesday, Petit confirmed that he believed the issue "needs to be dealt with swiftly".

The appeals also made note of a recent CNN report that aired allegations by court staff members who said that a senior Cambodian court official, Sean Visoth, had collected up to US$40,000 a month in the scheme.

Court officials have dismissed the allegations, saying numerous audits have failed to produce evidence of wrongdoing.

Judges rejected an earlier request by the lawyers for them to investigate the corruption claims, saying this was outside the court's jurisdiction.

But legal observers have also criticised the judges' lack of action.

"When you are working as the head of an institution, you can't just push your responsibility onto someone else," Long Panhavuth, program officer at the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said Wednesday.

Govt, companies say mobile phones pose no health risks


A bout 4 million of Cambodia's 14 million population are mobile users, but SIM penetration rates remain low. Although SIM card penetration rates stand at about 30 percent, this ignores the many Cambodians who own multiple SIM cards on different networks.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab
Thursday, 07 May 2009

AS the Kingdom's nine mobile operators cover the country with antennas and transmission towers, technical experts and government officials say the technology has no discernible impact on public health.

So Khun, minister of posts and telecommunications, moved to dispel popular concerns that mobile technologies can severely damage health, including reproductive health.

"Mobile phone technology has a very low level of impact on people - it is acceptable," he said at a seminar discussing the potential health effects of mobile phones, organised by the ministry Wednesday.

So Khun added that despite popular fears that mobile antennas attract lightning, the government also had no documented cases of lightning striking the towers.

Phones ‘safe': company
Sze Peng Tan, head of solutions at Ericsson Cambodia, said that radio waves from mobile base stations and antennas have a minimal impact on health and that it was "safe to use mobiles, or work and live near mobile towers".

Until now, experts have observed no adverse health effects from low-level, long-term exposure to radio frequencies, said Andrew Hu, an engineer at Huawei Technologies.

Hu added, however, that scientists were continuing research in the area, which is considered particularly important due to the widespread popularity of the devices.

Lar Narath, a secretary of state at the ministry, said that since mobile phones had become an integral part of many people's day-to-day life, it was important to hold a seminar to discuss the potential health impacts of mobile technology.

He said he did not know the exact number of mobile towers installed in Cambodia, but said each of the country's nine mobile operators would, in theory, need to install around 3,000 antennas to have comprehensive national coverage.

No sign of villagers allegedly conscripted in army: group

A soldier looks out from Preah Vihear temple in this file photograph.

Written by Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Rights group says it cannot locate 30 people taken to Preah Vihear; army official casts doubt on conscription claims.

AMONITOR from the rights group Adhoc says he has been unable to locate more than 30 villagers from Pailin province who were said to have been forced into joining the army after travelling to Preah Vihear province last month, as a military official questioned the veracity of the allegations.

The villagers were said to have been encouraged by the chief of Baysey village, Him Heoun, to travel on April 20 to Preah Vihear, where he said they would be able to find employment as construction workers.

Him Heoun could not be reached for comment, but Chhoun Makara, Pailin provincial coordinator from the rights group Adhoc, said last week "when they arrived, they were forced into the army".

Preah Vihear Deputy Governor Sor Thavy said Wednesday that he did not have any information about the case.

"I don't know what happened to them because no one has complained to me about this," he said.

"I will help them if they have been cheated, but until now I don't know anything about this problem."

Nong Vanny, chief of research for the Military Police, said that he had received a complaint last month from parents who claimed their two sons "were cheated by the village chief to work as construction workers, but then were forced to be soldiers at Preah Vihear".

He said Wednesday that he was not entirely convinced that the claims were true.

"I don't know how the village chief could force them to be soldiers, and I don't believe the villagers' complaints 100 percent," he said.

Chhoun Makara also said he still did not know exactly how the men could have been forcibly conscripted, as he had not yet been able to speak with the appropriate officials.

Workers' nutrition takes hit

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Garment workers, including one pregnant worker, inspect the food on offer outside the gates of their factory.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khuon Leakhana and Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Slump in garment sector means workers are making less money, causing many to cut back on food spending despite potential health consequences.

SITTING near a food vendor in front of the Kin Na garment factory in Meanchey district, garment worker Phin Ron, 23, eats a meagre lunch with her friends.

"I spend only 1,000 riels (US$0.24) for a meal at any time, and I eat just enough to keep hunger at bay," she said. "The food I eat every day does not give me enough energy, but I don't have money to buy good food or eat in a restaurant. I don't want to waste money on food, even though it's important for my health. I have to save money for my family."

With an increasing number of Phnom Penh garment factories closing or reducing hours due to the global economic crisis, garment workers are making less, a trend that often has a negative effect on their diets, workers and experts say.

In recent interviews with the Post, many garment workers said the lack of nutrition in their diets had left them exhausted, pale and prone to illness.

"Sometimes I get a headache and become very tired when I work hard," said Seng Srey Touch, an 18-year-old garment worker. "I think it is because I eat unhealthy food now."

Far-reaching effects
And if a garment worker becomes pregnant, malnutrition can be fatal for both mother and child, said Veng Thai, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Health Department.

"Our concern now is the malnutrition that happens to women, especially pregnant ones," he said. "If they do not eat enough healthy food,
they will risk their lives when they deliver a baby."

Women lose a lot of blood during childbirth, Veng Thai noted, adding that a malnourished woman can become too weak to actually deliver a child naturally.

I don't want to waste money on food, even though it's important.

According to the World Health Organisation, the consequences of a mother being undernourished and eating a poor diet can be severe for a new baby, increasing the risk of infant mortality. Veng Thai said babies born to malnourished mothers tend to have weak immune systems.

Im Sithe, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, blamed the economic crisis for exacerbating the problem of workers' diets.

"[Garment workers] have to spend as little as possible because they worry about losing their jobs in the future as more and more factories close down," she said.

The Ministry of Women's Affairs has yet to implement a strategy to improve the nutrition of garment workers, but Im Sithe said a plan was in the works.

"We are thinking of ways to educate women about nutrition and choosing a healthy diet," she said. "But we have not decided yet what we will do."

Many garment workers interviewed by the Post said they would like to eat better food but simply cannot afford to do so.

"Sometimes when I walk down the street and I see people in restaurants, I want to eat food that I have never eaten before," Phin Ron said. "I tell myself that I will have a chance to eat it when I have enough money."

Im Sithe urged garment workers to buy healthy food even if their wages were low.

"They must take care of their health because the ministry is not able to increase their salary yet," she said. "[Garment workers] must think about which is better: saving a little money or getting sick. When they get sick, they will have to spend more than what they have saved."

Cheat Khemara, a senior labour official at the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said he worried that many of the garment workers were sacrificing their health to help support family members.

"The factory workers should think about their health before they think about their families," he said. "I see that most of them send their salaries to their families without keeping any money for themselves. They spend money on cheap food with no health benefits."

Child sex offender released in S'Ville

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Thursday, 07 May 2009

A FRENCH paedophile walked free from Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court on Tuesday, despite having been convicted of indecent acts against a 12-year-old boy and sentenced to one year in prison.

Judge Tang Sunlay handed down the sentence in a hearing Tuesday, but the man, who has been in pretrial detention for nine months, was released after the remaining three months of his sentence were suspended. He was also ordered to pay US$50 compensation to one of his victims.

Frenchman Michel Roger Blanchard, 44, was arrested August 4 last year for sexually abusing five Cambodian boys between the ages of 11 and 16 at his rented home in Sihanoukville.

Charges reduced
Blanchard was charged with purchasing child prostitution and indecent acts but was only convicted of the latter charge, which carries a relatively light sentence of one to three years.

