Thursday, 13 August 2009

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Southeast Asian Women Embody Hope for Change

By Stephanie Guyer-Stevens

WeNews correspondent

In Cambodia and Burma, Stephanie Guyer-Stevens says two female leaders embody the region's hopes for democratic reform: Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, whose extended house arrest drew protest this week, and Cambodia's Mu Sochua.

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (WOMENSENEWS)--Two women in Southeast Asia are setting the stage for regional change by bravely standing up to ruling governments. Both have received negative court rulings in recent days.

Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's democratically elected leader, saw her house arrest, which has been off and on since 1988, extended by 18 months on August 11. That verdict keeps her out of the country's campaign season for elections, tentatively scheduled for March 2010.

Cambodia's Mu Sochua, an opposition parliamentarian, received a guilty verdict July 30 in a case brought against her by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The situation: Two of the region's most prominent female lawmakers are in trouble with their country's rulers, who in both cases are attempting to limit or strip their power.

Women throughout Southeast Asia are watching, and blog posts from the region are drawing parallels between the struggles of these two female leaders.

The parallel has not been lost on Sochua's opponents either: "Mu Sochua is not Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar," Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People's Party and a member of National Assembly's Permanent Committee, told the Phnom Penh Post when the lawsuit was first filed against Sochua on July 21.

What are their chances of success? What will happen if they fail?

Burma's Downward Spiral
Some see Suu Kyi's interminable silencing by arrest as a defeat for her party and for the country, which has seen a downward spiral in per capita income over the past half century. Burma--officially called Myanmar by the country's military government-- is now considered one of the poorest countries in the world, well behind all of its Southeast Asian neighbors and on par with Nepal. The country's greatest expense: weaponry to wage a civil war against its own people.

Here in Cambodia, leaders of the opposition, or minority, party and civil-society interest groups see these situations as conjoined.

Crackdowns against freedom of expression and democratic practice have escalated in Cambodia over the past year. Is Prime Minister Hun Sen on the offensive?

Sochua thinks not:

"Hun Sen knows that the votes that won this election were gotten illegally," she said in an interview with Women's eNews. "He knows that if the election was fair his party would never have won. He is afraid and he is acting as if he is afraid. If he knew that the people were really on his side he would have nothing to fear from them. He would have no need to intimidate people."

Sochua both expressed optimism for women in the region and said that if real change is to occur, women must make themselves heard.

Women in Southeast Asia have little or no representation in parliaments throughout the region. They also have consistently lower literacy rates than men, with only 34 percent of Cambodian women receiving a secondary school education.

Rainsy Says Women Have Key Role
Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition party in Cambodia, says that women from Southeast Asia, because of their experience of oppression, are far more likely to be effective in overcoming oppression.

"I think Burma and Cambodia are two similar problems," he said in an interview on August 5. "They are the same in nature but different only in intensity. In any dictatorship, the rights of the minority, the rights of women . . . are generally oppressed. So women are the spearhead of any fight to bring about democracy and to restore human dignity."

Nevertheless, he emphasized that female leaders in the region can't create change alone and emphasized the crucial harm foreign governments play by providing military or humanitarian aid to a country under a dictatorship with few or no regulations.

"We would be much encouraged if we see that the world knows the real situation in Cambodia," Rainsy said. "Cambodia is a kind of bad conscience for the world, because of the Khmer Rouge tragedy some 30 years ago. So they want to buy back their conscience by pouring money. And by pouring money without any consideration for human rights, for democracy, they actually strengthen the dictatorship like the one currently led by Hun Sen."

The day before her verdict, while I was there monitoring her court decision, I asked Sochua if she is afraid of more backlash of the type that pulled her into court last month to face a guilty verdict, which international rights onlookers have widely denounced as politically biased.

"No," she said. "I have no reason to be afraid. I have done nothing wrong. I plan to go on living my life. He (Hun Sen) is the one who should be afraid. The will of the people is on my side."

Leaders Criticize Verdict
The verdict in Suu Kyi's case, postponed several times, found her guilty of charges brought by the Burmese government of violating the terms of her house arrest. She had allowed an American man into her home after he illegally swam across a lake and entered her compound. Suu Kyi has been held in jail or under house arrest for most of the last two decades since she won the leadership of the country by a landslide.

Leaders from around the world have criticized the verdict.

"The charges were baseless, the verdict outrageous," U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote in an official statement released on August 11. "So the international community must respond to this latest injustice with a clear message to the junta that its tyrannical actions will no longer be tolerated."

Sochua is a member of parliament for the Sam Rainsy Party here in Cambodia and a renowned international women's rights advocate. The case against her was a countersuit, responding to the suit Sochua exacted upon Prime Minister Hun Sen for using defamatory language to describe her to constituents. She appealed the guilty verdict the following day. It is not yet clear how the courts will respond to her appeal.

Stephanie Guyer-Stevens is executive producer of Outer Voices. She has been documenting female leaders in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands since 2003.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

Establishment of an Independent Counsellor at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

August 12
County Foreign Policy Examiner
Lawrence Gist

Cambodia suffers from a range of governance and anti-corruption challenges, including vote-buying and political financing scandals to privatizations that have tended to favor a small group of wealthy elites. Media independence is compromised by self-censorship: a common occurrence in most media houses. Judicial appeals offer little redress for most citizens or small businesses: "For politically-related [court] cases, the following is the rule of thumb: For my friends, everything they want. For my enemies, the law." -- Global Integrity Report

Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General said today during a United Nations press briefing that the United Nations and Cambodia have signed an agreement to establish an Independent Counsellor at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the UN-backed institution mandated to try perpetrators of the crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime.

The UN Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) says that the designation of an Independent Counsellor builds on the existing structure of national and international ethics monitors and the joint sessions among both parties of late 2008 and early 2009. OLA, the Office of Legal Affairs, says it represents a further step to strengthen the human resources management in the administration of the tribunal, including anti-corruption measures to ensure the requirements of due process, including the full protection of whistle-blowing staff members. We have the full text of the agreement upstairs.


Following is the text of a joint statement on the establishment of an Independent Counsellor at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia:

Further to the meetings of 9 December 2008, 23 February 2009, and 6 to 8 April 2009, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Royal Government Task Force on the Khmer Rouge Trials, H.E. Sok An, and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Mr. Peter Taksøe-Jensen, are pleased to announce that they have concluded the text of an “Agreement to Establish an Independent Counsellor at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia”. The Agreement is based on the significant achievements made by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) as witnessed by the over 12,000 Cambodian citizens who have so far attended court proceedings in the first case. Both parties recognised the continuing importance of this progress toward addressing impunity for the crimes of the former Khmer Rouge regime. The Agreement was reached following detailed consultations with, and with the full support of, the Friends of the ECCC (the Ambassadors of the principal donor countries). The text of the Agreement is attached to this Joint Statement.

The designation of an Independent Counsellor builds on the existing structure of national and international Ethics Monitors and the Joint Sessions established by the Joint Statements of 10 December 2008 and 23 February 2009. It represents a further step to help strengthen the human resources management in the entire ECCC administration, including anti-corruption measures, to ensure the requirements of due process of law, including full protection of staff on both sides of the ECCC against any possible retaliation for good faith reporting of wrongdoing. In this context, the Independent Counsellor will be available to all staff to bring forward any concerns confidentially, and will be empowered to address such concerns.

Pursuant to the terms of the Agreement, the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations have respectively proposed a number of individuals as candidates for the role of Independent Counsellor. After due consideration and extensive discussion between the parties, and after consultation with, and with the full support of the Friends of the ECCC, the parties have mutually agreed that H.E. Mr. Uth Chhorn, the Auditor General of Cambodia, should be selected to serve as the Independent Counsellor.

H.E. Sok An and Mr. Peter Taksøe-Jensen firmly believe that this new mechanism will enable staff in the entire administration of the ECCC to raise concerns confidentially, without fear of retaliation, and that it should be capable of effectively addressing any allegations of misconduct. The parties will carefully monitor the implementation of the existing structure and the function of the Independent Counsellor established by the attached Agreement, and will keep open the possibility of reviewing the arrangements in order to take any opportunities to improve them further, as appropriate.

