Tag Archives: Phnom Penh

‘Same Faces’ Protest Against PM’s Comments

31 Mar

By: Mech Dara , The Cambodia Daily, | March 31, 2015

Incensed by the prime minister’s assertion last week that the “same faces” always show up at protests, a group of Phnom Penh’s most prominent anti-eviction activists picketed City Hall on Monday to vent their anger.

At the opening of the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel on March 23, Mr. Hun Sen took aim at the active protest movement in the city, and the NGOs he claims are behind it, saying that “Cambodia has become a paradise for inciting demonstrations, and the demonstrators have the same faces again and again.”

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Former Boeng Kak residents submit a petition at the World Bank’s office in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Satoshi Takahashi)

On Monday, as about 50 members of the displaced Boeng Kak community petitioned the World Bank and the U.S. and E.U. embassies, asking for their intervention, another 30 activists who regularly front land-rights protests played perfectly to the prime minister’s narrative.

“We came here to rebuke the accusations of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who accused us of being the same faces coming to protest again and again,” Bov Sorphea said.

Ms. Sorphea has come to the fore of recent demonstrations in the absence of Tep Vanny, who was jailed along with six others for obstructing traffic after placing a bed on the road outside City Hall in November to protest severe flooding of the Boeng Kak neighborhood.

Ms. Sorphea reasoned that the same faces were present at protests because the prime minister had failed to solve the city’s many land disputes and address, in particular, the long-running grievances of the Boeng Kak and Borei Keila communities.

“It’s like someone is drowning, but you do not help the person who is drowning, you take a paddle and hit them on the head,” she said.

Activist Demands Plaintiffs Show Up in Court

31 Mar

By: Ouch Sony , The Cambodia Daily, | March 31, 2015

A judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court suspended the trial of an opposition activist Monday after the defendant demanded that his alleged victims face him in court and declared that his trial was a politicized sham.

In October, Ouk Pich Samnang drove his tuk-tuk into a line of metal barricades that was blocking a group of displaced farmers from Preah Vihear province from marching toward the prime minister’s house.

Police arrested Mr. Pich Samnang and charged him with joining a criminal association, damaging public property, obstructing authorities and committing intentional violence, alleging that five security guards had been injured by his actions.

In a tense court hearing Monday, deputy prosecutor Ly Sophanna and defense lawyer Chuong Choungy went head to head after Mr. Choungy suggested that provocateurs had instigated the violence at the October protest.

The deputy prosecutor interrupted Mr. Choungy to accuse him of speculation after the lawyer asked about the presence of a “third hand.”

Mr. Choungy replied: “When you asked questions, I did not disturb even one word,” before the defendant jumped in.

“I think the court will not be able to try me because [you are] always having arguments like this,” Mr. Pich Samnang burst out, interrupting both his lawyer and the prosecutor.

“A good person was abused through politics while idiots commit sins,” he continued. “Put us in prison happily and openly so it seems we are animals. Keep us suffering in prison.”

As the defendant settled down following a five-minute break called by Judge Im Vannak, Mr. Pich Samnang said he did not understand the meaning of the charge of joining a criminal association, and his defense called for the allegedly injured security guards to present their evidence in court.

“In order to guarantee that this is a clean trial with no false accusations…I strongly demand that the plaintiffs show up,” Mr. Choungy said.

Judge Vannak responded: “Justice can happen even without confrontation [between the plaintiffs and accused],” causing Mr. Pich Samnang to rise to his feet.

“The court has imprisoned me, but there is no plaintiff to face me,” he said. “If I don’t see the reality and [there are] only accusations, I don’t accept it.”

“Please, send me to the prison,” he said angrily. “Everybody, that is all, I will go to the prison. I will not let this court try me.”

Judge Vannak instructed the defendant to “listen,” but Mr. Pich Samnang refused: “I won’t listen. I cannot listen, because you brought me to be mixed up in a political matter.

“I would like to tell the court that if these five people are not here, you don’t need to bring me to the court.”