Samleang Seila, country director of the anti-paedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, said he was "very disappointed" with the light sentence handed down by the court, and that the $50 did not come close to "compensating" the victim.

"The court should have severely punished him since he has had an adverse impact on social morality," he said.

"Our organisation has observed that the man has been involved with at least 20 boys since 2005."

The Kingdom is struggling to shed a reputation as a haven for underage sex offenders, putting dozens of foreigners in jail on paedophilia charges since 2003.

NEC: jailed councillors must vote

The NEC's Tep Nytha: ‘Detained councillors have the right to vote.'

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Election organising body says two councillors are in jail, but the opposition says there are five.

THE National Election Committee has asked the Ministry of Justice to ensure that jailed commune councillors are allowed to vote in the May 17 election.

Tep Nytha, secretary general of the NEC, told the Post on Wednesday that he knew of at least two commune councillors currently in provincial prisons.

He said provincial authorities would be responsible for taking imprisoned members to and from polling stations.

"Members of the commune councils who have been detained still have the right to vote," Tep Nytha said. "If any members of the commune councils are missing on election day, that will affect the result since there are only a small number of voters."

The country's 11,353 commune councillors from four political parties - the ruling Cambodian People's Party, the Sam Rainsy Party, Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party - will vote in the poll to elect members to provincial, district and municipal councils.

The vote is part of the government's decentralisation program and is meant to fill the gap in political representation between commune councils and parliament.

SRP says five in jail
Yim Sovann, an MP and spokesman for the SRP, told the Post that at least five SRP councillors were in prison.

"One is the SRP commune chief in Kampong Thom province," Yim Sovann said. "He was accused of kidnapping, but this is political intimidation to threaten our activists."

The commune chief, Tuot Saron, was arrested March 18 and charged as an accomplice in the alleged illegal detention of a party activist.

Tep Nytha said he had not received any complaints of political intimidation from the contesting parties since campaigning had started.

He said the two largest parties - the CPP and the SRP - were running active campaigns, but Funcinpec and the NRP - which have only 699 councillors between them - were gathering in small groups at those councils where they have members.

Prime Minister Hun Sen recently appealed to the police and local authorities across the Kingdom to cooperate with the NEC to ensure a sound political environment and a free and fair election.

The election monitoring NGO Comfrel has previously said it will boycott the election. It stated that because the poll is restricted to commune councillors, and since the public cannot take part in the vote, it would not reflect the will of the people.

Grenade 'gift' shocks B'bang newlyweds

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Thursday, 07 May 2009

POLICE are investigating a case in which a gift-wrapped, homemade hand grenade was presented anonymously to newlyweds at their wedding in Battambang.

The Sangke district police chief, Chhien Kosa, said the bride's father told investigators that a motorbike taxi driver had dropped off the grenade, which was made of dynamite and metal and place in a Nokia mobile phone box, at the wedding ceremony on Monday.

The driver told the bride's father that the present was from someone in Phnom Penh, and that no one other than the bride and groom should open it.

"We have some information as to who was responsible, but I cannot elaborate at this stage," Chhien Kosa told the Post on Wednesday.

"We will not let the culprit get away unpunished because this grenade was dangerous and it could easily have killed people."

Chhien Kosa said the couple - 21-year-old Tear Sreyan and her husband Meng Sokun, 27 - were opening presents on the morning after the wedding when they noticed the gift with the hand-written message that read: "Wishing you happiness, and that you will soon have a baby."

But the note made the couple suspicious of the present and they decided to call the police, Chhien Kosa said.

He said police opened the box and discovered the grenade, and then contacted the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, the government's demining body, to destroy it.

End of the crematorium


Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Construction worker Veang Thay Hong, 55, swings a sledge hammer into the concrete base of Wat Ounalom's crematorium. Following an order from Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, the crematorium is to be demolished and additional housing for monks built in its place.

Pangolin setting record for survival

Markus Handschuh and Ping at the Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity.

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Ping was starved, stressed and stolen, but may now be the world's oldest pangolin in captivity.

When pangolins are confronted with anything more threatening than a weaver ant, their typical reaction is to curl into a fetal position, develop a stomach ulcer and die from stress.

Which is why workers at the Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity didn't hold much hope for Ping the pangolin when a thief broke into the centre at night, evaded two German shepherds, shoved the animal into a rice bag and started it on a cross-country moto journey from dealer to dealer.

Ping's final destination was quite possibly going to be a Chinese chop-shop where its scales would be turned into traditional medicine.

The Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity is home to Ping, thought to be the world's oldest hand-reared Sunda pangolin.

But it's not easy caring for an animal with a price on its head.

To raise Ping to what his handlers say is the record-shattering age of four years in captivity, workers at the wildlife centre have had to fend off opportunistic poachers and suppress the creature's overwhelming genetic inclination to worry itself to death.

The chase is on
On the morning of June 12, 2006, staff at the wildlife centre found the custom-designed pangolin enclosure empty.

"The pangolin was not there," said Markus Handschuh, the animal collection manager at the centre.

"The police figured out within a day who the culprit was," he added.

"He was a poor man driven by his debt-ridden stepfather, a soldier, to steal the animal."

The police knew the clock was ticking for the animal, which they said was being spirited out of the country by a series of middlemen who would become progressively harder to track.

But when the cops reached the stepfather, not only had Ping been sold on, but the man was too drunk to remember who he had sold it to.

It wasn't until June 14 that the stepfather sobered up enough to remember details.

"The dealer denied everything at first," said Handschuh.

"But then said that he'd sold the animal to the next province, from where it would be sold to Thailand. He provided an address," he added.

On day four, Ping was recovered with only a few scratches. But while the physical damage was limited, the animal carers were far more worried about the mental scars.

"They are so stress-prone. They come out at night and they never see anyone or anything. At night, they look for ants, they eat some ants, they go back to sleep," Handschuh said.

"If there's a noise, they get scared really quickly."

But the pangolin is so valuable to Cambodian poachers that if they are lucky or skilled enough to catch an animal, they will spend days trekking through the wilderness to evade the rangers.

A popular belief in Cambodia is that pangolin scales, ground up and taken with rice wine, are believed to be effective treatment for itchy skin and women recovering after childbirth.

But the real money for a pangolin poacher is in China, where the creature is mainly used for traditional medicine.

"The scales of the pangolin are made into powder and it's used to treat all sorts of things," Handschuh said.

"They use pangolins against malaria, cancer or just to make you feel better."

They are so stress-prone ... If there's a noise, they get scared ... quickly.

The "take two pangolins and call me in the morning" approach sets a high demand for the bug-eyed critter. And the rarer it becomes, the more valuable it gets.

"The middleman comes into the village and spends between US$40 and $100 per kilo," said Handschuh.

"Selling on in China, it's $1,000 to $2,000 per kilo."

Fragile animals
On the front line of the animal trafficking battle is the WildAid mobile confiscation unit, which busts animal dealers across Cambodia and brings monkeys, tortoises, turtles and birds to safe hands like the Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity.

Ping was confiscated by the WildAid mobile confiscation unit as a one-and-a-half-month old baby in June 2005.

"Usually when the mobile confiscation unit finds pangolins, the policy is to release them straight away. They're so stress-prone, you need specialist facilities to take care of them," Handschuh said.

"People have to chuck them out, and no one knows if they survive."

Handschuh said that he knows of one attempt to track confiscated pangolins after a mass-release. The result was less than comforting.

"They were just wandering about. Then they died. They couldn't deal with it," he said.

Mass pangolin releases have another unfortunate consequence.

Handschuh said when Vietnamese hunters were asked when the best time to catch a pangolin was, they replied, "after they're released".