The full text of the Agreement follows:

Agreement to Establish an Independent Counsellor
At the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Noting the Agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia signed in Phnom Penh on 6 June 2003 (hereinafter referred to as “the Agreement”) concerning the Prosecution under Cambodian Law of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (hereinafter referred to as “the ECCC”), and the Joint Statements issued by the parties on 10 December 2008 and 23 February 2009 concerning the Joint Sessions between the national and international sides of the ECCC; and,

Recalling the Joint Statement of 23 February 2009, in which the parties noted that the Joint Sessions had promoted greater mutual understanding of the need to strengthen the human resources management in the entire administration, including anti-corruption measures, and agreed that a structure should be established, based on existing mechanisms, to ensure the requirements of due process of law, including full protection of staff on both sides of the ECCC against any possible retaliation for good faith reporting of wrongdoing;

Therefore, the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations agree to the following:

1. In addition to the existing structure of national and international Ethics Monitors and the Joint Sessions, the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”) and the United Nations shall agree the designation of an Independent Counsellor to be available to all staff to bring their concerns confidentially.

2. The Independent Counsellor shall be an individual who is acceptable to both the RGC and the United Nations chosen in consultation with the group of friends of the ECCC. He or she shall be appointed neither on a Cambodian contract nor United Nations’ contract, but in accordance with the mandate and the terms of reference set out in paragraph 3 below with details on funds to be used to be worked out by mutual agreement between the UN and the RGC.

3. Mandate and terms of reference of the Independent Counsellor:

(a) The Independent Counsellor shall:

(i) be a person of high integrity and good reputation;

(ii) be neither an employee of the ECCC, nor the United Nations, nor a political appointee in the RGC;

(iii) take into account the context in which the ECCC operates, and its specificities, while respecting international standards;

(iv) have relevant professional qualifications and experience;

(v) ideally be fluent in two of the official languages of the ECCC;

(vi) be a good communicator, including having the ability to communicate effectively with high level government and diplomatic officials;

(vii) have cross-cultural awareness;

(viii)be able to relate to all personnel, from the lowest to the highest ranking, including administrative, technical and judicial personnel.

(b) The Independent Counsellor, in exercising his or her function, shall:

(i) carry out his or her responsibilities impartially and independently;

(ii) provide counseling to staff confidentially raised with him or her;

(iii) carry out his or her responsibilities strictly confidentially, except:

(I) to keep the Joint Sessions informed about his or her activities, whilst respecting the confidentiality of staff who have approached him or her;

(II) to inform the Deputy Prime Minister of RGC and the Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs of the United Nations at Headquarters in the event of any concerns which he or she deems appropriate to raise at that level.

(iv) If the Independent Counsellor raises an issue referred to in sub-paragraph (iii)(II) above, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs shall seek to resolve the matter promptly through consultations.

4. The RGC and the United Nations will share on an equal basis the costs of the function of the Independent Counsellor.

5. The initial appointee for the position of Independent Counsellor is referenced in Annex. If at any time the initially appointed Independent Counsellor is unable to continue to carry out the functions of the office, he or she shall be replaced by another person who fulfills the criteria elaborated in paragraph 3 above and who shall be mutually agreed by both parties and chosen in consultation with the group of Friends of the ECCC.

6. This Agreement and Annex are made in two original copies, and will come into effect on the date on which both signatures are affixed.

Burmese Justice

The Wall Street Journal

AUGUST 13, 2009

Smarter sanctions against the Burmese generals after their latest sentence of Suu Kyi.

Tuesday's sentencing by a Burmese court of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to three years of hard labor is a fresh reminder of the ruling junta's cruelty. That the sentence was then magnanimously reduced to an 18-month extension of her house arrest is a reminder of its cynicism.

Ms. Suu Kyi is Burma's rightful prime minister, having been elected in a vote overturned by the junta in 1990. The latest verdict ensures that the regime will get through parliamentary elections scheduled for next year without her participation. The junta's hope is to generate a chimera of democracy on the model of Hun Sen's regime in neighboring Cambodia.

The ploy might even work. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted last month at the possibility of "investment" and "other exchanges" for Burma in exchange for Ms. Suu Kyi's freedom. Later this week, Virginia Democrat Jim Webb will travel to Burma, the first visit by a U.S. Senator in over a decade. Not a bad photo-op for a regime that last year impounded humanitarian aid for the more than 100,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Burma's junta has mostly shrugged off Western sanctions thanks to billions in sales of natural gas to China and Thailand, along with sales of timber and gems. Some of those sanctions have achieved little except to further impoverish the Burmese people and should be lifted. But financial sanctions targeting the junta and its associated businesses are more effective and could be tightened. No less valuable are Burmese language broadcasts of Radio Free Asia, which are vital in breaking the regime's monopoly on information.

The revelation earlier this year that North Korea is supplying arms to Burma while Russia is supplying nuclear technology means that the junta is becoming a menace to more than its own people. For the sake of Ms. Suu Kyi and every other imprisoned Burmese dissident, we hope the Obama Administration doesn't conclude from this that engagement is the best policy.

Cambodian Sentence Upheld

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

Radio Free Asia


Rights groups condemn an appeals court ruling against a newspaper editor who reported alleged corruption.

PHNOM PENH—A Cambodian appeals court has upheld the prison sentence of a newspaper editor and publisher jailed for "disinformation" after he ran articles alleging high-level government corruption, and his lawyer is vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Hang Chakra, former editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok, was sentenced to a year in jail on June 26 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and was fined 9 million riel (about U.S. $2,250).

He has been held in a cell with 50 other men at Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison since his conviction. On Aug. 11, a three-judge appellate panel upheld the sentence.

Hang Chakra's lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, is vowing to appeal to the Cambodian Supreme Court.

“There has been no unrest resulting from this publication—the Appeals Court decision is unfair,” Choung Chou Ngy told reporters here.

Hang Chakra refused during the hearing to identify sources for the article, citing protections under Cambodia’s 1995 Press Law. He was tried under the tougher 1992 UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) Criminal Code.

Prosecutor attorney Suong Chanthan said he was pleased with the ruling.

Ruling denounced

Opposition MPs, human rights groups, and staff from the U.S. Embassy here attended the appellate hearing and denounced the ruling.

“This judgment constitutes a threat to freedom of expression,” Sam Ath, chief investigator at the local human rights group LICADHO, said.

Son Chhay, an MP from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, also condemned the ruling.

“The court’s judgment shows the ruling party’s stance to condemn those who dare to express opinions critical of the government,” he said.

Sara Colm, country specialist for Human Rights Watch, said the Appeal Court decision was "more than disappointing."

"This is yet another indication that the space for opposition journalists and NGOs and human rights defenders in Cambodia is shrinking," Colm said.

"The fact that this was upheld on appeal will only solidify the control of the ruling party over the press and dissenting voices."
Cambodia’s government has brought several defamation and disinformation lawsuits this year in what rights activists regard as a significant crackdown on freedom of expression.

‘Campaign of harassment’

Human Rights Watch has 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.

Human Rights Watch also urged Cambodia’s international donors to press the government to stop what it called its heavy-handed harassment of opposition members.

Cambodia's National Assembly meanwhile voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of two of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party's 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 the UNTAC Criminal Code's Articles 62 and 63, laws addressing disinformation and defamation and libel, Human Rights Watch said.

Original reporting by Sok Serey for RFA’s Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Translations by Sothea Thai. Edited and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Cambodia joins microloan clean-up

Asia Times Online

Southeast Asia
Aug 14, 2009

By Stephen Kurczy

PHNOM PENH - Impoverished Cambodia has emerged as a global microfinance leader, becoming the first Asian nation to hold lenders accountable to their original mission of poverty reduction. If a new global initiative aimed at promoting greater transparency over microfinance institutions (MFIs) recently launched here gains traction, the multi-billion dollar industry could be set for a shake-out.

It has long been assumed that microfinance ventures, launched in the 1970s as non-profit enterprises to bring cheap credit to the poor, prioritize alleviating poverty over maximizing profits. In recent years, celebrities such Robert Duvall, Natalie Portman and Yeardley Smith, (the voice of Lisa in animated television series The Simpsons), became official spokespeople for different MFIs such as Pro Mujer (Pro Women), Finca International, and the Grameen Foundation.

The United Nations Capital Development Fund has in recent years channeled millions of dollars in donor funds into MFIs. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank, says it has given more than US$600 million to more than 100 MFIs worldwide and maintains a commitment to double that investment to $1.2 billion by 2010, making IFC the largest investor in an industry servicing more than 80 million people around the world.