Mr. Sophanna said the plaintiffs had not been present due to “personal problems.” Judge Vannak did not announce a date for the next hearing.

 

NGO: Data shows gov’t in ‘wholesale sell-off’ of land

31 Mar

By: Daniel Pye and Pech Sotheary ,The Phnom Penh Post, | March 31, 2015

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Cambodia should urgently disclose all information about land ownership and rethink its “wholesale sell-off” of the country’s natural resources, a local rights group said yesterday.

The call to release information about Cambodia’s land sector, including a declaration of revenues, came as Licadho released an analysis of concessions showing that three-fifths of all of Cambodia’s arable land is under the control of mostly foreign-owned plantation firms.

The data, which exclude land allocated for mining exploration, shows that 2.14 million hectares have been leased to private firms since the government announced its forest “conversion” policy in the early 2000s and began to issue economic land concessions (ELCs).

About 43 per cent of the ELCs are Cambodian-owned, more than a third of which comprise a single concession in Pursat province owned by Pheapimex Group, which is directed by Yeay Phu, the wife of ruling Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin. The more than 333,000-hectare concession is far larger than the Tonle Sap lake and more than 33 times the legally allowed limit.

Vietnamese and Chinese companies control a third of the land, according to Licadho’s data, with Malaysian, Thai, Korean and Singaporean companies combined holding about 17 per cent.

“One important point to stress is that the data we released today is undoubtedly incomplete and misses some ELCs that have not been made public due to a lack of systematic and complete disclosure on the part of the government,” said Naly Pilorge, Licadho’s director.

“For example, in December 2014, the Ministry of Environment merely stated that 113 companies had been given concessions within their protected areas. Licadho could only locate 73. We therefore believe that today’s publication cannot and should not be a substitute for the government’s own data, and we call for the relevant ministries to be fully transparent about land dealings.”

Companies from Vietnam and China are the two biggest “players” in the sector, Pilorge said, a finding that validates media reporting on land conflicts in recent years that have been fuelled by large-scale concessions, such as the Union Development Group’s multibillion-dollar development in Koh Kong province.

“In many instances, the granting of ELCs has resulted in the irreversible loss of primary forests, with considerably negative impact on communities. ELCs have also created access-to-water issues, a critical resource which is already being negatively affected by climate change,” she added.

Son Chhay, an opposition member of parliament who heads the National Assembly’s finance commission, said that by his estimates, about 70 per cent of the concessions were sought either to resell without making an investment or to strip the natural resources from the sites.

“They make so much money by cutting down all these trees. They look for foreign investors so they can cut the trees down and make all this money without benefiting the budget whatsoever,” he said, adding that analysis of previous national budgets had shown that as little as $7 in tax was collected from ELCs per hectare.

Chhay added that he would consider calling ministers responsible for ELC allocation and forestry to answer questions in parliament if the government failed to act.

“It’s crucial the government seriously looks into this. As a commission chairman, I want to look at the way that the revenue that comes from the land changes hands between one company and another.

I can also invite ministers to answer before the parliament. This is the wholesale destruction of our resources.”

Eang Sophalleth, a spokesman for Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Agriculture Ministry, said that the ministry would issue complete data after it had finished an audit of ELCs it began in 2012 after Hun Sen ordered a moratorium on new concessions.

“The ministry will issue its report when our task is complete. But for now, we are still working on it, so we cannot publish it. If we revealed [our findings] and they were wrong, we would be accused of lying to the people,” he said.

The government’s audit of ELCs has led to several being resized or cancelled altogether, notably the 100,000-hectare Green Sea Agriculture concession in Stung Treng province, owned by tycoon Mong Reththy, which was downsized to 9,800 hectares in January, according to a government decree.

Despite the apparent drive to clamp down on abuses of the ELC system, experts say a watchful eye should be kept on the government’s manoeuvres.

