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.
TheExtraordinary 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 beendeemed 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.
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Declaration of Human Rights poster in English. November 1949. Credit: UN Photo
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights works to improve the human rights situation for all people in Cambodia. This is incredibly important work which can genuinely make a difference to the people of Cambodia. However, CCHR recognizes that not everyone knows what human rights are, or how their lives would change if all human rights were available to them.
The idea behind “human rights” is that there are certain activities which every individual, everywhere should be able to exercise or experience in their lives. Everyone has the right to life, and to live their lives freely and securely. It is built on the notion that human rights are universal, indivisible, and inalienable. “Universal” means that these rights apply to everyone, whether you’re male, female or transgender, no matter which country you or your family comes from, irrespective of which religion or political party you follow, and so on. “Indivisible” means that all of the rights are so connected that they cannot be experienced in full without all the other rights being fully realized as well. “Inalienable” means that human rights cannot be given away, they are an implicit part of being human.
On the 24th of June representatives from CCHR attended the press conference held by Professor Surya P. Subedi, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, at the end of his most recent visit to Cambodia. As a United Nations Special Rapporteur, his role is to visit Cambodia twice a year to investigate the current human rights situation, and then report back to the UN Human Rights Council on his findings. Even though he is described as the “United Nations” Special Rapporteur, Professor Subedi is not employed by the UN, the idea being that he is able to offer an independent assessment and perspective as a result of his visits.
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia’s press conference
The press conference was an initial summary of the result of his visit (full statement here in English and Khmer) and Professor Subedi will present a formal report to the UN in September. This was his 11th visit to the country in this role, so he was able to talk broadly about the human rights situation in Cambodia. Some of it was positive, but for the most part he was very concerned with what he found. Professor Subedi covered a broad range of human rights issues, from land and labor rights to access to democratic spaces, to reform of the judiciary, constitution, electoral and parliamentary frameworks, and other governance institutions.
Today – 20 June 2014 – is World Refugee Day. Around the world, people are raising awareness about the plight of millions of people who have been displaced by war, persecution, abuse, and fear. Yet, despite international law which requires countries to protect refugees and asylum seekers, the international community continues to fail to protect the human rights of these people. Here in Cambodia, an unwelcome agreement with Australia is threatening to erode international law and to affect the fundamental rights of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers.
February 2014: The Australian press reveals negotiations between the Australian and Cambodian governments. A Memorandum of Understanding has been drafted, under which hundreds of people who had initially sought asylum in Australia may be sent to Cambodia. Details of the agreement have been kept secret, but the media mentions that it could affect up to 2,500 people. The Cambodian government repeats that the people concerned by the agreement will be coming to Cambodia on a volunteer basis. Still, can such a choice be freely made, as Australia has made it clear that those people will never be admitted on its soil?
The refugees and asylum seekers in question are those whom Australia shuts far away from its borders, in Nauru and on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, which according to Amnesty International, amounts to arbitrary detention and illegal expulsion of asylum seekers. In Manus, poor living conditions led to violent protests, one death, and about sixty persons injured in February. Australia is certainly ill-at-ease with these shameful events. Sadly, it has decided to replace one illegal option with another.
Since the beginning of June, Cambodian migrant workers have been fleeing from Thailand back to Cambodia, through the border crossing at Poipet, due to fears of an alleged crackdown by the Thai military junta on undocumented migrant workers. Since the mass exodus began, an estimated 122,000 Cambodians have already returned to Cambodia.
Information and details remain unclear. Although the Thai junta announced earlier this week that arrests of illegal workers in the country and deportations would occur, they vehemently deny claims of violence and a mass crackdown against these workers, stating that the panicked flights are being propelled by unsubstantiated rumors and hearsay. Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Sek Wannamethee claimed on Friday that the mass departures are in fact voluntary, and that many are returning to Cambodia to assist with rice farming at home. In addition, most returnees who were interviewed at the border have not actually witnessed violence or a forced eviction themselves.
The Sithi Blog is a new project of the Sithi Portal, an award-winning web portal which collates information related to human rights in Cambodia. The Sithi Portal is maintained by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), a leading non-aligned, independent, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect democracy and respect for human rights – primarily civil and political rights – in Cambodia.
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