But so-called barefoot banking has come under growing criticism as MFIs reap huge profits. Reports have shown that many misrepresent their underlying loan fees, with some charging annual interest rates in excess of 100%. For instance, Mexico's Banco Compartamos, originally a non-profit institution, generated $458 million in an April 2008 initial public offering. Private investors piled into the offering because the bank charges its 1.4 million poor borrowers up to 128% annual interest.

Chuck Waterfield, a microfinance expert and Columbia University professor, has found that many MFIs, including Compartamos, advertise as pro-poor enterprises with 4% monthly interest rates but when additional hidden fees were added those rates often topped 10% per month.

Waterfield recently devised a platform for borrowers and international donors - who underwrite and provide cheap capital for many microcredit banks to on-lend - to view more clearly individual MFIs' true underlying interest rates. "Compartamos was a watershed for the industry. It takes a crisis to make you do what you should have done 10 years ago," Waterfield told Asia Times Online.

In mid-2008, he launched MicroFinance Transparency, a database of interest rates charged by individual microlenders that aims through publicity to refocus microfinance on poverty alleviation. The goal, he says, is to collect loan information from all microcredit lenders worldwide and publish their real annual percentage rates at his website,

"The organizations with the highest interest rates have the glossiest annual reports, with pictures of mothers with babies, and they talk about how they're helping those mothers while making boatloads of profits," Waterfield said on August 7 at a launch event in Phnom Penh. "So we put the prices up there and say, 'Nice annual report but you're charging twice the interest rate as anyone else to those mothers with babies'."

Waterfield hopes that all MFIs will openly join the initiative and prove they have nothing to hide. He first introduced the project in March in Peru, then in Bosnia in April, and this month in Cambodia before heading to another launch in Bangladesh. He acknowledges that he can't force microcredit lenders, many of whom bury hidden costs in the small print of their loan forms, to sign up to the initiative.

"We've got to build credibility and Cambodia helps us build credibility because it's a willing participant. The next country we go to will be a little less willing. And next year we'll go into the countries that are really reluctant to have us show up."

People over profits
While Cambodia is renowned for its endemic corruption and is often rated among the world's least transparent countries, Waterfield said he chose the country as the first Asian nation for his initiative because its registered MFIs rank among the world's top in terms of social performance, consumer protection and ethical practices.

Of the 12 Asian MFIs that have signed on to a social performance indicators program launched by the Washington DC-based Microfinance Information Exchange (MIX), a provider of MFI business information and data services, half hailed from Cambodia.

Five Cambodian banks are also included in MIX's ranking of the world's top 100 MFIs; only India, with six, claims more. In June, Angkor Microfinance Kampuchea was one of three MFIs worldwide to receive the first gold award for social performance reporting from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Consultative Group to Assist the Poor.

"Cambodian MFIs have been at the forefront of industry reporting for many years," MIX's chief operating officer Blaine Stephens wrote in an e-mail in response to Asia Times Online questions. "My guess is that they will demonstrate as much commitment to reporting social performance as they have to reporting financial performance in an open and transparent manner."

Cambodian MFIs charge interest based on 30- or 31-day months. This may sound intuitive, but in Mexico and other developing countries most MFIs charge interest rates based on a four-week month, which effectively allows them to charge the borrower for an extra month every calendar year, Waterfield said.

The annual interest rates charged by MFIs in Cambodia are among the lowest worldwide at between 24% and 36%. While higher than normal rates on commercial consumer loans, microloans are inherently more expensive because the lender receives less return while incurring overheads and transaction costs similar to those for larger loans.

"Here in Cambodia, we are committed to making sure that the financial services provided to the poor come as tools for their empowerment rather than shackles for their exploitation," Cambodian National Bank director general Tal Nay Im said on August 7. The National Bank has recently issued a legally binding sub-decree for MFIs to advertise their real effective interest rates.

Cambodia is the only country to outlaw flat interest rate loans, a credit structure where monthly interest is paid on the total loan amount even as the borrower pays down the principal - which means the borrower is effectively paying interest on money already paid back. In comparison, every MFI in Mexico charges a flat rate and only one microcredit bank in impoverished Bangladesh, the Grameen Bank, charges borrowers a declining rate where they pay less and less interest as the outstanding amount owed is paid down.

The Grameen Bank was founded in the 1970s by Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and the US Presidential Medal for Freedom this week for his efforts to provide low interest loans to the poor. While many microcredit institutions claim to take inspiration from his example, Yunus has publicly lamented the industry trend towards profit maximization over uplift of the poor.

He, for one, has strongly endorsed Waterfield's new Microfinance Transparency initiative. "Microfinance emerged as a struggle against loan sharks, so we don't want to see new loan sharks created in the name of microcredit," Yunus told BusinessWeek at the time of the project's launch.

While Cambodia's 18 MFIs have agreed to submit their loan data to MicroFinance Transparency, the Bangladeshi government is drafting a law that will require all their MFIs to submit data to the initiative. In Bangladesh, banks do not at present advertise their true interest rates, Waterfield said, and there is the risk of a consumer backlash if published interest rates suddenly appear to double overnight.

Leaky lending
Not all MFIs are equally excited about Waterfield's transparency initiative, particularly those whose reputation would take a hit through greater disclosure. One of's features will show, in graphical form, the relationship between loan size and interest rates charged. That presentation will show more clearly where MFIs' priorities lie.

Many MFIs had been so profitable that hedge funds, venture capital firms, and other big private equity investors have sought ways to enter the business. In Cambodia, private equity fund Leopard Capital announced in March that "we are currently evaluating several options to invest in the sector, including participating in any pre-IPO [initial public offering, or sale of shares to the public] capital raising by a leading MFI, acquiring an existing MFI or merging an existing MFI with a smaller commercial bank."

Despite Cambodia's lead on MFI transparency, the sector has been facing financial troubles wrought by the global economic crisis. The industry-wide at-risk portfolio for the nation's 1 million microloan borrowers rose from 0.5% in mid-2008 to 3.39% in mid-2009. That's exposed flaws in previous client screening.

Mai Yop, a 55-year-old salt farmer in southern Cambodia's Kampot province, admits to having lied to get a $1,000 loan three years ago from microfinance bank Acleda. While microloans are extended solely for business purposes, such as the provision of new cattle or farming tools, Mai Yop says she used the money to pay for her husband's stomach surgery.

"I had to lie, or I wouldn't get any money," said Mai Yop, who now lives on a budget of $5 a day. In order to pay back her first loan, she took loans from two other microlenders, and finally from a high-interest charging informal moneylender who eventually seized her farmland due to non-payment.

Some borrowers say they'd be in a better situation today if they'd never taken on a microloan. "We are poorer than ever," said Oum Siv, a 50-year-old grocery vendor in Kampot. Earlier this year, she said she owed $10,000 to a private moneylender after taking out a series of microcredit loans for her husband's construction business, which failed to get off the ground amid the economic slowdown.

Cambodia's MFIs say they have since adopted more rigorous screening processes for potential borrowers. But the toll from years of lax screening has only now become apparent. The situation is similar in several Cambodian provinces, with tens of thousands of Cambodians unable to repay their microloans and now at risk of losing their homes and farmland.

Despite these challenges, Waterfield said that Cambodia remains a relative microcredit success story. Elsewhere, when it comes to openness and transparency, "some of these [lenders] say, 'We've been lying for 20 years for some legitimate reasons, so it's not so easy to start telling the truth.' Here, it was like, 'sure, what do you need, we'll give it to you.' There was no resistance, no nervousness. We'll never see that again ... anywhere we go."

Stephen Kurczy is a journalist roaming across Asia. He may be reached at

Premature baby twice declared dead by Cambodian clinic

Thursday 13th August, 2009

A private health clinic in Phnom Penh mistakenly declared a prematurely born baby dead on two occasions, local media reported.

The baby's father, Im Vannarith, told the Phnom Penh Post newspaper that he took his six-month pregnant wife to the Soriya Clinic Monday after she complained of abdominal pains.

Two hours later she gave birth to a baby boy, named Samnang, but he was declared dead by the clinic owner shortly afterwards.

'We were devastated,' Im Vannarith said, adding that he went to see his son's body in another room. 'I saw my baby was still breathing, so I asked the doctor to send him to hospital.'

But while in a car on the way to a children's hospital in Phnom Penh, the clinic nurse - who was accompanying the baby, his father and grandmother - told the driver to turn around, saying Samnang had died.

