Friday, 17 July 2009

UN criticizes Cambodia over land eviction


Asia-Pacific News
Jul 17, 2009

Phnom Penh - The UN on Friday joined a chorus of international criticism aimed at the Cambodian government's handling of a land dispute that led to a community of more than 70 families surrendering its property to developers on Thursday and Friday.

A statement by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed 'regret' over the eviction of the riverside community, known as Group 78, saying the residents 'had to leave their settlement before their claims to land ownership had been adequately determined by the relevant judicial and administrative mechanisms.'

'This eviction sends the signal to communities with similar claims that, no matter what their rights are under the law, development interests trump due process and land rights,' it said. 'The relocation was not voluntary, as families left under duress and were presented with no other option but to accept inadequate compensation.'

Witnesses said more than 60 police officers dressed in riot gear entered the settlement at dawn Friday to remove a handful of families who had refused government compensation offers of 8,000 US dollars for their homes.

The families reportedly left their homes peacefully after accepting a new compensation offer.

Workers from the Phnom Penh Municipal Authority began dismantling houses in the settlement Thursday after a first round of families accepted the offer.

City authorities say the eviction is part of a 'beautification' project in the area, which is located near the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and is regarded as some of the most valuable land in the capital.

The Group 78 settlement will likely be cleared to build a road leading to a new bridge, city officials say.

Kan Sophal, who lived in the collection of wooden and corrugated-iron shacks for 10 years, said he did not know where his family of five would relocate.

'We accept the offer and we are leaving,' he said as workers hacked into walls of his home. 'But there was no offer of land with the compensation, so we do not know where we will go.'

Mann Chhoeun, Phnom Penh's deputy governor, said workers had been instructed to keep building materials and structures intact so the families could reconstruct them on new plots of land.

'This process has been done in a respectful and humanitarian way,' he said.

The World Bank, the European Union, and a range of international embassies in the capital on Thursday evening issued a joint statement on the eviction, which called on the government to 'stop forced evictions from disputed areas in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in the country.'

'This has become a major problem in Phnom Penh and other fast-growing cities in Cambodia - creating uncertainty for, and putting at risk the livelihoods of, thousands of poor people living in disputed urban areas,' the statement said.

Amnesty International condemned the eviction, saying the families had 'no choice but to accept inadequate compensation rather than have their homes demolished.'

'The Municipality of Phnom Penh made no attempts to properly consult with the affected community or explore any feasible alternative to eviction,' said Brittis Edman, an Amnesty representative in Cambodia. 'This makes a mockery of the government's obligations to protect the right to housing.'

American family confirmed influenza A /H1N1 in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, July 17 (Xinhua) -- A four-member American family (a man and three women) were confirmed the positive test of A /H1N1flu in Cambodia, a Cambodian health official said on Friday.

"The family traveled from the U.S. to Cambodia in July 7 and they were confirmed positive test by our doctors on Thursday," said Ly Sovan, deputy director of communicable disease control of Health Ministry, adding that "they are being treated at main hospital in Phnom Penh and so far they are getting better."

Ly Sovan said that up to now, Cambodia has 14 cases of infecting A/H1N1 virus and the latest cases are the four members of American family.

Editor: Fang Yang

Former KRouge prison guard recounts 'killing field'

By Patrick Falby (AFP)

PHNOM PENH — A man who worked as a guard at the main Khmer Rouge torture centre admitted at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes trial Thursday that he executed a prisoner at a "killing field".

Him Huy, 54, was giving evidence at the trial of his former prison chief Duch, who has admitted responsibility for overseeing the torture and execution of around 15,000 people held at Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21.

The former guard recounted how he killed the prisoner in 1977 at Choeung Ek killing field, under orders from either Duch or from the prison chief's now-deceased deputy, Hor.

"I'm not really clear at that time whether it was Duch or Hor because it was almost dawn and it was a rush to finish," Him Huy told the court.

"He asked whether I was absolute or not. I answered that I was absolute, because I was afraid... After I received instructions, I executed that prisoner," he said.

Earlier in the day, Him Huy told judges that all prisoners at S-21 were interrogated and then executed.

The witness said prisoners were informed they were going "to a new home" and then trucked -- sometimes in loads of up to 100 people -- to Choeung Ek killing field, a former orchard on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh.

"My force would guard those prisoners and the executioners would get ready at the pit. Guards would post at the gates and each prisoner would be walked to the pit to be killed," Him Huy said.

"When they were killed, first they were asked to sit at the edge of the pit, then they would be struck, then their throats would be slashed, then (guards) would take off their clothes and their handcuffs," he added.

Him Huy told the court that although he never saw Duch abuse a prisoner, the prison chief witnessed killings.

"I saw him (Duch) twice at Choeung Ek. He stayed there until all detainees were executed and then he would leave," Him Huy said.

He described Duch as someone who "spoke very softly" but was "very strict on his work performance". The witness said he grew increasingly afraid of the prison chief as he arrested staff at Tuol Sleng.

"There were about 300 guards, but later on they were arrested continuously and at the end there were only about 50 or 60," Him Huy said.

"The only thing I knew for sure is that people kept disappearing. I don't know what happened to them when they were arrested."

The 66-year-old Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, has accepted responsibility for his role governing the jail and begged forgiveness near the start of his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But he has consistently rejected claims by prosecutors that he held a central leadership role in the Khmer Rouge, and maintains he never personally killed anyone.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in a bid to forge a communist utopia. Up to two million people died of starvation, overwork, torture and execution during the 1975-1979 regime.

Four other former Khmer Rouge leaders are currently in detention and are expected to face trial next year at the court, which was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the UN and the Cambodian government.

World Bank warns against Cambodian evictions

The Star Online

Friday July 17, 2009

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The World Bank has urged Cambodia's government to halt forced evictions from disputed land, which it said was threatening the livelihoods of thousands of urban dwellers.

About 150 families were evicted on Thursday and Friday by 70 armed police and dozens of demolition workers from a site along the Mekong river in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

In a statement, the World Bank said a fair and transparent mechanism for resolving land disputes needed to be established.

"This has become a major problem in Phnom Penh and other fast growing cities in Cambodia -- creating uncertainty for, and putting at risk the livelihoods of, thousands of poor people."

Donors have in recent years injected up to $1 billion a year to fight poverty in Cambodia, where 35 percent of the country's 14 million people are living below the poverty line.

The World Bank said the authorities had failed to go through the proper process of negotiation with residents, which violated international norms and breached human rights laws.

Cambodia's government, which has been desperately wooing foreign investment and needs the donors at a time when its economy is shrinking, rejected the report and said those evicted had been offered adequate compensation.

"The government always has relocation and social safety networks in place ahead of removing the squatters," said government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.

"But these land-grab opportunists created these problems in the first place," he added.

Amnesty International has also pressed for an end to the evictions, saying families had rejected the state's compensation packages because they were deemed "unfair and inadequate".

Roeun Sareth, 49, who was evicted early on Friday, said his home was torn down after residents asked for more money.

"They turned us down when we negotiated for fair compensation," he said.

A former S-21 staff member who says more, a president who talks too much

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 10/05/2002: Him Huy, former Khmer Rouge guard at Tuol Sleng prison during the shooting of documentary movie “S-21, the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine,” by Rithy Panh
©John Vink/Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

The Trial Chamber set speaking times allocated to each party for better efficiency, a principle that maybe, the judges should also apply to themselves. Thursday July 16th, president Nil Nonn used more than three quarters of the first day witness Him Huy’s hearing – thus leaving little time for his colleagues –, including with some questions which interest was not always clear. The witness, former S-21 staff member, did not play cat and mouse, like chief interrogator Mam Nay who preceded him at the stand. However, he did not say everything…

What is that document?
Him Huy, who wore a jacket and glasses on this day, started to testify, with his eyes lowered. After a few moments, Alain Werner, co-lawyer for civil party group 1, expressed concern with the president that the witness seemed to read a document and asked what it was. The witness claimed he had no document. To dispel any doubt, Nil Nonn sent a clerk to check the witness’ table, from which he took out a bundle of documents. Was Him Huy caught red-handed? No, after checking, it was a transcript of his interrogation by the co-Investigating Judges which he was given by the Chamber on the previous day.