“In the past, the government made U-turns when it comes to ELC cancellations. We’ll be paying close attention to the recent announcements to see whether the revocations will be permanent, or whether the decision will eventually be reversed in favor of the current company, or transferred to a new one,” Licadho’s Pilorge said.

“What we know is ELCs have fueled a wave of land conflicts throughout the country, and have destroyed livelihoods to be replaced by cheaply paid seasonal work,” she added.

For Prak Thouk, a representative of villagers in Koh Sdech commune who are at the centre of the land dispute with the Union Development Group, ELC-based development has brought nothing but hardship, violence and threats.

“They said it would reduce poverty, that citizens would have jobs. But it made us all poorer because of the threat of eviction. We cannot go out to earn money while we constantly worry that the company will demolish our homes.”

UN Approves New Human Rights Envoy to Cambodia

30 Mar

BY ZSOMBOR PETER | MARCH 30, 2015, Cambodia Daily

As anticipated, the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday approved U.K. professor Rhona Smith as the new special rapporteur to Cambodia on human rights, replacing Surya Subedi, whose six-year term ends this month.

The rights council announced its decision in a statement at the end of its 28th session in Geneva. Ms. Smith, 45, is a professor of international human rights law at Northumbria University in the U.K. and a visiting professor at Pannasastra University in Phnom Penh.

The nominating body had named her the frontrunner for the unpaid job because of her “in-depth knowledge of the country, her extensive contacts with different Cambodian stakeholders and the human rights challenges faced by the country.”

Though Mr. Subedi enjoyed a less turbulent relationship with the government than his predecessors, his reports to the rights council on the country’s shortcomings were often criticized and dismissed by Cambodian officials.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Sunday that Ms. Smith would also need approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which could not be reached.

Mr. Siphan said past rapporteurs had failed in the role “because those people don’t fully understand Cambodian culture and how Cambodians behave,” and accused them of treating the country like a student.

“We are a nation; we are not a classroom,” he said.

Exile activists go to UN claiming US breaching human rights

30 Mar

By: Rebecca Moss, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 30, 2015

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Khan Hin, who was deported from the US five months ago, still holds out hope he can return to the only country he knows as home. Charlotte Pert

Tired of Washington’s indifference to their cause, Cambodian-American activists look overseas for help in fighting deportation

Naroen Chhin says he’s one of the lucky ones. With a felony drug conviction, the Philadelphia native might have joined hundreds of other Cambodian-Americans who have been deported to the Kingdom since 2002.

“I have friends and family who got deported back, but what was interesting is that I have the same criminal conviction … I committed the crime, I got convicted and I did my time, and I got to stay in the States,” the 31-year-old, who is now a community organiser with the immigration rights 1Love Movement, said in a phone interview from the US this week.

Unlike his deported friends and family, who only held permanent residency in the US, Chhin was a naturalised US citizen. That saved him from deportation, though Chhin said the deportees, most of whom came to the US as infants and have no memory of life elsewhere, ought to have the same second chance.

“It doesn’t make sense. They look like me, and they also came over as refugees and grew up in America,” he said.

Discouraged by political rhetoric and lack of action in Washington, Chhin and other Cambodian-American activists are looking for new strategies to fight the deportation of “exiled” Khmers after a decade of fruitless advocacy.

Under a treaty signed by Cambodia and the US in 2002, non-citizen Cambodians residing in America can be deported to the Kingdom and barred from re-entry for crimes ranging from drunk driving to murder. The Phnom Penh-based Returnee Integration Support Center puts the total number of deportees at 467. About 2,000 others back in the US, however, could be forced to repatriate.

While immigration reform is a hot topic in US politics – an executive order issued by President Barack Obama last November providing a path to legality for roughly 4 million undocumented immigrants was fiercely opposed by Republicans – the repatriation of convicted criminals is largely a non-issue for both major parties.

“There’s never been a place for there to be some understanding or policy related to people who have been deported for prior criminal convictions,” said Mia-la Kiernan, community organiser with the Southeast Asia Freedom Network (SEAFN) umbrella advocacy group, which also includes 1Love, in a phone interview from Philadelphia.