On returning to the clinic, the baby was again laid out as if dead, but when his grandmother went to check on him she found he was breathing.

Im Vannarith then took his son to the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital, where the infant remains in a critical condition, said hospital director Beat Richner.

'He only weighs 0.9 kilograms,' he said. 'It is possible to save a baby this small, but those first few hours were crucial. The child arrived at our hospital very late.'

The Soriya Clinic denied wrongdoing and told the Post that it had tried its best to help Samnang after he stopped breathing.

Im Vannarith said he and his lawyer are contemplating legal action.

Poignant testimony of a S-24 survivor: Duch says ready to face justice of people

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 12/08/2009: Many Cambodians, who came from the countryside, attend Duch’s trial each day (pictured: a villager before an ECCC screen)
©John Vink/ Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

Mrs Bou Thoeun, a survivor of Prey Sar (S-24), took the stand on Wednesday August 11th to recount the hell she went through and offered a rare moment of intense emotion. She threw her indelible wounds, probably suppressed until then, at the tribunal, reminding each and everyone why it was created and placing the victims back at the heart of Duch’s trial. The accused was not impervious to these outbursts of suffering and anger, and declared he was ready to offer himself to his compatriots’ wrath and accept the punishment they would like to impose on him.

Anlong Korn, a component of Prey Sar
“I suffered a lot because I was beaten. Because I did not manage to do what I was asked to do, I was mistreated. I was between life and death. Only I survived. My daughters and other relatives are dead and I found myself alone after the end of the Khmer Rouge regime.” From the start of her testimony, Mrs Bou Thoeun, who belonged to the “new people,” the “April 17th,” soberly summarised her personal tragedy. Shortly after her husband, carrier at the Ministry of Energy, “disappeared” in 1977, she was sent to Anlong Korn, South from Prey Sar, “in some kind of transit for prisoners before they were divided between different sites.” One month before, she had given birth to a fourth child. The accused later explained that Anlong Korn “was an important office, that is where Huy was stationed, the director of Prey Sar, which included this village.

A devastated witness, separated from her relatives for ever
“I said things out loud,” she remembered. Her honesty and spontaneity have remained with her since, but under Democratic Kampuchea, they almost cost her life. Such audacity could only be perceived as counter-revolutionary tendencies. She came close to dying when, upon seeing bananas on an empty stomach, she exclaimed: “It would be nice to eat them.” The comment caused her to be hit and she still bore the scars of it today, the plump and strong 64-year-old woman said, who was not afraid of looking at her interlocutors in the eye.

When the Khmer Rouge regime fell, Mrs Bou Thoeun did not dare to return to her native village, “alone,” without her husband or children, who were all dead. “Yet, losing relatives was not something you could be ashamed of because everybody was in that case.” Gradually, her tone rose. Tears ran down her face, while she wiped them as they came.

“I suffered enormously. And I don’t want to remember all those things. When Duch claimed he had not killed anyone, I was not convinced because many people were killed at S-21 and Choeung Ek. My husband and children met their death in those places. And my uncle, who was a head monk, advised me to forgive. But now, I am alone and when I do farming, I am alone. Why should I continue doing that? I have no one left to work for anyway. My husband and children are dead. My mother told me to try and take things a little better, but I am here before this Chamber so that justice is given for my husband and children. Every year, I go to Choeung Ek to pray for their souls.” Her voice was firm, uncompromising and dominated by tinges of anger. It was the voice of the just. She offered her suffering to the public with nobility, poise and beauty. Out of the blue. No one would dare to interrupt her.

“Why were young children killed?”
After Pol Pot’s regime collapsed, when she discovered hair of dead bodies in the Choeung Ek execution site, she thought she recognised that of her daughters. She fainted under the shock. “I don’t know why young children were killed. […] If I had not resolved to study the Dharma, I would have found myself in an extremely serious psychological state. I am certain that my children were executed at Choeung Ek and you can see my husband’s photograph at Tuol Sleng [museum]. I keep the memory of my husband and children. I am not forgetting them. I was given a copy of my husband’s picture, but I don’t want to revive the memory of this suffering but try and overcome it, as hard as it may be. […] The time has come to heal the wounds.”

S-24: a prison and not a re-education centre
At Anlong Korn, Mrs Bou Thoeun explained, they were considered “as enemies” and therefore treated as prisoners. Every night, some of them disappeared and never came back. The international co-Prosecutor, Vincent de Wilde, interrogated her on the conditions in which she remained in this “wall-less prison,” as he put it. “If I say that in reality, you had no right, no freedom, and you could not take any decision by yourself, is that correct?” Mrs Bou Thoeun agreed. “So, were you under the absolute control of the people who directed S-24 and kept you under surveillance?” “Yes, we were under total control. We were watched all the time. And whatever our work, we were deprived of any right. We could not communicate amongst ourselves and we had to comply with the orders we were given. We had no right to contest anything at all.” There, all day and night long, the “enemies” of the revolution had to grow rice and plant vegetables, which they produced in great quantities but were not destined for them, as they survived on an insufficient diet.

“During that time at S-24, did you feel considered or respected as a woman, as a human being?” The witness’ answer was immediate: “How could I say they respected me as a woman and human being since, when they talked to us, they did not even look at us in the eye! I was completely dehumanised. My life was in their hands. They could take any decision, even to kill me when they wanted to.”

A seemingly inappropriate question to the witness
Ty Srinna, for civil party group 1, launched into a surprising interrogation of the witness. “Have you ever injured someone intentionally? And if that is the case, have you felt remorse?” Mrs Bou Thoeun did not understand the meaning of the question well, but let her common sense do the talk. “I never hurt anyone, so how can I answer your question? All my life, I made good actions. Of course, someone who causes harm must feel remorse.” The president seemed as puzzled and invited, appropriately, the lawyer to limit her “personal or hypothetical questions” and “go straight to the point.”

The fate of intellectuals and students called back to the country
The lawyer then turned to the accused to ask him to shed light on the reason that motivated Democratic Kampuchea to call back to the country Cambodian students based abroad, to then send them to S-21 or elsewhere. Mrs Bou Thoeun’s husband had then whispered to her that as soon as they arrived at Pochentong, these students were immediately sent to S-21, a detail she had reported to the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) in an interview in 2004. Duch eluded. “This topic is disconnected from the suffering this witness has endured. So, it is difficult for me to answer.” But the president urged him to reply.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 12/08/2009: Villagers during a recess on Day 58 of Duch’s trial at the ECCC
©John Vink/ Magnum

The accused complied. “Regarding Cambodian students and intellectuals from abroad, the procedure was as follows: initially, they were sent to a re-education centre and then to S-21, following the analysis, opinion and decision of the hierarchy, Pol Pot in particular. […] Yes, indeed, they were sent to S-21. As time went by, the policies carried out by Pol Pot became more pernicious and cruel towards intellectuals.”

“I don’t know who to turn my anger to”
Kar Savuth resumed the interrogation. “Can you explain us why you said that Duch didn’t kill anyone with his own hands?” “I said that because I did not see him do that. If I had seen him beat or kill someone, I would have said so. But what do you want me to tell you? “If executioners did not execute, well, they would have been executed themselves. They had to obey the orders. In your opinion, who in the chain of command is your anger turned to?” “No, I don’t know who to turn my anger. That is why there are judges and lawyers here: to give justice. Now, Pol Pot is dead. Who can be blamed? I call to the competent authorities, to the judges, to render a just decision.”

The accused accepts the punishment of his fellow citizens
Time for the observations of the accused. First, he called Mrs Bou Thoeun’s testimony “truthful” and recognised “the years of suffering” she endured. “Every year, the witness goes to Chhoeung Ek to pray for the souls of people who were executed. For the millions of Cambodians who lost their husbands and wives under that regime, I must express my regrets for these sufferings. And the tears that run from my eyes are the tears of those innocent people. I want to be close to Cambodians. It matters little if they condemn me, even to the heaviest sentence. As for the Christ’s death, Cambodians can inflict that fate on me, I will accept it. I would say that my fate cannot be compared to all those lives lost during that period. I accept the blame for all those mistakes, all those crimes, before the Chamber and before the witnesses.”

In the first reference to Christianity since the start of his trial – the accused converted to this faith (he was baptised by U.S. evangelists in 1996 –, Duch seemed to turn his forgiveness into expiatory sacrifice by evoking the death of Jesus.

