Category Archives: Article

Vann Molyvann: my legacy will disappear


Created on 25 January 2013
Written by Claire Knox
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The magnificent Olympic Stadium (originally called the National Sports Complex), designed by Molyvann in 1963. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s most revered living architect, sweeps a creased hand over rows and rows of glossy books lining his teak bookshelf. Historical books on the Angkorian Kingdom, on Swiss chalets, the Italian Renaissance, on France’s Le Corbusier, modern Japanese architecture of the 1960s, Cambodian artisans and ancient Greece – testament to the man’s vast and varied influences.

He stands poised and protective. In the face of the widespread destruction of much of Cambodia’s historically important architecture, Molyvann’s stance is the pose of a man who faces the fear of his work disappearing, to be replaced by shiny, towering structures of steel and glass.

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Chaktomuk Conference Hall on Sisowath Quay. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

Molyvann’s work during the ’50s and ’60s heyday of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk created some of the nation’s most iconic architecture: the National Sports Complex (now the Olympic Stadium), the Ministry of Finance, the White Building, the Institute for Foreign Languages, the Independence Monument and the fan-shaped Chaktomuk Conference Hall hugging the banks of the Tonle Bassac river to name but a few.

Along with the Olympic Stadium, Molyvann says the design of his house is his magnum opus.

Flanking the monolithic Tonle Bassac restaurant on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, the house, veiled by vines of purple Bougainvillea, is an example of New Khmer architecture at its best.

The roof is feat of engineering which required painstaking calculation by his engineer brother-in-law, Walter Amberg.

While its influence seems to lean towards the oriental, concave domes characteristic of Japanese pagodas, Molyvann says he was inspired rather by the traditional jungle huts of Brazil and rural Cambodian thatched roof huts, “for ventilation purposes”.

Molyvann, as a man of design, is methodical and precise by nature. When asked about his inspiration for the home, built in 1968 (more than 10 years since his return to Cambodia from university in France), he pores over its floor-plans and recites slabs of literature from his manifesto, Modern Khmer Cities.

“It is very important for me to stay in my country, in the house of my history. [The late King Father] Sihanouk and I are the same here – we’ve both come back for the finale, to be cremated.

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Vann Molyvann, 86, in his library. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

“This home is meaningful for me and my family. I was the most experimental I ever was, you see. Because I did not dare to impose crazy ideas on any of my government projects or for clients. It was a chance for me to play, but I was a little afraid,” he chuckles.

“I wanted to see if this roof would be possible, if you could live inside a very modern, complex structure in Cambodia while keeping traditional features – such as the ventilation in the roof, and the lighting. The roof is concrete – two layers where one man can actually walk through.”

Molyvann and his family lived in the cubic concrete and red brick home for four years before fleeing the Khmer Rouge, returning in 1992. The empty house watched the evacuation of the city in April 1975 and remained vacant until 1979, when it became a government office.

“It was important for my large family to have a large space to spend time together,” he says. On the second floor, bedrooms are labyrinthine, tucked around corners and slotting together like a puzzle.

With the Molyvanns too old to trek up and down the grand staircase, the two upper levels are now empty, save for a few wicker chairs.

His wife, Trudy, frail but articulate, interjects.

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The roof of the architect’s house is a marvel to itself. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

“It was occupied when we came back, and the furniture from that era was all gone. None of the windows were left, they were all smashed. When you went to the top of the house all you could see was debris… Our memories had been shattered,” the former UN worker says.

Molyvann’s daughter Delphine, one of six children, was only four when she fled the Kingdom with her mother and siblings. Lon Nol had banned all movement in and out of the country at the time, and while her father’s passport had been confiscated, he was allowed to travel to a conference in Israel (after being secretly warned by the Israeli ambassador about deteriorating security and the threat he was under as a government worker).

Although the Khmer Republic president was “holding [his family] hostage”, to ensure the architect came back, Trudy ordered Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff to extend her children’s passports, enabling them to flee, and herself escaped on a UN passport.

Molyvann was born in Kampot in 1926 to poor parents. He studied in Phnom Penh before being bestowed with a government grant to study in Paris in 1946. He had a go at law but found his true calling studying architecture at celebrated arts school L’ecole des Beaux Arts. He fervently absorbed the teachings of Swiss/French architect and urban planner Le Corbusier, as did young students Lu Ban Hap, Chhim Sun Fong, Seng Sutheng and Mam Sophana. When the intensely patriotic Sihanouk, after independence from the French in 1953, called on them to spearhead the design of new, remarkable civic structures, the group became what is now known as the New Khmer Movement.

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Vann Molyvann’s modernist home on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

Molyvann, the most qualified of the group, returned to the Kingdom in 1957 and was appointed chief architect of the Kingdom and director for urban planning and habitat. In 13 years, he was responsible for the creation of about 100 buildings.

When asked what it felt like to be accountable for the planning and design of a city at the age of 30, he shakes his head. Another smile spreads across his face.

“Of course it was an exciting, humbling experience for a young man – can you imagine?”

Molyvann’s eyes sparkle when he recounts his experiences with Sihanouk, whose funeral he will attend next week.

“Sihanouk and I were colleagues. I had great respect for him. I can tell you a story about the way that he gave orders, which was inspiring. One day, in the ’60s, he called me, a French-trained Khmer engineer, a physician and a few others. We had a meeting at the Royal Palace, and he said he had just come back from Indonesia … He said: ‘they have just built independence but they have plenty of universities, why do we not? This is the future!’ He said, you, Molyvann, you will create the Royal University of Phnom Penh. And I received a small Italian car, and went on a hunt for students and teachers, scholars, to create the council for the university.”

“I was having my petit dejeuner with my wife one morning in 1967 when he announced on the radio that I would become the Minister for Education.”

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The stairwell heralding the entrance to the Molyvann home. Photograph: Lliya Karim

“Of course there were [political] criticisms of him. Yes, he was probably not concerned with much outside Cambodia. If we look at it in modern terms, he wouldn’t have been a politician but a nationalist. Above all he was a patriot.”

Modern Khmer Cities (translated into Khmer and English) was born from Molyvann’s broad doctoral thesis on the development and planning of Asian cities he completed in France at the age of 82.

He says he wrote the thesis as a kind of cathartic plea to the current government, to prompt better foresight into the planning of Phnom Penh and the construction and destruction of historical buildings.

Molyvann’s ideas are to expand the city in a southerly direction towards Takmao.

“Phnom Penh has no planning! A southern extension will link greater Phnom Penh to other parts of Southeast Asia and industry. This is something we planned that was never realised because of the war. But the government refuses to listen.”

