Sunday, 20 June 2010

CAMBODIA: Key role for universities in healing society

Universities need to move beyond their traditional roles of teaching, learning and research towards another core function - linking campuses to communities. They can play a key role in organising programmes in which students have the opportunity to be engaged in civic activities. This is particularly important in countries like Cambodia, which have been damaged by severe societal breakdowns in the past.

The erosion of trust in Cambodia - both interpersonal and institutional - caused by the Khmer Rouge regime, has weakened people's ability to work together for a common goal. It has crippled Cambodia's ability to recover from the devastation caused by prolonged civil conflicts. The Khmer Rouge regime left a psychological legacy - in this case, trauma - which has yet to be treated or healed.

As someone born after the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, I believe that many young Cambodians have been affected by their parents' bad experiences. This trauma has become inter-generational.

Although young Cambodians' experiences are not as bad as those of their parents, parents' traumatic experiences of the genocidal regime and the chronic civil wars have been passed on to their children through the ways they were brought up.

The bad experiences affected the ways people viewed the world around them and how they related to other people. The erosion of trust continues into present Cambodian society.

It is noticeable that the ability to work together among (young) Cambodians tends to be limited to within families and small intimate groups of close friends. People don't seem to have enough confidence to extend cooperation beyond close networks, which really affects their ability to work together as well as the productivity of their work.

Promoting civic engagement at universities allows students to interact with one another beyond their small groups, to communicate with one another, to work together to achieve a common purpose, and to learn about one another, which leads to a better understanding of each other.

This process is critical for confidence and trust building, which is the first step to encouraging people to work together productively.

However, because of limited budget and lack of understanding of the importance of civic engagement, most Cambodian universities focus only on their traditional roles of teaching, learning and research.

Although some students mention having been involved in community service or volunteerism, the primary reason they stated was egoistic rather than altruistic, self-centered rather than compassionate. For instance, the most cited reason for doing community service or volunteerism was to gain some experience so that it was easier to secure a job in future.

I believe being civically engaged means learning to give back to the community, to help one another, to share, to take responsibilities, to understand the working and systems of the government and the processes of choosing a leader, and learning to be a good leader, to be accountable and to understand the principles and practices of democracy, to mention a few.

In this sense, civic engagement at university makes young people build or connect the missing link between the academic world and the real world. Civic engagement makes the students understand the importance of being civically engaged because of the benefits they will gain by doing so.

It also helps them to learn to trust fellow Cambodians through working together and helping those in need of support. At the same time, they learn to be good citizens and good leaders.

What's also important is that civic education programmes help students to understand the importance of their role in a democratic country. This is vital not only in the present but also in the future. I believe that a healthy democratic country has a huge population with high levels of civic mindedness and engagement.

For this reason, in this critical stage of democratising Cambodia, it is important to promote civic engagement among young Cambodians. This will provide a good opportunity for them not only to be well prepared for future careers but also to contribute to a healthy democracy in this newly democratised country.

* Vicheth Sen, a lecturer at the Royal Phnom Penh University, is the author of Higher Education and Civic Engagement In Cambodia: A Case Study at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

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Deportee finds solace, guidance through break dancing

via Khmer NZ News Media
By Robert Carmichael Jun 20, 2010

Phnom Penh - At 75, Oum Sok is probably the oldest cyclo driver in Cambodia. He started pedalling passengers around Phnom Penh in his three-wheeled bicycle taxi in the 1950s, around the time the country gained its independence from France.

He still works seven days a week, rising early and going to sleep late. But much has changed over the years, he says, notably the attitude of Phnom Penh's citizens to the cyclo. These days they prefer the motorbike taxi.

The result is that the cyclo, with its bucket seat between the two front wheels for the passengers, the driver perched high above the rear wheel, is declining fast. Seventy years after it was introduced, the cyclo's gentle pace is at odds with a city that is getting faster every year.

Which is why today many of Oum Sok's passengers are tourists. It is a big change. He reels off others.

'When I was young I could earn a lot, but now everything is expensive,' he says of life in the capital. 'And many local people don't want to take a cyclo with an old man like me driving them.'

The cyclo's decline is familiar to Im Sambath. He heads the Cyclo Conservation and Careers Association, a small membership body established to look out for the interests of cyclo drivers like Oum Sok.

For 25 cents a month, the drivers get washing facilities and education on topics such as HIV/AIDS, quitting smoking and traffic rules.

In his tiny first-floor office located on a backstreet, Im Sambath explains that the number of cyclos has dropped from 9,000 a decade ago to 1,300 today. In another five years he predicts there will be 500.

One reason is the difficulty of obtaining spare parts. But the main reason, as Oum Sok knows, is a change in the capital's transport culture.