Silke Studzinsky, co-lawyer for civil party group 2, interrupted Duch. “The words of the accused are unsettling the witness, so that they are hardly bearable for the witness and we can clearly see that. I would invite the Chamber to intervene…” But Duch was not done. The president let him continue, but invited him not to stir the witness’ painful memories any more. “The reason why I am reminding the suffering of Mrs Bou Thoeun’s and the suffering of so many people throughout the country, is to remind here what I already told the Chamber: that the crimes that took place in Cambodia are a little like an elephant and they cannot be hidden with a bucket. […] Independently from the scope of these crimes, I am not trying here to shy away from the responsibility that is mine for all the lives eliminated under the Khmer Rouge. […] Back then, we thought that the Vietnamese had invaded or were preparing to invade Cambodia. […] I will accept the ruling pronounced against me by the Chamber for the role I fulfilled as S-21 director and for the crimes that were committed there. […] Today, I stand humbly before the Cambodian people and I accept their condemnation and any sentence that is decided. I wish the Cambodian people to speak frankly and honestly, as Mrs Bou Thoeun did today.”

(translated from French by Ji-Sook Lee)


Prey Sar, a prison that does not say its name

In the afternoon, the minutes of the hearing of witness Mrs Pak Siek were read. The latter joined the revolution in 1972 because she was told “they were going to free the nation and allow King Sihanouk to return to the country.” In 1977, she was arrested and taken to Prey Sar where she was informed upon arrival: “You must know that traitors to the nation are imprisoned here and this is a re-education centre. If you successfully rebuild yourself, you will stay alive, otherwise you will die.” The witness described Prey Sar as an ensemble of fields and villages where the prisoners were housed, in individual houses, locked from the outside at night. They were grouped according to gender and their marital status, and divided into working brigades of fifteen to twenty people. There was also a brigade comprising of children and one of elderly people.

In case of discipline breach, the witness reported, the prisoners could be placed in “building 14,” where they were “chained” and “hit.” Mrs Pak Siek also evoked “a cell where electric shocks were inflicted” upon prisoners, something she was told about. She never witnessed abuses inflicted to prisoners.

She saw Duch at Prey Sar, during a meeting late December 1978. He introduced himself to them and talked about “the Eastern and Northern zones and the soldiers who had betrayed them and rallied the Youns [Vietnamese].” “He said he regretted ordering the execution of good comrades. He had later understood they were not traitors but that their superiors were the traitors.” When the Vietnamese arrived on January 7th 1979, she continued, “Duch and his unit came to transfer Prey Sar prisoners to Omlieng,” in Kampong Speu province. According to her, he allegedly ordered the execution of twenty-five people, but six of them, including herself, were released. The defence contested this point, recalling that during the flight, there was no longer any command. As for Duch, he recognised there was a “temporary detention centre” at Prey Sar, but no interrogation room as such. The accused had “the impression that this person may not be the person who endured the sufferings at Prey Sar.”


Baku, another face of Prey Sar

Then, it was up to the minutes of the hearing of witness Kang Phan, S-21 staff member assigned to “Baku,” under the authority of Prey Sar, a place reserved for the farming production and construction of canals. He was the chief of a unit in charge of re-educating twelve women, “all intellectuals,” and to monitor several dozens children, separated from their parents, high officials under the previous regime and accused of being members of traitors’ networks. He assured there was no torture or executions at Baku. However, “if the re-educated did not succeed in re-educating themselves, they were sent to S-21.” The people in re-education regularly participated to meetings presided by Huy Srè, whose house was in that place, for purposes of farming production.

“Baku was not surrounded with a fence, but watched by guards, who were Huy’s messengers,” the witness described. “[…] Nobody managed to escape from Baku.” Except in the first year, everyone in re-education received enough food to eat.

“I saw that people were arrested to be transferred from Baku to Tuol Sleng, in covered trucks, at night, every seven to ten days. […] I believe that the order on the transfer of people in re-education in Baku came from S-21 and not Huy. He only followed S-21’s order. […] Everyone in re-education at Baku, even the children, believed they were going to be executed because nobody came back…” The witness finally claimed he saw Duch come twice to Baku in 1978.

The accused did not question the testimony.

(translated from French by Ji-Sook Lee)

Japan provides loans to develop Cambodian Sihanoukville port

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Japan on Thursday provided 72 million U.S. dollars in concession loans to develop Cambodia's Sihanoukville port to expand its capacity.

"The fund is to improve the capacity of Sihanoukville port, the only international deep sea port in Cambodia, by constructing multipurpose terminals including a bulk terminal and oil supply base, and developing infrastructure related to the terminal at the port," Hor Namhong, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation told reporters.

The minister signed the exchange note with Shinohara Katsuhiro, Japanese Ambassador to Cambodia, with the presence of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

It will also help contribute to industrial development and economic growth in Cambodia. And it is the third time that Japan has helped Sihanoukville port since 1999 aimed at improving handling capacity of containerized cargos, Hor said.

Japan also provided about 10 million U.S. dollars non-project grant aid for promotion of economic and social development efforts in Cambodia, Hor said, adding that since 1993, under the type of grant aid, Japan has extended to Cambodia a total amount of 187 million U.S. dollars.

Editor: Li

Intermediate Khmer and Advanced Filipino Language Courses Coming to UCLA This Fall

The Southeast Asian language courses will be teleconferenced to UCLA from U.C. Berkeley as part of a foreign language initiative and distance-learning partnership.

By Seth Villanueva for the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies

SEEKING TO expand UCLA’s diverse language offerings as well as enable current language learners to progress in their proficiency, the Centers for Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley and UCLA have arranged for two Southeast Asian languages, Khmer and Filipino, to be studied at the intermediate and advanced levels, respectively, via simultaneous teleconferencing technology. Both classes will begin on Thursday, September 24, and will run from M-Th at 3-4 pm for Filipino and 4-5:30 pm for Khmer. They will meet on a compressed schedule only when both UCLA and UCB are in session.

Both languages will be taught live at UC Berkeley and teleconferenced to UCLA, thus making new material available. Khmer (the language of Cambodia) has never been taught before at UCLA, and Advanced Filipino, while taught in the past, is not otherwise available as a regular course in 2009-10. This is not the first time that SEA language courses have been successfully teleconferenced between UC campuses. Introductory Filipino language courses have previously been teleconferenced very successfully from UCLA to UC Irvine. In 2009-10, several other languages are also included in the Distance Learning program including several African, Slavic, and Scandinavian languages.

We asked UC Berkeley instructors Frank Smith (Khmer) and Joi Barrios (Filipino) to provide more information about their classes:

CSEAS: Who are the classes designed for? Who are the ideal students?FS: The Khmer class is intended for students who, either through classroom study or family/home experience, have attained a "survival level" of spoken Khmer (able to talk about family, exchange pleasantries, name basic rooms and objects in the home, discuss names of basic food items and Khmer dishes, bargain in a Khmer market, give/receive directions and discuss transportation, talk about work and accomplishing basic tasks, describe various basic emotions/states of health and illness). No previous knowledge of the Khmer writing system is assumed or required. JB: The Filipino class is designed for students who have taken Intermediate Filipino, or those at the intermediate level. Ideal students are those who would like to study Philippine language and culture and either write a research paper in Filipino or work on a creative writing project.

CSEAS: How does a student enroll/register? FS: The course number is Khmer 100A. UCLA students should contact Barbara Gaerlan for UCLA registration details, and also indicate their interest to me via e-mail at General registration information for all Distance Learning language courses is available online at The official course title for Advanced Filipino is South and Southeast Asian Studies 149 (Studies in South and Southeast Asian Languages). Interested students should also contact Dr. Gaerlan.

The curricula for both courses is as follows:

Intermediate Khmer In this class students will learn how to read and write Khmer and how to discuss various areas of knowledge common to all adult native speakers in Cambodia: religion, traditional culture, the rice farming cycle, and the language of news/advertising. In the second (spring) semester, they will learn about life as a modern Cambodian in Phnom Penh, the basics of discussing history and politics in Khmer, and acquire a basic understanding and appreciation of several traditional Khmer poetic meters. Throughout the two semesters, students will learn the basics of the Khmer writing system, and gain experience reading folk tales, news stories, articles on Khmer religion and history, and read (in the second semester) a Khmer novel in its entirety. Students will also learn the necessary vocabulary (spoken and written) to expand their command of Khmer from the survival/home realm into areas of common adult discourse in Cambodia today. All this will be done via a combination of written texts, videos recorded in Cambodia, and task-based classroom activities in which spoken and written Khmer will be used to design and carry out various projects, including student-designed "TV commercials," stories about everyday life, and original poetry.

