Letter from Cambodia: The Human Cost of a Two-Dollar T-shirt
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary form of government. In the most recent national elections, held in 2008, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 90 of 123 National Assembly seats. Most observers assessed that the election process improved over previous elections but did not fully meet international standards. The CPP consolidated control of the three branches of government and other national institutions, with most power concentrated in the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
A weak judiciary that sometimes failed to provide due process or a fair trial procedure continued to be a leading human rights problem. The courts lacked human and financial resources and were subject to corruption and political influence. Their ineffectiveness in adjudicating land disputes that arose from the government’s granting of economic land concessions, including to ruling party officials, fueled sometimes-violent disputes in every province. The continued criminalization of defamation and disinformation and a broad interpretation of criminal incitement constrained freedom of expression.
Members of the security forces reportedly committed arbitrary killings. Prison guards and police abused detainees, often to extract confessions, and prison conditions were harsh. Human rights monitors reported arbitrary arrests and prolonged pretrial detention. The government at times interfered with freedom of assembly. Corruption remained pervasive, governmental human rights bodies reportedly were ineffective, and discrimination and trafficking in men, women, and children persisted. Domestic violence and child abuse occurred, and education of children was inadequate.
The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses, but impunity for corruption and other abuses persisted.
Cambodian ‘housewives’ have led a sustained campaign of nonviolent protest against forced evictions
Designer Diane von Fürstenberg will today present the Vital Voices leadership in public life award to Tep Vanny, a self-branded housewife who has become a guiding light in Cambodia’s battle against forced evictions. Carried out in the name of progress, forced evictions now rank as one of the world’s most serious human rights abuses. Amnesty International defines them as “when people are forced out of their homes and off their land against their will, with little notice or none at all, often with the threat or use of violence”. And in Cambodia, a country devastated by the pursuit of profit, it is housewives who have come out fighting against them.
In 2007, the Chinese-backed private development company Shukaku Inc was granted a 99-year lease to build on and around Boeung Kak lake in central Phnom Penh. The company went on to fill the lake with sand, destroying approximately 10,000 residents’ homes and submerging their lives with it. Even more homes are under threat. One community member told me the government was “trying to eradicate poverty by displacing the poor from the city where they can hide our poverty. This is what they mean by poverty eradication. They don’t care how we will survive, if we live or die. They ruin our homes, our incomes, we are left with absolutely nothing.”
Western feminists should not lose sight of the fact that in many countries around the world, women’s role as wife and mother remains central to their family and societal status. When homes are threatened with destruction, it is women who are disproportionately affected. While women are commonly framed as defenceless “soft targets” in forced evictions, Vanny and her fellow housewives complicate this assumption. Harnessing softness as a strategy rather than a hindrance, these women have committed themselves to a sustained campaign of nonviolent protest. Worried that involving men would only encourage violence, “turning men into goldfish clashing with each other”, they are using their positions as wives and mothers to co-opt riot police through their songs of suffering and to morally shame them when they are publicly beaten.
In contrast to British stereotypes of the inward-looking housewife, these women are committed and forward-thinking political activists. Their influence extends far beyond the homes they care for. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “The Whole World is Watching”, one of the women explained that with guidance from NGOs, the group’s members have become experts at building a spectacle courted by the international media. Exposing their bare breasts outside the Cambodian parliament, they aimed to demonstrate the vulnerability of being left only with their bodies. And donning birds’ nests complete with chicks on their heads, they came out in defence of their role as mother hens.
Not content with these national displays of resistance, the housewives took a lead role in submitting a complaint to the World Bank, insisting that it had breached its operational policies. The World Bank admitted that its land titling project had contributed to the harms suffered, and suspended its loans to Cambodia. The housewives of Boeung Kak are playing a critical leadership role in publicly contesting large-scale losses of homes that are being felt in communities sadly too numerous to name. In taking on this extra burden, housewives in Cambodia have become domestic goddesses battling global problems.