It's really difficult to figure out if they're sick because they're so lethargic when healthy.

Surprise survival
But Ping was brought to the Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity, and against all odds and expectations, she survived.

Before Ping celebrated her fourth birthday, the previous record for a hand-reared Sunda pangolin was one-and-a-half years, Handschuh said.

Handschuh doesn't know why Ping is surviving when other members of her species would have long since died.

Just like people, he said, some are hardier than others. But while the centre has upgraded its security since the 2006 breach, the stability of Ping is not assured.

"The challenge is that pangolins look all right one day and the next day they are dead," Handschuh said.

"It's one of those animals where it's really difficult to figure out whether they're sick or not, because they're so slow and so lethargic when they're healthy. "

Surgery breakthrough

Written by Peter Olszewski
Thursday, 07 May 2009

AN elite Singaporean cardiac team flew into Siem Reap on Monday to perform open-heart surgery for the first time at the Angkor Hospital for Children.

Dr William Housworth, executive director of the hospital, told the Post that the surgeons worked on "repairing small holes in the heart".

Six hole-in-the-heart operations were undertaken at the hospital this week.

This is a big step for the hospital because although it has performed closed-heart operations, open-heart surgery such as the procedures completed on Monday, which involved heart bypasses, have not been attempted before.

The hi-tech operation, which has been performed in Phnom Penh, has previously been too risky to attempt at the Angkor Hospital for Children.

The hole-in-the-heart surgery was the prelude to another series of free operations scheduled to take place in six months, possibly involving a larger number of patients.

"There many more similar cases of small holes in the heart to be repaired," a hospital spokesperson said. Roughly 500 children are eligible for the surgery, and hospital staff had the difficult task of creating a shortlist of candidates.

Museum planned for ancient artefacts stored in Siem Reap

Hong Ronet, holding a human skull unearthed from Phum Snay.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Japanese archaeologist Miyatsuka Yoshito is returning to Siem Reap this month with the aim of creating a museum for the artefacts he unearthed at Phum Snay, in Banteay Meanchey.

Despite being heavily looted when it was first discovered in 1999 by road workers, the Phum Snay excavation site has proffered numerous skeletons and pots that are estimated to be over 2,000 years old. Yoshito is leading a research team on a five-year excavation of the site, which began in 2007, and is supported by the Japanese government.

The team has uncovered 47 burials since 2007 and the artefacts they have exhumed so far are stored in plastic tubs sitting on the floor of dig manager Sophia's Siem Reap office. But Yoshito wants to give the artefacts a more dignified home behind glass displays in a museum.

"He will come back this month and discuss it with the Ministry of Culture," said Hong Ronet, a graduate student from the Royal University of Fine Arts who is working with Yoshito. "He's talked with them already about the idea, and they said ‘Up to you'. So maybe he will build it this month."

Hong Ronet joined the excavation team this year and has been given the duty of meticulously cleaning the more recently resurrected artefacts, including the human bones.

"For the skulls we don't use water," she said. "It might damage them. We just use a scalpel, or thin bamboo. But we clean the pottery with water."

She was attracted to the project to learn more about life in Cambodia in ancient times. "It's our history, so it's very interesting. I want to know how they lived and what they did."

This year, she hopes the team will find out more information about the ethnic groups the skeletons belonged to and whether they are from the pre-Angkorian Funan empire.

Temple Watch: No action on temple pass

Written by Dave Perkes
Thursday, 07 May 2009

The proposal for a more flexible three-day Angkor temple pass, to be used over a one-week period is an excellent idea that has been lobbied for by people in the tourism industry for years. After the Ministry of Tourism announcement on March 3 that this would be introduced, I was expecting early action. But two months have now passed with no action. Many people are asking why. For tourists visiting Siem Reap for four or five days, three consecutive days looking at temples can be exhausting, especially for the elderly. To break temple visits with days to visit the silk farm, cultural village or Tonle Sap lake gives a much more balanced content to a holiday, and flexibility in the case of bad weather. A seven-day pass used over a two-week or one-month period will be of even greater benefit to tourists. Meanwhile, it will please photographers to know that the scaffolding that has covered the right of the central tower of Angkor Wat has now been removed, as shown by this photo taken at the Angkor Wat Night Show on Monday.

Looking to South Africa

CAMFEBA organised a workshop to discuss a proposed new labour union law this week. It followed a May Day demonstration last Friday in which more than 1,000 Cambodian workers descended on parliament to demand the establishment of a labour court, a monthly $120 minimum wage, fair treatment and a reduction in working hours from 48 hours to 44 hours per week. AFP

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nathan Green
Thursday, 07 May 2009

CAMFEBA is urging the government to draft a law to govern labour unions drawing inspiration from legislation introduced in Africa’s biggest economy

CAMBODIA's major employers association is urging the government to look towards South Africa as it considers a measure to buttress labour laws employers say are insufficient to control disruptive unions.

Cambodian Federation of Employers and Manufacturers Associations (CAMFEBA) President Van Sou Ieng told a workshop on the proposed new law this week that post-apartheid South Africa had successfully used legislation to consolidate its unions and streamline industrial negotiations.

Under Cambodian law, just three people are required to form a union, he told attendees at the workshop, meaning some factories had 13 or 14 unions.

"It's very difficult to run an enterprise with such a number of unions," said the employers' representative, who is also president of the Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia (GMAC).

"Many people abuse the law to form a trade union, not for the protection of workers but to protect their own bad behaviour."

According to GMAC figures, 1,569 unions operate in a little over 300 factories in Cambodia.

Guest speaker Victor van Vuuren, chief operations office of Business Unity South Africa, which represents 80 percent of employers in the country, explained how the proliferation of trade unions had crippled industrial relations in post-apartheid South Africa.

Employers, unions and government formed a tripartite body and developed a labour union law that reduced strikes while improving industrial relations, economic growth and conditions for workers.

But union officials in Cambodia said a labour union law was unnecessary as their activities were already governed under the 1997 Labour Law.

"I would like GMAC to work with unions under constitutional law to clarify what is allowed to be carried out," Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Cambodia, Cambodia's largest union, told the Post this week.

"We welcome any action against illegal strikes and demonstrations held by any unions."

Overnight, trade unions started disappearing and others merged to form solid trade unions.

While unions are concerned about anything that could diminish their bargaining power, Dragan Radic, a senior specialist in employer activities at the International Labour Organisation, said the need for a law to govern labour unions was not a matter of freedom of association but of a functioning industrial relations environment.

"We are quite excited about [this new trade union law] because we hope it will give us better and more meaningful industrial relations so that we can focus on our core mission, which is making money," he said.

"And I can tell you that unions will be quite excited as well because what they will be looking at in this trade union law is how to [protect against] anti-union discrimination."

No losers
Any law needed to balance the interests of workers and employers, but a framework for improving industrial relations was imperative, he said.

"The government is, of course, interested in improving industrial relations in this country because it is not good for the future of the country [to have continued labour disputes] - it is in a competitive global market and it is very important that business can flourish in this country."

According to van Vuuren, the take-home message from South Africa was that legislation could benefit both workers and employers. There, trade union laws guaranteed freedom of association, but a registration and recognition process meant they had to be truly representative of workers' interests to get a seat at the bargaining table.

"If one workplace had 10 unions, the government would not recognise them all and would ask for consolidation," he said. "Overnight, trade unions started disappearing and others merged to form solid trade unions."

Recognition depended on set criteria, and could not be arbitrarily denied by employers. Any dispute would be heard by an arbitration body, but it made decisions with a mandate to prevent trade union proliferation, van Vuuren said.

Cambodia's labour law also contains provisions against union proliferation, but this is seldom enforced.