'For the local clients, the numbers have decreased because people think cyclos are not safe - they prefer to take tuktuks and motorbike taxis,' he says. 'And tuktuks are quicker than cyclos.'

The tuktuk, or motorized rickshaw, is also roomier.

Im Sambath predicts local demand for the cyclo will continue to wilt. That is why his organization is focused on tourism. For 10 dollars, tourists are pedalled from sight to sight for a few hours. The drivers get the bulk of the cash, plus tips.

He believes tourism could save the cyclo.

'The foreign countries don't have the cyclo, but here they can see the cyclo, which is very strange for them,' he says, explaining his marketing motivation.

That strangeness certainly captivated Australian tourist Margie Edmonds. In June she was one of more than 50 tourists snaking their way through the city. She says seeing Phnom Penh by cyclo is 'the only way to go.'

But given what Im Sambath said about locals feeling unsafe in the cyclo - after all, Phnom Penh's streets can be a little chaotic - was she not scared?

'Not for one second. It was really, really good,' she says. 'I just thought it was the most amazing way to do it. It was one of the best experiences I've had in Asia. Great fun, very safe and very comfortable vehicles too.'

You might assume tourists would tip better, but Oum Sok says that is not the case. In more than 50 years his best tip amounted to only five dollars.

He says some tourists give just 50 cents whereas local fares from the markets regularly tip a couple of dollars.

Oum Sok is getting on, so does he ever think about retiring? He shakes his head.

'I am still strong,' he says, before admitting that at times the years are catching up. 'My mind is stronger than my body.'

When he finally does pack it in, Oum Sok will return to his home province of Svay Rieng in south-eastern Cambodia and work as a farmer or make fishing traps or earthenware pots.

Until then he gets home to Svay Rieng once a month to see his family.

But here in Phnom Penh, his home is his cyclo. At night Oum Sok wheels it onto the pavement with a group of other cyclo drivers, and like them, sleeps in the bucket seat recharging the old legs that tomorrow will pedal more tourists around the city's flat streets.

Brilliant Film Premiers Monday in NYC, Offering Solution to Global Child Exploitation

Jim Luce
Thought Leaders and Global Citizens
Posted: June 19, 2010
Not often does a filmmaker present both an untenable social problem - and its solution. Not often is its filmmaker an artist as well as a banker and a lawyer. Meet Guy Jacobson through whose eyes in the film Redlight we meet two remarkable women opposed to childhood sexual slavery in Cambodia. One, the head of the opposition party there, and the other a woman who escaped the brothels to dedicate her life to freeing others. I sat down this week with Guy to hear more about the opening of his film Redlight, produced and narrated by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lucy Liu.

The film "Redlight" is produced and narrated by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lucy Liu.

Having built a reputation of orphan care around the world known as Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW), and being a new friend of Cambodian legend, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Mu Sochua, I am familiar with the plight of sexually abused children. But the staggering figure of 2.5 million children aged 18 months to 18 years exploited for their young bodies made my skin crawl. They can be raped 20 - 30 times a day, and up to half of them will die from shock, torture, drugs, and/or AIDS.

The film "Holly" production shot of brothel room. Photographer: Elkana Jacobson

Two women are featured in the film, grassroots activist Somaly Mam and politician Mu Sochua. Filmed over a four year period, the incredibly moving Redlight focuses on the personal stories of the victims and two remarkable advocates for change in a nation that lived through the Killing Fields. Both women have since been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize and won other numerous human rights awards around the world. See the film's trailer on Vimeo.

This powerful, must-see film opens in New York City this Monday night, June 21, with a red carpet affair, followed by a VIP reception featuring celebrity guests. Tickets are also available to the general public.

Expected guests for the star-studded event include Ambassador Mark Lagon, Alyse Nelson, president and C.E.O. of Vital Voices, Cecilia Attias, Richard Attias, producer of the World Economic Forum in Davos, and Global C.E.O. Andrew Prozes of LexisNexis. A heavy media turnout is anticipated.

The Honorary Host Committee includes Congresswoman Congressmember Carolyn B. Maloney, Ambassador Swanee Hunt, Lauren Bush, and Abigail Disney, among others. The event is sponsored in part by LexisNexis.

This special evening will be a multi-pronged event with two screenings offered. The official World Premiere Red Carpet Screening with limited tickets open to the public opens at 6pm. VIP guests will join the VIP reception and Q&A at the CUE Art Gallery, 511 West 25th Street. All other guests are invited to a one-hour open bar after-party from 9:30pm at the Juliet Supper Club, located at 539 West 21st Street.

