Women in Politics in Southeast Asia: Same same but different?

This post is written by Eng Sokha, Project Assistant at CCHR, and Juliette Rousselot, Consultant at CCHR.

Earlier this week, we had the honor of representing CCHR at a conference – “Women in Political Leadership in Southeast Asia 2014: Experiences, Challenges and Strategies” – held in Indonesia by CCHR’s partner organization, Kemitraan, where we discussed the state of women’s political leadership in Southeast Asia in 2014. The focus was on the experiences of women in politics, the challenges to increase that representation and the strategies we can use to increase that representation. We were accompanied by Ms. Sonket Sereyleak, Education and Gender Coordinator at COMFREL, and Ms. Keth Mardy, the Director of Legal Protection Department of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs of Cambodia, who both spoke on panels during the conference on the issue of increasing women’s political representation in Cambodia.

Participants from Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Timor Leste

Participants from Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Timor Leste

For the past 2 years, CCHR has been working as a part of a regional program – which includes other organizations from Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor Leste, and the Philippines – to increase women’s representation in politics throughout Southeast Asia. With just women constituting just 20% of Cambodia’s National Assembly, we are still far away from achieving true gender equity in politics.

However, the problem is not unique to Cambodia but present throughout all of Southeast Asia, where women seeking to participate in the political life of the nation – a right guaranteed under Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – are denied this right because of discriminatory laws and policies, cultural and traditional barriers, and socio-economic factors. In fact, Asia has one of the lowest average percentages of women’s representation in national parliaments of all the world’s regions, at just 18.4%.

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LGBT rights: making equality a reality

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) Cambodians are still far from enjoying the same rights as others and living a peaceful life – something that is highlighted in two different reports released this month. One is CCHR’s new Briefing Note –  Discrimination against LGBT people in the Cambodian legal framework released today, and the second is the Cambodia country report of the Being LGBT in Asia regional program of UNDP and USAID, which was launched at a press conference on August 7th.

Two LGBT Cambodians celebrate Gay Pride in 2010. (c) CCHR

Two LGBT Cambodians celebrate Gay Pride. (c) CCHR

The level of discrimination LGBT people face is still unbearably high and affects many aspects of their daily life. Surveys show that discrimination, rejection or violence happen in the family, in the community, at school, at the workplace and in the health sector, to name but a few of the problems regularly faced by LGBT Cambodians. It has major consequences on their ability to fully integrate in the society and on their mental health.

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What does electoral reform mean to youth?

On June 20th and 21st, CCHR hosted a workshop for youth to identify and discuss important issues related to electoral reform. The workshop introduced them to some key political analysts here in Cambodia and enabled them, in small groups, to discuss the issues that are most important to them: the voter list; the role of media during the elections, the National Election Committee (NEC), the rights and freedoms of voters during the elections, and election transparency.

A total of 42 youth participants, almost half of them women, attended the event, from different youth groups and institutions, including representatives from the Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association (CIYA), the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN), Politikoffee, Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network (CYWEN), the Harpswell Foundation, Change Maker, the Wildlife Project, the U.S. Ambassador’s Youth Council and the Research and Analysis Network. The discussions and outcomes of the workshop have been summarized in an Outcome Report, which you can read here, but some of the most important recommendations that youth have with regards to election reform have been highlighted in this video:

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First Verdict for Top Khmer Rouge Leaders Handed Down at the ECCC

This morning, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – better known at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – handed down its first verdict in Case 002, against two of the most senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge: Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. Both were convicted of crimes against humanity – including murder, political persecution and other inhumane acts – undertaken as part of a joint criminal enterprise (JCE) and sentenced to life in prison.

The guilty verdict is a welcome step forward in achieving justice for the victims and survivors of the Khmer Rouge. But with the first verdict against senior leaders* coming down over 35 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, there are concerns that justice will mean too little at this point in time, especially as many of the Khmer Rouge’s survivors have passed away in the meantime.

These concerns are compounded by the fact that this verdict is only for a small section of the charges brought forth in Case 002. Due to the scope represented by Case 002, the ECCC decided to split the case into a series of “mini-trials” – the verdict delivered today is for Case 002/01, which only looked at the forced movement of the population from Phnom Penh (Phase I) and later from other regions (Phase II), and at the execution of soldiers of the Khmer Republic at the Toul Po Chrey execution site, which took place at the very beginning of the Khmer Rouge period – leaving many issues to be tried during future “mini-trials.”

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The time for legislative transparency is now

With the recent passage of the three judicial reform laws without any civil society consultation, the issue of the lack of legislative transparency is an important one in Cambodia. As Cambodia’s two main political parties finalize a deal to end the year-long political deadlock and the opposition prepares to take its seats in the National Assembly, it is important to look at how legislative transparency can be increased in Cambodia, so that the new National Assembly passes any and all future laws in a transparent manner.

CCHR released a new Briefing Note today on the topic; you can read it in its entirety here, but we’ve also summarized some of the main points below.

What is legislative transparency?

The Transparency and Accountability Initiative defines “transparency” as when information is “presented in plain and readily comprehensible language and formats appropriate for different stakeholders” and “made available in sufficient time to permit analysis, evaluation and engagement by relevant stakeholders.”

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Acid Violence: A Problem That Isn’t Going Away

This blog post is written by Erin Bourgois, Project Manager for the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC), an organization that was established in order to address both the short and long term needs of acid burn survivors in Cambodia. Prior to working at CASC, Erin worked as a Programmes Manager with Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) aimed at preventing acid violence internationally and strengthening support to survivors through partner organizations in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Uganda.

On July 21, TM was attacked with acid while eating noodles with her husband in a crowded market in Poipet. The perpetrator escaped, and while identified, has not been apprehended by the police. TM suffered severe burns to 20% of her body and was rushed to a local hospital for treatment. This marks the second acid attack recorded by the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC) in 2014.

Acid attacks are one of the most horrific forms of violence leaving victims physically and emotionally scarred for life. Survivors need long-term treatment on multiple levels to help rehabilitate and heal. CASC was established in 2006 to help address the medical, psychosocial, and legal needs of acid burn survivors while working to prevent acid violence in Cambodia.

A blind acid burn survivor in her home in Cambodia.  Photo credit: Erin Bourgois

A blind acid burn survivor in her home in Cambodia. Photo credit: Erin Bourgois

Since its inception, CASC has been recording statistics of acid burn incidents in Cambodia. As with other countries where acid violence occurs, many cases go unreported for a variety of reasons. Victims fear retribution from their perpetrators if they report the attack. There is a general lack of confidence and trust in the police. Perceptions of corruption and impunity in the judiciary prevent victims from coming forward and filing cases. Survivors lack the resources to pay for their treatment and are unaware of services available to them.

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