Unions must be registered with the Ministry of Labour, and Article 277 states that where there is more than one union in a workplace, then the one with the most members, at least 33 percent of whom pay dues, was considered to represent the workers.

CAMFEBA Executive Manager Som Chamnan said one of the key issues facing employers was not the law itself but enforcement of the law. Even if unions acted illegally, it was very difficult for employers to take action against them, he said.

The Arbitration Council could interpret whether activities were illegal, but was powerless to make rulings, while a Labour Court called for in legislation had not yet been created, he said. The general courts currently had jurisdiction, but they were generally regarded as inefficient, hence compliance with the law was low.

Van Vuuren said the key to the success of union law in South Africa were the institutions created to enforce it. "If you write a law for unions, if you don't have the regulations and the institutions to back it up,x you are wasting your time," he said.

Building Cambodia student-by-student

Yam Sokly says sacrifices are needed to land jobs.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Final-year architecture student and part-time guide Yam Sokly talks about education in Cambodia, his career ideas and goals, and what it takes to stand out in his chosen field.

Yam Sokly is in his final year of a bachelor of arts in architecture at The Royal University of Fine Arts. For his thesis, he is designing an underground cultural centre with a rooftop garden at street level. Sokly has worked part-time for two years as a guide with Khmer Architecture Tours in Phnom Penh.

When did you realise you wanted to be an architect?
I never expected to study something like architecture; my mother wanted me to study tourism. But I have been fascinated since I was young by buildings like the Olympic Stadium and the Independence Monument, and my father was an electrical engineer so I used to see his plans around the house, all the designs and drawings.
Even though I don't have any family members involved, no connections at all, I love to study it. I don't care if I can find a job or not...I just love architecture.

Final-year architecture student and part-time guide Yam Sokly talks about education in Cambodia, his career ideas and goals, and what it takes to stand out in his chosen field.

What do you enjoy most about architecture, and what least?
The best thing is that there is always more to learn, so I will always be able to keep researching. Dealing with the architectural ideology of some Cambodians is challenging. People are very into "Khmerisation" and there needs to be more distance to allow variety in points of view.

A lot of architecture students are undertaking joint degrees now.

The new National Assembly Building is something that most people consider looks Khmer, but it isn't a practical public space.

I would like to build something more symbolic of the nation, not Angkorian or colonial or modern but something that represents the habits of the Cambodian people and the climate. When we spend money on something like that it is a waste - copy and paste on a big scale.

Who have been your role models and has anyone given you helpful advice?
Helen Grant Ross and Darryl Collins, the authors of Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970, have been very helpful. I learnt a lot from their book and also they gave me advice to be more individual. I very much admire the work of 1960s architect Vann Molyvann, and they said to me, "You can't be like him - you have to be yourself". That changed me a lot, and I realised I should learn from him, but add new ideas of my own. I need to pick up all the good ideas from the past and update them with more practical ideas from the future. I have even learnt to find flaws in his work.

What does it take to stand out among a sea of architecture graduates?
Students should learn everything - they shouldn't just concentrate on the things they like. If people really sacrifice themselves I think it will be much easier for them to get a job.

Tell me about your thesis.
I have chosen to design a small building with lots of detail. There are two streets in Phnom Penh that intersect and on one corner is a Taoist Temple, on the other a Christian Church, and on the third a Buddhist Monastery. So I am designing something to be in between. My first idea was to build a cultural centre in the middle, but then the buildings would be separate so I have decided to build something underground, with a garden on the street level to bring the three of them together.

What are your career goals?
Education in Cambodia is of such low quality. To change that it means ... some of us have to achieve the highest level, we have to stand out so we can improve education. So I am looking to do more study abroad, maybe a master's or PhD at the National University of Singapore.

Also, because of the global economic crisis, not many firms are hiring. The offices in Phnom Penh still have staff, but they are keeping them on a low salary. And they want people with lots of experience, not fresh young graduates.

A lot of architecture students are undertaking joint degrees now - at least half. Architecture and IT or architecture and accounting. The other way to try and get a job is to have family connections.

Do you have an architectural dream for Phnom Penh?
I would like to create good local housing for people. Most of the residents in Phnom Penh live in bad conditions; their quality of life is not the way to live. They should live more with nature; we can't separate nature from our living area.

Thailand-Cambodia trade declines by over 25 percent

Workers unload a bag of Siam cement at the Thai company’s warehouse at the Phnom Penh train station in this file photo.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan and May Kunmakara
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Global economic crisis blamed for fall in trade with neighbouring Thailand, rather than ongoing border tension over disputed Preah Vihear temples

TRADE volume between Cambodia and Thailand dropped by more than a quarter in the first two months of this year, according to the latest statistics from the Thai customs department. A Thai official said that trade was likely to continue to fall, predicting a 30 percent decline for the year.

"In January and February of 2009, Cambodia-Thailand trade volume was worth US$239.8 million - if compared to the same period last year, it dropped 26.24 percent," the Thai customs report said.

Cambodian exports to Thailand amounted to US$7.6 million during January and February, primarily in agricultural products, secondhand garments, fish and recyclable metal, while Thailand's exports to Cambodia - which include petroleum, consumer products, building materials and cosmetics - totalled more than $232 million.

Jiranan Wongmongkol, the director of the Thai embassy's Foreign Trade Promotion Office in Phnom Penh, said Wednesday that the economic crisis has reduced consumer demand, and that the border dispute near the Preah Vihear temple complex had nothing to do with the decline in trade.

"The drop is not due to the border dispute, but the global financial crisis that cut consumer demand," she said. "The drop is mainly due to less demand in building materials, consumer products and petroleum," she said.

She forecasted that exports to Cambodia for the whole year would drop by up to "30 percent".

The drop is not due to the border dispute, but the global financial crisis.

Thailand's exports to Cambodia totalled around $2 billion last year, but Jiranan expects that number to fall to just $1.6 billion in 2009.

Mao Thora, secretary of state at the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, said Wednesday that Cambodia had not yet tallied the trade figure between Cambodia and Thailand, but said they expected a sharp drop due to the construction slump.

"It is likely that there has been a fall in consumer demand for construction materials," he said.

Taing Bouy Leang, owner of BLT company, a CD and DVD importer, said that people were simply buying less in Cambodia. He said he was importing 40 percent fewer products from Thailand to match a 40 percent decline in sales.

"In the first quarter of last year, sales were 3,000 to 4,000 cases of compact discs per month - a case contains 1,000 discs," he said. "But for the first three months of this year, our sales are down 40 percent."

Bin Many Mialia, marketing manager at Thai oil company PTT, said Wednesday that PTT petroleum sales to Cambodia in the first quarter of 2009 were similar to the same period in 2008. "I don't think the amount of my petroleum [sold to Cambodia] has dropped even with a border conflict and political unrest in Thailand," he said.

Despite avoiding a decline in 2009, he predicts that sales over the year will fall slightly as Cambodia feels the full impact of the crisis.

Property prices fall more than one-third, say realtors

Photo by: Sovann philong
A "for fale" sign hangs in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. Real estate agents reported that property lost nearly one-third of its value at the start of 2009 as the global economic slowdown takes its toll on Cambodia’s economy.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Soeun Say
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Real estate prices continue to fall, even after double-digit declines in last part of 2008, but dealers expect recovery to begin later this year

CAMBODIA'S real estate market lost more than a third of its value in the first three months of 2009 compared with the same period last year, due to the impact of the global financial crisis, say real estate developers.

"According to our research, the real estate market dropped 40 percent in the first three months in 2009 if we compare the situation to the first three months in 2008," said Sung Bonna, CEO of Bonna Realty Group and president of the National Valuers' Association of Cambodia.

