Challenging Times – What Kind of Change to Come? – Sunday, 25.1.2009

Posted on 26 January 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 596 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 596

On 20 January 2009, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States of America, change started to come. Never before had so many people around the world be able, through TV and the Internet, to participate form afar – never before was also so much interest expressed, in the new presidency of this country by a crowd of more than a million people in Washington, and many more around the globe.

To refer here to these events may be an occasion to remember the years of Administrative Reform and Judicial Reforms in Cambodia, and the efforts to see spokespersons authorized in the different sections of the Cambodian administration, so that the Cambodian public will not have to read, time and again, that one official refers an inquiry to the next, and the next does not have time to speak to a journalist. And the public, the people – “The Cambodian people are the masters of their own country” according to Article 51 of the Constitution – are not informed what is being done and why – even in such important situations that they trusted the commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces for many years, and now he is no more there, and the population – civilian and in uniform – does not know why they should withdraw the confidence they had held for many years.

During the long and difficult election campaign, there had been different slogans leading to the inauguration, becoming more and more specific: “Hope and change” – “Hope is not enough” – “Change you can believe in” – not only believe in, but real “Change we need.” And change started to happen. First of all there is an openness for communication, through the media, to the people. It was reported that the new president visited the White House media quarters and press office – places that the former president is said to have avoided – because there, people ask questions and expect clear answers.

When the new president signed some executive orders in front of TV cameras, before he signed them, he read parts of them and explaining what is meant, for the public to understand. And it was announced that e-mail alerts and Internet blogs would be used for “timely and in-depth content” about the administration’s policies:

“The President’s executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. We will publish all non-emergency legislation to the Web site for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.”

And in terms not only of changed style, but also of content, the president made some fundamental policy declarations in his inaugural address:

“Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

One cannot but remember that Prime Minister Hun Sen had made similar declarations in relation to the ongoing violence by the rich or on behalf of the powerful, when he had said already in 2002:

“We are conscious that corruption in the public machinery, be it judiciary or administrative or any other, increases transaction costs for everyone and reduces predictability in law enforcement and implementation of government’s policies… The government believes that enactment of adequate laws and regulations to prevent and punish corruption is crucial for addressing this problem. In this spirit, the Royal Government is committed to finalize the draft of the Anti-Corruption Law before the end of June 2003.”

In December 2005, the Prime Minister had warned that if illegal land seizures were not brought under control, they could lead to a farmers’ revolution.

And – interestingly enough – it was the Chinese People’s Daily Online which reported on 13 February 2007 the concerns of the Cambodian Prime Minister (we missed to see this reported in the local press):

“The land grabbers dare to get a lot of land illegally while we have always appealed again and again to stop. The land grabbers are not simple people, and they must be powerful people in the government. I asked the question, do they dare to conduct a coup d’etat in the future?” And he is quoted to have replied himself that they really dare to do so. “So before they conduct a coup d’etat, we need to take action against them.”

We do not have an explanation for what is happening now – in spite of these words.

When the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch had raise critical question about many countries, including Cambodia, the leader of the Cambodian government’s Human Rights Commission is quoted to have quickly dismissed their statement, elaborated with 20 detailed documents, as “defaming the country with lies. – I refuse all of the accusations, they are just trying to make up things.”

Human Rights Watch had also criticized then USA. The new president’s executive orders to bring change to the detainees at Guantánamo Bay and to the harsh interrogation methods, some of which the new attorney general – the US minister of justice – called torture, remove some of these accusations.

In the meantime, when people from 234 families, to be evicted from land, assured to them by a court order, were protesting, they where shot at – not by illegal private thugs hired by a company, but by members of a Military Police unit.

The Dey Krahom Community on 24.1.2009

The Dey Krahom Community on 24.1.2009


Yesterday, on Saturday, the protracted negotiations – with residents of the Dey Krahom area in Phnom Penh, who claimed that the compensation offered to them for being removed 20 km away, with no school for their children, and no possibility to continue to earn a living like now, where they used to live since many years, are different from the original promise for new arrangements in place – came to an end. They were replaced by destruction and forced eviction.
The police and the people

The police and the people.