Not insignificant functions
Khmer Rouge fighter, it was only late 1976 that Him Huy was sent to S-21. “I asked what I had done wrong to be sent there,” but a few days later, he was appointed to be guard. Later, he was assigned to the arrival of prisoners, which took place outside of the security centre, to arrests and the transport of detainees already interrogated to the execution site of Choeung Ek. Most of the arrests he carried out were done in Phnom Penh, but on occasions, his team travelled to the provinces to pick up people who had already been arrested. He received instructions from Duch and his deputy Hor for these operations. The modus operandi was the following: the people to be sent to S-21 were taken there under the pretext of transferring them to a new working place, in order not to stir panic in them, and it was only once they were at the prison that they were arrested; when they had already been arrested in their units, they were entrusted to Him Huy’s team in his Phnom Penh centre, located near the premises of the current Beehive radio station.

“At S-21, the boss was Duch”
Although Duch gave direct orders to Him Huy, he however never participated to the arrests in person. “He would have been too frail to do so,” the witness explained. Important people were sent to S-21, those of “lesser importance,” who had committed minor faults, ended up at the re-education centre of Prey Sar. The judge asked him if he saw at S-21 members of the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races (UFLOR). “Yes, I saw foreigners, but I do not really know who they were: they were blond, tall and strong, and hairy too…” “But I am not talking to you about the Westerners, but about the UFLOR,” the president corrected him.

“Did you have to receive pregnant women you then had to send to S-21?” “I do not remember noticing if there were pregnant women. I did not pay a lot of attention to whether a woman I received was pregnant or not. I had to receive her and send her inside.”

The purges in the ranks of S-21 staff were important. “Who ordered you to arrest S-21 staff members?” “At S-21, the boss was Duch. Only him could give the order to arrest […] and produce such a decision. […] For any person implicated in a confession, well, his or her fate was decided by Duch.”

What Him Huy saw at S-21
“Were you aware of any release of prisoners?” “No, I never saw anyone be arrested, sent to S-21 and be released, because all those who were sent to S-21 ended up dying.” For his part, Him Huy made sure that the guards worked correctly. However, he could observe that “prisoners returning from interrogations bore traces on their back.” But he saw nothing of what happened in the interrogation rooms. What he also saw was that female detainees were locked in three collective cells, without handcuffs or shackles, “because we thought they were too weak to attack the guards.” Contrary to Mam Nay, he acknowledged that the prisoners “were all very thin.”

Judge Nil Nonn’s interrogation seemed to lack method. He gave too much importance to these details, asked umbrella questions, made non sequiturs, repeated the witness’ answers or went back and forth between different topics. He was difficult to follow.

Psychological support for the witness?
After the lunch break, the international co-Prosecutor suggested to the witness that he be assisted “to help him go through this difficult moment” because in the morning, “he appeared emotional.” A few sniffs, at the most… This consideration was not offered to other witnesses and civil parties, although they broke down at some points in their testimony. The president asked Him Huy if he needed psychological support, but the latter said he was ready to continue his testimony.

Approximate assessments
“Would you be able to give us an assessment of the number of children who may have been detained with their parents between 1975 and 1979?”, judge Nil Nonn asked the witness, who arrived late 1976 to S-21 and left during 1978… Still, Him Huy demonstrated his willingness to cooperate and suggested it was between “50 and 100,” children “aged from 1 to 8,” he specified.

Executions: what was the power of the generator?
The Choeung Ek site was selected in 1977 to execute S-21 prisoners there, at night. “Once the list of detainees to execute was made, we made the prisoners come out of their cells around 6.30pm and walk to the main entrance. There, a truck was waiting for them and they climbed up by using a chair as a footboard. […] The detainees were shackled and blindfolded. Hor would tell the guards to tell them they were being transferred to a new place of detention. They were not told they were going to be executed.” Each convoy could comprise of 60 prisoners, for a trip that lasted “maybe half an hour.” At the end of the journey, the unit on site started the generators and turned on the lights, the witness detailed. “We made the prisoners enter the house one by one and we turned on the lights near the pits to prepare the executions. My men kept an eye on the detainees and the executioners were posted near the pits. We escorted the prisoners to the pits to execute them. […] And we made sure their number was right, because otherwise, I would have had to account for it.” “What was the power of the generator?”, the judge inquired.

The lethal blow
The execution took hours. “To kill him, the executioner was instructed to have the prisoner kneel down by the edge of the pit. Then, he used an axle and hit him on the nape, before slitting his throat. Once the prisoner was dead, his handcuffs and clothes were taken away.” And the bodies were buried straight away.

Those executed at S-21
As far as he knew, Him Huy said, the Vietnamese prisoners were not sent to Choeung Ek, but executed in the S-21 compound. Similarly, the important cadres of the Communist Party of Kampuchea were executed near Tuol Sleng, but not at Choeung Ek, the witness specified. It was the same for the S-21 staff arrested.

Duch at Choeung Ek
“Did you ever see the accused at Choeung Ek?” “I saw him there twice [during 1977]. […] He stayed there until all the detainees were executed, then he left.” During the hearing on June 17th, Duch had claimed before the court he had been “only once” to Choeung Ek. And he had added: “I did not go close to the edge of the grave pits. My visit was very short.” The judge ordered a recess.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 16/07/2009: Him Huy during his testimony at Duch’s trial
©Stéphanie Gée

“Did you notice the presence of the accused next to the place of execution?”, the president resumed, twenty minutes later. “There were many prisoners and it lasted from evening almost until dawn. I did not notice whether he was near the pit. Hor ordered me to work fast. We had to hurry. Dawn was about to break and we were at risk of being spotted,” Him Huy said.

Bag of questions
Without any transition: “When did you leave S-21?” “Late 1978.” Him Huy was then sent to the rice paddies, one kilometre away from Choeung Ek. “At the time, you never heard of courts, tribunals, judicial institutions, did you?” “No, that is correct.” “Until 1979, did you have the authorisation to go and visit your family, to return to your hometown, to take a leave from your work?” “No…” “How many vehicles were permanently used [at S-21] and what brand were they?” Regarding food rations, “did you observe the use of mugs, these big American cups? Some say they look like a horseshoe… Did you see any be used as containers for the gruel distributed to the prisoners?” The judge was inspired. However, he verified some disputable points in the testimonies of civil parties already heard. Thus, according to the witness, prisoners taken to Choeung Ek were dropped very close to the house, located some 50 meters from the pits, where they were cooped up; the detention centre was called S-21 only; the S-21 medical unit only comprised of men.

A burning smell
It was then the turn of judge Cartwright. She recalled Him Huy that the accused had already acknowledge in court that there were “345” Vietnamese detained at S-21. “Do you agree with this figure?” The witness said he had no objection because, he explained, he did not have “the capacity to know what their total number was,” even more so since he stayed only two years at S-21… In the middle of the questions, François Roux, Duch’s international co-lawyer, intervened. He warned that this had no link to the interrogation but “there [was] a burning smell on the side of the defence bench.” He was not the only one, the smell was also noted on the side of the civil parties. The security service checked and it was later found that trash was being burned outside.

A witness who says little about his responsibilities
“Were your responsibilities important at S-21?”, judge Lavergne then suggested. “After some time, I was made the unit chief,” the witness answered. “And in 1977, when cadres were arrested at the prison, I was promoted to be in charge of the transport and arrival of prisoners. Hor gave me that promotion.” A rapid ascent.

Him Huy described a Duch who was “very strict when it came to work.” “Did you fear him when you worked at S-21?” “Yes, I was very scared.” The judge then interrogated him on the functions the witness had after S-21, but the latter remained evasive and presented himself as a simple farm worker. Was the witness trying to minimise his past role?

Him Huy wriggles out
Judge Lavergne recalled that when he was heard by the tribunal investigators, Him Huy declared that “Duch went out to arrest people within Phnom Penh.” “Did you personally witness Duch making arrests?” “In those operations, he was not present. It was my team that proceeded to the operation. […] If people saw him, they would have understood they were going to be arrested.”

During the same hearing, Jean-Marc Lavergne continued, the witness reported that Duch and Hor, during a meeting, had “given instructions for not only hitting prisoners on the nape but also slitting their throat.” Him Huy remembers it. Would he confirm that the accused gave him instructions regarding the execution method? The judge asked the question twice, without getting any answer. “You can also tell me you don’t want to answer my question. Maybe that’s easier. But I’m going to repeat it one last time…” “Yes,” the witness answered. “Hor gave us the instruction on the method to use.” “Hor is not Duch. Did Duch give you instructions?” The witness wriggled out of it: “The instructions were given by Hor, but the decision to give these instructions came from Duch.”

