Tag Archives: Phnom Penh

Crowds ‘Say No’ to LANGO

7 Jul
Source: Phnom Penh Post,By Taing Vida and Khouth Sophak Chakrya,Wed, 8 July 2015
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People sit on a barricade holding banners yesterday near the National Assembly during a protest against the contentious draft law on NGOs. Vireak Mai

More than 300 civil society representatives, diplomats and opposition members yesterday attended a consultation to voice concerns over the controversial draft NGO law, a parliamentary vote on which was reportedly delayed until next week.

The national consultation, organised by the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) and held at the Cambodiana Hotel, coincided with yet another march on parliament by hundreds of opponents of the legislation.

The draft bill – which the government says is needed to regulate the sector and stop rogue operators – was again criticised for placing undue restrictions on NGOs and undermining civil society’s role in the Kingdom.

“The stance of civil society groups is still that the government needs to consult more widely, because many of the new articles in the draft deliberately curb freedom of forming NGOs, associations, freedom of assembly, and leave groups exposed to deregistration and fines,” said CCC executive director Soeung Saroeun.

Saroeun acknowledged some positives in the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO), but said 70 per cent of the draft was contrary to Cambodia’s constitution as well as national and international laws.

Preap Kol, head of Transparency International Cambodia, said the draft law’s provision on exempting foreign aid delivered via NGOs from tax was positive but ultimately unnecessary, as it was covered in existing legislation.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, called for action to halt the proposed law.

“This involvement is not just a formality, even though there is a small amount of time left, we can still show the unacceptable position of this draft,” she said.

Also yesterday, hundreds of activists protested the bill outside parliament.

Holding banners and shouting anti-LANGO slogans, the group was confronted by more than 100 security guards, though no clashes were reported.

The Venerable Proem Houn, who was among the protesters, said the government should focus its energy on solving land disputes and reducing poverty rather than creating oppressive legislation.

“The creation of this law is aimed at restricting the right to freedom of expression and gathering of citizens,” Houn said.

“This shows that democracy in the country is in recession”.

Meanwhile, Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with human rights group Licadho, yesterday said protesters were told by officials that the National Assembly’s extraordinary session to vote on the law, initially scheduled for Friday, according to reports, had been postponed until Monday.

According to Licadho’s website, the group has seen official documents to this effect.

This morning, the parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs will host a public workshop on the NGO law at the National Assembly, while in the afternoon, members of the Foreign Affairs, Legislation and Justice and Interior Affairs commissions will quiz government officials about the legislation.

NGO law in crosshairs

1 Jul
Source: Phnom Phenh Post, By Pech Sotheary and Ethan Harfenist,Wed, 1 July 2015
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Demonstrators shout slogans at the National Assembly yesterday morning during a protest against the proposed NGO law. Vireak Mai

Despite the deployment of law enforcement officials across the capital in a bid to halt the demonstration, activists yesterday marched as promised to the National Assembly to protest the looming adoption of highly controversial union and NGO laws.

Starting at about 8am, hundreds of land activists, environmentalists, monks, civil society members and ordinary citizens gathered at four starting points: the Niroth pagoda in Chbar Ampov commune, Wat Chak Angre Leu, the 7 January flyover and the French Embassy.

As participants began their march toward the National Assembly, banners and flags in hand, authorities armed with shields and batons quickly began to seize materials and block their paths, leading to verbal altercations and some pushing in the process, though no serious violence was recorded.

In demonstrators’ crosshairs were the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, or LANGO, as well as a law governing the nation’s trade unions. Both have been widely criticised for vague language many fear will give the government license to broadly inhibit their ability to operate. Both could pass before the month ends.

While the heavy police presence at the staging areas dissuaded a significant percentage of activists, perhaps half continued on to the National Assembly at about 11am, when police began to dissipate.

With music blaring, protesters sang and danced, often with their thumbs down, shouting “No to LANGO”, while lotus petals were thrown and balloons released into the air. At one point, a group of CNRP lawmakers made their way into the crowd to join the demonstrators.