He said that land in Boeung Keng Kang I commune, worth between US$2,500 and $2,800 per square metre during the first quarter of 2008, had fallen to between $1,600 and $2,000 in the same period this year.

World financial instabilities were the main cause of the decline, he said, but added that the sector should recover by 2011.
"I think that property will regain its value when the world economy recovers," Sung Bonna said.

Varied impact in the region
But the global crisis has had uneven effects, he said, with Vietnam having largely avoided a devaluation, while Thailand had experienced a contraction in the sector due to the economic crisis and the effects of domestic political instability.

Local developers echoed Sung Bonna's outlook, saying development projects conceived during the real-estate boom had been undermined by a widespread contraction in local markets.

Leav Vanny, project manager of Kaing Meng City, a

Property will regain its value when the world economy recovers.

$30 million housing development project in Kandal province's Takhmao district, said Monday that even though construction was under way, the company had had difficulty attracting clients, having experienced a "50 to 60 percent" drop in business compared to the same time last year.

"Our project is still up and running, but we cannot find clients," he said.

"Wealthy Cambodian people are still afraid [and] are hesitant to buy property. They are waiting for things to recover too."

Kong Vannsophy, general manager of Dream Town City, a $1-million project in Phnom Penh's Dangkor district, agreed the property sector was not in good shape, and that the market for both buyers and sellers was quiet.

"Our project is continuing, but there is not the rush we experienced before 2007," he said, adding that falling rental services currently made leasing a better option than acquiring property.

Chhean Dara, project manager of the $50-million Happiness City housing project in Russei Keo district, said the financial crisis had led to a precipitous drop in customer interest for the project. "The project is moving along very slowly.

"Public interest dropped 70 percent when the world's credit crisis hit, and our new villas are now for sale but no one is interested," he said.

Chhan Dara added he has even had difficulty selling off 20-hectare plots of empty land in Kampong Speu province, which have fallen from between $20,000 to $30,000 per plot to around $10,000-$15,000.

"No one is asking to buy my lots in Kampong Speu," he said. "I have to pay back my loans to the bank every month [so] I hope the real estate sector recovers soon."

However, the Kingdom's top construction official said a slowdown in the construction sector in the second half of last year was a temporary blip induced by the global financial crisis and that he expects to see rapid growth to resume by the end of 2009.

Im Chhun Lim, Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction told the Post last month that there were signs the sector was already rebounding after a number of high-profile developments were slowed, cancelled or put on hold towards the end of last year, resulting in mass layoffs across the sector.

'Flags of convenience' harming Cambodia's image

Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 07 May 2009

MORE and more foreign ships are registering in Cambodia for a fee to avoid taxes in their own countries, but opposition lawmakers say flag of convenience licensing policies damage the Kingdom's reputation, saying that ship owners are smuggling drugs or weapons under the Cambodian flag.

"Registering these ships does not only damage Cambodia's reputation, but it is dangerous if some of those ship operators use Cambodia's flag to commit international crimes," said Sam Rainsy Party member Son Chhay.

There are currently about 1,000 ships registered in Cambodia, according to Seng Lum Nov, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers, and global activity of Cambodian-registered appears to be rising.

In 1999, there were 190 port calls to Japan's island of Hokkaido by vessels registered in Cambodia, which climbed tenfold to 1,900 port calls last year, Kyodo news reported.

During the same time period, Russian port calls to the island declined from 9,200 to 1,400, even though Russia continues to import much of its marine produce from the port. Kyodo reported.

Lax regulations
Ships are obligated to adhere to the laws of countries in which they are registered. That means that changing the registry to Cambodia, where the laws are relatively lax, could lower safety requirements and wages.

Japanese media has reported that "aged secondhand ships" are being used.

But Seng Lum Nov says the private company running the flag of convenience licensing in Cambodia has "good experience and working skills in the registration process".

"Our role is to act like a vehicle checker," he said.

"We have to make sure that a vehicle or ship is safe and secure. It has to have a pilot and comply with full equipment services... It needs to have radio contact and all of the required ship equipment."

He said that the ships registered in Cambodia were not necessarily Cambodian, but that the Kingdom still has the power to take away their local licences.

He added that the government has revoked licences midway through their registration agreements.

"If they commit a serious infraction, we have the right to withdraw their licence... It is like having a driving licence. If you break the traffic law, you will be arrested," Seng Lum Nov said.

Seng Lum Nov also claimed that Cambodia's flag registration fee was lower than in many developed nations, but it was by no means the world's cheapest, describing the fee as "between cheap and high".

He refused to disclose how much the government has collected in fees, the amount that authorities charge, or the name of the private company that has been contracted to run the flag registration.

He only said that the company charges a fee based on the size and weight of the ship and then shares that money with the government.

Ship registration had previously been handled by the South Korean-based International Ship Registry of Cambodia (ISROC), which re-launched flag-of-convenience operations in 2003 after it had been suspended amid concerns that the registration process was mismanaged and that Cambodian-flagged ships were being used illegally.

Son Chhay, an opposition lawmaker and former head of the committee in charge of transport and communication, said that Russian, Chinese and South Korean ships are using Cambodian flags because they are cheaper and that ships that violate the law are harming Cambodia's international reputation.

"To get a flag from us, it is cheap. If they face problems, it won't damage the reputation of their countries. We need to take more measures to screen these ships and review the policy on flag registration," he told the Post.

"If there is a shipping accident such as an oil spill or a collision at sea, they will hold Cambodia responsible," said Son Chhay.

Growing the local market for research

IndoChina Research General Manager Laurent Notin aims to educate the local business community about market

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 07 May 2009

IndoChina Research General Manager Laurent Notin talks to the Post about the perceptions of market research in Cambodia and the growth potential in the sector

What is market research?
The aim of market research is to help organisations collect information so they can make informed decisions and reduce risks. If I want to launch a product, I want to know if it is going to work. If it is not going to work, then I have only spent money on market research; I have not entered the market and wasted money launching a failed product.

How much market research is done in Cambodia?
The market can be split into commercial clients and non-commercial clients like NGOs, which we call social research. For commercial clients the market is quite limited because there are only a limited number of players who know what market research is and what the benefits are. But it can only grow in the future.

Who are your major clients?
Our clients right now are international companies based locally in telecommunications, in FMCGs [fast-moving consumer goods], in banking, for example. International organisations and UN agencies - social research - represents about 30 percent of our revenue.

They know what market research is, but the future for us is local businesses, for which marketing in general and particularly market research is very new. They don't understand the benefits of market research. They see it as a cost rather than an investment or they say, "I know everything about the market already, I don't need market research".

The future for us is local businesses, for which ... market research is very new.

How do you change that?
It's very challenging because Cambodia is in the early stages of marketing, with market research being a component of that. The comprehension and the knowledge of market research is very low so we need to find ways to educate local companies so they know what they can gain by using market research, and so they understand what they should be trying to do with market research. We are not trying to just sell market research for the sake of it; we want to make sure that our clients understand why they need it and what it is about.

What is your market share?
We do have competitors, but it's hard to give you an accurate answer to that question because we don't talk to each other and there is no publicly available information on the sector. We know we are the biggest, but how much of the total market research we contribute to, I don't know.

That lack of publicly available information is pretty common in Cambodia. Is that a help or a hindrance for your company?
For any investor that wants to come here it's a big problem. When you are an investor, you want to know the basic information like who are the main players, what is the size of the market. This information is widely available in other countries but not here.

That information could come from us, but there are things that we don't do, economic feasibility studies for example. We are very much focused on the consumers or the size of the market. We have tools to evaluate potential volume of products, but we want to make sure that our estimates are right, and it would be very good if we could have access to information collected by local authorities to use that as a proxy. That is where we have the most difficulties.