The witness retracts
During the same hearing still, Him Huy declared: “Duch accompanied people [to Choeung Ek] and there was one left. He asked me: ‘are you determined or not?’ I answered: ‘I am determined.’ If I didn’t say so, I was scared he would accuse me to be opposed to him. He ordered me to kill the man.” The witness remembered saying those words. He recalled the incident: “There was a mass execution and Duch had come to watch. It was almost dawn, and near the pit, I saw very clearly that Duch, my boss, was there. […] He asked me if I had an absolute position and I said ‘yes’ because I was very scared…” The judge followed: “Did the accuse order you to execute someone on several occasions or did that happen only once?” Then, change of heart of the witness: “I am not very sure anymore… Was it Duch or Hor? Dawn was about to break and we had to work hurriedly to finish everything very quickly. I do remember receiving the instruction and executing the prisoner.” Then, Jean-Marc Lavergne requested the accused to stand up and asked the witness if he recognised him. “Yes, I recognise him. He is my superior.” “Was it him near the pit with you, in the early morning, who asked you to execute a prisoner?” “As I just said, we were really working in a great hurry […]. I am not sure anymore if it was him or Hor because both were there.”

To conclude, the judge asked him to return to his arrest in 1983. “I was arrested, accused of being the director of Tuol Sleng prison.” He was sent to work on the Vietnamese border, and after ten months, he was released.

The threat of judicial charges by the co-Prosecutors – highlighted by the defence on Monday July 13th at the start of the hearing of the first S-21 staff member – likely made Him Huy more careful in his statements, so he did not incriminate himself. However, the witness seemed more intimidated by Duch’s presence in the courtroom.

His testimony will continue on Monday July 20th.

(translated from French by Ji-Sook Lee)

Former Plano girl bit by viper in Cambodia

By Stephanie Flemmons
Staff Writer
Thursday, July 16, 2009

A former Plano girl nearly died a week ago in Cambodia from a poisonous snake bite to her toe.

Catherine Rhea, 10, clung to life as her family and doctors desperately searched for the appropriate anti-venom serum to keep her alive.

After dinner July 9, Catherine was bitten while playing outside with her siblings at her family’s home in Phnom Penh, where the family has lived after moving there in April to run an orphanage.

Catherine’s mother, Akemi, said her daughter came inside crying and claimed she had stepped on a thorn and asked her to take it out. Thinking it was not a big deal, Akemi suggested she clean it up first and she would take a better look at the dirty wound.

Akemi said Catherine never approached her again to take a look at the wound, so she continued checking her e-mails, assuming she had washed up and gone back outside to play.

Jailed Cambodian Publisher Will Appeal

RFA Photo/Zakariya
Hang Chakra outside the Phnom Penh court on June 13, 2009.


A publisher is jailed after his newspaper reports on alleged official corruption, while Human Rights Watch points to what it calls a concerted government crackdown on the opposition.

PHNOM PENH—Opposition newspaper publisher Hang Chakra, jailed for a year after publishing articles on alleged government corruption, is suffering in prison but plans to appeal his case, a source here said.

Hang Chakra is detained in Prey Sar Prison in a cell holding about 50 people, sources said.

He was arrested in Battambang on June 26 while he was in hiding—the same day a Phnom Penh court sentenced him in absentia to 12 months in prison and ordered a 9 million riels (U.S. $2,250) fine for alleged defamation and disinformation.

Am Sam Ath, head of an investigative team for the human rights group LCADHO, said his medical team had visited Hang Chakra and found him suffering from kidney problems.

“He is given medication for that. In addition, he appears stressed and worried,” Am Sam Ath said.

Hang Chakra’s lawyer, Chuong Chongny, also visited him July 13.

“His health is fine. But the important thing is what I should do in this case,” Chuong Chongny said.

“The court will send his documents to the appeals court, and I will defend him…I asked him if he still needed me, and he said he still needs me.”

Hang Chakra’s newspaper, Machas Srok, had published articles alleging corruption in the office of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Human Rights Watch this week urged Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to end what it called a “campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action aimed at consolidating its rule by silencing the political opposition and peaceful critics.”

The New York-based organization cited “at least nine politically motivated criminal defamation and disinformation cases against journalists, opposition members of parliament, lawyers, and government critics,” including the case against Hang Chakra.

It also urged Cambodia’s international donors to press the government to stop its heavy-handed harassment of opposition members.

The National Assembly, further, voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of two of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party's (SRP) most active members, paving the way to try them on criminal charges of defamation against Hun Sen and 22 military officials, respectively.

All the recent lawsuits were filed under Articles 62 and 63, new laws which address disinformation and defamation and libel, Human Rights Watch said.

Original reporting by Serey To for RFA's Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Cambodia's government must intervene to stop forced eviction



AI Index: ASA 23/015/2009

15July 2009

Cambodia's government must intervene to stop forced eviction

The Cambodian government should act immediately before 17 July to stop the scheduled forced eviction of some 60 low-income families living in the area known as Group 78, Amnesty International said.

Authorities in Phnom Penh have mobilised some 700 police and military police to forcibly evict the families, according to fresh reports.

The Municipality of Phnom Penh issued a "final eviction notification" to Group 78 in April 2009, in breach of the 2001 Land Law. This law states that evictions can only be carried out under a court order upon the request of the person who claims the property, and that the court must verify and validate such a claim. Ignoring this provision, the Appeal Court on 13 July ruled that the eviction notification was legal.

At the hearing, the Appeal Court also decided that the Cadastral Commission must resolve the ownership dispute over Group 78 land. However, complaints made by Group 78 to the Commission since June 2006 have gone unanswered. Now it appears that authorities in Phnom Penh have scheduled a forced eviction without allowing for such a judicial review.

The families have not accepted the compensation packages that the Phnom Penh Municipality has offered because they deem it unfair and inadequate.

Last week, officials from the Phnom Penh Municipality met with some Group 78 residents, in an attempt to coerce them into accepting compensation for the highly valuable land in the centre of the city. A community representative described the meetings as very intimidating, with officials, including Phnom Penh's deputy governor, warning that police and military police would demolish their community if they did not accept the compensation on offer. The residents were not allowed to speak at the meeting.

The Municipality has offered house owners four options: US$8,000; US$5,000 plus a small plot of land; US$1,500 plus a small plot of land and a small house at Trapeang Anchanh resettlement site; or an apartment at a different resettlement site that they have never seen. Trapeang Anchanh is some 20 km from where they now live and work, and basic services such as water, electricity, sanitation and sewerage are inadequate. The cost of transport to and from the site for work far exceeds their daily earnings.

Around 20 families accepted the cash compensation, but up to 60 families remain in their homes, pushing for a fair and just resolution.

Another 20 families are renting housing in Group 78. These families have not been offered any compensation at all, but were given a three-day deadline on 14 July to pack up and leave.

At no point in the three-year-long land dispute have the Cambodian authorities held genuine consultations with Group 78. Nor have they explored any feasible alternatives to the proposed eviction, including proposals about onsite development submitted by Group 78 residents themselves.


The Group 78 families now at risk of forced eviction started moving into the area on the riverfront in 1983. Since then the value of the land has increased enormously. The families have applied for formal land titles several times, but the authorities have rejected their applications, despite the families having official documentation proving strong ownership claims.

The Phnom Penh authorities have given different reasons for the eviction of the families, ranging from beautification of the city to claims that the community are illegal squatters. In the "final eviction notification" the Municipality states that the community is living on land belonging to a private company and on a public road. Group 78 maintains that under the Land Law they are the rightful owners of the land.

In January 2009, about 400 poor urban families were forcibly evicted from Dey Kraham, which is near Group 78. Their homes were destroyed by an estimated 250 members of the security forces, and demolition workers, and many people lost their possessions. The vast majority were initially made homeless, and had no option but to move to a site far from Phnom Penh, without basic services and with shelters still under construction. On several occasions officials from the Phnom Penh Municipality have warned the Group 78 families that if they do not accept one of the compensation packages, they will be seeing a resolution similar to that of Dey Kraham.

Forced evictions are carried out without adequate notice and consultation with those affected, without legal safeguards and without assurances of adequate alternative accommodation. Under international law, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR), Cambodia is prohibited from carrying out forced evictions, and must protect people from forced evictions.

