In early September 2014, it was declared that the White Building, home to approximately 2,500 inhabitants, would be demolished as it is structurally unsound and a threat to its inhabitants. The building was created in 1963 by the then Prince Norodom Sihanouk to provide low-cost housing for Phnom Penh’s growing population, and was a symbol of social security. Today its residents are faced by substantial insecurities and potentially forced evictions.
The White Building was designed by architects Lu Ban Hap and Vladimir Bodiansky, and has a total of 468 apartments. It is considered a prime example of the New Khmer architectural movement, which was underpinned by the famous architect Vann Molyvann. Molyvann is well-known for many notable structures, including the Independence Monument, the Council of Ministers, and the State Palace.
Yesterday, CCHR released a Briefing Note that addresses the situation of Children in the Cambodian criminal justice system. Of the total of 2,258 monitored trials by CCHR’s Trial Monitoring Project between August 2009 and June 2012, 219 involved juveniles. Children require rights that offer them special care and protection, including when they are accused of infringing the law, as their needs differ to those of adults. They are therefore entitled to protections beyond those that adults are entitled to. However, the findings of the Briefing Note suggest that juvenile justice rights are largely ignored within Cambodia’s judicial system.
For example, judges can impose a criminal penalty on juveniles as young as 14, despite the age of criminal responsibility being 18 in Cambodia. Criminal penalties are imposed on up to 50% of children charged with a felony, and they are therefore given the same criminal responsibility as an adult, meaning that their rights as a child are disregarded.
Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements (the “Agreements”), which were signed 12 years after the Khmer Rouge regime had fallen, and in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. Through the establishment of the United Nation Transitional Authority in Cambodia (“UNTAC”) and the adoption of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (the “Constitution”), the Agreements sought to establish peace, “free and fair elections” and a liberal democratic system based on pluralism.
Despite major improvements in social legislation and political representation in Cambodia since 1991, 23 years later the Royal Government of Cambodia (the “RGC”) seems to have largely forgotten the spirit of the Agreements. Article 3 of the Agreements stipulated, “Cambodia undertakes to ensure respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
In January 2014 the press in Cambodia and Australia released a number of articles concerning the role of the ANZ Royal Bank in financing the activities of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company (“PPS”), which owns and operates a highly controversial sugar plantation and refinery in Kampong Speu Province, Cambodia. In February 2010, PPS began illegally seizing and bulldozing farm and residential land belonging to more than 1,500 families in the Thpong and Oral districts in the Kampong Spue province. An estimated 100 families in Pis and Plourch villages were forcibly evicted from their homes. As a result the families are faced with food insecurity, job insecurity and homelessness and many had to pull their children out from school to work for PPS as it was the only source of income available. The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. (“ANZ”) is a major controlling entity of ANZ Royal Bank and one of the signatories to the Equator Principles (“EPs”). Many consider that ANZ acted contrary to the guidelines contained in the EPs thereby facilitating the human rights abuses committed by PPS.
Put simply the EPs are a set of guidelines developed by major financial institutions (over 80 major financial institutions in 34 countries) in 2003 and revised in June 2013 (EP III) which aim to assist them in making better lending decisions in regards to the environment and society. The aim of the EPs is to put checks and balances in place so that financiers can refuse to finance projects, which could negatively impact human rights and the environment.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (the “ECCC”) – more commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – conjures a conflicted image of both justice and injustice. It has been plagued by allegations of political interference, a lack of sufficient funding and criticism regarding the length of the procedure. Many senior Khmer Rouge officials have also passed away or been deemed unfit to stand trial, and therefore evaded justice.
Today, 17 October 2014, marks the beginning of the second phase of the trial of two former senior Khmer Rouge officials, Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea Nuon Chea (88 years-old), more commonly known as Brother Number Two, and Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea Khieu Samphan (82 years-old). During the first phase of their trial they were convicted of crimes against humanity for their roles in the forced movement of people and the execution of Khmer Republic soldiers, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Last Friday, Cambodian Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and Australian Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison clinked champagne glasses upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding (the “MoU”) that confirmed the agreement to transfer refugees under Australia’s care to Cambodia. Naturally, there is reason to celebrate: Australia can offload its humanitarian duty and further entrench its policy of deterrence. Cambodia will pocket $35 million in aid over the next four years, money that will arguably end up in the hands of a corrupt few. As the pair congratulated themselves, the rights of refugees embodied in international law took yet another hit.
To refugees on Nauru, the deal doesn’t conjure sentiments of celebration. Over the weekend they were presented with a video message from Morrison outlining a stark decision: ‘voluntarily’ resettle in Cambodia, or remain on Nauru for a further five years. Either way, it was yet again confirmed that they would never resettle in Australia. For many of the refugees, their pasts have been marked by trauma, and this was the final straw. Five individuals, including four minors, have sown their lips closed in protest, and two others have attempted suicide. They will be passed from a dire situation in Australian detention, which has been deemed harmful by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”), to a dire situation in Cambodia.
Hang Chenda: “I dream of seeing a Cambodia that is governed by the rule of law. I want justice and real democracy, and environmental sustainability.”
Hang Chenda at a recent training workshop.
Hang Chenda has spent her life fighting for justice for those who have been unfairly evicted from their land and to end the environmental damage that accompanies it.
Chenda grew up in Ouorknha Heng commune, Prey Nub district, in Preah Sihanouk province. She lived with her father, an Officer at the Department of Public Works and Transportation, and her mother, a housewife, along with two brothers and four sisters. In 1980, she commenced her study in “Pum Kampenh”, a primary school in Preah Sihanouk province. However, given the family’s limited financial resources and her many siblings, Chenda ceased studying after fifth grade. Today, she has two children, and continues to reside in Preah Sihanouk province.