Producers Adi Ezroni and Guy Jacobson at "Holly" premier in 2007. Photo: Madhu Dhas.

The General Public Red Carpet Screening is scheduled for 9:00pm, with an after-party also at the Juliet Supper Club. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A session featuring, M.P. Mu Sochua, UNICEF's Global Chief of Child Protection Dr. Susan Bissell, and filmmakers Guy Jacobson and Israeli actress Adi Ezroni, both of whom won the prestigious U.S. State Department's Global Hero Award for their work.

Ron Livingston stars as Patrick, an American card shark and dealer of stolen artifacts living in Cambodia for years, when he encounters Holly, a 12-year-old Vietnamese girl sold by her impoverished family and smuggled across the border to work as a prostitute inthe feature film Holly, a captivating, touching and emotional experience, that highlights the growing international issue of human trafficking. Photo: Elkana Jacobson.

This film is the second in Guy's trilogy, known as the K11 Project. Holly was the first in 2007, the story of a 12-year old prostitute who captures the jaded heart of a foreigner living in Cambodia who in turn goes out of his way to rescue her from the criminal element that controls her. This filmed premiered at the United Nations, with honorary committee members including Susan Sarandon and Hillary Clinton. All three films benefit from Guy's undercover work in Cambodian brothels, using espionage equipment and secret cameras to research the plight of child trafficking victims.

Filmmaker, banker and lawyer Guy Jacobson, standing, with his team in Batambang, Cambodia.

To make Redlight in Cambodia, where he was challenging the underground that profit off the lives of children, Guy had to surround himself with 40 bodyguards armed with automatic weapons. As Lucy Liu states in the film, the brothels are powerful and notoriously violent. "I come from Israel originally. I know how to take care of myself," Guy shrugged with a smile. At one point, Interpol contacted Guy to warn him to flee the country because the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodian mafia had hits taken out on his life.

In 2000, Guy left the intersection of investment banking and law here in NYC to spend two years travelling the world. In Phnom Penh he walked down one street where he was surrounded by a large group of girls competing to offer his sexual favors in exchange for cash. Just as my first visit to an orphanage 'warehouse' led to my epiphany, Guy's experience with these girls led to his life commitment to end the plight of red light children, leading him to found an organization to help end exploitation by the same name.

Children in Cambodia fishing villages, as children anywhere in the world, can be in danger.

Guy's cutting-edge strategy to end the sexual exploitation of children is to work with major law firms around the world s, and focus on filing civil suits on behalf of a victim against an exploiter in each city, sending a message of deterrence across oceans like a Tsunami. "This does not end exploitation on its own, but sends a chill down the spines of the exploiters." Guy told me. If it scared only 10%, it would save 250,000 children. "Governments in many countries are not strong enough to fight this scourge effectively. We need to fight for the children ourselves, in the civil courts and arena of public opinion."

The Redlight Children Campaign originally aimed at pressuring governments to enact or amend legislation to address this issue more effectively and allocate more resources towards enforcement of laws. This has proven to be difficult. Now, in addition to the original strategy, Guy wants to make it more difficult and costly for perpetrators to sexually abuse children. Redlight Children has partnered with LexisNexis to create both an international case law database for trafficking, and a trafficking offenders database to assist lawmakers and prosecutors.

According to

Every single day children are kidnapped or stolen and forced into the global, multi-billion dollar sex industry. Interpol estimates that this trafficking of children and young women is the third largest international criminal activity.

Its scope is shocking. According to UNICEF, over two million children are involved -- from kids around the world who are kidnapped from their families to children victimized on the internet via community sites and chatrooms.

To effectively counter the violent mobs who control child exploitation around the world, Guy turned to his artistic past and decided to incorporate film with law and finance. He began Priority Films. He understood that to solve a problem, he had to first bring people to the realization that such a problem existed. He chose to do this through film, using the law and financial pressure to provide a cutting-edge solution. His film company is a cutting edge 'micro studio' with a focus on low budget, high quality, commercial films. He has created a strong grassroots approach to film, producing the K11 Project, the most comprehensive film project about child trafficking and child prostitution to date.

At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves: are our world's children safe?

Human trafficking is a brutal and horrific reality. I hope you will support efforts in the fight against this global epidemic. Proceeds from this important event will benefit RedLight Children and Restore NYC, two not for profit organizations both working tirelessly to end slavery and child exploitation.

For further issues, facts and the rule of law, see LexisNexis website.
To by the DVD, go to Priority Films website.

British paedo running kids charity in Cambodia

EXCLUSIVE by Andrew Drummond in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Justin Penrose


They are known as the ­rubbish dump kids… ­starving children who ­scavenge for scraps of food on a toxic mountain of waste.