Molyvann shoots a frustrated glance. He says Sihanouk’s government had based the planning of Phnom Penh around the idea of a “garden city”.

“There would have been a mixture of density and enough space for ventilation, to breathe, for green space. That’s what Phnom Penh would have had. Now there is no space, because the government is trying to sell any land they have. Why should they bother to make a public space out of 2000 square metres when they can have money in their pocket?”

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Vann Molyvann’s house, with its rippling wooden roof and vast living space. Photograph: Karim Iliya

He built the linear, public housing blocks under the Bassac area project (which included the National Theatre Preah Suramarit), which contained the Grey and White buildings (although Lu Ban Hap is officially credited for the latter) – the first and only attempt by a Cambodian government at a housing ownership scheme for civil servants.

“I was very proud of this – each apartment was cross ventilated with cool, open space. But it’s the ideology behind it. It was very close to my heart – allowing those who rented the houses to then be owners after 15 years. The Cambodians are too poor for this to happen now.”

“The ones there now [in the White Building, now slums] will never leave unless they are well paid, which is great. It is theirs. I am passionate for their rights, for housing and land rights.”

As investment continues to flood into Phnom Penh, swathes of colonial buildings and the work of Molyvann and the New Khmer ensemble have been ripped down, communes evicted from their lands and soaring skyscrapers built in their place.

The Grey building is now the Phnom Penh Centre, barely recognisable as Molyvann’s work, rendered and renovated beyond recognition. The National Theatre and Council of Ministers have been razed, and the Olympic Stadium was sold to a Taiwanese company in 2000, who have left it in poor condition.

Molyvann thrusts open his book once more, this time reeling through the country’s property decrees and articles established after 1999. He chuckles to himself.

“These laws make me feel desperate for the Khmer people.”

When asked how he felt about his work being under such threat, he remains silent for a moment.

“I feel extremely sad … It’s a systeme totalitaire! There is no hope left for my buildings. I believe most of them will go. I cannot elaborate any more: I am sick of it. What will it do?”

The Molyvanns are seeking tenants for the first and second floors of their house. They will continue to live on the ground floor and say the rooms would be ideal as an exhibition or residential space.

Please contact


To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at

Follow Claire on twitter at: @claireknox18

City of Water – Article in Nakhara: Journal of Environmental Design and Planning

Shelby Elizabeth Doyle


The following is a summary of ongoing research conducted in 2011-2012, funded in part by the Fulbright Program and entitled City of Water: Architecture, Urbanism and the Floods of Phnom Penh. This work documents the relationships between water, architecture, and infrastructure in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The objective of the project is to record the architectural and urban conditions sustained by and subject to the cyclical floods of the city’s rivers and the challenges faced by Phnom Penh as it rapidly urbanizes in a flood plain.


Full Text: PDF 



Table of Contents


Thermal Comfort in the Traditional Rural Bangladesh House PDF
Rumana Rashid, Mohd. Hamdan Bin Ahmed, Sayem Khan
The Architecture of Batak Toba: An Expression of Living Harmoniously PDF
Himasari Hanan, Surjamanto Wonorahardjo
Anthropological View of Architecture: An Alternative Approach to the Study of Architecture and Built Environment PDF
Supakit Yimsrual
Ecological Architecture with Vernacular Character: Contemporary Mud Architecture Practices in Bangladesh PDF
Rumana Afroz, Mohammad Zakaria Ibne Razzaque
Significance of Implicit Socio-cultural Values in Housing Transformation PDF
Tareef Hayat Khan
Suburban Self-sufficient Living: An implementation of the Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy PDF
Sirimas Hengrasmee
Suan Nai Bangkok Suan Nok Bangchang: Emergence and Transformation of the Chao Phraya Delta’s Orchard Based Floating Markets, Thailand PDF
Luxana Summaniti, Wannasilpa Peerapun, Khaisri Paksukcharern
The Ghostless Garden City: Evaluating the Clean and Green Movement in Singapore PDF
Jun Yi Ong
Study on the Fire-Protection: Characteristics of Green Spaces in Central Sakai City PDF
Misato Kagioka, Yuji Hara, Kazuaki Tsuchiya
Embankment Settlement in Bangladesh: A Study of the Self-generated Pattern of Vernacular Architecture PDF
Masud Ur Rashid, Naimul Aziz
The Future Needs the Past: Problem and Challenges of Post-Cataclysm Heritage Management in Kotagede, Jogjakarta Special Province, Indonesia PDF
Widjaja Martokusumo
City of Water: Architecture, Urbanism and the Floods of Phnom Penh PDF
Shelby Elizabeth Doyle
What I have learned and what I would like to be transferred: Interview with His Excellency Vann Molyvann, Ph.D. PDF
Brian McGrath

ISSN: 1905-7210

Chinese Companies to Invest Billions on Cambodia Projects

Source: NY Times

By REUTERS Published: January 3, 2013

PHNOM PENH — Two Chinese companies have reached a deal to build a 400-kilometer rail line, a steel plant and a seaport in Cambodia, worth a combined $11.2 billion, in what would be by far the impoverished country’s biggest-ever investments.

Cambodia Iron & Steel Mining Industry Group has hired China Railway Group to build the 250-mile railroad to link a steel facility in Preah Vihear Province, in the northern part of the country, to a port on the southern commercial island of Koh Kong, Zhang Chuan Li, the Cambodia Iron & Steel chairman, said Wednesday.

The rail link and port are expected to cost $9.6 billion and the steel plant $1.6 billion.

The deal is the latest sign of China expanding its footprint in the frontier economies of a booming Southeast Asia as the United States vies for influence in the region.

Loans and investment have won China some useful political allies in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is set to become an integrated trade community by 2016.

All three projects in Cambodia will start this year and will take as long as four years to complete, Mr. Zhang said.

“There is an important demand for transport of mined materials for export to China and to the world,” he said.

Cambodia Iron & Steel is a Chinese company based in Phnom Penh and established in 2006.

The agreement was made Monday and came three days after Sinomach China Perfect Machinery Industry and Cambodian Petrochemical announced that they would jointly build a $2.3 billion oil refinery, Cambodia’s first, capable of processing five million metric tons of crude oil a year.

Chinese companies are also planning to build a separate $7 billion, 400-kilometer high-speed railroad through the neighboring country of Laos and are trying to win contracts to build new lines in Thailand.

Mr. Zhang did not provide details on where the billions of dollars for the Cambodian rail, steel and port projects would come from.