In terms of staff, what are the major skills issues you face?
The first is that there is a lack of knowledge about market research and what it involves. But that can easily be solved.

On the operational side there are not many issues. All our operational people used to be part-time interviewers, so have acquired experience in the field. Most of them have been promoted to full time and are climbing the career ladder.

The biggest challenge is on the client service side in terms of analytical skills. Market research is not only about collecting information; it is also about interpreting the data and answering the questions posed by the client. To do that you need to have analytical skills and critical thinking; this is where we face the biggest difficulties because the educational system does not promote critical thinking. You need to be able to take a step back, look at the big picture of all the data and determine what story the data is telling me. We have to do a lot of internal auditing with our staff. It is challenging, but our client service staff love learning.

Do you have expansion plans?
We are always trying to expand. As a company, the purpose is to grow. This year is going to be a bit tough maybe, but we have lots of plans for the future.

Community-based documentary uses art to bridge generation gap

Thnol Lok villagers draw storyboards for community-based documentary We want (u) to Know. PHOTO SUPPLIED

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 07 May 2009

We want (u) to Know provides a forum for Cambodian elders to share their memories of the Khmer Rouge regime with younger generations

AVillage elder instructs a young boy, who is using colour pencils, on how to draw a picture of Khmer Rouge prisoners: "You should draw the chains there, just there." Though he wasn't alive at the time, the boy is helping to create a storyboard for a documentary based on people's memories from the time of the Khmer Rogue regime.

The documentary We want (u) to Know is to premiere tonight at Chenla Theatre, with people from Thnol Lok village in Takeo province viewing the finished product of their hard work.

The village is one of three communities that were targeted by director Ella Pugliese, whose main motivation for the film was to use collective remembrance and art to bridge the growing generation gap in villages like Thnol Lok.

"The young generation doesn't believe the stories their elders tell them about the Khmer Rouge. They think they're invented - made up to scare people," said Pugliese.

Villagers of all ages directed, wrote and filmed the documentary, creating "re-enactments" of scenes that people remember from that turbulent time.

"A lot has been done already on reconciliation, a lot of ‘discussions', a lot of ‘dialogue', but nothing has been done like this on a community level," Pugliese said. "Rather than an individual way of confronting the past, they share the process."


While the participatory approach of the film was always Pugliese's intention, she says the process occurred naturally.

Villagers gradually took over the staging process after they were handed film cameras and costumes.

"Different people came with a desire to realise different things. We distributed cameras and told them: ‘We are not here to take photos of you.' We asked them how the film could help them, what scenes they wanted to make. They took the cameras," said Pugliese.

An awakening
Co-director Nou Va explains how the process was akin to an awakening for many of the survivors.

Pointing to one of the main "protagonists" in the documentary - an old man showing a boy how to wear a krama like Khmer Rouge soldiers - Nou Va says the film opened up people who had been closed for a long time.

"This man, a victim - he started to tell stories that he had never told the others before. Everyone listened and was surprised. It's like, we woke them up," Nou Va said.

We want (u) to Know was produced in conjunction with the Khmer Institute of Democracy and the International Centre for Reconciliation, and funded by the German Development Service (DED).

But Pugliese insists the film is a locally owned production.

"This film is not for the European Film Festival. It's for the people in the video," she said.

With the first trial at the Khmer Rouge tribunal currently under way, the film's timing seems apt. Yet the overlap may, in fact, highlight the distance between the court and the everyday lives of Cambodians, rather than the impact it is having.

"The young people that we talked to when we made the documentary viewed the tribunal as a very distant thing, an abstract thing," Pugliese said.

She adds that although legal justice is important, it is not enough to reconcile with the past.

"With the film, they can take the past into their own hands and really make it theirs."

We want (u) to Know will be screened at 4pm today at Chenla Theatre.

Ouk Sochivy carries on her grandfather's artistic legacy

One of Ouk Sochivy's paintings.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nora Lindstrom and Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 07 May 2009

OPENING today at Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre, "To Be Continued" is 25-year old Ouk Sochivy's first solo exhibition. It also marks the continuation of "Mode Svay Ken", the unique style of her celebrated late grandfather, who chose Ouk Sochivy to carry on the family tradition.

The name of the exhibition implies both the legacy of the young artist as well as her future.

"The title of the exhibition means I am the one who continues my grandfather's work," Ouk Sochivy said.

Yet it also marks the beginning of her journey as an independent artist.

"When I first started to paint, I thought that I could not become a famous painter like my grandfather, but I will try my best," she said, adding that she has received a lot of encouragement from foreigners after her grandfather passed away in December last year.

"I think my grandfather would be very proud and happy if he knew that my paintings are being exhibited," she added.

Ouk Sochivy had no intention of becoming an artist until halfway through last year.

"One day when I was looking after my grandfather, I felt bored; so I took some paper to paint a picture. I showed it to my grandfather and he told me that it was a good painting, and then he asked me to paint it on canvas," she said.

From then on, Svay Ken, who sensed he might not last the year, began instructing his granddaughter in his particular style of painting.

"He explained to me how to start to draw, how we first have to draw the face, then the eyes and the nose .... He also taught me how to mix the colours of paints," Ouk Sochivy said.

While Ouk Sochivy's paintings follow the style of her mentor, some of the subjects are new. The characters in Pop Star Style and Hip Hop Style refer directly to contemporary youth culture.

"My paintings are different from my grandfather's paintings. I like to paint hip-hop or popular pictures and what I see as the real situation in society, while my grandfather liked to paint traditional paintings," she said.

Nevertheless, Ouk Sochivy is resolute to stay true to her grandfather - and remain entirely self-taught.

"I will not go to study or get more training at an art school because my grandfather told me ... that if I learn with someone else, my painting will be different from his style. He wanted me to copy his style both by using similar colours and style of painting," she said.

Phnom Penh Aside: Men's grooming etiquette

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kevin Britten
Thursday, 07 May 2009

In the dim and distant past, men's grooming products consisted of a bar of soap, whatever shampoo was left around in the bathroom by someone else and shaving foam or cream. "Modern man" has a whole supermarket aisle dedicated to his body.

In the '70s, feminists told us that women's liberation was also men's liberation. The development of the modern man was a direct outcome of that social change, but it seems that whereas women achieved equal pay and maternity rights, men just got a bathroom shelf full of things their fathers didn't need.

Take shaving razors. The variety of razors is huge: one, two or three blades, with or without a soap-strip, disposable or ones that fit into a handle.

Then there's what used to be a can of foam or, before that, a bowl of soap with a shaving brush. We now have gels and foams for every skin sensitivity and taste.

Once only women had facial-care products, but today men have decided that they, too, get unsightly wrinkles. So we have exfoliant scrubs, moisturising eye creams and face packs to keep blemishes and dehydration at bay.

What has happened? Have we discovered needs our fathers didn't have or have we merely been subjected to marketing campaigns that have coaxed us into developing those needs.

For centuries, Englishmen used to believe that too much washing made one weak, but today our bathroom shelf contains toiletries that would make our fathers blush.

Hair now needs conditioning as well as washing. Faces need cleansing (not washing) with tubes of stuff that is only good for cleansing faces.

Whereas another generation was happy to get by with just a pair of toenail clippers, modern man also needs devices to remove the nasal and ear hair that his grandfather sprouted and wore with pride.

In the past, a pot of brilliantine sufficed when a man wanted his hair slicked back like in the movies. Today, there are decisions to be made between gel, wax and foam - however, hairspray for some reason remains the preserve of females.