In May 2009 during its scrutiny of Cambodia's compliance with the ICESCR, the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern over the number of forced evictions in Cambodia. In its concluding observations, the Committee noted "with serious concern" the imminent eviction of Group 78 as one example, and recommended that Cambodia introduces a moratorium on all evictions until a "proper legal framework is in place and the process of land titling is completed, in order to ensure the protection of human rights of all Cambodians".

Cambodia: De La Salle brother drowns while rescuing student

Friday, July 17, 2009

A De La Salle mission in Cambodia has been left deeply saddened by the death of a Vietnamese confrere who died while rescuing a 15-year-old girl who fell into a river in Cambodia. The girl, who fell into the Mekong River, survived.

Brother Dominic Phung The Minh, 28, and his catechism class students had been swimming after Mass about 100 metres from Van Lich church when Nguyen Thi Ngoc Giau was caught in a strong current.

Brother Minh was swept away as he tried to rescue her.

The incident occurred on July 12, about 50 kilometres south of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, said Brother Joseph Nguyen The Anh, the deceased's confrere.

Brother Minh's body was found two hours later and taken to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

His coffin was taken to the chapel at the congregation's Mai Thon center on 14 July. About 200 priests, Religious and lay Catholics prayed and offered incense at the wake. Eight local priests concelebrated Brother Minh's funeral the next day and he was buried at the De La Salle cemetery.

Brother Jean Baptiste Tran Dinh Hiep, 38, the head of the three-member community in Cambodia, said Brother Minh loved his work among local children.

"He taught them their lessons and catechism, played games with them and they went fishing together," he said.

Brother Hiep, 38, said the deceased brother offered poor students scholarships, visited poor families, providing food for them and helped to repair their houses.

"He lived in poverty among poor people and died for them," a tearful Brother Hiep said.

Father Olivier Schmitthaeusler, vicar general of Phnom Penh said: "We are inspired by Brother Minh's death and appreciate his work for the local Church," Fr Schmitthaeusler said in Khmer. He tried his best to serve Vietnamese people there and bring God's love to many people, the priest noted.

Brother Minh was born on 25 June, 1981 in the southern Vietnamese province of Dong Nai. He entered the Christian Brothers school in Ho Chi Minh City in 2000 and began his work with Vietnamese communities in Cambodia in 2006. Since then he had been stationed at Phum Sousom Kosal, Stung Mean Chey and Phnom Penh.

Cambodia's return to its authoritarian past

By Shalini Nataraj

At the same time that the Khmer Rouge trial is underway in Phnom Penh for atrocious human rights crimes committed 30 years ago, troubling signs are emerging today of another corrupt and authoritarian Cambodian government.

One Cambodian leader unwilling to tolerate the repression is Mu Sochua, a Parliamentarian in the opposition Sam Rainsy Party who previously held posts as Minister of Women's and Veteran's Affairs. Sochua, who is on the board of the Global Fund for Women based in San Francisco, started one of the first women's organizations in Cambodia and has done much to reduce the trafficking of women and girls.

In April, Prime Minister Hun Sen defamed Sochua, and in return for fighting back, she was stripped of her parliamentary immunity and ability to raise issues of transparency and human rights. Her lawyer, who now faces defamation charges, dropped her case so she faces trial next week with no legal representation. "Hun Sen has a long history of trying to muzzle Cambodia's political opposition and undermine the independence of the legal profession," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

I need to be allowed to do my job as an elected member of parliament," says Sochua, "I cannot do that if I am allowed no freedom of expression, and have to worry about every person I meet who might be harassed as a result of that meeting."

Last week, while in Cambodia, I asked Sochua why the government repression? Without censorship, Sochua said issues like rampant land grabs and the displacement of villagers would come to light. Since 2003, some 250,000 people have had their land seized, which, according to Sochua, the government is then selling to casinos.

Cheap labor and weak regulation make Cambodia attractive to foreign investment, such as the United States, which is the largest importer of garments from Cambodia. Sochua and I met with 50 members of a women's union, most under age 21, who work in factories where they live on less than $2 a day. We visited their living quarters where they live with up to three others in one-room apartments in buildings surrounded by open drains and garbage. They pay $20 a month for rent so they can send more money home, as they have become the sole breadwinners of rural families.

While Cambodians may not be suffering the massacres of past regimes, they are struggling under the weight of corrupt governments. The repression Mu Sochua faces is just one manifestation of this, and as the international community watches the trial of Cambodia’s dark past, we must be watching as well the present government, in real-time.

Shalini Nataraj is the vice president of programs at the Global Fund for Women, the world's largest foundation supporting the advancement of women's human rights.

Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Kampot, Cambodia

Fri Jul 17, 2009

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

KAMPOT, Cambodia (Reuters) - Got 48 hours to explore Kampot? The quaint, riverside town in southwestern Cambodia is attracting more tourists with its relaxed atmosphere and run-down yet fine French architectural legacy.


6 p.m. - Relax with a drink at one of many bars on Riverside Road, which runs along the Kampong Bay River. The east bank has spectacular views of Bokor Mountain.

7 p.m. - Dine at Ta Eou, a charming place built on stilts over the river. The menu is extensive and includes lots of seafood. Crab with peppercorns is a favorite.

8 p.m. - Drop by the Kampot Traditional School of Music for Handicapped and Orphaned children -- near the old market -- which teaches children traditional music and dance. The performances are free but donations are welcome.


7 a.m. - After a quick breakfast, head out for a day-long jungle trek in Bokor National Park, the main reason most travelers venture into Kampot. There is a road up to Bokor Mountain but it is sometimes closed to visitors. Check with local guides first.

Most tours consist of a challenging three-hour trek and then a drive up to the top, where the first stop is the Black Palace, the remains of the residence of former King Sihanouk.

Other attractions include the abandoned buildings of Bokor Hill station -- a Catholic church and the eerie French hotel and casino. Some locals say that gamblers who had lost everything at the casino often jumped to their death from the mountain.

In its heyday, Bokor was a getaway for French officials, who headed up the mountain to escape the tropical heat. But years of neglect have left ghostly ruins, often shrouded in fog and clouds. If the clouds pass, admire the spectacular view of the coast and the cool mountain air.

Bokor National Park is also an important wildlife reserve -- however the average visitor is unlikely to see much. Tigers are present but very rare, although gibbon can often be heard.

The two-hour trek back down includes a stop at a waterfall for those who want to refresh themselves with a swim.

7 p.m. - Back in Kampot, head to one of the town's massage parlors where blind masseurs will help take away the aches of the day's trek.

8. p.m. - Enjoy a well-deserved drink at the rooftop balcony bar Rikitikitavi, which also has a charming restaurant that serves a mix of Khmer and international food.

9 a.m. - After breakfast, head out to a pepper plantation. In Cambodia's colonial days, Kampot pepper was the king of spices in Parisian kitchens but during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, most plantations were destroyed. Today, local farmers have started to grow and sell black peppercorns again.

11 a.m. - Limestone caves dot the landscape around Kampot. Some have exotic rock formations and Buddhist shrines and are worth a visit. The Phnom Chhnork caves shelter a pre-Angkorian ruin.

2 p.m. - In town, stop off at the Epic Arts cafe to enjoy cakes, bagels and shakes -- the homemade chutney and banana jam are a must-try. The cafe, which employs disabled staff, also sells cards and handicrafts.

3 p.m. - Take a walk around town and soak up the relaxed atmosphere. Although small, Kampot has charming quiet lanes, and architecture influenced by both the Chinese and the French.

4 p.m. - Set sail on the Kampong Bay river, and stay on the water to catch the sunset. If the water level is high enough, head to the Tek Chhou rapids, a popular swimming area.

Passing by lush green scenery, watch fishermen getting ready to go out to sea and sail pass dozens of huts on stilts.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

Child abuser pleads guilty; Will serve five to seven years for beating girlfriend's son

Thoun Rin heads to the stand during his change of plea hearing in Salem Superior Court.
Paul Bilodeau / Staff Photographer

The Eagle Tribune
July 17, 2009
By Crystal Bozek

SALEM, Mass. — A Lawrence man will serve five to seven years in state prison for beating his girlfriend's 9-year-old son so savagely the child's eyes nearly swelled shut.

In a plea bargain, Thoun Rin, 31, of 15 Packard St., yesterday admitted in Salem Superior Court to several charges of assault and battery on a child, the result of a beating in late January that left the child hospitalized.

Rin repeatedly punched the boy in the head and stomach, striking him about 10 times. He held the child by the neck, causing him to pass out for a short time. When the boy tried covering up with his arms, Rin pulled them away and pummeled him some more.

