cambodia

Cambodia: more on primitive accumulation, and new criticisms of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

After my recent post on primitive accumulation in Cambodia, now these stories from the Phnom Penh Post:

Shooter Now Unknown. It’s unclear what to make of this. It was pretty obvious from initial reports that Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith was himself the man who shot into a crowd of workers striking outside a shoe factory. It sounds like the provincial police chief, who claimed that the suspect was identified and under pursuit, may have been planning to arrest a patsy, as the police did in the Chea Vichea case, and that national officials may be preventing that from happening. We’ll have to wait and see.

Monks Await Justice. Khmer Krom – it’s what Cambodians call the Mekong Delta now controlled by Vietnam.  While ethnic Khmer in southern Vietnam appear to have a generally better nutritional profile, and experience somewhat less poverty than do Khmer (as a whole) in Cambodia, it is also clear that the Vietnamese State attempts to control ethnic Khmer display so closely that their policies amount to a form of cultural genocide. (yes, that). Khmer Krom activists are often under attack, as was made obvious in the case of the Khmer Krom activist monk, Tim Sakhorn.  Moreover, it is clear that elements within the Cambodian government often cooperate with the Vietnamese government to arrest and intimidate Khmer Krom activists.

So, when another Khmer Krom monk activist was murdered, with his throat slit in a Cambodian temple in Kandal province, in 2007, few expected a serious search for the murderer. Their suspicions have been proven correct, and five years later, monks and lay-people held a ceremony to remember his death.

Meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal is experiencing another set of serious criticisms, and coordination between the Khmer and International judges appears to be non-existent. The new International judge, Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, has re-opened Case 003, to the objections of PM Hun Sen and his co-investigating Khmer judge. Meanwhile, Cambodian staffers at the court have not been paid for a very long time. While this is supposed to be the responsibility of the Cambodian government, they have disclaimed this.  The European Union has just coughed up 1.7 million to help pay this staff. Meanwhile, the Open Society Justice Initiative is releasing perhaps its strongest criticisms yet of the tribunal’s process, talking about a ‘crisis of credibility,’ and the International Bar Association has released a statement claiming the tribunal faces a serious ‘failure of credibility.’

oh. my.

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Twitter News From Cambodia

I’ll have some shortish book reviews and recommendations here, over the next week – including Margaret Slocomb’s book on the Cambodian Economy in the Twentieth Century, new articles on primitive accumulation in Southeast Asia by Ian Baird, David Graeber’s book on Debt, and more…..

but in the meantime, I have been spending too much of my evening ‘free-time’ (when I really should be watching sitcoms) following the twitter feed of Faine Greenwood, who is live-tweeting the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC) in Cambodia, and Guy Delauney’s feed, where he’s been covering the Xayaburi Dam breaking news.

I recommend you do the same….

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Sounding Cambodia for November 16, 2011

The floods and their impact are disheartening, to say the least. It’s been distressing to see the extent to which Cambodia has been neglected in the international – and even Cambodian! – press, in favor solely of stories and photos of a flooded Bangkok.

Asian Media Lab created this great little video of, yes, images of urban Bangkok, but at least they are particularly good images, and accompanied by some great Isaan beats. You’ll have to click through to see it; I can’t get it to embed here.

Ieng Tirith has been found unfit for trial, but Brother Number 2, Nuon Chea, will stand trial.

The Prey Lang forest conflict continues to heat up. Here’s a background video, and an article from the Phnom Penh Post about the challenges – both legal and physical, including death threats – faced by those attempting to save the forests.

And here’s a short 2 minute report from Al Jazeera on the conflict:

A massive statue found in the Ta Prohm temple! Whoa:

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Sounding Cambodia on July 8th 2011

Howdy, readers.  I’ve been in the great Cascade Mountains of Washington State, and far from the internet.  But I’m back now, working on my manuscript (yes, really), and trying to keep households and students from imploding (sort of).  While I was gone, a lot of important things happened.  Here are some of them!