Mr. Zhang said that a groundbreaking ceremony for the railroad would take place by the end of this month and that construction of the steel plant in Preah Vihear Province would start in July.

A three-kilometer bridge will connect an island in the southern coastal province of Koh Kong with the mainland, and the project is expected to bolster the economies of the four provinces the link will pass through, the company said in a news release.

Peter Brimble, senior country economist at the Asian Development Bank, said he was surprised by the size of the rail project.

“It must be the largest-ever project in Cambodia,” said Mr. Brimble, who has been involved in the bank’s rehabilitation work on 650 kilometers of disused railroad lines in Cambodia. “Perhaps it’s easier to build a new one. Let’s wait and see.”

A version of this article appeared in print on January 4, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune.


Obama, in Cambodia, Sidesteps Ghosts of American Wartime Past

The author criticizes but fails to mention that even the White House Press Corps were kicked out of the meetings…? “Those, as it turned out, were the only words he uttered publicly to or about Cambodia during his two days here.”

Source: NY Times By  Published: November 20, 2012

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Four decades after American warplanes carpet-bombed this impoverished country, an American president came to visit for the first time. He came not to defend the past, nor to apologize for it. In fact, he made no public mention of it whatsoever.

Romeo Gacad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images President Obama boarded Air Force One in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Tuesday to fly to Washington after a summit meeting.

President Obama’s visit to a country deeply scarred by its involvement with the United States did nothing to purge the ghosts or even address them. Mr. Obama made clear he came only because Cambodia happened to be the site for a summit meeting of Asian leaders, but given the current government’s human rights record, he was intent on avoiding much interaction with the host.

“How are you?” Mr. Obama asked Prime Minister Hun Sen when he showed up, unsmiling, for a meeting made necessary by protocol. “Good to see you.”

Those, as it turned out, were the only words he uttered publicly to or about Cambodia during his two days here. In private, aides said, Mr. Obama pressed Mr. Hun Sen about repression. While they usually characterize even the most hostile meeting in diplomatic terms, in this case they were eager to call the meeting “tense.”

But the president’s public silence disappointed human rights organizations that had called for a more explicit challenge to Mr. Hun Sen’s record of crushing opposition. And it left to another day any public examination of the United States’ role in the events of the 1970s that culminated in the infamous “killing fields” that wiped out a generation of Cambodians.

Theary Seng, president of the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia, said, “President Obama should have met with the human rights community and activists challenging the Hun Sen regime, and while then and there, offer a public apology to the Cambodian people for the illegal U.S. bombings, which took the lives of half a million Cambodians and created the conditions for the Khmer Rouge genocide.”

Gary J. Bass, a scholar of war crimes at Princeton, said Mr. Obama passed up a chance to publicly exorcise a painful history. “It’s a missed opportunity for Obama,” he said. “Obama is right to evoke America’s better angels, but that’s more effective when you give the complete story.”

White House officials were sympathetic, but they said the focus of Mr. Obama’s stop in Phnom Penh was on the summit meeting, organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, not on a visit to Cambodia or the relationship between the two countries.

“It’s not a lack of appreciation; it’s the circumstances of the visit,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser. “President Obama’s always willing to confront the history we have in the nations we visit and believes it’s important to acknowledge the past so we can move beyond it. The fact is, this particular visit was structured to focus on the summits that the Cambodians were hosting.”

Some activists said that Mr. Obama’s visit would help Cambodia’s transition.

“The U.S. president’s visit to Cambodia is an important part of that process,” said Youk Chhang, a survivor of the genocide and executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a private research group. “Cambodians look to the United States more than any other country as a beacon for leadership on human rights and democracy issues as well as what can be achieved by a free and fair market system.”

Michael Abramowitz, who directs the genocide prevention center at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, recently visited Cambodia on a fact-finding mission on the Khmer Rouge trials.

He saw value in Mr. Obama’s visit. “Even though President Obama would likely not have visited Phnom Penh were it not for the Asean meeting, the presence of the first U.S. president on Cambodian soil has enormous symbolic importance,” he said.

Left undiscussed during the visit was the grim history between the United States and Cambodia. President Richard M. Nixon, trying to cut off North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam, ordered a secret bombing campaign that dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives on Cambodia from 1970 to 1973. The United States also backed a coup that ousted Norodom Sihanouk as head of state.

Many Cambodians responded by joining a Communist resistance, which led to the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, a bloodthirsty guerrilla group that went on to orchestrate a genocide that resulted in the deaths of 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979, when the group was pushed out of power by Vietnamese forces.

Even today, Cambodia is struggling with that history. A United Nations-Cambodian war crimes trial is trying the senior surviving leadership of the Khmer Rouge on charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

The United States has supported and helped finance the trials, although human rights groups complain that the Cambodian government has been tampering with the court.

Mr. Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has ruled Cambodia for decades with little tolerance for dissent. Opposition leaders have been jailed and killed, and his allies have been seizing land on a large scale, according to human rights groups.

That complicated the question of Mr. Obama’s trip. Past presidents have confronted American actions; President Bill Clinton made a trip to Vietnam in 2000 to reconcile years after the war, while George W. Bush, during a trip to Eastern Europe, expressed regret for the Yalta accords, which he viewed as allowing the Soviet Union to control the region for decades after the end of World War II.

But Mr. Obama was reluctant to engage in a discussion of America’s responsibility in Cambodia while the current government is so repressive. Such a discussion could serve to elevate rather than diminish Mr. Hun Sen, American officials said.

Mr. Obama refused to make joint statements with Mr. Hun Sen, as he normally does with leaders hosting him, on the assumption that any criticism of the government would be censored, but the pictures of the two leaders side by side would be used to validate the Cambodian leader.

Instead, Mr. Obama used almost their entire private meeting to press Mr. Hun Sen on human rights, aides said. He emphasized “the need for them to move towards elections that are fair and free, the need for an independent election commission associated with those elections, the need to allow for the release of political prisoners and for opposition parties to be able to operate,” Mr. Rhodes said.

Even if Mr. Obama did not address the past during this visit, Mr. Rhodes noted that the United States government has been supporting the genocide trials and efforts to dispose of unexploded mines and ordnance.

“We have done important work to help the Cambodian people move forward with their tragic past,” he said. “We want to continue that support.”

A version of this news analysis appeared in print on November 21, 2012, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Obama, in Cambodia, Sidesteps Ghosts of American Wartime Past.