Teargas was used, and electric batons – their existence in Cambodia had frequently been denied by the authorities.
Teargas

Teargas


Electric baton

Electric baton


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This action was taken in support of the 7NG Group, the parent company of 7NG construction. The pictures of their website shows big villas on wide green lawns – housing for the few very rich. There website has even a section Code of Conduct. But when one clicks on it, it responds: “We are sorry… – This webpage is under construction.” Is it an irony, or is it just the truth that it shows two big construction machines at work?

dk-kb-grader
According to public discussion, neither the transfer of this public land – originally “3.60 hectares of social land concession granted by the Royal Government of Cambodia to the seven Dey Krahom communities” – into private business use is procedurally and legally very transparent. Nor does the 7NG Group presented detailed plans for the commercial use of the land – except that it is for high class housing and maybe a shopping center – rumors in the absence of transparency. The Mirror has regularly reported information that the construction sector of the Cambodian economy is facing severe problems. The construction boom in Phnom Penh during the last years resulted in many high rise and high price buildings being constructed or being under construction, which now have to be scaled down or abandoned. But the 7NG company can go ahead?

Phnom Penh has not seen anything similar to what what President Obama could say to a new senator, who has dedicated herself to public, not high priced, housing:

“During her career, Kirsten Gillibrand has been a strong voice for transparency and reform in government and shares the belief that government should be open, accessible and work for all of our citizens. In Congress and as special counsel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, she worked to strengthen public and private partnerships to invest in infrastructure and New York’s economy.”

Where are the 7NG plans to be located in view of the warning, quoted by the Chinese international media? Are they among the group about which Prime Minister Hun Sen has “always appealed again and again to stop” – or is the Cambodian government maintaining the position nationally, which President Obama has denounced as wrong internationally: “that power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please… Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

The experience of many people to be marginalized and to be pushed further out, for the benefit of powerful and rich interests, will not help to build a human, peaceful, an just society. This is not how the hearts and minds of people can be won.
dk-kb-distressed
People close by were watching: Will they be next?
dk-np-whonext
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[Pictures: courtesy of Karl Bille, LICADHO, Monika Nowaczyk, Nestle Poell G. Lagaya, Makenzi Travis]

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Looking Back and Looking Ahead – Sunday, 4.1.2009

Posted on 5 January 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 593 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 593

The beginning of a new year always challenges us – to look back, and to look ahead. In both cases we may gain some orientation. We know, more or less, what happened – but do we understand why? Are we satisfied with what we know? What do we like to continue, and what to change?

Or do we try to look more into the future than into the past? Looking forward to 2009 – but is it with fear, or with hope? May be we have our own clear plans what to do – but will we be ale to make things work out, because many others have the same hopes – or not?

Obviously, we cannot get all the lifetime prosperity, harmony, and affection which people wished for us so that the New Year would be a Happy New Year. But could we, maybe, foresee and say more – not for us as individuals, but for the society were we live?

The last couple of days provided two strong indications about that – but of a contradicting nature.

A paper reported that the president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had said – though without using these words – that we do live in a society which is not governed by the law.

Quite a strong statement – because the Phnom Penh Municipal Court court “lacked judges for hearing 6,500 cases in 2008. Being unable to solve many cases like that, makes that hundreds of accused persons are detained beyond the legal limit, which states that the detention of an accused or of a suspect can be up to a maximum of six months. Then they have to be brought to court for a hearing, and if the court cannot find them to be guilty, they must be released immediately. However, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Khmer courts in different provinces do not abide by this legal procedure, and continue to detain thousands of people for many years without conviction, which is against legal procedure and seriously violates the rights of the accused.” By the end of 2007, there had even been 9,200 such unsolved cases.

Not some uninformed and ill-intended observers said this, but the president of the Phnom Penh Municipal court.

And the future?

The president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court “acknowledged that Khmer courts are not yet quite in good order; therefore all Khmer courts need many more years to improve.”

The Court Watch Bulletins of the Center for Social Development describe what the accused – guilty or not – will have to endure for years to come (according to the time line given by the president of the Municipal Court): “The municipal court conducted hearings for three criminal cases every day, and half of those hearings lasted only not more than 20 minutes. So the period for hearing each case was very short, just enough to read the verdicts by which the court defined punishments, or defined who were the losers and the winners in a conflict. The result is that each case is not clearly analyzed according to the procedures of the law, and according to the facts. Therefore it is seen that frequently the rich and high ranking officials won cases against poor people, and against people who are not powerful in society.”