Advanced Filipino Using literary texts (short stories, poems, and creative non-fiction) and critical essays on Philippine culture and society, students learn advanced vocabulary and more complex grammatical structures. The students shall then choose from either a creative track or a research track. For the former, the student should be able to write either a short story, five poems, or a creative non-fiction work. For the latter, the student should submit a critical essay in Filipino based on the texts and their own research. These works shall be discussed using a workshop format, enabling the students to revise the work until it can be deemed ready for publication.

Center for Southeast Asian Studies

Date Posted: 8/12/2009


Photo by: AFP
The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009

An Indian security official walks behind the entrance to the Myanmar Embassy in New Delhi that was vandalised Wednesday by demonstrators calling for the release of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. A Myanmar court extended the house arrest of the 64-year-old opposition leader for another 18 months on Tuesday, sparking international outrage.

PM warns opponents away from lawsuits

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Hun Sen appearing at a graduation ceremony on Wednesday

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Meas Sokchea

Hun Sen says verdict against Mu Sochua a lesson to critics.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has spoken out for the first time about his recent legal victory over opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, which he said should serve as a warning to anyone else who might consider suing him.

"If you want to play legal games, I will also play legal games," he said during a graduation ceremony at the Royal University of Law and Economics on Wednesday.

"If you play political games, I will also play political games. And if you play military games, I will also play military games."

Hun Sen said he would be able to silence all opposition voices "in only two hours" if he decided to use force rather than file complaints in court.

"You wouldn't be able to run," he said. "All of you would be arrested."

On August 4, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Mu Sochua guilty of defamation and ordered her to pay 8.5 million riels (US$2,028) in fines and 8 million riels ($1,909) in compensation to the prime minister.

The case stemmed from a speech Hun Sen gave on April 4 in Kampot province. Mu Sochua, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian, said the premier made derogatory references to her in the speech and filed defamation charges against him.

Her case was thrown out, but Hun Sen's countersuit was allowed to proceed, resulting in last week's verdict.

The prime minister's legal attack - along with other defamation suits launched against the government's critics - drew sharp criticism from a number of groups, including the European Union, which said they represented a weakening of democracy in Cambodia.

"External groups, please listen closely," Hun Sen said during Wednesday's address.

"If you do not sue me, then I will not file a countersuit."

Hun Sen went on to criticise civil society groups as "servants" and "spokespeople" for opposition political parties.

Commenting on the current Cambodian People's Party majority in the National Assembly, which was further cemented during last year's elections, Hun Sen said he could continue serving as prime minister even if the CPP lost 10 seats in both the 2012 and 2017 elections. "So, all of you opposition groups, check your age," he said.

"However long you can live, I can accompany you to the end."

Strong reaction
Hun Sen's comments drew criticism from both opposition politicians and civil society actors. SRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann said it was inappropriate for the premier to talk about using the military against the opposition.

"If he wants to use the armed forces to fight a broader enemy, that is fine, but to fight opposition parties is not right," he said.

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said there were many issues - including poverty, land disputes and corruption - that could potentially bring down the CPP so long as elections were free and fair.

"Whether the CPP wins or loses depends on the election system," he said.

Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre, said Hun Sen's comments about civil society groups misrepresented their work in Cambodia.

"We have worked with everyone," he said. "We have worked with the ruling party more than the opposition party."

'Dead' baby sparks legal row

Im Samnang fights for life (left) at Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital in Phnom Penh on Wednesday after being presumed dead two days before when the 0.9-kilogram boy was born prematurely and wrapped as if dead (right). The newborn’s grandmother discovered he was still alive.

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Khouth Sophak Chakrya

A CLINIC has been accused of attempted infanticide after medical staff mistakenly declared - on two separate occasions - that a premature baby had died.

The error was discovered by the newborn's father and grandmother, who went to check on the "body" only to discover, each time, that the child was still breathing.

Speaking to the Post on Wednesday, the boy's father said he took his wife, who was six months pregnant, to Soriya Clinic in Phnom Penh's Phsar Thmei 1 commune on Monday when she complained of abdominal pains.

Im Vannarith, from Mitthapheap commune in Prampi Makara district, said his wife - whose name he did not want to give - gave birth to a son about two hours after arriving at the clinic. "About 30 minutes later, the owner of the clinic, Dr Hy Soryaphea, told my mother that my baby was dead," he said. "We were devastated."

While his wife was in recovery in a separate room at the clinic, Im Vannarith went to see his son, Im Samnang, and was shocked to see that the child's chest was still moving. "I saw my baby was still breathing, so I asked the doctor to send him to hospital," he said.

The boy was then placed in a car along with his father, grandmother and a nurse, who had been instructed by the doctor to take the child to Kantha Bopha Hospital, Im Vannarith said. Halfway to the hospital, however, the nurse instructed the car to turn around and return to the clinic, insisting the boy was dead.

"Back at the clinic, they put a terrycloth towel around my son and laid him out on a table in the operating room," Im Vannarith told the Post. "There was a black plastic bag right next to him, and I was afraid that was what they were going to put his body in." Shortly afterwards, the child's grandmother went to check on the body of her grandson - and found the boy was breathing again.

"I demanded again that he be taken to hospital," Im Vannarith said, "but the doctor told me again that my baby was dying and would be dead any minute. I was furious that she showed so little respect for his life." The doctor then agreed to send Im Samnang to the hospital, where the delay in admitting him had aggravated his condition, staff said.

Dr Beat Richner, director of Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital, where Im Samnang is still in intensive care, told the Post that the infant remains in a critical condition. "He only weighs 0.9 kilograms," he said. "It is possible to save a baby this small, but those first few hours were crucial. The child arrived at our hospital very late." Although Im Samnang is now receiving all treatment possible, he said, all they can do is hope.

Im Vannarith, who hasn't told his wife about the incident for fear of jeopardising her recovery, is now threatening legal action against the clinic. "I have taken my wife out of the clinic because I have lost all confidence in it," he said.

His lawyer, Kav Soupha, confirmed to the Post on Wednesday that he is preparing a case.

The clinic has denied any wrongdoing. Dr Hy Soryaphea was unavailable for comment, but Hy Nary, one of her assistants, confirmed that Im Samnang was born at the clinic. "We saw him stop breathing after he was born," she told the Post. "We tried to help him."

New tribunal 'counsellor' to field corruption complaints

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Visitors look at skulls from victims killed at Choeung Ek on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Duch says he would accept a stoning

TUOL Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, told Cambodia's war crimes court Wednesday that he would be willing to subject himself to death by stoning for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.

"If there is a Cambodian tradition - like it existed in the past when people threw rocks at Christ to death - Cambodian people can do that to me. I would accept it," Duch said.

His comments came in response to testimony from Bou Thon, 64, who told the court that she survived detention at Prey Sar prison farm and openly wept when recalling the death of her husband, who she said worked for the regime's energy ministry before he was branded a traitor and executed at the Choeung Ek killing fields.

"I have suffered a great deal, and I just don't want to remember or to recall the events," she said, adding that she visited the killing fields every year to pray for the souls of her husband and four children, all of whom died during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Bou Thon recalled being beaten while working at Anlong Korng, a cooperative located a few kilometres from Prey Sar, or S-24, where, she said, she liked to eat bananas she spotted while she was farming.
"I was beaten personally because I saw some bananas, and I was saying that those bananas would be good for our meal," she said. "After I said that, they beat me and accused me of being an enemy."


The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Vong Sokheng and Robbie Corey-Boulet

THE government and the UN announced on Wednesday an agreement to appoint an independent official to field corruption complaints at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, although a government spokesman said he could not provide details on how the so-called "independent counsellor" might go about resolving them.

A joint statement dated Tuesday said Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and Peter Taksoe-Jensen, the UN's assistant secretary general for legal affairs, reached the agreement after "detailed consultations" with donors.

The role of independent counsellor will be filled by Uth Chhorn, the current chairman of the National Audit Authority. Uth Chhorn declined to comment Wednesday evening, saying he would be in Thailand until early next week.