He is a former hairdresser who runs a “charity” in Cambodia inviting you to send him money to save them.

David Fletcher, 65, appears to be the Good Samaritan, feeding hundreds of children who affectionately know him as “Papa”.

But Fletcher hides a dark secret – he was jailed in Britain for the ­statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl and videoing the horrific crime.

He now uses the guise of his unregistered charity in ­Cambodia – where he fled to six years ago – to spend every day with little girls, some as young as eight. The pervert raises money from tourists who believe they are providing food and shelter for the hundreds of poor and ­hungry children.

But a Sunday Mirror investigation can reveal how Fletcher has become ­worryingly close to a number of young girls – and spoke to our investigators of an eight-year-old he calls his “favourite little girl”.

Fletcher has even bought himself a 17-year-old Cambodian bride for £150 who he met on the dump – sold by her own mother to pay off debts. Genuine charities are so concerned they attempted to outbid him to keep the girl out of his clutches.

The Sunday Mirror joined Fletcher for one of his tours to the rancid rubbish tip on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh.

We met him at the Flora Bar where he had his hand inside the bra of a young ­Cambodian hostess and was ­happy to tell us: “She’s ­shaven, you know. That’s how I like them. No pubic hair. I prefer Cambodian girls. I tried ­Thailand first… went there for years, but here it’s much better. They’re more needy. You just have to be a little careful. I know I am being watched.”

He added: “My two grown-up sons have disowned me. They did not like the fact that my girlfriends were younger than theirs. Who cares? It’s their loss.”

Fletcher was convicted at Norwich Crown Court in July 1997 of the ­statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl who he had plied with champagne and offered £250 for sex.

He also admitted possessing offensive weapons. He was jailed for 18 months. At the time he ran a series of ­hair-dressing salons in Cambridge and Saffron Walden. When he was released from jail, he fled Britain.

When asked about his conviction he was unapologetic, saying: “Oh yes. She was just my girlfriend. They caught me. I just did it ahead of her 16th ­birthday. People will stoop very low to say bad things about me.”

Fletcher runs the Rubbish Dump Project and has a website which tells the moving story of Phnom Penh’s ­garbage dump kids. He invites readers to send donations to his private bank account and claims every penny is spent on the children.

The Sunday Mirror signed up for a tour of the dump and handed over US$50, the amount Fletcher says will feed 150 children.

When we got to the garbage mountain at Stung Meanchey on the outskirts of the capital he took a cream bun and some fruit to “my favourite little girl”.

With his tuk-tuk driver he dished out fruit to more than 100 desperate children amid the stench. The slum families try to survive on what they can scavenge, so flock to him when he has food.

The pervert preys on their desperation, building up the ­children’s trust – ­including his 17-year-old bride-to-be Yang Dany, who he met at the tip.

We accompanied him to Yang Dany’s home with a special bag of goodies for her mum.

President meets new Iraqi, Cambodian ambassadors

via Khmer NZ News Media

June 19, 2010

Vietnam is making the final preparations before opening its embassy in Baghdad as the country wishes to boost bilateral ties with Iraq, especially in economics and trade, said President Nguyen Minh Triet.

The Vietnamese President stated this when receiving the new Iraqi Ambassador to Vietnam, Faris A. Zarawi Al Ani, in Hanoi on June 18.

President Triet congratulated Iraq on its elections results last March and said he hoped that Iraq would quickly set up its new government.

When discussing the situation in Iraq, President Triet said he believed that with their traditional strong will and unity they will overcome their current difficulties and the country will soon prosper.

The same day, the President met with the new Cambodian Ambassador, Hul Phany, saying he was delighted to see the friendship between both countries growing and praised the increase in joint initiatives and expanding economic ties.

He underlined the great importance that Vietnam pays to strengthening and boosting its ties and friendship with Cambodia.

Both new ambassadors said they were delighted and honoured to be able to work in Vietnam and pledged that they will spare no effort in enhancing and expanding their countries’ friendship and co-operation with Vietnam.(VNA)

Doctor Gives Tips To Avoid Food-Borne Illnesses

Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer | Washington, DC
Friday, 18 June 2010

via Khmer NZ News Media

Photo: AP
A Cambodian street vendor, left, sells evening foods in Anlong Veng.

"Wash cutting boards frequently, use a clean plate or utensil for cooked meats, keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods."

True food poisoning occurs when a person ingests a contaminating chemical or natural toxin, but most cases of food-borne illness are caused by a variety of food-borne pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that contaminate food, a US doctor said Thursday.

The contamination usually arises from improper handling, preparation, or food storage, Taing Tek Hong, a Florida-based physician, told “Hello VOA” Thursday.