"He said he fell asleep when the defendant was hitting him," Assistant District Attorney Jessica Strasnick said.

Rin only stopped when he heard the boy's mother coming up the stairs.

When the mother saw her son bleeding and swollen by his bed, Rin said, "Look what happens when you jump on the bed."

The boy initially told his mother he fell off the bed. But he later told police Rin, who had moved in with his mother, hit him all the time. This time it had been for not using a baby wipe after he went to the bathroom. But it happened for just about anything.

"I have met with the 9-year-old," Strasnick told Superior Court Judge Jack Lu yesterday. "No person should be put through what this 9-year-old child has been put through."

Rin showed no emotion even as the prosecutor read, word for word, the police reports detailing the beatings on the child.

But Rin's lawyer, Carol Cahill, said Rin was sorry for what he put the boy through.

"He was extremely remorseful," Cahill said of her talks with Rin. "He was ashamed of what he's done."

Cahill said while Rin, who came here from Cambodia at age 8, never offered her any excuses for the beatings, he spoke of growing up in an abusive household himself.

"He had seen this kind of discipline and it was something he was used to," she said. "It was a combination of his boyhood experience and alcohol."

Cahill said he asked her to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecution to save the family, and the boy, from having to testify.

But avoiding a trial didn't hurt him either.

Under state law, Rin could have faced up to 15 years on his first charge of assault and battery on a child with substantial injury and another five years each on four charges of assault and battery on a child if found guilty at trial.

Besides the five to seven years, Rin was given three years of probation, where he must remain alcohol free, attend anger management courses and have no contact with any of the family members.

Strasnick yesterday handed the judge a picture the boy drew to show how he felt, along with a letter from his mother.

The documents were not made public in court yesterday. The boy's mother could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

The boy had suffered two black eyes, a cut on the back of his head, and bruises all over his body.

Police discovered the abuse after a nurse at Lawrence General Hospital reported the boy's injuries to the state Department of Children and Families.

The Department of Children and Families notified police a bone scan of the boy showed likely compression fractures of four or five vertebrae in the boy's upper back and one in his lower back. It also showed breaks in his upper arm bone, two ribs and the right pelvic bone.

These were not injuries caused by a fall from a bed, they said. Some of them were older.

Police arrested Rin after learning he had been the subject of a previous investigation by the state Department of Children and Families for alleged physical abuse of the boy and his 3-year-old brother.

He had been ordered to leave the house by the agency in the past.

Past DCF reports detailed not only beatings, but cruel punishments as well. Rin would make the boy stand up with his arms stretched out, holding heavy books for hours.

When interviewed at the hospital, the boy initially told his mother and police he was jumping on the bed with his brother and fell off.

But later, the boy told of the beatings. He had been afraid Rin would hurt his 3-year-old brother if he told the truth.

The boy said he never told his mother about the daily beatings because Rin told him he would hit him more if he did. He said Rin has slapped him in front of his mother before, but that when he did, she told him to stop.

Cambodia tries to tame traffic chaos

Cars lining the streets during a traffic jam in Phnom Penh

Cambodian men sitting on their motorbikes during a traffic jam in Phnom Penh

A Cambodian traffic policeman guiding motorists at an intersection in Phnom Penh

By Kounila Keo (AFP)

PHNOM PENH — Student Chhin Sothea found out the hard way that it's not enough just to take care when crossing the street in Phnom Penh -- a motorcycle ploughed into him from behind as he strolled down the sidewalk.

"Now I keep an eye on street traffic all the time and when I get on a fast motorbike, my stomach turns," says the 23-year-old, who spent most of his savings recovering in hospital.

Stories like Chhin Sothea's are common in Cambodia, a rapidly developing country where traffic fatalities have more than doubled over the past five years, becoming the second-biggest killer after AIDS.

"The construction of smoother roads, an ever-increasing number of cars and motorbikes, and bold but often uneducated drivers will become a deadly mix in years to come," says Sem Panhavuth from Handicap International.

A report by his organisation, which monitors Cambodian road safety, found the country saw around 4.5 fatalities per day in 2008, and the number spiked to five per day in the first two months of 2009.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has recently used speeches to implore drivers to take more care, and the government is making greater efforts to bring order to chaotic roads.

The capital Phnom Penh got its first five speed detectors in March and traffic police are now frequently seen out in force, cracking down on motorcyclists who drive without helmets or rear-view mirrors.

Traffic police chief Tin Prasoeur says the compulsory helmet and mirror laws have helped reduce injuries.

"Most of the deadly traffic accidents are usually caused by Cambodian youngsters who race each other through the streets," Tin Prasoeur told AFP. "No traffic police want their money (fines) but we want to draw attention to dangers from not following the law or respecting their own safety," he adds.

However, few are optimistic Cambodia's surging traffic accident toll will soon fall.

"I've seen some improvement on the streets, and little by little we hope to see a new shape in Cambodia," says Pheng Saly, a driving instructor for nearly two decades, who is seeing an increase in clients every month.

"But the issue now is that people don't really respect the traffic laws. Many don't care to know the rules, and they break them," he adds.

Phee Khorn, a motorcycle taxi driver in Phnom Penh for the past five years, says the new road rules are not working and the problem lies with lax law enforcement.

"We see traffic police on the streets daily. They often play cat-and-mouse games by stopping bikes or cars all of a sudden, sometimes for no apparent reason," Phee Khorn says.

"When police fine us for not having a helmet or rear-view mirrors, they just take money and let us go," he adds.

For his part, traffic cop San Sophorng says he is learning how little respect his occupation gets as he tries to bring order to dangerous streets.

"When I stop people without helmets or rear-view mirrors, I always tell them their mistakes and, you know, fine them," he says, adding he gets to keep twenty percent of the money.

As he watches drivers weave, honk and jockey for position around one of Phnom Penh's bulging markets, San Sophorng says accidents are increasing because drivers don't care about the rules.

"A lot of people don't obey the traffic laws, and I can't control them all," he says, taking a short break in the shade with a few other blue uniformed policemen. "I'm becoming more tired every day."

Group 78 evicted

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Oun Sos, 60, gathers all her belonging in Phnom Penh’s Group 78 community on Friday. In the early morning, armed security forces and demolition teams evicted the families that had chosen to remain despite eviction threats.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
May Thittara and Christopher Shay

AT dawn on Friday, police in riot gear, military officers and truckloads of demolition workers entered Group 78, an inner-city Phnom Penh community that once held more than 80 families. Despite eviction threats, four families remained in their homes, hoping for better a deal.

Upon entering the community, the scores of red-shirted workers started tearing down the community's homes, and by midday the community had been razed, marking the end of the inner-city community that residents say is over 25 years old.

"They came and evicted us today without violence, because they already threatened us with their words," resident Hem Many, 29, said. "It shows that this country does not respect law; they respect the power."

Though there was no physical violence during the eviction, residents say the government's previous verbal threats combined with Friday's show of armed force intimidated the residents into leaving their homes and prevented fair, last-minute negotiations from taking place.

Resident Suong Sarin said that no one in the community wanted to accept any of the government compensation packages, but that people felt they had no choice.

"Nobody here volunteered to get compensation, but we had to agree with the government. Accepting the government money is better than if they demolish our houses and we have empty hands," he said.

In the morning, the six families who had previously refused to accept government compensation met with Mann Chhoeun, the Phnom Penh deputy governor, and discussed compensation packages. While their community was being dismantled, the families agreed to accept government money, though one family told the Post the government tricked them into leaving their home.

Three families, according to Group 78 representative Kheng Soroth, will receive US$20,000, while two families agreed to accept $9,000.

Photo by: Christopher Shay
A woman piles up the wooden planks that used to make up her house in Group 78, a community in central Phnom Penh that was forcibly evicted on Friday morning.

But Kheng Soroth said he will refuse the $8,000 being offered to him, because Mann Chhoeun reneged on his agreement. Kheng Soroth said the Deputy Governor promised his family $20,000, but after their homes were demolished, he was told he would get only $8,000.

Mann Chhoeun, however, claimed all Group 78 residents had agreed to let the government tear their houses down.

"Today, we evicted people without violence, because all the residents agree to have their houses torn down," he said, adding that City Hall will give families clothes, books and food as gifts.

But Mann Chhoeun's promises of presents did not placate all Group 78 residents.

Hem Many said that if she could, she would get back at Municipal officials responsible for the destruction of her home.