According to the joint statement, the agreement "represents a further step to help strengthen the human resources management in the entire [tribunal] administration, including anti-corruption measures, to ensure the requirements of due process of law".

The agreement comes more than two years after allegations first surfaced that court staffers had to kick back a percentage of their salaries to top tribunal officials. A fresh round of allegations in July prompted the UN to launch a graft review, the results of which have not been released.

Talks in April between UN and government officials failed to resolve the issue in part because the UN wanted Cambodian staffers to be able to approach international ethics monitors to report corruption complaints.

Donors have frozen funding to the Cambodian side of the court in response to the allegations, pushing it to near bankruptcy. A UN Development Programme spokesman said there had been no decision to unfreeze funds as of Wednesday.

The establishment of an independent counsellor was designed to ensure "full protection of staff on both sides of the [tribunal] against any possible retaliation for good-faith reporting of wrongdoing", according to the joint statement.

"In this context, the Independent Counsellor will be available to all staff to bring forward any concerns confidentially, and will be empowered to address such concerns," the statement reads.

At a press conference on Wednesday, however, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he could not comment on how Uth Chhorn would be "empowered" to resolve any complaints.

He told the Post Wednesday evening that he did not know whether Uth Chhorn would be able to deal with past complaints, or whether his mandate would only cover complaints going forward.

Phay Siphan also said he did not know when Uth Chhorn would begin work in his new role.

Court spokesperson Reach Sambath said Wednesday that tribunal officials would be "ready to welcome the independent counsellor at any time", adding that they believe the position will provide an effective mechanism for resolving corruption allegations.


But others said the effectiveness of the independent counsellor was an open question.

Long Panhavuth, a court monitor for the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said Wednesday that he viewed the agreement as positive "in general", though he said he was not convinced Uth Chhorn would be given sufficient authority to "improve the situation".

"The independent counsellor should have enough authority to remedy the reports of wrongdoing if it is warranted," he said.

Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for the defence team of former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, said he was concerned the position would amount to a "cosmetic" solution to the corruption issue.

He added: "Taking a Cambodian official and placing him in an independent office - it's unclear to me how that really addresses the concerns that a lot of the Cambodian staffers would have reporting to a Cambodian official."

Election monitors seek to reform registration

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Meas Sokchea

BETTER voter registration and the timely resolution of election-related complaints were at the top of the agenda during a two-day seminar on elections that ended Wednesday with organisers calling for reforms.

Hang Puthea, executive director of the Cambodian election monitor Nicfec, said it was crucial to streamline voter registration, which is now overly complicated and prevents some eligible Cambodians from casting ballots.

Registration became a central issue in the lead-up to last year's general election, after which monitors and opposition politicians claimed that hundreds of thousands of people were prevented from voting because they could not find their names on voter rolls.

Election complaints - mediated by the National Election Committee [NEC] - were often resolved unfairly, if at all, Hang Puthea said.

"We want to have reforms on registration and complaint resolution," he said following the seminar, which was held by Nicfec, another election-monitor, Comfrel, and the US-based National Democratic Institute.

"We want a means for [complaint] resolutions to be accepted by all parties," he added.

Comfrel Executive Director Koul Panha urged the Interior Ministry to create a national voter ID card rather than leave it to local governments to handle registration.

"We want the ministry to issue cards for 100 percent of voters," he said.

Tep Nytha, secretary general of the NEC, said Wednesday that he would not comment on the seminar, saying that the discussions centred on changing existing election laws.

"We operate based on the existing laws," he said.

River dolphin deaths double this year: govt

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Sam Rith

THE number of rare Mekong River dolphins found dead between June and August has doubled since the same period last year, according to Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission to Conserve Mekong River Dolphins and Develop Eco-Tourism.

"Since June, four dolphins have died," he told the Post on Wednesday.

"During the same period last year, only two dolphins died."

Touch Seang Tana blamed the increase in deaths on higher water levels and the fact the dolphins were escaping a safe-zone that extends nearly 200 kilometres from Kratie provincial town to the Laos border.

He said two dolphins died last year after leaving the safe zone, but he added that 14 dolphins had been born since that time.

The commission's data follows a report in June by the international conservation group WWF that stated that the dolphins were being driven to the brink of extinction by industrial contaminants, inbreeding and disease.

Touch Seang Tana dismissed the report at the time as "all a lie".

The dolphins, which inhabit a 190-kilometre stretch of the Mekong in the northeast of the Kingdom, have been listed as critically endangered by WWF since 2004. The group estimates that between 64 and 76 dolphins remain alive.

Grievances voiced over land

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A villager wipes tears at a press conference for victims of land disputes nationwide Wednesday in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
May Titthara

Representatives from around the country gather to cry foul about economic concessions.

ABOUT 300 Cambodians representing 19 different provinces who came together in Phnom Penh this week to request government intervention in land disputes held a press conference Wednesday in which they told their stories and repeated their pleas for help.

On Tuesday, the villagers delivered petitions containing 119,218 thumbprints that carried their grievances to a variety of government institutions.

Sam Ath, a village representative from Battambang province, said there were villagers from "19 different provinces, 29 districts, 55 communes and 164 villages".

"We came to Phnom Penh together to deliver a message to the government about 29 different land disputes," he added.

"We had to travel here because the provincial authorities will not solve our problems."

Seng Sok Heng, a representative from Oddar Meanchey province, said members of his community had pooled their money to help him and others travel to Phnom Penh.

"People in our community shared their savings, and others sold their chickens or ducks and gave us the money," he said.

"The representatives have passed our letter to the government already, but if the government does nothing, it will be not only representatives that come here - we will bring 10,000 people to stage a protest."

Long Sami, a representative from Pursat province, added that it was the government, not private businesses, that was to blame for the villagers' problems.

"I don't blame the companies, I blame the people who decided to give economic land concessions to the companies," she said.

Ny Chakrya of the rights group Adhoc agreed, saying the government has been thoughtless in granting land to businesses.

"When the government grants an economic land concession, the officers do not come to study how it will affect the people living in that area - they just draw a map in the office," he said.

"People have come here to show that provincial authorities have ignored them, so we'll see how much attention they get from the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes."

Kek Galabru, president of the another rights group, Licadho, said she hoped the government realised the severity of the villagers' problems.

"People have come here today because they're fighting for their livelihood. They all want the right to control their land. If they have no land, how can the live?" she said.

Svay Sitha, secretary general of the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes, declined to comment on the issue.

Ny Chakrya said there were 335 cases involving land disputes in 2008. He called on the government to recall all controversial land concessions.

Tes Tong, 50, Mondulkiri province: "A Korean company took over 600 hectares of forest from us in O'Raing district. They planned to turn it into a rubber plantation, but we tried to stop them because this is our ancestral land. There are animals in the forest, and we bury our dead there."

Chhuon Run, Koh Kong province: "Two rich men bought up our land in Sre Ambel district, where I have been lived since 1979 with 43 families. We don't have a land title, we have a scrapbook that proves we've lived there for years. The men say they will destroy our houses on August 24."

Tey Tean, 64, Preah Vihear province: "In 2008, a private company tore up about 20,000 hectares of rice fields and forest around our village in Rovieng district in order to plant a rubber plantation. About 100 families in the area have been affected. This is the first time I have ever been to Phnom Penh."

Lakeside residents protest at 4 govt sites

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
May Titthara

SIXTY residents representing 130 families from Boeung Kak lake's Village 4 staged protests Wednesday in front of four government buildings after receiving an eviction letter from City Hall earlier this week.

"Today we went to ... the ministries of environment and interior, the Council of Ministers and the prime minister's cabinet - to seek assistance," said Hor Sathaya, a Village 4 resident.

The letter, issued Monday by Phnom Penh Municipality, gave residents of Village 4 one week to accept government compensation in the form of a cash settlement or alternative housing in Damnak Trayoeng village in Dangkor district.

Residents said the letter offered an ambiguous third option of temporary off-site housing and the possibility of returning once development at the site was complete.

The site is being developed by Shukaku Inc as a commercial and residential complex.

"They said they want us to move temporarily, and when construction finishes, they will let us come back. But we're afraid they're going to cheat us," said Sear Nareath, another representative of Village 4.