Bacteria can cause food poisoning in two different ways. Some infect the intestines and other bacteria produce chemicals in foods known as toxins. He said bacteria such as staphylococcus produce a toxin in foods, while salmonellae causes food poisoning.

Campylobacter is the most commonly identified food-borne bacterial infection in the world. Campylobacter is transmitted by raw poultry, raw milk and water contaminated by animal feces.

Shigella is transmitted in water polluted with human wastes, Taing Tek Hong said. E. coli is transmitted by eating undercooked hamburger, unpasteurized milk or juices, or contaminated well water.

Giardia is a mild illness with watery diarrhea often lasting one to two weeks. It is transmitted by drinking contaminated water from lakes or streams. The infection can be spread from person to person by food or other items contaminated with feces from an infected person.

Symptoms of food poisoning typically begin several hours after ingestion and can include nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache, or fatigue, the doctor said. However, food-borne illness can result in permanent health problems or death, especially in babies, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and sick people.

Other causes of food illness can include the use of pesticides by fruit vendors, which can cause mild to severe illness with weakness, blurred vision, headache, cramps and diarrhea.

Most food poisoning can be prevented, the doctor said.

“To avoid food poisoning you need to follow the general safe food-handling tips such as washing hands before, during and after preparation and serving food,” he said. “Wash cutting boards frequently, use a clean plate or utensil for cooked meats, keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods. Do not re-use items that held raw meat. Cool foods rapidly after preparation. Cook food thoroughly to kill bacteria.”

‘Sight Lines’ Displays Two Different Artistic Visions

Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer | Washington, DC
Friday, 18 June 2010

via Khmer NZ News Media

Photo: Courtesy of Noel - Baza Fine Art
The black and white ink drawings are done on rice paper, a reference to the primary food source in Cambodia.

“I draw portraits of today’s Cambodian girls torn between tradition and modernity, of what their hearts desire against what society demands of them.”

The Nobel-Baza Fine Art Gallery in San Diego is hosting this month two Cambodian artists. The gallery represents international artists who are making an impact on the contemporary art scene.

The show is called “Sight Lines,” and it runs from June 3 to July 3.

Pierrette Van Cleve, the founder and president of the Art Cellar Exchange, told VOA Khmer that ‘Sight Lines’ focuses on Linda Saphan, who was airlifted out of Cambodia as a small child, and Oeur Sokuntevy who grew up in Battambang and has lived in Cambodia her whole life.

The show explores the difference in vision between the two artists.

“Linda Saphan looks back into Cambodia at the women who were there, and sees herself in every woman she sees on the street, because she grew up in the West with all these advantages,” Van Cleve said. “Whereas Tevy sees herself looking forward into this new world and into new ideas of the new role of the women and the new role of the artist.”

Saphan was born in Phnom Penh in 1975 and lived in Canada and France. She traveled to Cambodia in 2006 and saw women aged similar to her still in traditional clothing, cleaning the streets, working in markets, working in shops.

She photographed them and then copied the photos in ballpoint pen. The women in the images have kramas on their faces. The works are called “Incognito.”

“I felt like these women wore incognito in their lives, just going to their lives working traditionally in small jobs and small shops without the education and opportunity that I had,” Saphan said.

Oeur Sokuntevy, meanwhile, studied painting at the Phare Ponleu Selapak in Battambang province and moved to Phnom Penh in 2007 to pursue art. She has had much interest in her work as one of the very few female contemporary artists currently showing in Cambodia.

“Sokuntevy’s work is also on homemade paper made from fiber and a very rough homemade paper,” Van Cleve said “And she painted in bright color in a folk art tradition about things and stories happening in Cambodia and her life right now, a woman’s role in the family, a woman’s role in relationships, a woman’s role in the world and how they’re changing dramatically from the traditional role of women that took place not more than a few years ago.”

Oeur Sokuntevy said Cambodian women today face high pressure “to be at the same time modern among their friends and traditional for their relatives.”

“My artwork presents myself as an artist who is not distanced from contemporary society,” she said. “I draw portraits of today’s Cambodian girls torn between tradition and modernity, of what their hearts desire against what society demands of them.”

Van Cleve said collectors and curators have come to the show and are fascinated by the comparisons of the two women—who are nearly the same age but have very different experiences.

“I have spent hours explaining how Cambodia is now moving forward very quickly into the 21st Century, and it is growing and is embracing contemporary changing modern thing at a tremendous way,” Van Cleve said.

“Most of the people are extremely interested in both,” she added. “We have sold pieces from both Tevy’s work and Linda’s work to two different kinds of people. People either react to Tevy’s color and her subject matter or they react to the quiet refinement of Linda’s work.”