"In the future, if I become rich or a high-ranking officer, I will demolish the former high-ranking officers' houses so they will know how it feels when they meet that situation."

During Friday's eviction, six embassies and five international organisations including the United Nations and the World Bank released a joint statement calling for a moratorium on land evictions until a better mechanism for resolving land dispute is put in place.

The statement does not mention Group 78 specifically nor does it call any of Phnom Penh's previous the land evictions illegal, but it says Cambodia's policies and practices "do not make effective use of the procedures and institutions allowed for in Cambodian law."

The group's choice to release the statement right as the community's houses were being knocked down and its refusal to condemn the Cambodian government in harsher terms came under criticism from civil society groups.

Dan Nicholson, a coordinator at Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), said that the statement was "completely irrelevant" for Group 78, and David Pred, the director of Bridges Across Borders, said that though it is significant that major donors "have publicly acknowledged that the current systems of dispute resolution ... are not fair and transparent ... their words will ring hollow ... unless they are backed up by real consequences."

A coordinator for the Community Legal Education Centre, Man Vuthy, said that the evictions were clearly in violation of Cambodian law.

Many of the families should have received land titles since they have been living on the land for five years prior to the 2001 Land Law, and that they should receive "fair and just compensation in advance" if the government can prove their evictions are for the public interest.

"The government should pay before they smash their houses," he said as the Group78 homes were being demolished around him.

Group 78 starts evacuation

Children stand by as construction workers dismantle homes at Phnom Penh’s Group 78 community Thursday morning.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
May Titthara and Sebastian Strangio

THE curtain appears to be falling on the besieged Group 78 community's protracted struggle with municipal authorities, with 50 of the remaining 66 households beginning their slow exodus from the site Thursday after accepting compensation packages.

Following negotiations with city authorities Thursday morning, 50 families agreed to accept US$8,000 in compensation for their land, and evacuated the site as red-shirted construction workers began dismantling their homes.

As many of the community's houses were reduced to piles of lumber and sheet metal, the 16 remaining households stood firm in their demand for market-value compensation, despite official threats of eviction if they remained at the site this morning.

"I don't care how many families are left because we are a democracy," community representative Lim Sambo said at the site Thursday.

Resident Kim Vorn, 58, said the threat of eviction, even in light of the violent relocation of the nearby Dey Krahorm community in January, had only strengthened his resolve.

"I don't care about tomorrow because I want to know whether this country respects the law or whether it just uses its own power," he told the Post.

"I am happy to allow them to demolish my house, and I will leave without saying anything."

The government claims residents are living illegally on land owned by the state and by the local developer Sour Srun Enterprises.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said after Thursday's negotiations that he was "surprised" by the number of residents who accepted City Hall's compensation package, and praised them for agreeing to a "win-win" solution.

"I am proud of the Group 78 people," he said. "We have found a middle way of settling the dispute. The people in the community have a good understanding."

He added that the turn of events meant that authorities would no longer need to apply "administrative measures" today, adding that today would instead be a "humanity day", during which officials would hand out clothes and books to displaced families.

"Police can put their guns down and help the people move," he said.

But housing-rights advocates say the residents, who lack land titles but have claimed ownership under the Kingdom's 2001 Land Law, were given little choice in the matter.

Man Vuthy, a legal coordinator at the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), said 24 families had submitted final offers - ranging from $20,000 to $40,000 - after an invitation from City Hall, but that they were rejected later in the day.

"They scared the people by saying how many police and military police would go to the site tomorrow at 6am," he said.

Bunn Rachana, a monitor for the Housing Rights Task Force, also said the residents had been "scared" by officials, adding: "If they did not agree to accept the compensation, the authorities would have forced them to move by police power."

Call for moratorium
International donors including the UN, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and seven foreign governments issued a joint statement Thursday evening calling on the government to halt forced evictions across the country until a "fair and transparent mechanism" for resolving land disputes is in place.

The statement, which did not mention Group 78 specifically, said urban communities were vulnerable to eviction as a result of "policies and practices that do not reflect good international practice in dispute resolution and resettlement, and do not make effective use of the procedures and institutions [of] Cambodian law".

Pen Saron, a resident who agreed to the $8,000 compensation offer, said he had seen enough land disputes to know that Group 78 could never win.

"I have not slept well for four years because I have been afraid that they will burn down my house as they have other communities," he said.

Guard tells of killing fields

Photo by: AFP
Former Tuol Sleng prison guard Him Huy, 54, testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Thursday.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Cheang Sokha

Surviving Tuol Sleng guard says prison chief Duch visited the killing fields twice, contradicting the defendant's testimony.

AFORMER guard at Tuol Sleng prison described Thursday for the UN-backed war crimes court how he had been instructed to execute prisoners at the Choeung Ek killing fields.

Him Huy, 54, who was called to testify against his former boss, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, said the instructions were given by [S-21 interrogator] Hor, but that execution decisions were made by Duch.

"Before we did the killing, we received instructions on how to execute them, so we just followed what we were instructed to do," Him Huy told Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne, adding that he was in charge of checking off prisoners from a list of those that were to be killed.

"The executioners were instructed to ask prisoners to kneel down near the edge of the pit.... Later on, they would use knives to slash the throat, and when [the prisoners] were dead they would remove their handcuffs and their clothes," he said.

Wearing a black jacket and glasses, Him Huy told the court that he saw Duch visit the killing fields two times, though he said he never saw the prison chief abuse a prisoner.

"I saw [Duch] twice at Choeung Ek. He stayed there until all detainees were executed, and then he would leave," Him Huy said.

Duch, who has maintained that he never went to Choeung Ek except once to greet a superior at the gate, sat quietly as Him Huy continued.

"I had to rush to finish my job, and he asked me whether I was absolute or not, and I responded yes, I was absolute."

Answering a question from Presiding Judge Nil Nonn, Him Huy said no prisoners detained at S-21 were released.

"They only waited to be interrogated and executed," he said," he said.

Him Huy said up to 100 prisoners were taken at a time to be executed at the Choeung Ek killing fields, and that he had personally driven them in trucks to the site.

"They were handcuffed and masked, and we lied to them that they were being transferred to a new house," said Him Huy, who was told several times by Presiding Judge Nil Nonn that it was important to speak the truth.

Him Huy told the tribunal that roughly one or two weeks lapsed between when detainees were forced to make "confessions" and when they arrived at Choeung Ek.

Pol Pot's relative visits trial
Tan Chhiv Hot, 53, a relative of Pol Pot from Kampong Thom's Stung Sen district, told reporters at the tribunal that she had never met Pol Pot personally and had only recently learned of his role in the regime.

"My mother was Pol Pot's cousin," she said. "But I dislike him, and I dislike the regime because one of my brothers-in-law was murdered."

Legislator, lawyer to skip trial

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Vong Sokheng

Ho Vann likely to be tried in absentia on charges he defamed officers

NEITHER opposition lawmaker Ho Vann nor his former attorney will appear in Phnom Penh Municipal Court today to answer to disinformation and defamation charges filed against him, but his supporters said Thursday that this would have little effect on the outcome of his case, which they described as both preordained and highly politicised.

"Whether Ho Vann shows up at the trial tomorrow or not is not important because we expect the court will decide because of orders from the ruling Cambodian People's Party," Yim Sovann said.

Ho Vann, who is currently in the United States, was accused of defaming 22 senior RCAF officials after he made comments to a local newspaper that the officials say denigrate the quality of academic degrees they received from a Vietnamese military institute. He has since said he was misquoted.

The reporter who quoted him, Neou Vannarin of The Cambodia Daily, has also been summoned to appear today.

If convicted, Ho Vann could become the third government critic to receive a prison sentence since the opposition-aligned publisher Hang Chakra was sentenced to one year in prison on June 26. Khmer Civilisation Foundation Chairman Moeung Sonn received a two-year sentence on Tuesday for criticising a light installation project at Angkor Wat temple.

Yim Sovann said Thursday that Ho Vann had not had time to find a new lawyer after his previous lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, who was facing a defamation charge of his own and possible disbarment, defected to the CPP earlier this month.

Along with other Ho Vann supporters, Yim Sovann criticised the charges against him as part of a concerted political attack against the party.

But Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, said the outcome of the case was up to the court and thus would not be influenced by politics.

"The case is not in government hands," he said.

Chev Keng, president of the Phnom Penh Muncipal Court, was unavailable for comment on Thursday, and Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun declined to speak with a reporter.