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Protesters are stopped by authorities yesterday as they try to march through the streets of Phnom Penh. Vireak Mai

Police, Guards Block Marches Against NGO Law

1 Jul
Source: The Cambodia Daily, By Kuch Naren and Mech Dara | July 1, 2015

Phnom Penh City Hall made good on its promise to stop a set of planned protest marches Tuesday against a draft law aiming to regulate the country’s NGOs, deploying hundreds of security guards and police around the capital to stop the demonstrators in their tracks.

Hundreds of NGO workers, unionists and activists were planning to converge on the National Assembly from four separate locations to ask lawmakers not to pass the law, despite a threat from the municipality to use “any means” to stop them.

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Protesters scuffle with government security guards during their attempt to march to the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to demonstrate against a proposed law that would regulate NGOs and associations. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

City Hall said any march would be illegal because the organizers had failed to ask for permission. And as promised, it deployed hundreds of government security guards and police wielding shields and batons to each of the four locations where the demonstrators gathered Tuesday morning.

“We tried to tell them not to hold an illegal rally because the law is still under discussion and consultation, so they should not protest because the law is not a law yet,” said City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche.

At the 7 Makara Skybridge on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard, about 200 protesters pushed their way past the first line of security and managed to march about a kilometer toward the city center, but were stopped by a makeshift barricade of police motorcycles. Some of the marchers had their protest banners confiscated.

“These aren’t Cambodian forces…. Their act to block our peaceful rally is unacceptable because they stopped us from voicing our concerns,” said Ouk Pich Samnang, one of the protesters.

“We just want to express our opinions against the NGO law because it will severely restrict the freedom of human beings and rights workers,” he said.

Should the draft become law, said Ou Tepphallin, deputy head of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, “Cambodia will no longer be a democratic country.”

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People protest in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Tuesday against a proposed law that would regulate the country’s NGOs. (Satoshi Takahashi)

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said authorities detained two protesters who were preparing to march from Meanchey district and took them to the district police station, but later let them go.

Though prevented from marching, about 200 of the protesters regrouped in front of the National Assembly later in the morning, once authorities removed barricades set up around the compound at the end of the morning’s plenary session.

Undeterred by the police clampdown, Mr. Sam Ath said opponents of the NGO law would keep protesting against the legislation until it was withdrawn from parliament or amended to their satisfaction.

“We will continue to agitate like the drizzling rain even if the law is passed until it is amended,” he said. “If it is not changed, the National Assembly does not have to pass the law because it violates the people’s rights and contradicts the Constitution.”

The law would require all NGOs and associations in the country to register with the government in order to keep operating and to file annual reports on their finances and activities. It would also give the executive branch the power to shut them down. Critics fear that overly vague and broad provisions will give the government undue powers to silence its critics.

Lawmakers are scheduled to meet with NGOs at the National Assembly on July 10 to discuss the draft.

Family Convicted of ‘Violence’ Over Land Scuffle

29 Jun
Source: The Cambodia Daily ,By Ben Sokhean | June 29, 2015

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday convicted a couple and their daughter of using violence against a property owner, although the plaintiff dropped his complaint against them last month.

Ly Srea Kheng, 58, has battled tycoon Khun Sear and his eponymous import-export company over a plot of land in Tuol Kok district for the past five years, enduring a campaign of intimidation—allegedly waged by thugs hired by Mr. Sear’s firm—for refusing to accept compensation and move.

In November, Mr. Srea Kheng, along with his wife, daughter and son, were charged with using violence during a 2013 scuffle with the company’s security guards.

After his daughter spent just over five months in jail, Mr. Srea Kheng finally accepted compensation—a $180,000 deal that also saw the company withdraw its complaint against the family over the scuffle.

Contacted Sunday, however, Presiding Judge Svay Tonh said he convicted Mr. Kheng, his wife and their daughter on Thursday and handed each of them a six-month suspended sentence, while dropping the charges against their son.

“I cannot give you more detail,” Judge Tonh said.