In February 2011, “Sight Lines” will be part of a large collaboration with the US Embassy, the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington—which is currently hosting a display of ancient bronze work from Cambodia’s National Museum.

“At that time, we are going to have a huge season of Cambodia and will present a dance festival, an art festival, a photography festival, a film festival, in conjunction all of Cambodian arts and films,” Van Cleve said. “I have decided to spend a good part portion every year in Cambodia promoting Cambodian artists and art works along with Dana Langois of Java Art Gallery.”

Artwork for “Sight Lines” can be found at or

Sokuntevy’s most recent solo exhibitions include ‘I Curl In Memory’s Belly’ at Java Gallery in 2010, ‘Family Ties’ at Java Gallery in 2009, and ‘Star Signs’ at Hotel De La Paix (Cambodia) in 2008.

This year Sokuntevy has been selected as the artist-in-residence for March at the New Zero Art Space (Mayanmar). In October, she will have a solo exhibition at the French Cultural Centre in Phnom Penh.

Fined Opposition Lawmaker Leaves for US

Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Friday, 18 June 2010

via Khmer NZ News Media

Photo: AP
Mu Sochua, a Cambodian opposition party lawmaker, looks on in front of the Phnom Penh Municipality Court in Phnom Penh.

“It is to show the pain of Khmer children.”

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who is facing court action in a suit brought by the prime minister, left for the US on Friday, claiming she wants to screen a film on human trafficking and deliver a petition to the US president.

A government spokesman said she was more likely fleeing court-mandated fines after being found guilty of defamation.

Mu Sochua, who lost an appeal at the Supreme Court earlier this month in a defamation suit brought by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has said she will not pay $4,500 in fines and compensation.

Her court battle with Hun Sen comes at a time when Cambodia’s courts are facing mounting pressure to reform. Earlier this week, the UN envoy for human rights, Surya Subedi, said he did not have faith in the courts’ ability to provide justice to Cambodians.

Subedi referred specifically to the case of Mu Sochua, who was sued by Hun Sen last year after she brought a suit against him alleging he had defamed her with sexist and degrading statements in a series of public speeches.

Prior to her departure, Mu Sochua, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, distributed a petition through the Internet censuring the Supreme Court’s June 2 decision, which upheld defamation charges against her.

“She will submit the petition to US President Barack Obama,” Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ho Vann said Friday.

Mu Sochua, who is a former minister of women’s affairs, plans to stay through June 25, to submit her petition to the administration and to take part in the screening of a documentary on human trafficking that she helped produce.

The film, “Red Light,” travels to Cambodia’s brothels and victim centers to underscore the need to eliminate trafficking.

“It is to show the pain of Khmer children,” Mu Sochua told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport prior to her departure Friday.

Human trafficking is a product of “inaction of the government and of poverty,” she said. “So this is to inform the government about the pain and about its responsibility in finding the criminals.”

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Mu Sochua’s film would not have an effect on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, which he said are already underway. The US took Cambodia off a “watch list” of countries not doing enough to fight trafficking earlier this month.

Mu Sochua’s departure also came as court officials moved to collect the fines from her.

Chiv Keng, head judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said Mu Sochua would be “forced to pay.”

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Mu Sochua was likely fleeing potential arrest by the courts. “To meet Obama is not easy,” he said.

Companies Sign Up To Protect Human Rights

Ros Sothea, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Friday, 18 June 2010

via KHhmer NZ News Media

Photo: AP
Cambodian garment factory workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

“There are consistent human rights abuses perpetrated by some business people because, firstly, they want to make more profit to enlarge their business and, secondly, because of a biased court and corruption in society, which forces them into taking part in the violation of human rights.”

At least 25 businesses last week signed an agreement of principle to ensure that their companies don’t violate the rights of workers or the public.

The agreement was signed during the first-ever meeting between the private sector, civil society, diplomats and government officials that was aimed at promoting human rights in business.

The agreement contained principles prepared by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and urges signatories to promote rights and an adequate standard of living for workers and to eliminate discrimination. It encourages employees to form and join unions and exercise rights of collective bargaining.

Ou Virak, president of the Center for Human Rights, said abuses occur across Cambodia’s industries, from commercial enterprises to real estate, construction, garments and tourism.

Companies withhold salaries, force long hours or illegally fire workers, he said. In some cases, companies use state security forces to push people from land to be used by their businesses.

“There are consistent human rights abuses perpetrated by some business people because, firstly, they want to make more profit to enlarge their business and, secondly, because of a biased court and corruption in society, which forces them into taking part in the violation of human rights,” he said.

Companies willing to sign the rights agreement included business associations, construction and transportation companies, tourism agencies and private schools.