The president of the Municipal Court states now that one of the reasons for these regular violations of the law is a lack of staff at the courts: there are not enough judges and not enough prosecutors! There is no reason to doubt this. But we do not remember to have seen, in the press over the years, that the leadership of the courts, the leadership of the Ministry of Justice, the leadership of the government as a whole – responsible in different ways to upheld a state of law – has decried this situation, leading to regular gross violations of basic rights of citizens according to Cambodian laws, and initiated urgent efforts to rectify this situation.

The situation has an even worse aspect, when one considers that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng was quoted to have acknowledges that there is corruption among high ranking police officers.

But is all his going to be rectified – not immediately, but consistently, and step by step, without unnecessary delay?



The Supreme Court Released Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun on 31 December 2008 on bail – they had been arrested on 28 January 2004 and were convicted to serve 20 years in prison by the Phnom Penh court, for killing the labor union leader Mr. Chea Vichea on 22 January 2004.

But the president of the Supreme Court explained now that the present decision – to release them on bail – was made because the murder of the former president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia needs further investigation, as there were gaps in the procedures, and there is insufficient evidence.

This decision was widely welcomed – as it initiates a reconsideration not only of what really happened five years ago, but it will also be necessary to clarify:

  • What went wrong with the investigation of the police, and why?
  • What went wrong at the initial court procedures, when evidence offered by the defense was disregarded, and why?
  • What went wrong when the Appeals Court on 12 April 2007 upheld the convictions of Born Samnang and of Sok Samoeun, in spite of many indications raised in the international and national public – including by the former King – that the initial process was flawed, and why was there no new investigation ordered by the Appeals Court?

There is hope that the present decision of the Supreme Court will lead to justice for the two persons who spent already five years in prison.

But tis is only one side of the problem. The Supreme Court created an opportunity like never before, to go into detail, to clarify what went wrong and why, and who may have to take responsibility for what went wrong, and bear the consequences according to the law.

Not a revision of old, or the promulgation of new legal procedure will make Cambodia a state under the law – only the strict application of the law will help to bring change.

There was never a better chance for this than since the recent decision by the Supreme Court.


Please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.


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Happy New Year 2009 – Thursday, 1.1.2009

Posted on 2 January 2009. Filed under: Week 593 | Tags: , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 593

This day is one of the three New Year days we have in Cambodia – the International New Year is followed by the Chinese New Year on 26 January, and then in April the Khmer New Year on 14-16 April; the Chinese and Khmer New Year dates change every year, based on the Moon Calendar. “The country is so nice – we celebrate thrice!” on friend said.

There were greetings in many languages:
n-kh1
n-fr
n-th
n-vn
n-kr

n-hu
n-jp
n-es
n-ch
n-sr

More in detail, some were still preparing – or inviting to deeply think back – or announcing the moment stepping into the new year – and not yet believing that it has really happened:

  • Today is count down day.
  • Some final thoughts as we wave farewell to another year.
  • Firework now. Welcome 2009! Goodbye 2008!
  • Can’t believe it’s 2009

There were the simple and generous wishes for everybody – and overwhelming ones promising a lot – but also cautious ones: let us see how it will go –

  • Happy New Year
  • Cheer n Happy new year everyone!
  • Wish you a very Happy New Year and a lifetime of Prosperity, Abundance and Good Health.
  • Wishing you the best of 2009 as it unfolds.

And there were also reminders that it does not unfold well for all – where the strong and the weak are in conflict, the challenging question remains: What is justice in his case?

But the New Year is an invitation to look ahead – with different degrees of hope, even with inspiring conviction!

  • Looking forward to 2009
  • Welcoming 2009
  • I know what I want and what I will do. Is everyone with me?

For us, it is also an occasion to look back on two years, since we started to publish The Mirror in a new form, on the Internet. By the end of 2008, we had 97,535 visits – 6,057 in December alone.

The steadily increasing numbers have been a constant encouragement you are providing for our work – thanks a lot.

I dare also to say that we would appreciate it if those among our readers, who have the possibility to do so, would visit the right upper corner of this screen: Support the Mirror – and would help us to cover the costs by making a donation.

mirror_2007-2008_6057-97535

Thanks your your visits, which show us that what we do finds your interest – and it may even be a modest contribution on the long and tedious way of reorganizing the societies in which we live.

Norbert Klein

Have a look at the last editorial – you can access it directly from the main page of the Mirror.

And please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

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