Week 553 – 2008-03-30: The Iron Fist Again – to Administer Justice
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 553
Looking back over the week – as mirrored in our publications – while reviewing them, leads to some observations: not just what happened – but what was special about it? And the latter question often includes a consideration: is this also related to events in other countries? Or could there fall some light when looking at what happens in Cambodia when relating it to events in other countries?
On Monday, we carried the challenge of the Prime Minister to other parties, calling on them to recognize their own weaknesses, and to consider to what extent the tensions and difficulties in their parties are self-inflicted. It is interesting to read since several weeks some calls for the cooperation between different smaller parties, from within some parties, and from outside of the parties – so far these have always been rejected.
We have not seen a broad discussion in the Khmer press about the changes taking place in Pakistan, where the elections of 21 February 2008 led to some deep changes, as the president’s Pakistan Muslim League (Q), now with 51 seats, lost the majority in parliament to a coalition of two parties: the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (with 120 seats) and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) under their leader Nawaz Sharif (90 seats). In addition, there are 7 more small parties whose 52 representatives do not have an active role in deciding the major developments in parliament, and 19 independent candidates – an expression both of the multi-party system and the splitting up of many different forces which do not want to enter into cooperation with others. In this country of more than 160 million people, there are almost 100 parties, whose leaders work separately and therefore have not much chance to achieve any political power.
It took only two and a half weeks after the elections to negotiate a coalition, and two more weeks later, the new government started to work. The speed of these negotiations was considered with surprise, as the two parties entered into this cooperation after many years of bitter mutual enmity.
It was also noted, during the past weeks, that several movements of the Cambodian government – the appeal to save electricity, the raising of the teachers’ salaries by 10%, efforts to lower the market price of rice by releasing huge stockpiles, and even the dramatic intervention against land grabbing – were denounced by some as political maneuvers by the government. This again is something where only the future will show whether the public will share this negative evaluation, or whether the results for the actual beneficiaries and its consequences will be seen as important.
The time toward the elections will surely be a time with many important considerations how to approach the future.
The most dramatical event was probably the resignation the secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party as deputy chairperson of the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes, submitted by his letter of 24 March 2008, to Senior Minister Sok An, the chairperson of this National Authority, and related actions by the Prime Minister.
In his letter of resignation, he wrote, “Currently land disputes are spreading almost everywhere across Cambodia. Land disputes are caused mostly by the powerful and the rich who use various means to confiscate land from the poor, from the weak, and from the innocent… Moreover, a number of municipal and provincial authorities used armed forces to suppress and to evict people from their residences unjustly, and they used violence against the people. This resulted also in some citizens being injured, and some were even killed.” He stated that the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes “does not have the capacity and the willingness to solve land disputes for the citizens,” so he resigned. The listing up of these problems, and the fact that they do not seem to move towards timely and just solutions, seems to be very similar to the problems raised in some sections of the report by Prof. Yash Ghai, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia to the recent session of the UN Human Rights Council, where he had described “land grabbings, forced evictions, and the detention of protesters.”
On the same day of 24 March, the Prime Minister flew to Sihanoukville to personally intervene in a land dispute between 125 families and the Thai Boon Roong Company. That the Prime Minister is quoted to have apologized to the victims for the violent action committed by this company is extraordinary. One may remember that the head of this company had, some years ago, personally shot at the tires of an airplane after landing in Phnom Penh, because he was unhappy that his luggage had been mishandled. At that time, none of the legal actions were taken against him, which would have been normal in most other countries in such a case of using a handgun, compromising the security of an aircraft. Now the Prime Minister is reported not only to have apologized for the violence suffered by the villagers, characterizing the illegal ruthlessness of the powers involved – “It’s like tying people’s hands and allowing a company to do what they want” – and ordering the local authorities “that property titles must be issued to those people within a week, even if the authorities have to work day and night,” and he is quoted to have “warned Mr. Sok An, the chairperson, and Mr. Svay Sitha, the secretary-general of the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes, that this Authority will be dissolved, because it is “delaying dispute solutions, causing disputes to happen, using disputes for personal gain, and not working.”
It has not been reported in the past that such or similar positions have been expressed by the Prime Minister – for example, when time and again delegations of villagers came to Phnom Penh, waiting with posters with the photographs of the face of the Prime Minister and of his wife, pleading for help when their land was claimed by some powerful institutions or persons.
The public will observe if the intervention in Sihanoukville was only an isolated act, or if it ushered in a new, systematic attempt, calling the law enforcement authorities and the courts to handle violent conflicts between week and strong parties differently from the past, seriously, and timely, according to the law – “sounding a bell for other provincial governors on how to handle land disputes,” as the one-week deadline given the Banteay Meanchey authorities to solve a land disputes there for 335 families seems to indicate.
There are many conflicts about which the press had reported in the past that they had started, or about efforts to inform the Prime Minister about allegations of massive corruption – like in the discussions about Telecom Cambodia – where the public later never became aware how such problems were clarified – either by absolving the person alleged to have misused public funds for personal gain, or by helping that justice is taking its course.