“If our staff is happy to work for us, they will take good care of their responsibilities, so it benefits both sides,” said Quach Mengly, president of the American Intercon Institution, who was among the signatories. “If we respect their rights, it will motivate them to provide a good service, but if we don’t, we won’t get any result.”

Some companies said they were considering the measure, while others said they did not need to sign an agreement in order to respect the rights of workers.

In Channy, president of Acleda Bank, said he didn’t sign the agreement because his bank has maintained principles of human rights for many years. However, he said he did support the initiative.

Absent from last week’s signing were representatives from major garment factories or real estate companies—those who typically face protests from workers or residents.

In principle, Cambodia’s labor law incorporates principles of human rights, including eight-hour workdays, proper salary, a healthy working environment and respect for contracts.

In reality, rights groups have documented work environments that stifle worker rights to assembly and land rights for residents facing evictions under developments.

“The government must act as an arbitrator,” said Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc. “But the arbitrators in our society usually stand by the companies in order to receive some benefits. As a result, companies don’t care much about worker salaries and working conditions, like in other countries. Other countries will punish those companies, or shut those companies down, but that never happens in our country.”

Britain Ambassador Andrew Mace, who attended last week’s signing, said it was timely to discuss human rights and business as beneficial to all.

“A democratic society in which the rights of the community and individual are respected helps to grow markets,” he said. “The stability of the rights respected creates in businesses confidence to invest. The free exchange of ideas in society creates intellectual capital on which businesses can draw to innovate and improve their competitiveness. Lack of respect for rights, on the other hand, creates conflict that can seriously impact the profitability and sustainability of the businesses.”

Mace said to promote human rights, the country needs to eliminate corruption in state institutions and increase confidence in the courts.

Government officials, meanwhile, say they are working to improve human rights.

Por Pheak, director of the Ministry of Interior’s international relations department, said the ministry has a good governance project that began in 2009 and will run through 2013 in an attempt to strengthen transparency and reduce corruption in the private sector.

Hun Sen Statue Removed After Dust-Up

Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Friday, 18 June 2010

via Khmer NZ News Media

Photo: AP
Prime Minister Hun Sen making a speech in Phnom Penh.

“I would like make a public apology and would like Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen to pardon me favorably.”

A senior government adviser removed a statue of Prime Minister Hun Sen from the Anti-Corruption Institute Friday following strong criticism by the premier’s cabinet chief.

The cabinet chief, Ho Sithy, told VOA Khmer Friday the statue ran counter to Cambodian culture, where general practice is to honor the dead, not the living, with statuary.

The adviser, Om Yentieng, who is also head of the nascent Anti-Corruption Unit, said in a statement Friday he had the statue erected “without prior permission and by my own decision.”

“I completely removed a statue of the prime minister, Hun Sen, from display at the Anti-Corruption Institute,” Om Yentieng said. “I would like make a public apology and would like Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen to pardon me favorably.”

Meach Pon, an adviser for Khmer traditions at the Buddhism Institute said that typically statues are erected for Cambodian heroes, like Lady Penh, the woman of legend from whom the capital draws its name, and others.

Ho Sithy said Friday he wanted “all state institutions and the public to stop displaying or selling statues of top Cambodian leaders from now on.”

Combing Cambodia for Missing Friends

Tim Page, a photographer, during the latest of many fruitless trips to find the remains of his friend Sean Flynn, who disappeared during the Vietnam War.



Terry Khoo, courtesy of Perry Deane Young
Dana Stone and Sean Flynn, riding motorcycles into Communist-held territory in Cambodia on April 6, 1970

“LET’S rock ’n’ roll,” said Tim Page, once one of the wild and daring young photographers of the Vietnam War, strapping himself into the front seat of a four-wheel-drive van.

“Like Flynn and Stone, three intrepid journalists left Phnom Penh on a hot morning headed for Kampong Cham,” he said, narrating his departure recently with two colleagues.

He settled back for the long ride, past the town of Skun, known for its fried spiders, past hypnotic rows of rubber trees, out to this dusty village near the Mekong River where he believed the bones of two missing war photographers, Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, were buried.

It was not an unusual journey for Mr. Page. Now 66, he has been on this hunt for years, determined to find answers and to come to terms with the war that has dominated his life.

Forty years ago, Mr. Flynn and Mr. Stone headed down an empty road with their cameras in search of Khmer Rouge guerrillas. They were never heard from again.

Their disappearance has become one of the enduring mysteries of the war, two young journalists — like movie adventurers — riding their motorbikes into no man’s land and losing a bet against fate.

Mr. Flynn, the dashing and glamorous son of the movie star Errol Flynn, had in fact briefly been an actor, and he brought an aura with him to Vietnam that gave his disappearance at the age of 28 a mythic quality.