Successes spur officials to seek expanded TB program

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Tuberculosis patient Non Said, 63, lies in a bed Wednesday at the National Centre for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control with a bag of ice on her chest to soothe the pain in her lungs.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Khuon Leakhana

New plan would implement a community-based treatment strategy in 200 additional health-care centres by 2010.

CAMBODIA'S National Centre for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control plans to implement a tuberculosis treatment programme that emphasises community participation in 200 new community health centres by 2010, the centre's director told the Post.

The program is titled Directly Observed Treatment Short Course, or DOTS.

"We plan to enlarge DOTS ... because this programme has been so successful," said Mao Tan Eang, the director. "At the moment, DOTS is being implemented in 500 health-care centres nationwide. We plan to be in 100 more health-care centres this year, and another 100 next year."

Mao Tan Eang said the project was slated to receive an additional US$7 million to $8 million in funding, adding that he was confident the centre would be able to meet its expansion goals.

Mao Tan Eang said he credited the community participation aspect of the DOTS programme with lowering Cambodia's tuberculosis rate.

"The DOTS programme worked so well because of the participation of volunteers from the community," he said. "The Ministry of Health officers and [the centre's staff] cannot accomplish the project alone."

Under the DOTS strategy, two or three volunteers from each commune educate local villagers, identify tuberculosis patients and directly observe their treatment and symptoms.

The system is believed to be more effective because it does not rely on individuals to recognise their own symptoms, Mao Tan Eang said.

About 90 percent of patients who receive DOTS treatment are cured, a figure that exceeds the World Health Organisation's target cure rate of 85 percent.

From 1997 to 2007, the tuberculosis rate dropped significantly in Cambodia, even though it was on the rise globally. In 1997, there were 428 cases per 100,000 people. That number dropped to 270 for every 100,000 people 10 years later.

Constitutional obstacle might block KCF chairman's pardon

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009

Officials say the fate of Moeung Sonn, who was convicted this week on disinformation charges, rests in the hands of King Sihamoni.

A CIVIL society leader sentenced to two years in prison on disinformation charges faces an uphill battle in his attempt to clear his name, said government officials who noted Thursday that only King Norodom Sihamoni can constitutionally overturn a criminal conviction.

Khmer Civilisation Foundation (KCF) Chairman Moeung Sonn told the Post from France Wednesday that he would write to King Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An to apologise for the comments that led to his conviction - criticisms of a lighting scheme at Angkor Wat - and to emphasise that he "spoke out just to preserve and protect the World Heritage temple".

He should have [made the] request before the court took action...

Last week, two government critics - Sam Rainsy Party lawyer Kong Sam Onn and Dam Sith, publisher of the opposition-aligned Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper - had pending defamation charges dropped after they sent letters of apology to the prime minister.

But government officials said it would be difficult for Moeung Sonn to obtain a similar result, given that he had already been convicted.

"Right now, I think it is a little too late for him," said Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers.

"He should have [made the] request before the court took action, but he kept taking action with the government."

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Moeung Sonn on Tuesday to two years in prison and ordered him to pay 15 million riels (US$ 3,581) in fines and compensation for his criticisms of the Angkor Wat lighting scheme.

During a press conference May 26, Moeung Sonn expressed concerns that heat from the new lights, intended to draw visitors to the site after dark, could damage the 11th-century temple.

Change of tune
In a June 17 letter from Moeung Sonn to Hun Sen, a copy of which has been obtained by the Post, the KCF head denied the government's allegations of disinformation and asked that they lift the charges. He made no apology or admission of error.

He said by email Thursday that he would send new apology letters once his lawyer had a chance to review them.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Thursday that it was "good" that Moeung Sonn apparently acknowledged wrongdoing, but he noted that only King Sihamoni can overturn a conviction.

Government lawyer Pal Chan Dara said the government would review Moeung Sonn's requests regardless.

"The government will consider the acknowledgement of his wrongdoing, and then decide whether to request the King to grant a partial or complete amnesty," he said.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said there was some hope for Moeung Sonn given that King Sihamoni generally follows the lead of the premier.

"According to the Constitution, the King doesn't have to ask anyone, but in practice he must ask the prime minister,"Sok Sam Oeun said.

When asked whether the KCF chairman would be granted amnesty once he apologises, Sok Sam Oeun replied: "I think so."

Govt rails against drawn-out 'chitchat'

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Sam Rith

THE Ministry of Information released a statement Thursday urging media outlets to stop running advertisements that encourage customers to talk on the phone for long periods of time.

"The Information Ministry has observed that ... phone companies advise and persuade customers to have long periods of chitchat," read a statement signed by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith.

"Such advertising convinces students to have relationships and do activities that diverge from our good Khmer traditions and morals," it said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, took issue with the statement, saying the advertisements did not contribute to immoral behaviour.

"[The advertisements] do not have any impact besides helping people decide on a phone system," he said.

The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, So Khun, said the Ministry of Information had the right to remove or censor advertisements from the Kingdom's nine mobile operators and three landline phone companies.

Stronger child gang networks pose fresh challenge to drop-in centre

Photo by: Holly pham
A view of traffic at the Poipet border crossing on July 9 (left). Children at the Damnok Toek drop-in centre, which has been operating in the border town for the past 10 years.

The night group consists of homeless and parentless [kids] who sleep around the markets...

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Cheang Sokha and Holly Pham

Damnok Toek has operated in the border town of Poipet, Banteay Meanchey, for a decade as street children have multiplied, along with the difficulty of weaning them from illicit activity


SINCE the drop-in centre Damnok Toek opened in Poipet 10 years ago, its staffers have observed a marked increase in the number of street children migrating to the border town, a population they say can be divided into two groups: those who wander the streets by day, and those who do so by night.

"The day kids are mostly ones whose parents travel to Thailand for business from dawn until dusk," said Yann Sam, a project coordinator at the centre. "The night group consists of homeless and parentless ones who sleep around the markets or in the casino area."

He added: "It's a lot more difficult to reach out to the ones that come at night. Most of them sniff glue or use drugs, and a lot of them are under 'Big Brother' management."

The term "'Big Brother' management", he said, was a reference to the gang networks to which many of the street children in Poipet belong. In most cases, he said, children turn over up to half of what they earn each day to their respective gangs in exchange for protection, food and drugs.

Yann Sam said there were roughly 850 Cambodian street children operating in and around Poipet. Other NGOs and local authorities said that figure was impossible to verify, particularly given the porous nature of the border crossing between Poipet and Aranyaprathet, Thailand.

An estimated 200 to 300 Cambodian street children cross the border to work illegally in Thailand every day, Yann Sam said.

Sou Malai, representative director at Damnok Toek, said the increase in street children in Poipet had slowed in recent years, though he said outreach to the population had become even more difficult because gang ties had intensified.

"It's still very difficult to reach out to all of the street children because many of them are under gang protections," he said. "It's not easy bringing them to the centre."

Damnok Toek operates three different facilities in Poipet: a daycare near the town centre, a drop-in centre 100 metres away from the border and a rehabilitation centre roughly 7 kilometers outside Poipet.

Staff at the daycare centre are in some cases able to establish good relationships with the parents of the children who take advantage of its programming, which includes basic education - in the form of Khmer and math lessons - and games.

Ven Veasna, a social worker at the centre, said the programme there generally lasts from 7am to 11pm, adding that children are free to stay at the centre for as long as they want within that window of time.

Though the numbers vary, the centre attracts on average about 50 kids aged between 4 and 15 years during the day, Yann Sam said.

In contrast, only between eight and 10 children stay at the drop-in centre each night, a fact that he and other NGO workers in Poipet attributed to the nighttime lure of drug use, drawing children away from the centre and into the street.
Looking ahead
At the moment, Damnok Toek does not have any expansion plans that would require the construction of additional centres.

But Sou Malai said the group had recently formed a partnership with the Poipet Transit Centre, a re-education centre run by the Ministry of Social Affairs that specialises in serving trafficked women and children.

Man sentenced over child porn

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Chrann Chamroeun

Japanese tourist sentenced to six years in jail after being found guilty of having minors in Preah Sihanouk province pose for him in nude photos

PREAH Sihanouk provincial court on Thursday sentenced a Japanese man to six years in prison for having boys aged between 7 and 14 pose for him in pornographic photos.

Judge Kim Eng also ordered the accused to pay 500,000 riels (US$119) in compensation to each boy and told him he would be expelled from Cambodia once his prison sentence was served.