Obama’s meeting with Cambodia’s PM described as tense

Source: Obama’s meeting with Cambodia’s PM described as tense

Tuesday, 20 November 2012
 David Boyle and Vong Sokheng


US President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen at the 4th ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh Monday, Nov.19, 2012. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post

As US President Barack Obama began the first public remarks ever made on Cambodian soil  by a sitting US head of state – during a trip in which he aimed to raise the issue of freedom of speech – the media, including his own following press corps, were swiftly escorted out.

An earlier bilateral meeting between Obama and Prime Minister Hun Sen had been characterised as “tense” by US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. As promised, Obama had raised the sticky issues with Hun Sen that Cambodian opposition parties, rights groups and US lawmakers had been urging him to discuss.

“In particular,” said Rhodes, “I would say the need for them to move toward elections that are fair and free, the need for an independent election commission associated with those elections, the need to allow for the release of political prisoners and for opposition parties to be able to operate.”

In the subsequent meeting, after Hun Sen delivered his opening remarks, Obama spoke for no more than 10 seconds before the last of the reporters had been herded out.

This practice has been standard fare during Cambodia’s most recent turn hosting ASEAN meets as chair of the 10-member bloc, but the fact that even Obama’s own press pool were shown the door appeared to come as something of a surprise to the Americans.

Sean McIntosh, spokesman for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, said afterward when asked who was responsible for kicking out the press: “If you want answers, speak to the organisers of ASEAN.

“You’ve got to talk to the [Cambodian] Ministry of Foreign Affairs; we had nothing to do with that. You’ve got to talk to the organisers of ASEAN, because our media wasn’t even allowed to hear the president speak,” he said.

At a briefing on the later ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Kao Kim Hourn said the press had only been allowed in for the premier’s opening perfunctory statement.

“And, of course, [the] Prime Minister did not finish his opening remarks yet when the press were asked to leave the room,” he said.

As for the reportedly tense tone of the pair’s bilateral meeting, he directed reporters to an earlier briefing specifically on that topic delivered by one of Hun Sen’s personal advisers, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sakhon.

Sakhon delivered his entire briefing in Khmer and refused to field a question from a Western reporter. He asked her if she had not heard what he had been talking about for the prior 30 minutes, then clarified that his English was “not good enough”.

Sakhon first summarised Obama’s comments during the bilateral talks, listing warm greetings the president had made to Hun Sen, condolences he had expressed over the death of King Father Norodom Sihanouk and his note that there was an “important step moving towards democratic reform in Cambodia, both economic and political reform”.

He then summed up Hun Sen’s side of the meeting. Sakhon said the prime minister had told Obama he was satisfied with the president’s frank speaking, but that there had been an exaggerated campaign to create the perception that the human-rights situation in Cambodia was even worse than in Myanmar.

Hun Sen also reiterated a request for forgiveness of most of the country’s debt to the US, which Reuters reports is more than $370 million. Cambodia last year offered to repay 30 per cent of the debt, calling this a compromise over money it says was used by a pro-American government in the 1970s to repress its own people.

“The premier stressed that there are no political prisoners in Cambodia, but politicians who had abused the law must stand trial,” Sakhon said.

Those remarks came after he recounted how Hun Sen had clarified that the radio station of outspoken government critic Mam Sonando, Beehive Radio, had not been shut down and that Sonando, an individual who had broken the law, was dealt with by the courts and still had a chance to appeal.

Sonando was sentenced to 20 years in jail for masterminding a so-called secessionist plot – charges that have widely been dismissed by foreign governments and rights groups as politically motivated nonsense.

Shortly before the ASEAN Summit, a dozen high-ranking US lawmakers sent Obama a highly provocative letter that accused Hun Sen of having connections to an illegal logging firm connected to that case and urged him to bring up that and other rights issues during his visit.

In May, a large security force stormed Pro Ma village in Kratie, the site of the alleged secessionist movement, and opened fire on villagers –  who have argued they were simply innocent victims of a land grab – with automatic weapons, killing a 14-year-old girl.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Boyle at ; Vong Sokheng at
With assistance from: Abby Seiff and Reuters

Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm


“…the decisions ahead come down to nature and numbers, to density, economics and geology. Our relationship to the water can’t stay the same, and at the same time the city is not worth saving if it sacrifices its principles and humanity.”


Patrick Ward/Corbis

A flood barrier on the Thames, one of the ideas American experts are looking at in the wake of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

Published: November 19, 2012

Not a month after Hurricane Sandy there’s a rough consensus about how to respond. America is already looking to places like London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tokyo, where sea walls, levees and wetlands, flood plains and floating city blocks have been conceived.

Tineke Dijkstra/Hollandse Hoogte

The Maeslant surge barrier between Rotterdam and the North Sea. Building similar projects to protect the New York region would test the limits of American democracy

West 8/Rogers Marvel/Diller Scofidio & Renfro/Quennell Rothschild/SMWM

A rendering of a proposed 40-acre park for Governors Island, with a shoreline promenade.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

An aerial view of the Thames flood barrier in London.

MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archives

Robert Moses, about 1938. He accumulated unbridled authority to build major projects.

New York clearly ought to have taken certain steps a while back, no-brainers after the fact. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority ought to have installed floodgates and louvers at vulnerable subway entrances and vents. Consolidated Edison should have gotten its transformers, and Verizon its switching stations, out of harm’s way, and Congress should have ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to study the impact of giant barriers to block parts of the city from the sea.

Scientists, architects, planners and others have, of course, been mulling over these issues for years. They’ve pressed for more parkland and bike lanes, green roofs and energy-efficient buildings, and warned about the need for backup generators, wetland edges along Lower Manhattan and barrier islands for the harbor to cushion the blow of rushing tides.

Hurricane Sandy was a toll paid for procrastination. The good news? We don’t need to send a bunch of Nobel laureates into the desert now, hoping they come up with some new gizmo to save the planet. Solutions are at hand. Money shouldn’t be a problem either, considering the hundreds of billions of dollars, and more lives, another Sandy or two will cost.

So the problem is not technological or, from a long-term cost-benefit perspective, financial.

Rather it is the existential challenge to the messy democracy we’ve devised. The hardest part of what lies ahead won’t be deciding whether to construct Eiffel Tower-size sea walls across the Verrazano Narrows and Hell Gate, or overhauling the city’s sewage and storm water system, which spews toxic waste into rivers whenever a couple of inches of rain fall because the sea levels have already risen so much. These are monumental tasks.

But more difficult still will be staring down the pain, dislocation and inequity that promise to upend lives, undo communities and shake assumptions about city life and society. More than requiring the untangling of colossal red tape, saving New York and the whole region for the centuries ahead will become a test of civic unity.