“Sean Flynn could look more incredibly beautiful than even his father, Errol, had 30 years before as Captain Blood,” wrote Michael Herr in his classic book about the war, “Dispatches.”

“But sometimes he looked more like Artaud coming out of some heavy heart-of-darkness trip, overloaded on the information, the input!”

Mr. Page had shared some of those journeys into darkness, and his visit to Pkhar Doung was the latest of many searches in what he called “a 25-year madness” in pursuit of the bones of the man he calls his brother.

Weeks earlier two bounty hunters made a false claim to have found them, reviving interest in the disappearance and spurring American investigators to step up the search for the missing journalists.

Mr. Page said, “I don’t like the idea of his spirit out there tormented,” a wandering ghost that could find rest, as many in Asia believe, only after proper funeral rites. “There’s something spooky about being M.I.A.”

Mr. Page is also seeking a measure of peace for his own soul, scarred like his body from the traumas of combat, from nearly fatal wounds and from the loss of friends, trying to put together what he calls “an enormous jigsaw puzzle, bits of sky, bits of earth.”

“I don’t think anybody who goes through anything like war ever comes out intact,” he said. “I suppose the closure of Sean’s fate also has to do with closure of the whole war experience.”

Theirs was an intimacy forged by shared danger and by what Mr. Page calls the magnetic pull of two only sons searching for a bond.

“We could have been brothers, and felt as though we were,” Mr. Page wrote in a memoir, “Derailed in Uncle Ho’s Victory Garden.” “We would sit for hours in the same room, hardly speaking yet in total communication, a vibration as intimate as between lovers.”

FOR Mr. Page a lonely intimacy has continued, and he hears what seems to be the voice of his friend from time to time, the voice of a tormented spirit.

“We have conversations in strange moments, and often enough to remind me of the presence of his spirit,” Mr. Page said on his recent drive to Pkhar Doung. “It’s there but not there, and you’re aware that there’s something somehow lurking, just out of reach.”

As he drives past the rubber trees, whose rapid regular repeated rows create the illusion of some ghostly shifting world in the distance, he said, he often hears his friend’s voice: “What are you doing, man? What are you doing, boy? What are you doing, mate?”

Mr. Flynn’s lost bones and wandering soul are not alone in Cambodia, where as much as a quarter of the population died in the late 1970s during the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge. Many of their remains, like those of Mr. Flynn, are still unidentified in killing fields around the country.

Cambodia was a particularly dangerous place for foreign journalists during five years of war before the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975. At least 37 died or disappeared, including 15, along with Mr. Flynn and Mr. Stone, in a six-week period in 1970.

After pursuing various theories and false trails, Mr. Page said he now believed that Mr. Flynn survived for a year after his disappearance and might have been killed by lethal injection at a field hospital here. On a visit last year, Mr. Page recovered some medical vials and turned them over for analysis to the American military office in Hawaii that seeks to recover the remains of missing soldiers.

This new visit to Pkhar Doung did little to solve the mystery. Since the bounty hunters ravaged the site with a backhoe, the American military office, known by its acronym, JPAC, has sealed it off. Mr. Page was turned away by the local police.

In the future, he said, he planned to talk with nearby villagers who might have some memory of captive foreigners long ago and what became of them.

Even if he never does succeed, Mr. Page said his search had helped him honor both Mr. Flynn and other journalists who had died or disappeared in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

HIS pursuit has inspired a documentary, a new memorial to dead and missing journalists in Phnom Penh, journalism courses for local reporters and most significantly a book titled “Requiem,” which includes the work of 135 photographers from all sides who died covering Indochina’s decades of war.

Mr. Page, who grew up in Britain, taught himself photography and covered the war as a freelancer from 1965 to 1969, sending pictures to major American and French publications, including Time and Life, Look and Paris Match.

He became known for his vivid combat pictures and also for the risks he took and the wounds he survived. At the time Mr. Flynn disappeared, Mr. Page had suffered his most severe injuries, from a mine explosion that sent shrapnel into his brain and body.

He was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital, he said, but surgeons revived him for a long and painful recovery. The thin borderline between life and death still seems to draw him.

“At the end of the day, the mysticism of it — living, not living — becomes a mystery,” he said, “and I don’t think we are ever privileged except on death’s doorstep to actually understand it.”

He hovers close, though, pouring his energies into his search for the unmarked grave of his friend, then sometimes finding comfort in the quiet of a cemetery.

“It’s always peaceful in a cemetery,” he said. “Everyone there has found rest. All the tribulations of life are over, and you return to the peace of nothingness.”