AIDS fight slowed by global financial crisis

Trafficking victims more at risk of HIV

Women and girls trafficked into the sex industry in Southeast Asia are at greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) than other groups of female sex workers, a new study shows. "The mistreatment these people have suffered makes it more likely they are going to become HIV-positive," lead author Dr Jay Silverman, a Harvard School of Public Health expert on violence against women and its links to HIV, said Wednesday. Three-quarters of Cambodian trafficking survivors tested positive for STIs. That number increased to 90 percent among those rescued after less than two months, indicating tremendous exposure to STIs during initiation into sex work. "Sex Trafficking and STI/HIV in SoutheastAsia: Connections between Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Sexual Risk" was released at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, which concludes in Bali, Indonesia, on Thursday.


The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Nathan Green

Donor-dependent countries such as Cambodia must curb new infections as funds evaporate.

Bali, Indonesia

THE GLOBAL financial crisis has heightened the need for HIV-prevention programmes to contain new infections and prevent treatment costs from spiralling out of control, experts said Wednesday.

Cambodia's reliance on donations means it can only continue funding HIV-treatment and -prevention programmes if donor funds keep flowing, Asian Development Bank consultant Ross McLeod said. The only way to contain longer-term costs is by limiting new infections, he said, making continued investment in targeted prevention plans crucial.

Of the US$900 million spent on funding for prevention and care in Asia in 2007, less than $100 million was spent on men who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, men who pay for sex and women involved with those men.

Dr Christophe Benn, director of external relations and partnerships at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, warned the economic downturn would impede its ability to increase funding further.

Shiba Phurailatpam, a coordinator for APN+ (the Asia Pacific Network of Positive People), said funding for treatment was already insufficient, with just 26 percent of people living with HIV in Asia on antiretroviral (ARV) regimes.

"We don't have enough money," he said. "We all need to work together to increase funds and close those gaps."

The International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, held this week in Bali, Indonesia, heard Monday that existing treatment regimes were out of touch with the latest scientific knowledge.


World Health Organisation guidelines for "resource limited settings" call for ARV treatment to begin when CD4, or T-cell, counts - a key measure of immune system health - drop below 200 CD4 cells per cubic millimetre of blood.

Professor David Cooper, director of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, condemned the guidelines, saying: "There should not be two standards of care: one for rich countries, where we start antiretroviral treatment around [CD4 counts of] 350 or possibly higher and one for lower income countries, where we start at less than 200."

Global Fund Executive Director Michel Kazatchkine replied that raising the threshold for treatment was "absolutely right scientifically", but would double the funds needed to provide universal treatment.

Figures from the UN General Assembly's Special Session show 25,353 people, or 78.7 percent of the estimated number of adults with advanced HIV in Cambodia, were receiving antiretroviral treatment by September 2007, up from 12,247 in December 2006.

Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP's regional HIV/AIDS practice leader and programme coordinator, said poverty and social safety nets should prioritise HIV households with a range of microcredit and financing schemes, as well as medical and life insurance and pension support.

Camaraderie extends past border: Cambodian troops

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Thet Sambath

Thai soldiers stationed on the border in Preah Vihear have been carrying water to their Cambodian counterparts at Ta Thav, Choam Ksan district, about 7 kilometres from the disputed Preah Vihear temple complex, military officials in the area said Wednesday.

"We have no water to use on our side [of the border], but the Thai side does, so they carry plastic containers full of water for us every day", First Lieutenant Ten Navun, an officer in Border Military Battalion 404 of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), told the Post on Wednesday.

"Our soldiers just go to the barbed wire near the border, and the plastic containers are already there. They pick them up every day," Ten Navun said.

In another sign that tensions may be easing in the troubled region, Thai soldiers have begun removing barbed wire from the disputed border area.

Thai troops had previously placed about 200 metres of barbed wire near the entrance to their border checkpoint, but have begun removing it at the request of Cambodian soldiers.

"Thai soldiers have been removing the barbed wire since Monday," Ten Navun said. "It looks bad to have barbed wire demarcating the border when that demarcation has not yet been resolved."

Other soldiers stationed in the area agreed that relations were much-improved.

"Our soldiers at the front line always have meetings with Thai soldiers to build relationships with each other and ease the situation to avoid armed confrontation," Yim Phim, commander of RCAF Brigade 8, said Wednesday.

So Dorn, an officer in Border Military Battalion 404, agreed.

"[Thai and Cambodian troops] are coming closer to each other, and we have increased our understanding of one another each day," he said.

Tearing at the seams

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Garment workers buy snacks during a break outside the Tack Fat garment factory in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Ith Sothoeuth and James O'Toole

Government and NGOs are scrambling to stitch a safety net as the struggling garment industry sheds thousands of jobs.

As the economic downturn tightens its stranglehold on Cambodian exports, the statistics suggest there is more pain to come: The number of labour strikes between January and June has almost doubled since the same period last year. Of the 23 cases, 17 were related to the garment industry, according to the Phnom Penh Municipal Police.

This is just one of many grim indicators for the sector. The Ministry of Commerce predicts garment exports will fall by "at least" 30 percent this year. The Cambodian Development Resource Institute says wages fell by 18 percent between May 2008 and May 2009. Since January, according to the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 78 Cambodian garment factories have closed and 30 more have suspended production.

While US imports from Cambodia have declined sharply, exports to the US from regional competitors such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and China have increased. "There's concern not just over the economic downturn, but about competitors in the industry," said Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association. Other garment-producing nations in the region are passing Cambodia by, Chun Sophal said, because of lower labour costs or more efficient production.

"We bring more efficient machines; we try to encourage workers to be more efficient; we try to negotiate for cheaper raw materials ... [but] everything is hitting rock bottom already," Roger Phan, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, told the Post.

A recent report by the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) estimated that 60,000 Cambodian garment workers have lost their jobs since the economic downturn began, and said more layoffs are sure to come.

Further job losses will be felt across the Cambodian economy. UNIAP estimates that of a population of 14 million, about 2 million Cambodians depend on the garment industry - 400,000 through direct employment and another 1.6 million through remittances.

Everything is hitting rock bottom already.

Searching for new jobs
NGOs and the government are trying to address the issue through vocational training, but identifying industries to absorb former garment workers - the majority of whom are unskilled and have limited education - is proving a challenge.

Helen Sworn is the director of Chab Dai Coalition, a partnership between NGOs and private companies to retrain women from the garment sector.

She said that although vocational training programmes abound in Cambodia, many of them are designed with insufficient attention to the demands of the labour market. "It's great to have another sewing programme," she said, "but where are those girls going to go?"

Many former garment workers turn to the entertainment sector, Sworn said, including jobs in beer gardens, massage parlours and sex work. "That's been a lure for them ... because it's low-skill and they earn a similar amount to what they get in the garment factories." Such jobs often put women at risk of sex trafficking, she warned, adding that there are also "huge issues of debt bondage".

Heng Suor, director general of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said roughly 40,000 former garment workers, from an applicant pool of around 70,000, had participated in government-sponsored retraining programmes ranging in length from one to four months. The government has yet to consider the issue of job placement, he said.

Buot Channy, 30, has been working at Phnom Penh's Tack Fat garment factory since 2004. Six months pregnant, she worries about losing her job, although she is critical of the irregular pay and reduced hours. "It seems irregular; sometimes we have work to do, sometimes we don't, and the paycheck is always difficult to get," she said.

Sok Kim, 46, is another Tack Fat employee. She, too, is worried about losing her job and has already prepared for that scenario. "I have bought a sewing machine for my house," she said. "If I lose my job, I will go back to my home in Takhmao." Like Buot Channy and other workers interviewed, she was unaware of the Ministry of Labour's retraining programme.

Photo by: (SOURCE: EMC)
Cambodian jobs are plotted according to their vulnerability to the economic crisis and their suitability for low-skill workers.

Going back home
Leaving the capital and heading home may be the best option for many laid-off garment workers, according to Chan Sophal. He cited agriculture as one of the most promising sectors, as did Michael Smiddy, a senior consultant at Emerging Markets Consulting. Of the 40,000 spots in the Labour Ministry's programme, over 30,000 are reserved for agriculture. The sector is as low-skill and labour-intensive as factory work, with excellent potential for growth, Smiddy said. Crop yields are improving, and profits will increase further if processing facilities are improved, he added.

For some, however, the loss of a factory job means not a new career but early retirement. Ouk Sokha, a worker at Phnom Penh's GoldTex Garment Manufacturing Ltd, said she often worries about unemployment but has no contingency plan. "Maybe I would go back to my hometown in Prey Veng," she said. "I am too old to find a new job."