Ly Seav Minh, 24, Mr. Kheng’s daughter, said the verdict was a final injustice against the family, who vacated the contested plot earlier this month and moved to Sen Sok district.

“I have a broken heart because we did nothing wrong, but the court still convicted us,” she said.

Ms. Seav Minh said the deal with Mr. Sear was finalized on May 28, with both sides agreeing to drop complaints against the other.

“We decided to leave the land because we received better compensation to create a new life, and we wanted to end this complicated problem,” she said.

Activists detained over unsanctioned march

26 Jun
Source: Phnom Penh Post,Pech Sotheary,Fri, 26 June 2015

Three environmentalists and a rights worker were detained yesterday for more than two hours and blocked from delivering a petition to the National Assembly calling on the government to order sand-dredging operations in Koh Kong province to cease.

Three activists from NGO Mother Nature – Dim Kundy, Sorn Chandara and Chek Nitra – were held along with Dith Sothy of rights group Adhoc.

The activists, accompanied by a handful of others, were blocked by Daun Penh and Chamkarmon district security forces, which had set up roadblocks to stop them.

Kundy of Mother Nature said Vietnamese firm International Rainbow Co, which has been dredging sand on the Koh Kong river, had the backing of the state as evidenced by the treatment they received in custody.

“We came here to express our freedom of speech, but our rights were stifled and we were blocked. They slapped my team. Democracy in this country is taking a nosedive.”

Chor Kimsor, deputy governor of Chamkarmon district, who sits on the body in charge of deploying district forces to protests, the Unified Command Committee, said the actions of the activists were illegal.

“If you want to do anything, you have to submit a request to City Hall,” he said.

All four arrestees, however, were released without charge after two hours.

They were made to sign a statement pledging to request permission in future if they wished to deliver a petition to parliament.

NGO boss out on lack of evidence

26 Jun
Source: Phnompenh Post,Chhay Channyda,Fri, 26 June 2015

he director of a Phnom Penh children’s NGO arrested over allegations of abuse was released from police custody on Wednesday due to a lack of evidence, police said yesterday.

Mao Soeuth, deputy police chief in Chbar Ampov district, confirmed that Soy Srey On, 23, director of Bethel Children’s Home of Cambodia, was “released and returned home”.

Another district police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Srey On “has been put under police monitoring”, but was released because there was “no evidence”.

Srey On was arrested following a complaint from the NGO’s principal donor, Chloe Flanagan, who alleged that she beat and neglected children, and had sex with her boyfriend in front of them.

Ministry of Social Affairs officials removed four children from the centre on Tuesday.

In an interview yesterday, Srey On admitted to “whip[ping] [children] a little bit with a stick to give them discipline”, but maintained she had “permission from their parents to do so”.

She also admitted to giving the children their meals late, but denied the allegations of public sex.

Social Affairs official Em Chanmakara said the decision to release Srey On was a police matter.

VN gov’t to respond to border allegations

25 Jun
Source: Phnom Penh Post,By Meas Sokchea,Thu, 25 June 2015
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People inspect a pond last month that was allegedly constructed by Vietnamese in Ratanakkiri province. The Vietnamese government is to investigate the claims following a meeting with Hor Namhong. ADHOC

Study: World Bank Project for Landless Families Is Failing

24 Jun
Source: The Cambodia Dialy,By Zsombor Peter | June 24, 2015

A seven-year project funded by Germany and the World Bank to give secure and fertile land to some of the country’s poorest families has so far mostly failed to deliver on its goals and left most of the families no better off, according to a new study.

The study by rights group Licadho, “On Stony Ground: A look into social land concessions,” contradicts the World Bank’s own glowing review of its work.

Licadho urges against using the project as a model for a planned second phase, which, if approved, would effectively lift a freeze on new lending to Cambodia the Bank imposed four years ago, precisely because of the government’s poor record on land rights.

“While additional support is needed to meet the promises of reduced poverty and increased food security for many of the families supported by LASED [Land Allocation for Social and Economic Development], the World Bank and GIZ [Germany’s foreign aid agency] first need to acknowledge that the project is far from a replicable model, and nowhere near a success story by any standards,” the report said.