Crimes committed by newly arrived Cambodians, Kiernan added, resulted from the trauma of “US militarism” in Southeast Asia and the subsequent Khmer Rouge regime, as well as a lack of public support in the poor inner-city communities where the immigrants were resettled.

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Chanravy Proeung, Naroen Chhin and Chhaya Chhoum went to Geneva to petition the UN’s Human Rights Council. PHOTO SUPPLIED

“There’s such a polarisation between people who are considered the ‘good immigrants’ and people considered the ‘bad immigrants’,” she said.

American political scholars on both sides of the national immigration debate, which is largely fixated on Mexican and Central American migrants, agreed it would be difficult to garner support for convicted immigrants in either Congress or the White House.

“Immigration reform supporters have enough trouble making the case that otherwise law-abiding unlawful immigrants should stay, I don’t see much appetite for allowing convicted criminals who had green cards to return,” Alex Nowrasteh, immigration analyst at Washington-based libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, said in an email to Post Weekend, adding that deportation should be used more sparingly.

Jessica Vaughan, director of public studies at the Center of Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that argues for stricter immigration controls, said public opinion in the US was not on the activists’ side.

“Right now, all the political effort and momentum is in favour of changing US law to make it easier for the government to deport criminal aliens to countries like Cambodia,” she said, adding that deportation was a “reasonable consequence” for permanent residents guilty of serious crimes.

“Why should communities in America be exposed to their proven disregard for public safety and the law?” she said.

With no political solution in sight for the deportees, Chhin and two other advocates travelled to Switzerland this month to personally petition the United Nations, whose Human Rights Council is currently conducting a periodic review on human rights in the US, to address the issue.

“We went there specifically to advocate and hold the US accountable for the lack of clarity on that process, but also to really hold the US accountable for the punitive measures they take against the Cambodian-American refugee community,” Chanravy Proeung, a community organiser with SEAFN, said in a phone interview from Providence.

Proeung, Chhin and their colleague Chhaya Chhoum from New York met with officials from countries including France, China, Thailand and Vietnam. The idea, explained Chhin, was to reach out to countries that would be interested in challenging the US on human rights.

“They were very receptive – they were very surprised at what the US is doing in terms of human rights violations,” he said.

Khan Hin, a 30-year-old who was deported from California to Cambodia five months ago over a car theft conviction in 2004, said hearing of the trip to Geneva gave him hope.

Born in a Thai refugee camp without ever stepping foot in Cambodia, he came to the US as an infant, speaks almost no Khmer and knows of no surviving family left in the Kingdom. He didn’t even realise he wasn’t a US citizen, he said, until he was arrested at age 18.

“Living in the States all my life and getting exiled back here, and people over there doing all that stuff for us, it’s a blessing as I try to see a paved way to get back home,” he said.

One solution pitched by SEAFN members was to modify the US-Cambodia repatriation agreement along the lines of a similar deal made with Vietnam under which repatriation can only occur if the person arrived in the US after diplomatic relations were re-established in 1995.

“It is tailored in a very specific way so that people who were impacted by US militarism and refugee resettlement … aren’t impacted by repatriation,” said Proeung.

But any solution to the deportee problem, admitted Chhin, would be dependent on solving an entire array of issues affecting the Cambodian-American community, citing the “school to prison pipeline” as an example.

“I don’t doubt that it’s going to change in terms of immigration law, but there’s a whole lot of problems here, and for that to change it’s going to take quite some time,” he said.

Trial over Freedom Park brawl begins

30 Mar

By: Chhay Channyda, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 30, 2015

The trial of 11 opposition members and activists accused of “insurrection” over violent protests related to the disputed 2013 election began at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday.

The group appeared before Judge Lim Makaron to face charges stemming from the demonstration on July 15 last year in which Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers led supporters to demand access to the then barricaded Freedom Park.