So what does this mean for British women? While forced evictions are rare in this country, the courage of the Boeung Kak women is not without precedent in the UK. We only need to think back to Greenham Common in the 1980s for an example of housewife activists who fought to protect their families against the feared instalment of nuclear weapons in southern England. Both sets of women, whether in Cambodia or Britain, show the power that housewives can wield, of illuminating injustices at the highest of political levels.
Vanny and the women of Boeung Kak may not have won the geopolitical battle against forced evictions in Cambodia, but they have shown that housewives should not be slated, but rewarded, for their inspirational dedication to domestic life.
Building Trust International, a non-profit organization offering design assistance to communities and individuals in need, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity and Karuna Cambodia announced the joint winners of the design competition that brings new life to housing design and delivery for low income families living in Cambodia. The winning projects include: ‘Wet + Dry House’ by Mary Ann Jackson, Ralph Green, Muhammad Kamil and Nick Shearman from Australian firm Visionary Design Development Pty Ltd., ‘Courtyard House’ by Jess Lumley & Alexander Koller from the UK, and ‘Open Embrace’ by Keith Greenwald and Lisa Ekle from USA. The Winning Student Design was by Sanaz Amin Deldar, Nastaran Hadidi, Ehsan Naderi and Simak Khaksar from Iran. More images and information after the break.
The design competition asked for designs of a $2000 house that can withstand flooding and offer a safe and secure home for low income families in Cambodia. Habitat for Humanity Cambodia have supported the competition from the start and now plan to deliver these homes in the coming months giving the families that they support a chance to choose a design that relates to their specific lifestyle needs. Hoping to provide poor Cambodians with a better standard of living, the winning projects will be built later this year.
The jury picked three designs that reflected the desire to have a large flexible space to meet changing family needs, a space to rear chickens and a design that allowed for a shop front on the ground floor. A wide range of submissions made use of sustainable materials and highlighted the need for Cambodia to look at the nature of the booming construction industry and to think about more environmentally friendly ways of meeting the housing demand. The short listed designs show both traditional and new techniques in reducing the carbon footprint of delivering new homes. There will be an exhibition in Phnom Penh in May showcasing the best designs and the winning projects.
Cite:Furuto , Alison. “Cambodian Future House Competition Winning Proposals” 30 Mar 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 02 Apr 2013. <http://www.archdaily.com/350682>
28 March 2013
More than 20 years after the end of Cambodia’s civil war, another battle is being waged on the country’s streets – over land.
Local human rights groups say the government has allocated around four million hectares to businesses for redevelopment, affecting 400,000 people – many of whom have been evicted.
In 2012, more than 200 people were arrested during protests over land.
The BBC’s Jonathan Head spoke to some of the people in the capital Phnom Penh fighting for their homes.
EMBATTLED independent radio station owner Mam Sonando will be released Saturday – just eight months after his arrest on insurrection charges – after the Appeal Court substantially reduced a 20-year sentence widely labeled as politically motivated.
At the prosecutor’s request, judges dropped the strongest charge against Sonando and replaced it with a lesser forestry-related crime. His sentence was reduced to five years, then suspended to eight months, Judge Khun Leang said at a Thursday morning verdict announcement.
Two other men who were convicted alongside Sonando – Chan Sovann and Touch Rin – and sentenced to three and five years, respectively, also saw their sentences reduced and will be released Saturday.
In October, the trio were sentenced for stoking a so-called secessionist movement in Kratie province – a claim used by the government to justify a violent mass eviction last May that saw a 14-year-old girl shot dead by police. Rights groups and legal monitors have noted that no credible evidence had ever been presented suggesting such a movement existed, let alone that Sonando masterminded it. Among the critics of the conviction were US President Barack Obama, who raised the case, by name, with Prime Minister Hun Sen during his visit last year.
Outside the Appeal Court gates yesterday, hundreds of Sonando’s supporters amassed, cheering as news of the verdict trickled out the courtroom.