Cambodia mixes things up
The limited impact of the West can be seen in Cambodia in the almost total lack of aftershave in the pharmacy - only shelves of toilet water.

In fact, the much higher alcohol content and lack of emollients make toilet water completely unsuitable for application to a face. Toilet water is simply perfume for chest hair so that it smells nice if anyone should go rummaging through it.

An interesting feature of Cambodian society concerns the blurring between men's and women's fragrances.

In the West, whether a product is for men or women is always made perfectly clear by the way they are shelved in the shop, and the box of a men's product almost always announces "For Men" in case any confusion should arise.

In Cambodia, perfumes for men and women are all shelved together and are selected purely on the basis of what they smell like.

Perhaps this just reflects that Cambodian men haven't been bombarded with marketing like Westerners, or maybe it means they're just more secure in their sexuality than Western men.

Govt must consider stimulus package

Written by Sam Rainsy
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Dear Editor,

In "ADB to launch $3bn fund" (May 4, 2009), the final paragraph elaborates on how governments in Asia are battling the global economic crisis. "Governments across the region have boosted spending and slashed interest rates in a bid to stimulate domestic demand to offset crashing external demand for exports."

The above assertion does not apply to Cambodia, where there has been no significant increase in government spending over the last 12 months, while interest rates have remained practically unchanged at a very high level: up to 8 percent per annum for deposits in US dollars and up to 30 percent per annum for loans also in US dollars, given that some 95 percent of the money supply is made up of greenbacks.

Even though the state budget for 2009 - as approved by the National Assembly last December ($1.75 billion) - shows a 28 percent increase on paper over the 2008 budget ($1.37 billion), its actual implementation indicates no significant increase, if any, over last year's spending. The shortfall in expenditure is due to a shortfall in revenue associated with the current economic slump.

As of today, the government has informed the National Assembly of no plan whatsoever to update, revise or adjust its budget as a possible reaction to the current economic and financial situation, which keeps deteriorating. I am only talking about the regular state budget as adopted every year by the National Assembly. I am not referring to any special measure, budget or plan.

Contrary to all neighbouring countries, no economic stimulus package has been conceived and implemented to cope with the world economic meltdown. The government has apparently no comprehensive and consistent plan to face the unfolding crisis.

I, therefore, insist that the government shows responsibility and seriously considers the $500 million economic stimulus package that I have suggested (see "SRP calls for government bailout" in the January 19 edition of the Post).

This $500 million package would be the first emergency measure designed to alleviate the fallout from the world crisis and to prevent economic, social and political upheavals with incalculable consequences for Cambodia's stability and long-term development.

Sam Rainsy
Member of Parliament

Send letters to: or P.O. Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.

Police Blotter: 7 May 2009

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Lim Phalla
Thursday, 07 May 2009

A man found in possession of 2,000 yama amphetamine pills was arrested on Monday on suspicion of drug smuggling. Police confiscated the pills as well as a car, a motorbike and two firearms from the rented house of Rorm Rin, 34, in Battambang's Serey Sophorn district.

Soeun Chhun, 23, was arrested on Monday after allegedly threatening to destroy his family's property in Kandal province after his family refused to let him sell rice to buy gin. The argument was reported to police by the suspect's father.

Man arrested for knife attack
Police on Monday arrested Tin Vichet, 18, in connection with a violent knife attack that left Roen Viseth, 17, with serious stab wounds to the face. The victim was taken to Calmette Hospital after the attack, which occurred on Sothearos Boulevard.

The body of a maid was found hanged in a house on Russian Boulevard in Tuol Kork district in what police suspect was a suicide. The maid had worked for the house's owner, who found the body on Tuesday, since January. The reason for the death is unknown.

A 20-year-old man in Kampong Chhnang province ingested poison in an apparent attempt to kill himself because of a failed romantic relationship. The family of the man, Yean Yom, took him to the hospital, where medical professionals reportedly saved his life.

Residents of Phnom Penh's Tuol Kork district captured a suspected "professional motorbike thief" on Monday. The suspected thief, Roth Bundy, 18, is suspected of trying to steal parts from a motorbike parked on Street 336 in Tuol Kork. The bike belonged to Va Vannak, 30.

Six drunken men on motorbikes attempted to elude police on Monday at a market in Battambang. Five were successful. The arrested man was identified as Hay Run, 25.

The Phnom Penh Post News In Briefs

In Brief: Sun looks to Cambodia

Written by Hor Hab
Thursday, 07 May 2009

SUN Microsystems, a global leader in information technology services, hosted its first seminar in Phnom Penh at NagaWorld Tuesday as part of its plan to move into Cambodia’s telecoms industry. “I believe emerging markets like Cambodia’s will face more complex management issues in the future as technology keep growing,” said Joseph Ningrat Yap, technology manager of Sun Microsystems in Asia. Sun does not have an official office in Cambodia, meaning its products will be sold through local partners.

In Brief: Hor Namhong back and in good health

Written by Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong is expected back in Cambodia today after visiting France and the US. Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Hor Namhong was in good health and would return as scheduled. Hor Namhong was admitted to hospital in the US after feeling dizzy at the opening of a new consulate.

In Brief: Eviction residents petition French

Written by May Titthara
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Members of four families from the area at the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes on Wednesday petitioned the French embassy for compensation in their eviction battle. Resident Kem Vichet said City Hall's compensation was insufficient, which is why they had approached the ambassador. Kem Vichet said the municipality had refused to negotiate further. "The government always succeeds in evicting people. So now I must decide whether to live as a human or an animal because there are many people in my family, and I can't buy a house with the small sum on offer." The government has offered up to US$10,000 per family plus a small plot of land outside Phnom Penh.

In Brief: Defamation suit lawyers in court

Written by Meas Sokhea
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Mu Sochua's lawyer is to be in court today in relation to the opposition MP's defamation case against Prime Minister Hun Sen. Her lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, was summoned by the prosecutor to clarify her case. She is suing the PM over remarks made in a speech last month that she says were defamatory and directed at her, although her name was not used. Hun Sen is countersuing Mu Sochua for defamation, saying he had not referred to her. Hun Sen's lawyer, Ky Tech, told the Post he would also be in court today to explain his client's case.

Labour courts: the wishes of employers and unionists soon to be granted?

Baphnom (Prey Veng, Cambodia). 17/08/2007: High-risk environment workers in a stone quarry.©John Vink/ Magnum

By Duong Sokha

For once, Cambodian employers and trade unions agree on the necessity to create “labour courts”, a type of industrial tribunals which would be in charge of settling labour disputes and which creation is provided for in the Labour Code adopted... twelve years ago! The establishment of such institutions – called for by both employers and workers for over a decade – again featured at the top of the demands heard during the 123rd International Labour Day on May 1st 2009 in Phnom Penh. In the absence of labour courts, the responsibility to rule on disputes between employers and workers lies with ordinary courts, while collective cases are referred to the Arbitration Council. A system that satisfies no one: for unions, it does not guarantee respect for workers' rights; for employers, it only rarely provides legal and efficient solutions to dragging disputes. To comply with the Labour Code, the Ministry of Justice eventually ended up drafting a law on the organisation of the courts, which finally provides for the establishment of labour courts. But one unknown remains: the implementation date for this project, which adoption has still not been put on the agenda.

Ordinary tribunals: inefficient and corrupt, according to unions
Pending the establishment of labour courts, as provided for in the Labour Code in force in Cambodia, disputes on the application of this code are, theoretically, submitted to ordinary courts, as any other disputes. But in reality, workers only rarely dare to refer to an ordinary jurisdiction to argue their rights against rich employers, observe the leaders of the Cambodian main trade unions, who are more than wary of a judicial system they deem corrupt. According to them, going to ordinary courts results in a clear outcome: their decisions systematically favour employers.