In 2008, Germany and the World Bank put up a combined $12.7 million—most of it came from the Bank—to find 10,000 hectares across the country to give to more than 3,000 poor families with little or no land. With the Land Management Ministry’s help, they eventually secured eight social land concessions in three provinces: Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom and Kratie.

In its last review of the project, in December, three months before it ended, the World Bank gave itself solid marks across the board. It said all four of its main goals had been met. The 3,000-plus families had all been assigned land for homes, farms, or both, and nearly 60 percent of them had moved in. Of the families who had moved in, the Bank said all of them had started farming and that their incomes had, on average, more than quadrupled.

“The activities and accomplishments have provided good lessons learned for the identification, development and sustainability of future [social land concession] sites,” the Bank said at the time.

But Licadho, which visited all eight concessions between October and March, says the reality for many of the families at all but one of the sites is not so rosy. It says many of the families complained of land that was too sandy or rocky to farm, or covered in forest they lacked the tools to clear, plots mired in land disputes, and sites missing promised infrastructure, schools or clinics.

“Numerous villagers at seven of the eight sites reported limited ability to use the allocated agricultural plots and hence gained no significant improvement in terms of food security,” it said. “As a result, poverty reduction was not achieved at the end of the project for the majority of the land recipients.”

According to the report, the government knew that at least two of the chosen sites were mostly covered with “poor” soil as early as 2006—two years before the project even began—thanks to a joint study by international consultants and local officials.

Licadho says some families have been forced to take on new debt to get by, find work as day laborers because their new farms were failing, or turn to logging.

As a consequence, the rights group says, some families have given up on the concessions and left. Based on its visits, it estimates that fewer than half of the families assigned plots were occupying them, well below the nearly 60 percent previously claimed by the World Bank.

One of the main goals of the LASED project is to give the families a piece of land they can own. But Licadho says the scheme is failing on that front, too.

By law, a family must occupy a plot on a social land concession for five consecutive years to qualify for a land title. But families that have been living on the sites for up to six are still waiting. Families that gave up and left, or intend to because their plots are of poor quality, may never receive a title.

Some families have struggled to use their plots because they are claimed by someone else.

“With the low settlement rates and limited use of agricultural land observed by Licadho…many land recipients risk failing to meet these conditions due to poor implementation of the project,” Licadho said. “Tenure security is by no means guaranteed for a sizeable part of the more than 3,000 land recipients.”

Officials at the Ministry of Land Management could not be reached yesterday. Neither the World Bank nor GIZ responded a request for comment.

Due to its shortfalls, Licadho said, the project “has failed to achieve the levels of success required to be considered a replicable model to reduce poverty and increase food security for rural landless and poor Cambodians.”

But that is exactly what is happening.

In a 2014 report on the project, Germany said the Cambodian government was already replicating the approach in six provinces.

The World Bank is also preparing a second, $27-million phase to the project that would improve the eight sites already established and add seven more.

To get started, though, the Bank will have to lift its moratorium on new lending to Cambodia, a proposal mired in its own controversy.

The World Bank imposed the lending freeze in 2011 in protest over the way the Land Management Ministry—the Bank’s future partner in any second phase of the LASED project—was doling out land titles. Some 3,000 families were forced out of their homes in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood because the ministry refused to let them apply for titles.

The Bank said it would not lift its lending freeze until the Boeng Kak dispute was settled, a condition the government appears unwilling to meet.