The men, including CNRP’s head of information and dual Cambodian-American Meach Sovannara, are accused of instigating a brawl which left 39 security guards and at least six protesters injured. Five of the men remain in detention and all face between 20 and 30 years’ jail if found guilty in the case which has been labelled politically motived

The alleged weapons – pipes attached to CNRP and Cambodian flags – were displayed in the court.

Accused Oeur Narith, an assistant to Cambodian CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, told the court he was trying to help security guards being attacked amid the disorder.

“I had nothing in my hands except my bag,” he said. “I then saw a heavily built security guard being bashed at Seven Bright restaurant. I screamed not to use violence. I helped him.”

Narith said he followed lawmaker Mu Sochua to ask authorities to “release Freedom Park for people to use” and stated the orange cloths worn by protesters on the day were “a symbol of freedom”.

A second accused, Khin Chumreun, confirmed he attended a meeting on July 14 to plan the demonstration but said he had nothing to do with the violence. “As a youth leader, I only tell my youth help to monitor, not to let violence happen,” he said.

Cheng Peng Hab, a lawyer for the security guards, disputed their clams.

The hearing, which followed an unsuccessful bail application for two of the accused, was adjourned until April 20.

Details emerge of refugee meet

30 Mar

By:Daniel Pye, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 30, 2015

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A banner hangs on the fence of a refugee camp in Anibare district, Nauru, earlier this month where a Cambodian delegation was to meet with refugees. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Refugees who met with Cambodian immigration officials last week on the Pacific island of Nauru were told they would be given permanent visas and travel documents but would have to pay for English-language education and would lose all but emergency financial support after a year, a refugee said.

Two men attended the meeting where Cambodia explained how the resettlement program signed between Australia and Cambodia in September 2014 would work, but according to a refugee in the meeting, attendees only went out of curiosity and were not interested in moving to the Kingdom.

“We are traded like slaves between two corrupted governments. One wealthy but obsessed by the boats, the other one hungry enough to commit any crime [for] money”, the refugee, who cannot be named for security reasons, said.

“These two [countries] have created a great torture machine to reach their nasty political, economic purposes and are blessed enough to have the support of the all international organisations like [the] UN.

“Many people have died. Many children [have been] sexually abused. Many women [have been] raped … and everybody [is] calling for investigations instead of any real, practical help. We don’t need your investigation. We don’t need your sympathy. We don’t beg any fake respect. We just don’t want to be slaves anymore.”

According to the agreement signed by the two countries on September 26, Australia would cover all the costs of resettlement and later said it would also give Cambodia an additional $35 million in aid to sweeten the deal.

General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, and Kerm Sarin, director of the ministry’s Refugee Department, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The International Organisation for Migration, which has agreed to help facilitate the “voluntary” transfer of refugees from Nauru as long as a number of conditions are met, was also present at last week’s meeting, according to IOM’s Asia Pacific spokesman Joe Lowry.

“We would have had no talks with anyone unless they had expressed an interest in relocating. That hasn’t happened, to the best of my knowledge,” he said.

A spokesperson for Australia’s minister of immigration could not be reached yesterday.

The refugee on Nauru said the community felt criminalised, as other groups who arrived by boat at the same time had been allowed to move to Australia.

“Being [a] refugee is not [a] crime.… We are [neither] criminals nor slaves. We are ordinary people who are fighting for their right to live.”

Another Montagnard in Phnom Penh, UN Says

28 Mar

By: Colin Meyn , The Cambodia Daily, | March 28, 2015

Another Montagnard asylum-seeker has arrived in Phnom Penh, joining 10 others who are still in the capital after having their requests to have their refugee claims processed rejected, according to the U.N.

“This morning, a Montagnard asylum seeker sought the aid of our office in Phnom Penh,” Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the Office of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in an email. 

“Our staff brought him to the [Interior Ministry’s] Refugee Department for registration. He was refused, bringing to 11 the number of known asylum seekers in the city who have been denied registration.”