Over at Slate magazine, Ken Silverstein does an excellent job skewering the self-serving culture of the NGO elites who rule Cambodian in tandem (and not a friendly one) with the CPP.  It won’t be news to anyone who’s ever lived in the ‘Bodge, but it’s a good refresher.  Go read.

Meanwhile, the Closing Order from the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC, aka the Khmer Rouge Tribunal) has been released, and the media are starting to talk about Brother Number Two, Nuon Chea, again. Here’s an article in the Guardian from the  redoubtable Thet Sambath, the Cambodian journalist responsible for the most important film on the Khmer Rouge made, Enemies of the People.  Enemies of the People is available on DVD now – buy it, watch it. Learn.  As a different article said, it’s like watching a documentary on the Nazi Genocides narrated by the bad guys.

Also, there was a fascinating, important election in Thailand, which could have enormous implications (hopefully and likely positive ones) for Cambodia.  We’ll see, but the upshot is that Thailand just elected its first female Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and the army has indicated that it will respect the results.

Also, important economic news out of Cambodia.  Rice exports quadrupled, which is good for business, but should make Cambodian nationals nervous, since food security is getter worse every year. Cambodia experienced a 6.5% rise in food prices over the last year. Food security analysts point out that other countries have experienced 20% rises, and call that stable.  Tell that to the peasants. If they’re interested in eating meat, prices are at least double the rise of general food increases:

In the first six months of 2011, beef has increased some 12.07 percent to 26,000 riel a kilogramme, smoked fish has seen a 22.63 percent increase to 16,800 riel, and pork has climbed 25.37 percent to 21,800 riel on Phnom Penh markets, the Commerce Ministry’s daily report on Friday showed.

As for the manufacturing sector, the Garment Manufacturer’s Association of Cambodia (GMAC) predicts a thirty percent rise in exports this year, while the anti-union draft law is receiving unified opposition from the unions.  Meanwhile, primitive accumulation proceeds apace, with the cruelty in evidence, for example, in the repeated destruction of the shelters of already-evicted villagers from the notorious Dey Krahom collective.

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Sounding Cambodia for June 6 2011

The end of the semester got away from me folks, which means that today’s Sounding Cambodia will consist of a lot of links, videos, and topics, with minimal commentary. Lots of important stuff in there, though.  Go read!

  • Sand mountains during Khmer New Year (Video)
  • Cash pledges from politicians – exactly what is going on?
  • Violence against Cambodian Labor by the government
  • Interviews with Rich Garella of Who Killed Chea Vichea?
  • Nuon Chea and Cases 002 and 003 in the Extraordinary Chambers/Khmer Rouge Tribunal
  • Would you like some Borax with your Cambodian food?  Formalin? You’re welcome.
  • Tiny Toones NGO – “Hey Babe” video.
  • Cambodian Rice Exports to the Philippines
  • Judy Ledgerwood’s awesome Summer ethnography school in Cambodia
  • Damned Dams and their impacts on damned-near everything; an article in Critical Asian Studies by Ian Baird
  • Book Review of Constance Wilson’s edited volume on the Middle Mekong River Basin
  • Thai Politics – an election primer from Duncan McCargo
Click through to see the actual content Continue reading
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News: Duch Sentenced

I typically have avoided much discussion of the Khmer Rouge Tribunals, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. But today Duch was sentenced. [PPP Article]

Duch (:wiki: for non-Khmer speakers, it’s probably best to try to pronounce it “DOE-ik”; please don’t pronounce it as “Dutch.”) was, of course, the administrative head of the notorious Khmer Rouge Torture and Execution center, S-21, sometimes today known by the name “Tuol Sleng.”  He directly ordered (under the higher orders of his chain of command, almost certainly ending with Nuon Chea, “Brother Number 2″) torture and execution.  Of all the thousands of people murdered (perhaps about 16,000) under his direct authority at the prison (or at the site approx. 17 km to the South, known as Choeung Ek (pronounce “Jung Aik”), only 14 are known to have survived.

He is a monster. Certainly he is a fascinating one.  He is brilliant: he possesses a very keen mind, especially for mathematics and some forms of moral philosophy.