CNRP will vote against draft NGO law, Sam Rainsy says

22 Jun
News by Khmer Times/Ven Rathavong,Monday, 22 June 2015;
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Sam Rainsy, president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, at the National Assembly today. (KT Photo: Ven Rathavong)

PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy told representatives of NGOs today that lawmakers from his party will vote against the controversial draft law on associations and NGOs if it is not amended.
“Having no law is better than this one,” Mr. Rainsy said, referring to the draft legislation approved by the Council of Ministers and sent to the National Assembly for debate.
He made the comments during a meeting with representatives of civil society at the National Assembly this afternoon.
The opposition leader said that although he could not prevent the ruling Cambodia People’s Party from passing the legislation, he would do his best to ensure the draft is amended to make it better.
Members of his party will vote against the legislation if the ruling party does not allow it to be amended, Mr. Rainsy said.
“If they still force the National Assembly to approve this draft law, only members of the ruling party will vote for it. The opposition will absolutely not agree,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy also said that if the law passes the assembly in its current form, his party would change it if they win the next election.
He assured those present that he would discuss the legislation with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Representatives from 10 NGOs – including the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, Cambodian Center for Human Rights and Transparency International – attended the meeting.
They called on Mr. Rainsy to ensure that legislation on associations and NGOs was postponed until after the next national election in 2018.

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Right to remain silent

19 Jun
Source: Phnom Penh Post, and ,Fri, 19 June 2015
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Sok An, pictured at an event in Phnom Penh earlier this year, this month sent a directive to all ministries outlining the procedure for the release of information regarding corruption inquiries. Heng Chivoan

 

Opposition lawmakers and transparency groups have slammed a recent Council of Ministers directive ordering government employees to deny access to parliamentary commissions investigating corruption, saying it severely undermines democracy.

Released yesterday by Secretary of State Tek Reth Samrach, the letter dictates public employees must follow the Anti-Corruption Law’s Article 22 when dealing with information about corruption, which states that complaints should be taken to the Anti-Corruption Commission rather than parliamentary commissions.

The document also states that government employees in all ministries and institutions must get permission from their leaders before talking or sharing information or reports with parliamentary committees or lawmakers.

Overseeing the directive, according to the letter, will be Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who sent the original notice to ministries on June 5, which was attributed to previous statements by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The deputy prime minister will ensure it is not abused by “people who don’t understand or act like they don’t understand”, the letter reads.

“This is completely wrong and unconstitutional,” said Cambodian National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay, deputy head of parliament’s finance commission. “It’s undermining the role of the parliament as an overseer; it breaches Article 96 of the Constitution; it is a serious violation; and it looks like the Council of Ministers has something to hide.”

Chhay, who has led several probes into the government and most recently requested information on the country’s airports, said the directive would not stifle his attempts to fight graft.

“This is a battlefield now; there will be a war between the executive and the legislative bodies. Why is Sok An so scared? If you don’t show us, we want to know what you’re hiding,” he said.

According to the letter, public employees can collaborate with parliamentary commissions, lawmakers and NGOs to fight corruption through “education and propaganda”, but complaints of corruption must be taken to ACU staff.

Speaking yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said the directive had not changed anything and was merely a reminder of the proper procedures for official communication and corruption complaints.

“It is [an] existing rule; this is just to remind people,” Siphan said, adding that the government wanted to make sure it was delivering credible and responsible information through the right channels.

“In any government, people need the authority from their boss to share the information.… National Assembly and Senate members can invite anyone through the official channels.”

However, CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann, chairman of the anti-corruption commission, said the order was intended to curb the constitutional rights of lawmakers to request information.

“Whatever is suspected as corruption must be opened and reported to the National Assembly,” he said.

Transparency International Cambodia director Kol Preap said it looked to be a serious blow for efforts against corruption.

“It looks [to be] more about trying to keep sensitive information under control, to control liabilities and the flow of information,” he said.

“It is not good for the fight against corruption if the parliamentary commissions aren’t able to get information.”

Cambodian Centre for Independent Media executive director Pa Nguon Teang said the order undermined the principles of openness and transparency it claimed it was working towards in its efforts to draft an access-to-information law.

“If implemented, this order would reduce the ability of the media, NGOs and even members of the National Assembly to access information,” he said.

Sinthay Neb, director of the Advocacy and Policy Institute, added: “The more governments disclose information, the more people trust and actively participate in government affairs. Cambodian people wish to see their government as an open government; this letter [implies] the opposite.”

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