In New York last week to tour the damage, President Obama named Shaun Donovan, his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a New Yorker and former housing official in the city, to spearhead federal recovery efforts. Mr. Donovan is an obvious choice. But then the president reflexively pledged (and the vice president followed up with the same promise on Sunday) to restore ravaged neighborhoods and homes in Queens and on Staten Island to the way they were before Hurricane Sandy.

 That was business as usual, and the last thing the region or the country needs. At this point there’s no logic, politics and sentiment aside, to FEMA simply rebuilding single-family homes on barrier islands like the Rockaways, where they shouldn’t have been built in the first place, and like bowling pins will tumble again after the next hurricane strikes.

“Retreat is a dirty word,” as Robert S. Young, a North Carolina geologist, has described American sentiment, but better finally to face reality and make plans for smarter construction, compensation and even, where necessary, relocation. Elected officials and utility companies shouldn’t just turn on the lights and heat and restore crippled elevators in forgotten public housing projects that were inadequately designed in the first place.

Common sense dictates upgrading many of these projects to withstand floods but also devising new homes elsewhere for some residents. Cost-benefit analyses, long overdue, should answer tough questions like whether it’s actually worth saving some neighborhoods in flood zones. Communities like Breezy Point should be given knowledge, power and choice about their options, then the responsibility to live by that choice.

This means embracing a policy of compassion and honest talk. It’s no good merely to try to go back to the way things were, because they are not.

This sort of conversation is a third rail of American politics, so it’s no wonder all presidents promise to rebuild and stick taxpayers with the tab. That billions of dollars may end up being spent to protect businesses in Lower Manhattan while old, working-class communities on the waterfronts of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island most likely won’t get the same protection flies in the face of ideas about social justice, and about New York City, with its open-armed self-image as a capital of diversity.

But the decisions ahead come down to nature and numbers, to density, economics and geology. Our relationship to the water can’t stay the same, and at the same time the city is not worth saving if it sacrifices its principles and humanity.

So the real test post-Sandy will be negotiating between the two.

Faced with cholera and calamitous urban living conditions in the early 1800s, city planners ran roughshod over property rights to install the street grid. Outrage gradually yielded to rising real estate values, Central Park and the modern metropolis.

During the last century Robert Moses, accumulating unbridled authority to get what he wanted done, bulldozed into existence parks and beaches, highways and housing projects by recklessly destroying old neighborhoods, starving mass transit, crushing opposition and “hounding the people out like cattle,” as Stanley Isaacs, the former Manhattan borough president, said of the hundreds of thousands of mostly poor New Yorkers that Moses displaced.

 The defeat of Westway, a Moses-scale proposal during the 1980s to bury the West Side Highway and cover it with parkland and new development, in a sense became the public’s epitaph for Moses. Whether that defeat was bad for the city is a question for another time. But New York became more attuned to community-based initiatives, to preservation, environmentalism and circumspection, all good things in ordinary circumstances.

At the same time it lost something of its nerve.

I walked around Brooklyn Bridge Park last week with the landscape architects Matthew Urbanski and Michael Van Valkenburgh, who designed it. We stood by the salt marsh they installed where an old pier had once been. An acre of formerly obscured shorefront opened to the sky. The park survived Hurricane Sandy with hardly a scratch, proving the virtue of soft edges.

In the design process Mr. Van Valkenburgh had asked the state Environmental Conservation Department, which polices the coastline, for permission to float a north-south footbridge, just 12 feet wide, between the embankment where the old pier ended and the next pier over, where the architects are installing sports fields. The idea: People wouldn’t have to walk all the way around the shore to get from one pier to the other.

The department said no. The narrow bridge’s shadow might disturb the habitats of fish. It was the argument that torpedoed Westway.

Now the task is to create a whole new ecological infrastructure for the region. The hurdles go beyond just a single state authority fearful to concede even a footbridge. They include an alphabet soup of agencies and public officials: Congress and the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; the Corps of Engineers; FEMA; the Homeland Security Department; the New York State Public Service Commission (which in principle has the leverage to compel companies like Con Ed and Verizon to safeguard its equipment); Amtrak; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the city’s planning, transportation, parks and environmental protection departments; and the Port Authority, devised as the organization in charge of such epic undertakings, today a shadow of its former self.

 The Australians have a mantra for battling climate change: Protect, Redesign, Rebuild, Elevate, Relocate and Retreat. Guy Nordenson, a New York engineer who has spent years researching the subject, talks about controlling floods and controlled flooding, accepting that the water will ultimately get in. This means thinking like the Australians, long term about evolving nature. Our election cycle tends to thwart infrastructural improvements that can take decades and don’t provide short-term ribbon-cutting payoffs for politicians, which is why it’s a wry commonplace among engineers and architects that autocratic regimes make the most aggressive builders of massive projects.

For New York sea gates alone won’t fix the city’s problems any more than will porous streets with catchment basins and waterproof vaults under sidewalks to secure electrical systems. At the same time this is a golden opportunity for the United States to leapfrog countries that have pioneered innovative architecture like garages doubling as floodwater containers and superdikes serving as parks and high-density housing complexes — a chance for designers, planners and engineers finally to get back, after so many decades, to the decision-making table.

 The question is: Can we accomplish this in time and fairly?

The young Moses was a political savant with the vision to operate beyond the boundaries of municipalities, cities and bureaucracies and get big things done. But that same genius enabled him to extend his power beyond reasonable limits and finally to sweep aside the precious, small-scale urban values and human decency that sustain a civic democracy. His biographer Robert Caro wrote in the 1970s that Moses “bent the democratic processes of the city to his own ends to build public works,” albeit “left to themselves, these processes proved unequal to the building required.”

“The problem of constructing large-scale public works in a crowded urban setting,” Mr. Caro added, “is one which democracy has not yet solved.”

And it still hasn’t.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 20, 2012, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm.

Don’t Rebuild: Redesign


 Architecture Fellow, Akademie Schloss Solitude Posted: 11/13/2012

Perhaps the New York Times‘ Michael Kimmelman said it best, in the concise lexicon of 140 characters, when he tweeted on election day, “Hope post-election, we can finally take big steps as a city, region nation to deal w costs, plans re: climate change. Beyond giant levees.” Now that we have gotten past the election, perhaps New Yorkers and the rest of the country are ready to talk honestly and admit that sandbags in urban flood-zones are just not good enough.

This is not about the disaster response to hurricane Sandy or FEMA or even emergency preparedness. This is about forward-looking infrastructure, urban design and land-use that takes the effects of climate change seriously.