He is almost entirely unself-conscious: the evident hypocrisy and outstanding repugnance of his views, when discussed with his famous captive François Bizot (:wiki: ), was not only denied by him, but not even apparent to him. He clearly loves being in the spotlight, and a major part of his life these last few years has been made up of his efforts to take center stage, announcing bizarre strategies for justice (allowing his victims to stone him to death?) and a desire for complete self-sacrifice and an acceptance of guilt, along with an almost bizarre lack of emotional depth behind any of his statements.

He’s a Christian convert: Former Khmer Rouge stalwarts who have been the only consistent missionizing ground for Christian evangelists in Cambodia, and it’s likely that his personal conversion narrative shares much with these others, which could very easily be interpreted as an appeal to the Christian doctrine of forgiveness and the erasure of sin, something which (those angry at the ignorant Brit Hume aside) Buddhism in Cambodia does not offer.

All of this makes for a fascinating figure. But here are some of the stories that I want to hear about, stories that aren’t getting written (or read by me, anyway), and stories that I think are really in many ways more important to understanding what’s going on here.

  • I’m already seeing a lot of outrage from the Khmer expatriate population over the interw3bz about this verdict.  I am not in Cambodia, so cannot speak to how folks from different age groups and class groups are responding on the ground.  I would very much like to see those stories.  Some of that is starting to come across, especially in the Phnom Penh Post, which is writing biographical stories in frames of talking to his neighbors.  A nice touch, really, but I’d like more detail about current responses.
  • What about the age gap in terms of aspirations for this trial?  Although many thought the entire thing was doomed to fail, and thus paid little attention (see below), for those who did support it, were there significant differences in what they hoped to get out of the trial?  How does this verdict and sentence affect those aspirations?  If both groups are disappointed, are they disappointed in different ways?

Finally, let’s be frank: lots of us thought this was doomed from the beginning. Between the notoriously corrupt Cambodian Judiciary, the ongoing hostile relations among the Cambodian Lawyers Guilds themselves, the constant, unending, delays in beginning, the narrow scope of indictments, and a plethora of other damning problems, we just couldn’t see this trial leading anywhere positive.  It was also rare to hear Khmer people outside of the legal and NGO worlds speak up for the specific process involved; most were disappointed from the beginning.

The strongest realistic statement promoting the possibility that the sentencing of Duch could help reform the Cambodian Judiciary was  just published via the East-West Center. Judy Lederwood and Kheang Un, both of Northern Illinois University, in a paper that can be downloaded and read here for free. (“Is the Trial of ‘Duch’ A Catalyst for Change in Cambodia’s Courts?“) It’s an important paper, but as it was written in anticipation of this verdict, we now have the opportunity/responsibility to update it with observations.

But many of us, and specifically, I myself, restrained our criticisms, not only publicly, but privately. Whenever I have given thought to this trial process, I have had a lengthy mental combat with myself.  It seemed so self-evidently doomed, that I couldn’t imagine supporting it in any way; it almost seemed cruel to set this up when some people wanted genuine justice and simply were not going to get it.  But I desperately wanted something to work, for someone.  Even if it only gave some small sense of emotional closure to those 14 survivors, I thought it would be worth it.  Maybe in that sense, it was.

I spun out all sorts of theories for myself; perhaps it would act as a spur to the reform of the Cambodian Judiciary, or increase popular pressure on the Judiciary. Maybe it would spur on conversations and provide some sort of rapprochement between the generations that survived the period and those born after.

These things could still happen, but it appears clear that this sentence, in which Duch could get out of prison after only 19 years, is a message of some sort, from the court.  Of course, it’s likely that Duch will die in prison.  But the relevance of this verdict is in the message it sends about the court’s ability to prosecute and sentence those indicted. Given the weight of the evidence against him, and his complete acceptance of all responsibility and throwing himself upon the court, this should have been the clearest court victory out of all the indictments.

That’s what I think, and what I’m thinking about.  How about you?

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