A smiling Sonando flashed the victory sign at reporters as he was escorted to a police van.
“I won’t speak now as I’m not yet free, but come see me in Kien Svay,” he said, referring to his home that doubles as the headquarters of Beehive radio station.
Amnesty International, which labeled Sonando a prisoner of conscience, called the release a positive step “with caveats.”
“There are of course concerns. Mam Sonando should never have been in prison in the first place, the original charges – and indeed the new charges – again seem completely baseless,” said Cambodia researcher Rupert Abbott. “Lets hope this represents a shifting of what we’ve seen in Cambodia, where we’ve seen this assault on freedom of expression; lets hope we see that halt.”
Many hours of graphic design and marketing work went into 2012 TEDxPhnomPenh. Therefore, here are the open source files for other TEDx-ers out there. We ran a bi-lingual campaign though only the English versions are posted here. This work was all volunteer and on the fly – bouncing around between multiple folks. Consequently, there are certainly some unintended errors – regardless – hopefully these can help other TEDx groups trying to get off the ground. For complete graphic regulations please see the official website TEDx > Organizer Resources.
Title Linked to an InDesign (.INDD) or Illustrator (.PDF) – version Adobe CS5.
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December 13, 2012 – The government has issued a new circular (Khmer copy available here) ordering the closure of all Internet cafes within a 500 meter radius of schools and educational institutions – an order that, if implemented, would amount to a near-complete ban on such businesses in central Phnom Penh.
The circular, issued by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications on November 12, 2012, also provides for further restrictions not limited by this school buffer zone. All Internet cafes are also required to forbid playing “all kinds of games,” essentially equating such activity with viewing pornography or committing crimes.
“This heavy-handed effort to shut down affordable and accessible venues for using the Internet in Cambodia is not only legally unfounded, it is a transparent attempt to block part of the population’s access to independent sources of information through news sites and social media,” said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge.
The penalties for violating the circular appear to be forced closures, the confiscation of equipment, and arrest if a crime is committed. There is no legal foundation for instituting such penalties based on shop location or on playing computer games. Under article 1 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, a statutory instrument issued by the executive branch may only define petty offences punishable by a fine – not by arrest or confiscation of private property. And facilitating access to pornographic material and other criminal activities described in the circular are already covered under Cambodia’s Criminal Code and additional laws.
“This circular is as unnecessary as it is improper,” said Naly Pilorge. “The crimes it purports to address are already illegal. All that remains is the creation of unjustifiable obstacles to Internet access, with the burden to be borne by legimitate business owners and their customers.”
The circular also makes no mention of any judicial process related to closures and confiscations, in direct violation of the Cambodian Constitution’s protections for private property and multiple legal commitments to ensuring due process.
“The circular’s invocation of concerns about students and speculation about the harmful effects of their internet practices are outrageous, particularly in light of its limitation to Internet cafes,” said Naly Pilorge. “The Internet in and of itself is not criminal or disproportionately susceptible to abuse. Students can access an enormous amount of information online, some of which can be crucial to their studies, not to mention the necessity of computer proficiency for future employment prospects.”
The circular echoes similar restrictions in China and Vietnam – two countries notorious for their lack of Internet freedom. It also follows another controversial circular issued earlier this year which requires Internet cafes to film and collect detailed identifying information about their clients. LICADHO is concerned that these circulars are a preview of provisions that may be contained in the looming Anti-Cyber Crime Law, still in draft form, which the government continues to keep under wraps despite repeated demands for its release.
“In a country where traditional media such as TV and radio stations are for the most part into the hands of the ruling party, the ability to access independent and critical voices through the Internet is crucial,” said Naly Pilorge. “This vehicle to free information and speech should be protected, not attacked.”
For more information, please contact:
• Mr. Am Sam Ath, Technical Supervisor Tel: (+855) 012-327-770 [Khmer]
• Ms. Naly Pilorge, Director of LICADHO Tel: (+855) 012-803-650 [English, French]