It is encouraging that President Obama mentioned the need for a response to a warming planet in his election night victory speech. This is a welcome shift from presidential debates that avoided mention of climate change entirely. Since the beginning of the hurricane Sandy, New York Governor Cuomo has been emphatic about the need to go beyond acknowledging the threat of climate change toward taking action to cope with it. “I think we do have to anticipate these extreme types of weather patterns. And we have to start to think about how do we redesign the system so this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Why are there so few voices demanding, like Cuomo, that this never happen again? I worry that it may be that the public remains unaware of the array of designs worked out over the past decade to potentially mitigate the damage of a storm like this. Perhaps there is no outrage, because people do not know that with planning and investment — not in emergency preparation, but in the landscape and land-use of the city, itself — this horrific damage could have been largely avoided.

Certainly, if you are only listening to Bloomberg you would not know that there were any possible alternative. “We cannot build a big barrier reef off the shore to stop the waves from coming in; we can’t build big bulkheads that cut people off from the water,” the mayor said during a press conference.

Why does Bloomberg talk about bulkheads, as if the design possibilities for the waterfront edge to mitigate storms have not advanced since the 1950s? Why does he say we can’t build a “big barrier reef off the shore to stop the waves from coming in”? Indeed, we can. Not only can we, but there is an array of strategies to choose from. The most innovative proposal from MoMA’s Rising Currents exhibit five years ago uses oysters to do exactly that. For years, architects and urban designers in New York have been carefully modelling options to “stop the waves from coming in” — from landfills to ecologically sensitive reefs toengineered flood gates — and the Mayor talks as if he has never heard of any of it.

The worst part may be that New York City under Bloomberg has been encouraging waterfront development without taking plans for flood infrastructure seriously. As someone who worked on the early stages ofQueenswest as an urban designer for the Department of City Planning, I can affirm that the city’s process in waterfront planning prioritized real estate value, public amenities and sheer housing unit numbers. We drew internal maps of projected flood levels creeping up on new parks and potential soccer fields, but that had little significance in the planning process.

A number of the city’s most respected planners spoke to the Observer during the hurricane evacuation, and questioned whether waterfront development should be allowed to continue without serious investment first in infrastructure. Ron Shiffman, founder of the Pratt Center for Community Development, told theObserver, “There has been a disconnect for some time between the actions of the City Planning Department and PlaNYC 2030,” referring to the sustainability plan that the mayor’s office released in 2007 and continued to revise through 2011. PlaNYC 2030 contains a handful of research ideas about flooding, but the actual initiatives are pretty much limited to improving information in the market for flood insurance and requiring new buildings to incorporate flood-proofing measures. The existing city is left to fend for itself.

Urban designers, architects and planners have been working for years on more proactive alternatives to coping with effects of climate change for New York and other coastal cities. If we could generate only half the interest for flood-ready urban design that we can for a sports stadium, it would get done. The architecture and urban design disciplines excel at the sort of long-term forward thinking needed for the complex problems presented by global warming. But the field needs public urgency to push investment toward something bold and purposeful. The conversations cannot only take place in museums and universities. Let’s hope that on this issue, we really do see the region and the country moving forward.

Flood Insurance, Already Fragile, Faces New Stress

Source: NY Times

U.S. Coast Guard/Getty Images

Homes in Tuckerton, N.J., after Hurricane Sandy. Estimates indicate the storm could rank as the nation’s second-worst for claims.

By  and 
Published: November 12, 2012

WASHINGTON — The federal government’s flood insurance program, which fell $18 billion into debt after Hurricane Katrina, is once again at risk of running out of money as the daunting reconstruction from Hurricane Sandy gets under way.

GRAPHIC: How Hurricane Katrina Overwhelmed the Federal Flood Insurance Fund


Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Don Horneff, 74, in his yard in Tuckerton, which has not taken federally recommended steps to protect homes from flooding.

Early estimates suggest that Hurricane Sandy will rank as the nation’s second-worst storm for claims paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program. With 115,000 new claims submitted and thousands more being filed each day, the cost could reach $7 billion at a time when the program is allowed, by law, to add only an additional $3 billion to its onerous debt.

Congress, just this summer, overhauled the flawed program by allowing large increases in premiums paid by vacation home owners and those repeatedly hit by floods. But critics say taxpayer money should not be used to bail it out again — essentially subsidizing the rebuilding of homes in risky areas — without Congress’ mandating even more radical changes.

“We are now just throwing money to support something that is going to end up creating more victims and costing more money in the future,” Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, said of the program, which insures 5.7 million homes nationwide near coasts or flood-prone rivers.

Even with the new rules, critics argue, it will be many years, if ever, before many homeowners are required to pay premiums that accurately reflect the market cost of the coverage. Some communities have long resisted imposing more appropriate building codes to prevent damage, putting the program at further risk of devastating losses when storms like Hurricane Sandy hit. And despite some efforts in recent years, many of the flood maps the program relies on are out of date — which can have expensive, and even deadly, consequences in this era of rising sea levels if homeowners are not cognizant of the risks they face.

The program’s giant debt makes matters worse because simply covering the interest owed the Treasury consumes from $90 million to $750 million a year, depending on interest rates. This means it is much harder to build reserves for future catastrophes.

But others on Capitol Hill argue that the changes adopted in July are an important first step, and that Congress must give the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the program, a chance to apply them before any additional changes are considered.

Already, 44 members of the House of Representatives have called for Congress to appropriate whatever money is needed to help victims recover from Hurricane Sandy, and aides on Capitol Hill say that under such extreme losses, they expect lawmakers will do what they have to do to keep the program solvent — even amid a federal budget crisis.

“It is a program we require people to participate in, so we have to make sure it is adequately funded to handle claims,” said Representative Timothy H. Bishop, Democrat of New York, whose district in Long Island has more than 100 miles of coastline. “You can’t say: ‘Awfully sorry. Hope this works out for you.’ ”

The federal government’s flood insurance program, established in 1968, is one of the world’s largest. The insurance is mandatory for homeowners with a federally backed mortgage if they live in an area subject to flooding at least once every 100 years. The average annual flood insurance premium is about $615, but for homeowners in areas at higher risk of flooding, an annual policy can cost from $1,200 to $3,000, according to Steve Harty, president of National Flood Services, a claims-processing company, depending on the level of coverage.

The federal program collects about $3.5 billion in annual premiums. But in four of the past eight years, claims will have eclipsed premiums, most glaringly in 2005 — the year of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma — when claims totaled $17.7 billion. Private insurance companies have long avoided offering flood insurance to homeowners.