“When we send applications on labour disputes to ordinary courts, [we note that] they do not have an in-depth knowledge of the Labour Code and relevant legislation. Therefore, their ruling is not based on these texts,” stresses Ath Thun, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), which gathers over 60,000 members in the garment and construction sectors, amongst others. “Most of the time, these courts shelve our complaints. And if they agree to issue a ruling, it is always in favour of employers. That is one of the reasons why we ask for the immediate establishment of labour courts,” the unionist says forcefully.

This opinion is shared by his colleague Chea Mony, who leads the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC). He also denounces the inefficiency of ordinary courts. “Today, we have to refer to ordinary courts, but they appear to be inefficient due to their lack of independence and corruption,” rails the brother of charismatic leader Chea Vichea, assassinated in 2004. “And ordinary courts rather deal with individual disputes, whereas we want labour courts that can also rule on collective disputes between employers and workers, investors and staff, in all sectors,” insists the president of FTUWKC, which gathers some 85,000 members.

All parties in agreement?
As for employers, they have also kept demanding the creation of a jurisdiction that would allow, in complete independence, to put an end to disputes that drag on and sometimes degenerate, and most of all, whose rulings would be authoritative and respected. This claim was once again relayed to the executive branch by the employers representatives, through the working group on industrial relations during the 13th Government-Private Sector Forum in April 2008. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had then publicly expressed his support to this request, immediately asking the Council for Legal and Judicial Reform to work on a draft. Any contrary statement of the head of government would have been surprising: indeed, for the government, this only means complying with the Cambodian labour legislation adopted by the National Assembly on January 10th 1997, when Hun Sen already held the reins of power...

What functioning and organisation?
Articles 387 and 388, included in Chapter XVII of the Labour Code, officially create labour courts “that have jurisdiction over the individual disputes occurring between workers and employers regarding the execution of the labor contract or the apprenticeship contract” and which “organization and functioning (…) shall be determined by law.” Such wording leaves complete freedom to the legislator and encourages unionists and employers to make themselves be heard so that the new jurisdictions take their concerns into account.

“These [labour] courts must be independent, transparent and able to rule fairly on workers' labour disputes,” insists Ath Thun, who suggests a tripartite composition, “as it is the case in any country” with “representatives of the unions, employers and government.”

Cheat Khemara readily makes his these arguments. The high official in charge of labour disputes within the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia [(GMAC) Website of GMAC] considers that the establishment of independent labour courts should contribute to ease social tensions and encourage workers to respect the law before starting detrimental demonstrations or strikes. “Ordinary courts have limited knowledge on labour disputes. Trade unions believe that ordinary tribunals are corrupt and they stand no chance of winning against rich employers there. Yet, in some cases, the ruling is in favour of the workers. But we are favourable to these labour courts that will make their decisions immediately. Also, we don't want to have to go to [ordinary] courts because that costs us a lot of money and it makes us lose time,” explains the representative of GMAC, which gathers over 270 garment factory owners, who employ more than 300,000 workers.

The Arbitration Council, established six years ago
Pending the creation of these industrial courts, employers and unions can settle their disputes before another jurisdiction than ordinary courts, the [Arbitration Council Website of the Arbitration Council] (AC). This independent institution is officially in charge of settling labour disputes after the failure of a prior conciliation procedure. Created in 2003 on the basis of the rules established by the 1997 Labour Code, the AC comprises, following a tripartite logic, representatives of unions, employers and the Ministry of Labour. It is composed of at least 15 members appointed by a Prakas of the Ministry of Labour for a one-year term and chosen among magistrates, members of the labour consultative commission, and in general, among personalities “known for their moral qualities” and who “possess relevant [economic and social] experience”.

This Council may therefore appear akin to an industrial court, but it is limited in several ways, starting with the fact that only collective cases can be referred to it, not a dispute that would concern only one or a few workers. Although union leaders recognise that it is already endowed with large powers, there is another important limitation: both employers and workers can question a decision of the AC, by informing the Ministry of Labour under certain conditions, and even in the cases where the AC has the authority to make binding decisions (it is the case if the disputing parties previously commit to comply with the decision, even if it turns out to rule against them), one of the two parties can still decide to ignore it and bring the case before an ordinary court, thereby nullifying the work of the AC.

A very criticised Council
For Chea Mony, the current mechanism is therefore nothing more than an instrument of the government meant to contain demonstrations and strikes. “If the two parties [employers and unions] do not uphold their commitments, they are normally able to oppose a decision, before a court. Generally, the employers are the ones who do not respect theirs. However, the Council has no right to order employers or workers to comply with its decisions,” the FTUWKC president specifies.

The CLC president makes the same observation of an AC that is powerless to implement its decisions. “Arbitral awards are generally not executed because even if employers refuse to comply with them, nobody punishes them. Cambodia is affected by corruption and in the garment sector, there is so much red tape... Moreover, people in power are usually behind garment factories,” Ath Thun deplores.

If Cheat Khemara agrees with the unionists on the necessity to set up labour courts, he rejects the accusations of the CLC leader. “Sometimes, the employers' rights are also flouted and therefore, they must also defend their interests. They file a complaint rather against strikes carried out without respecting the legal procedure. In about a hundred cases [among the strikes and demonstrations that take place in Cambodia each year], unions do not follow the legal procedure. We want each party to demonstrate willingness to apply the law without any party being pressured unfairly or by force,” the GMAC representative argues.

While acknowledging that everything is not perfect yet within the AC – in particular regarding the lack of means to implement decisions –, Sok Lor, executive director of the AC foundation, nonetheless expresses satisfaction at what the institution has achieved in its six years of existence, in dealing with complaints that originated in their totality from unions. Most of the disputes brought to the AC concern problems of salaries, dismissals of union representatives or employees and working conditions, he details. “What we know is that out of 700 files received by the Council since 2003, we have managed to resolve 68% of them. This rate reflects real success,” the official rejoices. However, Sok Lor also supports the creation, as soon as possible, of labour courts, and calls for a precise distribution of competencies between the AC and the future jurisdictions.

Ready at last?
The Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Council for Legal and Judicial Reform has completed the drafting of a law on the organisation of the courts, which would create at least three new types of courts: trade, administrative and labour courts. The draft was submitted for review by the Council of Lawyers of the Cambodian Council of Ministers shortly before Khmer New Year, in April 2009, according to Sam Sokphal, Secretary of State for Justice and vice-chair of the Council of Lawyers. “This draft law is being reviewed at the same time as the one on the statute of magistrates. We have to sift through these two texts in order to contribute to legislative and judicial reform,” the legal adviser explains, saying that discussions are ongoing regarding the functioning of labour courts. Following two months of works within the Council of Lawyers, the draft will be submitted to interministerial review before its adoption by the Council of Ministers and a vote by lawmakers. “It is impossible for us to predict when [labour courts] will be created. We also want to see it happen as soon as possible, but this requires more than writing a couple of pages. Legal experts have to think about it,” the Cambodian Secretary of State for Justice argues. Twelve years after the adoption of the Labour Code, employers and unionists will still have to wait a little more.


The mission of the “labour court” clearly specified

Article 385 of the 1997 Labour Code lists the tasks of future labour courts within their mission to settle labour disputes:
- Order the reinstatement of a dismissed worker, by retaining his former position and paying him a retroactive wage.
- Nullify the results of a union election or the election of a shop steward.
- Order an employer to negotiate with a union or to cooperate with a union steward or a shop steward.
- Decide the payment for damages in favor of the party who won the case in the labor conflict.