Ms. Lee said that the situation of 10 other Montagnards who arrived in Phnom Penh in recent months “remains unchanged; they remain unable to register.”

The government has been erratic in its handling of the asylum-seekers. Police deported 36 Montagn­ards attempting to make the trip from Ratanakkiri province to Phnom Penh in February.

However, just days later the government recognized the refugee status of 13 others escorted to Phnom Penh in December.

Khun Sear Land Dispute to Be Settled: Lawyer

26 Mar

By: BEN SOKHEAN , The Cambodia Daily, | March 26, 2015

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court again delayed the trial of a woman whose family is locked in a land dispute with tycoon Khun Sear on Wednesday, this time at the request of her lawyer, who is advising the family to give up their five-year battle and accept an apparent $160,000 compensation offer.

Ly Seav Minh, 23, and her family have been fighting Mr. Sear and his eponymous company over a plot of land in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district. She is facing charges of using violence against a property owner under the Land Law in relation to a 2013 scuffle with Mr. Sear’s security guards and has been in provisional detention since being arrested in November. Her father Ly Sreang Kheng is out on bail.

Choung Choungy, a lawyer representing the family, said during the hearing Wednesday that he was requesting a delay because he had filed a complaint to the Appeal Court over the municipal court’s refusal to grant Ms. Seav Minh bail.

Presiding Judge Svay Tonh granted the delay in the case, the second in two weeks.

However, after the hearing, Mr. Choungy claimed the family and a representative of Mr. Sear’s company had come to a verbal agreement last week that would see the company drop the case and pay the family $160,000 in return for them abandoning their home.

“The tycoon [Mr. Sear] wants the land…and the family accepted the compensation,” Mr. Choungy said. “So the company will drop the complaint. The family was forced to accept the deal because they want Seav Minh released from prison.”

Yet Touch Chhay, a lawyer for Mr. Sear’s company, said he knew nothing about the verbal agreement.

“I’m not sure about the negotiations, or any compensation,” he said. “I did not get any information from my client about this.”

Mr. Sreang Kheng and his wife, Mok Siv Hong, said after Wednesday’s hearing that they felt they had no choice but to give up their fight.

“I [will] accept the compensation because I want my daughter freed from prison,” Ms. Siv Hong said.

 

Hun Sen Steps In to End Dredging Row

24 Mar

By: Hul Reaksmey , The Cambodia Daily, | March 24, 2015

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that a recent decision to put the Mines and Energy Ministry in charge of all aspects of granting sand dredging licenses had to be made, because authorities were refusing to take responsibility for a process that has been blamed for several controversial riverbank collapses.

In a directive issued Friday, the prime minister put the ministry in charge effective immediately. Up until then, the Water Resources Ministry’s committee on sand resources management had to approve and sign off on hydrology studies before the Mines and Energy Ministry could issue an actual license.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen looks out from the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel during its official opening Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

On Sunday, a Mines and Energy official said the new directive was intended to speed up a typically slow process and clear out a backlog of dredging license requests.

But in a speech at the official opening of the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel on Monday, Mr. Hun Sen explained that he made the decision for the sake of accountability.

“When the minister is asked, the minister of mines says it’s the minister of water resources. When the minister of water resources is asked, he says it’s mines…. When the province is asked, it refers back to the minister,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

“So who is really responsible? Let’s give the job to Mr. Mines,” he said, referring to Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem. “You will be responsible for the places where sand dredging is allowed and [where it] causes the collapse of people’s homes.”

“If you are jailed, it is only you, because there is no need to have a messy committee,” the prime minister warned. “Let’s end this issue now. It’s very complicated.”

As stated in the directive, Mr. Hun Sen said the sand resources committee would become an advisory body.

“The committee will be used for consultation,” he said. “It will not make any decisions for the institution [the Mines and Energy Ministry] created by law.”

Sand dredging operations in Phnom Penh and elsewhere have been blamed for the collapse of some homes into waterways. However, authorities have been reluctant to admit to a connection.

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