“It’s like rat poison to them,” said Tony Bullock, an insurance industry lobbyist, explaining how the risk outweighs the benefit for private insurers. “You need the federal backstop.”

But the program is still a moneymaker for the private insurance industry. Even though these companies bear none of the risk, they take, on average, $1 billion a year of the premiums the government collects, as compensation for help in selling and servicing the policies. Federal auditors argue the payments are excessive.

FEMA officials declined to address whether changes beyond the already passed legislation are needed to strengthen the program.

“These reforms are being implemented,” the agency said in a written statement. “Right now, we’re focused on helping survivors.”

More than one million property owners who live in homes at least four decades old also have historically paid only about 40 percent of the estimated true cost of the coverage the government provides — in large part because of lobbying by the real estate industry, mortgage brokers, homeowners associations and other groups to keep federal authorities from charging more.

Perhaps the most troubling problem, program officials acknowledge, is that only a tiny share of enrolled properties accounts for a giant share of the overall claims, as the properties are repeatedly flooded and rebuilt in low coastal regions and in hurricane flight paths.

One Biloxi, Miss., property valued at $183,000 flooded 15 times over a decade, costing the program $1.47 million, according to federal data provided by the agency to a member of Congress. Another in Humble, Tex., has resulted in over $2 million in flood payouts even though it was worth just $116,000.

An analysis of two decades of claims by the Wharton Risk Center at the University of Pennsylvania shows that certain states, like Texas, which has the second-largest number of policies, pay much less in insurance premiums than the homeowners there collect in damage claims, evidence of the inherent inequity in the national program.

The problem of repetitive claims is much less prevalent in coastal New York and New Jersey, where FEMA estimates Hurricane Sandy flooded 100,000 insured homes.

But homeowners in those two states have fought measures that would reduce storm damage. Barrier island communities in the Northeast, for example, have resisted overtures from the Army Corps of Engineers to build sand dunes as a natural flood barrier, arguing that the dunes would block ocean views or harm the local tourism industry.

Other communities, like Tuckerton, N.J., have failed to take steps recommended by FEMA to better protect homes after flooding through a program that pushes owners to elevate new homes above minimum required heights or to move flood-prone buildings.

Hurricane Sandy damaged more than 300 of the 660 houses in Tuckerton’s beach area, including 22 that were washed away, according to Phil Reed, the town building inspector.

Fifteen years ago, Don Horneff, 74, had his Tuckerton house raised on pilings nine feet above ground level. As a result, he said, Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters ran only through his basement.

That is the kind of protective measure that federal officials want mandated into all new or rebuilt homes in flood zones.

Last week, piles of mattresses, fencing, chairs, appliances and other debris sat outside many of the homes on Mr. Horneff’s street — and a backhoe worked to clear the mess. “All around me, the homes that were lower, most of them will have to be demolished,” he said, surveying his neighborhood. “It’s very sad. They have lost everything.”

The pending costs for Hurricane Sandy would have been even higher if a greater share of residents along the East Coast had signed up for the insurance, which is voluntary outside the 100-year-flood zones. There would also have been more premium dollars, though not enough to pay the claims.

The fact that many homeowners hit by Hurricane Sandy have no flood or homeowners insurance could prompt Congress to provide assistance to the uninsured, too, as happened after Hurricane Katrina, further raising the cost to the federal Treasury.

Officials in New Jersey and New York say the federal government must move quickly to put the flood insurance program back on stable footing, even if it means increasing the federal deficit.

“All we want in our community — not any more and absolutely not less — is what is due to Sea Isle,” said Leonard C. Desiderio, the mayor of Sea Isle City, N.J., one of the coastal towns hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Katrina put the program so deeply into debt that federal officials have acknowledged they will never be able to fully repay the $18 billion Treasury-financed loan that bailed the program out.

FEMA, as a result of this year’s legislation, has the authority to raise premiums by as much as 25 percent per year over the next five years. The increases will be imposed mostly on vacation homes and other properties that repeatedly flood, but whose owners have paid far below market insurance rates. The legislation also authorizes the creation of a national reserve fund to help the program handle major flood catastrophes, and urges Congress to appropriate $400 million a year to update the thousands of out-of-date flood control maps. That would likely force new homes to be built elevated off the ground in spots where rising sea levels or recent major storms have had an impact.

Lawmakers who pushed the legislation call it major progress in fixing the program’s well-documented failings.

“The program is on a much more responsible path than it had been just one year ago,” said Zachary Cikanek, a spokesman for Representative Judy Biggert, Republican of Illinois, who co-sponsored the legislation.

But others say much more needs to be done. The federal government should ensure continuous coverage in flood-prone areas, spreading the risk among a larger pool of homeowners, who now often allow their coverage to lapse, said Robert Hunter, an insurance administrator in the Ford and Carter administrations.

The 20,000 communities that participate should also be adopting stronger building or flood prevention codes the way Florida has since Hurricane Andrew did $23 billion worth of damage in 1992. Mr. Hunter pointed to earthquake-prone Chile, where builders must assume the liability for catastrophic earthquake damage for 10 years after construction. “This program still encourages unwise construction instead of discouraging it, and to me that means the program has failed, even with the reforms Congress just adopted,” Mr. Hunter said. “People are being killed and their properties are being destroyed because of a government that gives the false impression that there is less of a flood risk than there really is.”


Eric Lipton reported from Washington, Felicity Barringer from San Francisco, and Mary Williams Walsh from Philadelphia. Jon Hurdle contributed reporting from Tuckerton, N.J.

Humanitarian Hypocrisy: US Destroys Syria While Propping Up Cambodian Dictator

Thoughts? I’m not well enough versed in all of these issues to sort out the facts from the sensationalism… and curious why the map is a detail of Vietnam (rather than Cambodia).


By Tony Cartalucci Global Research, November 11, 2012 Region: 

US funds terrorists to overthrow Syrian government based on “humanitarian concerns,” while US President Obama to lend legitimacy to “dictator-for-life” Hun Sen of Cambodia with upcoming visit.

The United States and its allies have maintained that their commitment to supporting militants operating inside of Syria is based on “humanitarian concerns” and in helping “oust a dictator.” The US has recently handpicked the Syrian opposition, and has pledged funds and logistical support to help arm militants who have, since 2007, been identified as sectarian extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda, not secular “pro-democracy” “freedom fighters.”

This was first exposed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh in his 2007 New Yorker report titled, “The Redirection: Is the Administration’s new policy benefiting our enemies in the war on terrorism?