Shunichi Nakagawa, 33, was arrested in August last year when police caught him photographing young boys at O'Tres beach, said Chor Heng, Preah Sihanouk deputy police commissioner.

Peng Maneth, a lawyer provided by the child rights group Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), said the group would appeal the sentence to demand greater compensation for the boys.

"We are going to appeal the sentence to try to get more compensation, as the man has been convicted on similar charges and served two-and-a-half years already in Japan," she said.

"The compensation is very small and does nothing to repair the victims' reputations that have been damaged when their naked bodies were exploited," she added.

New law a success: NGO
Samleang Seila, country director for APLE, said he welcomed the conviction, which he said he believed was the first under a law against child pornography that was introduced in 2007.

Defence lawyer Chan Vannak said his client had one month to consider whether or not to appeal the sentence.

Be Sivanna, director of the Ministry of Interior's Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department in Sihanoukville, said Nakagawa had paid the boys between $2 and $5 each to pose naked, adding that Nakagawa had entered Cambodia as a tourist on August 6.

Chor Heng said Nakagawa had first photographed the boys in August and arranged to meet them again the following day, by which time local authorities had been tipped off by area residents who had witnessed Nakagawa snapping pictures of the children.

Seven arrests in Ratanak Kiri fake uniforms case

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Chrann Chamroeun and Mom Kunthear

Police arrest group after catching one suspect wearing a fake two-star general's uniform

SEVEN people were sent to Ratanakkiri provincial court on Wednesday after they were found with forged government documents and fake military police uniforms, a provincial military police chief told the Post.

Tuy Sim, Ratanakkiri provincial Military Police chief, said his officials had arrested the group after one of its members was caught wearing a fake general's uniform.

...when he began to panic they suspected him and took them to the police station.

"Our men had lunch with [one of the suspects] and he was wearing casual clothes, and then later in the day they saw him wearing a two-star general's military police uniform travelling to a pagoda in a Mitsubishi car with six other people," Tuy Sim said.

He added that upon raiding the car, police found a gun, four other uniforms and forged documents, including one with the signature of Prime Minister Hun Sen and another that was signed by Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun.

"They asked him for his name and which unit he came from, and when he began to panic, they suspected him and took them to the police station," he said.

Illegal logging suspected
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, told the Post Wednesday that he welcomed the arrests because he believed the group was likely involved in illegal logging.

"I request that authorities further investigate the group, as we have found that a lot of people who have fake police uniforms and forged documents are involved in illegal logging."

Garment employees back on the job as protests end

Photo by: Ith Sothoeuth
Xing Tai garment factory workers protest against what they say are poor working conditions earlier this week.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Khouth Sophakchakrya

But some of Xing Tai factory workers vow to protest unless a union representative is rehired, which a manager rules out

AFTER three days of protesting, employees of the Xing Tai garment factory in Sen Sok district returned to work Thursday, citing improvements to the factory's working conditions.

"We have compromised with the factory and are working towards ending the conflict," said Um Visal, the labour dispute resolution officer at the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union. "We called for the workers to go back to work on Thursday."

About 100 employees had returned to work on Wednesday, though another 300 demonstrated in front of the factory and threatened to light tyres on fire to protest poor working conditions, which they said included inadequate toilets and hot, windowless work spaces.

Garment worker Mam Srey Kun said Thursday that the sewing machines at the factory had been improved and that new fans and lights had been installed.

Phon Thavy, a 23-year-old garment worker, said she believed the improvements were a direct result of the protests.

"Before, this factory had poor working conditions and the sanitation was bad, but now everything has changed and is better," she said, pointing to the new lamps and fans.

Mam Srey Kun noted, though, that one key disagreement had not been resolved: whether or not Va Sophon, a union representative, would be rehired.

"We will protest again, and it could be even bigger if the factory representative is not reinstated," she said.

Looming conflict
Horm Hav, the factory's chief of administration, said Thursday that the factory would not re-hire Va Sophon.

The union representative and his supporters have said he was dismissed for protesting company policies, though Horm Hav said he was dismissed for poor job performance.

In February, the Arbitration Council, an independent tribunal set up to resolve labour disputes, ruled that Va Sophon should be allowed to return.

Weather Woes: Storms hit southern provinces

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Sam Rith

ASERIES of coastal storms continued to wreak havoc with air and sea traffic in Cambodia's southern provinces Thursday, and the director of the Department of Meteorology at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology said she expected the bad weather to continue at least through Friday. "The bad weather is still not finished," Seth Vannareth said, adding that her department would continue to warn tourists against travelling to provinces including Kampot, Kep and Koh Kong. Earlier this week, heavy rains flooded a stretch of National Road 4 in Preah Sihanouk province.

Seth Vannareth said the storms posed a particular threat to fishermen. She said she did not know when the storms would stop. Keo Vy, communications officer for the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM), said Wednesday that 71 storms had occurred in Cambodia through the first six months of 2009. There were 53 storms for all of 2008. He said the storms had led to two deaths and 56 injuries and had caused 681 houses to collapse. In addition, 830 houses, 10 schools and two temples had been slightly damaged by storms, he said. He added that the NCDM had not received any reports of injuries or deaths resulting from this week's storms.

Lessons from the Duch trial

S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav testifies in this file photo. AFP

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 17 July 2009
Robbie Corey Boulet

Alex Hinton, author of Why Did They Kill?: Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide, is the director of the Centre for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Rutgers University in the US state of New Jersey. He was in Cambodia this month for the Genocide Education Project, run by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, and took time to offer his thoughts on the ongoing trial of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.

What has surprised you most about Duch's testimony so far?
Although Duch indicated that he would cooperate with the court and wanted to express remorse, what surprises me most about his testimony is just how much he has said. At times it has even been difficult to get him to stop talking.

I'm not sure there has ever been a defendant at an international tribunal who has so willingly and expansively revealed details about the operation of a torture and extermination centre.

Duch has always been an enigma and, I think, remains one today even as he claims to tell all in the court. People are asking: Is he truly sorry? How could he do such things? Is he a monster or an ordinary man? What would I have done in his place?

Have we learned anything from the trial, particularly about the operations of S-21 or the regime generally?
While we have certainly learned some new things during the trial, such as the operation of M-13 [a detention facility in Kampong Speu province run by Duch] and the horrific way in which some prisoners were killed by having the blood drained from their bodies; we knew the basic outline of the story - much of it is there in David Chandler's book on S-21 [Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison], for example. The great contribution of this trial has been to fill in so many of the missing details in such an exacting manner.

Based on what's been said so far, how would you describe the legal strategy adopted by Duch and his defence team? Do you think it has been executed successfully?
The contours of the defence team's strategy - "I am responsible but not that responsible" - emerged during the first week of the trial. Even as Duch cooperated and made his apology, his lawyers argued that his responsibility was relatively minimal since he had to follow orders or be killed. As the trial has progressed, Duch has increasingly emphasised this argument in his own comments. He has had some success, though the prosecution and civil party lawyers have worked hard to highlight his direct culpability.

Switching gears, do you think the court's outreach efforts have been successful? And do you get the sense that Cambodians care about the tribunal?
If you had asked me this question at the start of the trial, I would have given you a different answer. But through the combined effort of civil society actors, the local media and the court itself, outreach is emerging as one of the success stories of the tribunal. Do most Cambodians know that the trial is taking place? Yes, even if they only know a bit about it. And do they care about the verdict? Yes, particularly those who lost relatives during Democratic Kampuchea. If this level of interest persists, the trial will have accomplished a great deal.

What are your thoughts on the ongoing dispute among members of the prosecution as to whether they should pursue additional indictments? Do you find credible the argument advanced by national co-prosecutor Chea Leang that further indictments could lead to instability and hinder national reconciliation?
For the sake of the court's reputation, I hope that one more set of indictments will be made. If not, the claims that the court is subject to political influence will rise to a crescendo. In any event, it is unlikely that additional indictments would lead to instability. I have heard some Cambodians, but not a lot, say that five is enough and they want to move on.

What, in your opinion, are the tribunal's prospects for future funding, and do you think those would be improved if the court devised a mechanism for resolving corruption allegations?
Can you imagine going to all of this trouble, raising the hopes of so many Cambodians, and then pulling the financial plug on the tribunal? That would be irresponsible to say the least, particularly given how much has been spent on the [tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia]. But there is little doubt that the corruption issue would be less salient if the allegations were directly addressed.