In the report it specifically stated:

“To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.” –The Redirection, Seymour Hersh (2007)

Hersh’s report would continue by stating:

“the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations.” –The Redirection, Seymour Hersh (2007)

The link between extremist groups and Saudi funding was also mentioned in the report, and reflects evidence regarding the origin and backers of similar extremists who flooded Iraq during the US occupation, sowing sectarian strife and killing Western troops alike:

“…[Saudi Arabia’s] Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.” –The Redirection, Seymour Hersh (2007)

The US attempts to bury this reality and instead highlight its alleged humanitarian agenda with publicized donations to refugee camps created by the very violence they have created and fully planto perpetuate.  The US has just recently claimed it has pumped another 34 million USD for “humanitarian aid” according to Sky News.

US Claims to Fight Dictatorship, Yet Coddles a Menagerie of Mass Murdering Despots. 

Yet despite this window dressing, the fact that the US is supporting sectarian terrorists is not the full extent of Western hypocrisy. It was covered recently that deposed president Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand was allowed to travel to the United States and engage in political activity. Shinawatra had overseen a “War on Drugs” that saw nearly 3,000 people extra-judicially executed over the course of 90 days, most of whom were later found to have had nothing to do with illicit drugs – Human Rights Watch (HRW) would confirm this in their 2008 report titled, “Thailand’s ‘war on drugs’,” a follow up to the much more extensive 2004 report, “Not Enough Graves.”   .

Now the US prepares for yet another display of overt hypocrisy as US President Barack Obama prepares to meet with the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen. Accused mass murderer and formerly a member of the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen has since sat in power for well over two-decades. While running under the illusion of “people’s power,” he has since 2008 sold over half of his nation off to foreign investors, right out from under the Cambodian people.

In a 2008 article by the Guardian titled, “Country for Sale,” it was reported that, “almost half of Cambodia has been sold to foreign speculators in the past 18 months – and hundreds of thousands who fled the Khmer Rouge are homeless once more.” The report would go on to state:

Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have, in effect, put the country up for sale. Crucially, they permit investors to form 100% foreign-owned companies in Cambodia that can buy land and real estate outright – or at least on 99-year plus 99-year leases. No other country in the world countenances such a deal. Even in Thailand and Vietnam, where similar land speculation and profiteering are under way, foreigners can be only minority shareholders.

It would continue:

By March this year [2008], virtually all Cambodia’s accessible and sandy coast was in private hands, either Cambodian or foreign. Those who lived or worked there were turfed out – some jailed, others beaten, virtually all denied meaningful compensation.

The article would also state:

It was abundantly clear to observers, including the World Bank and Amnesty International, that by making these private deals, Hun Sen was denying prosperity to most of his people, causing the country’s social fabric to unwind like thread from a bobbin. Today, more than 150,000 people are threatened with eviction. Forty-five per cent of the country’s entire landmass has been sold off – from the land ringing Angkor Wat to the colonial buildings of Phnom Penh to the south-western islands. Professor Yash Ghai, the UN human rights emissary to Cambodia, warned, “One does not need expertise in human rights to recognise that many policies of the government have… deprived people of their economic resources and means of livelihood, and denied them their dignity.” He added, “I believe that the deliberate rejection of the concept of a state governed by the rule of law has been central to the ruling party’s hold on power.”

It would seem as if Cambodia’s Hun Sen should easily find himself amongst the West’s “Axis of Evil,” the subject of crippling sanctions, and at the very least, uninvited to visit the US, or lent legitimacy by being allowed to host US representatives.

Since the 2008 Guardian article, the situation has only deteriorated for the Cambodian people. The Guardian again reported in September 2012 in their article, “Conflict over land in Cambodia is taking a dangerous turn,” that:

In the first nine months of the year, we have seen the killing of Cambodia‘s leading environmental activist, a journalist and a 14-year-old girl whose community faced eviction. We’ve also seen the conviction of 13 land activists for legitimate protests; ajudicial move against one of the country’s most respected human rights activists; theharassment of politically active monks; and the arrest of an independent radio station owner on charges of secessionism. And these are just the most outlandish and publicised incidents.

The article would continue:

Cambodia is in the grip of a land-grabbing crisis that has seen more than 2m hectares(5m acres) of land transferred mostly from subsistence farmers to agribusiness. And as good land becomes scarce, the battle for it is becoming increasingly intense. An estimated 400,000 people have been affected by land disputes since 2003.

It would also state that:

For the average Cambodian, the only avenues that offer the prospect of success are public protest and individual action. The government is well aware of the desperation, and this fact helps explain the recent spate of arrests, killings and harassment. The authorities are increasingly using violence to keep a lid on things. If evictees don’t go peacefully, private firms are willing and able to tap the resources of the state to forcefully capture land.

Yet despite Hun Sen’s government brutalizing its own people with harassment, violence, and murder, displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians, and stealing the land right out from under the nation’s poor, it was recently announced that US President Barack Obama would be visiting Cambodia to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen. There has been no protest or formal condemnation by the US regarding Hun Sen and his systematic campaign of theft and violence waged against the Cambodian people, nor has there been any protests of political ramifications imposed by the emerging supranational block ASEAN who is in fact holding their annual meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia this month.

Image: While the West funds and arms verified Al Qaeda militants invading Syria for alleged “humanitarian concerns,” tacit approval is granted to governments like that of Hun Sen of Cambodia to brutalize his own population in sweeping land grabs that have left hundreds of thousands of Cambodian people without homes or a livelihood. The difference? Syria refuses to capitulate to Wall Street and London’s “international order,” Cambodia is eagerly selling off its sovereignty to it.


The reason for silent complicity is because the land Hun Sen steals goes directly to foreign corporations, including those in both neighboring Southeast Asian nations, as well as the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe. Similar atrocities have been tacitly approved by the West in Uganda, where a similar mass murderer, dictator-for-life Yoweri Museveni has been given a blank check to seize land on behalf of foreign corporations using his US-armed and trained military to carry out land-grabbing operations.

Clearly the West’s commitment for “human rights,” “democracy,” and “freedom” is a selectively enforced set of values, just as driven by self-serving corporate-financier interests as tacit, or even active support for land grabbing, mass murder, and pillaging across the third-world.

The taint such hypocrisy brings to the so-called “international community,” leaves permanently disfigured any concept of “international rule-of-law,” and resigns entirely the legitimacy of Western governments and silent global institutions from presuming authority to meddle elsewhere while profitable exceptions are quietly made in nations like Cambodia.