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Rumors and Vampirism

Rumors are a major preoccupation in Cambodia, and are usually spread in the context of giving necessary advice to friends. During my three years doing fieldwork in Cambodia, the best ones I witnessed were the following:

  • Don’t buy off-brand cooking oil in the markets, because the crematorium at a local temple was rendering human bodies into fat and selling it in the markets (instead of rendered pig fat).
  • Don’t eat seafood (this was right after the tsunami), because many of the fish have been eating the corpses of those killed by the tsunami.

Over the last few days, a new rumor has been spreading among garment factory workers in Phnom Penh:

  • Stay away from nightshift work, since powerful men are abducting workers during nightshifts and harvesting their organs (specifically corneas and kidneys) for sale to international clients. Continue reading
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The “Day Of Hate”

May 20th has long been known at the “Day of Hate” in Cambodia, though for the last ten years, it’s been more frequently referred to simply by its date, Mphei Ousophea (May 20th). Rumored to have been the date either of Pol Pot’s Birthday (probably not) or the date the KR leadership decided to collectivize all agriculture (more likely), the Renakse Liberation Front decided to use this day to remind the populace of their claims to legitimacy, which rest largely on the destruction of the Khmer Rouge.

This is all well-trod territory, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the Renakse Front was Khmer-led, but Vietnamese controlled and backed. It was, as Penny Edwards once put it, “Doubly Post-Socialist,” which I think is not only accurate, but well-put. Not only that, but many of the members of the Renakse, including current Prime Minister Hun Sen, were themselves members of the Khmer Rouge at one point. It was incumbent on them, therefore, to find a way to preserve their socialist legitimacy while demonizing the communist KR they had supplanted. They did this primarily by labelling the KR ‘fascists,’ and by focusing not on the organization (“angkaa”) as a whole, but on a specific “fascistic” clique within it, the “Genocidal Pol Pot-Ieng Sary-(Khieu Samphan, sometimes as well) Clique.” Continue reading

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Physical Abuse of Domestic Child Labor

I’ve written about this before, elsewhere. One of the most horrifying and repetitive moments during my time in PP was watching the young (maybe 15?) woman who worked as the sole domestic servant for the wealthy next-door neighbors in their 3-story villa. She worked nonstop from 5:30 AM until long after her bosses were asleep. The only time she got to herself on an average day was when they were eating. During those short moments, she would take her own plastic stool and go sit just inside the metal gate, and stare through the small hole (for a hand to enter and unlock the padlock) and watch the world outside. It was her only contact with that world. The Mirror re-reports an article on the subject of physical abuse (often called ‘educating’) of young domestic servants in Cambodia.

The problem of children in Cambodia is a major problem that deserves public attention. Many organizations conducted their studies on related problems, such as the exploitation of child labor, the rape of street children, and other problems affecting children. Few organizations conducted studies on the punishments imposed on domestic child laborers, and no organization had done any detailed study on this subject, even though they realized that punishments were improper and an important topic that needs attention.

“There are two kinds of child punishment. The first kind is physical punishment: beating children by hand or using other objects, kicking them, pulling their hair, forcing them to live in an unsafe place, making them work too much, and inflicting burns or threatening them. The second kind is making children embarrassed or degrading them, such as mistreating them with contempt, or moral abuse, isolating them, or not taking care of them.

“The most worrying factor is punishment that Cambodian people use as a way to educate and discipline their children in their families, claiming that it is a good and correct way, and it is also usual, because they do not consider the impact of punishment imposed on children. On the other hand, a number of organizations’ research shows some similarities and differences about the punishments imposed on children.

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A Review of Agamben’s Homo Sacer, with special reference to Cambodian Human Sacrifice

Agamben, Giorgio. 1995. Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

This is really an astonishing text, which encompasses a wide range of literatures, including, importantly: Carl Schmitt (Nazi political theorist), Walter Benjamin (Nazi Victim), Hannah Arendt (lover of a man who would become a Nazi, and herself a victim and theorist regarding fascism), Georges Bataille, a dedicated antifascist whose work was attacked by Benjamin as pseudofascist, and Michel Foucault, who created the concept of ‘biopower’ which exemplifies, for Agamben, the very crux of the problem: the relationship of the sovereignty of the state to the bare fact of being alive, and the erosion, historically, of the line separating the state’s sovereignty from the fact of bare life.

Continue reading

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Who are the “Former Khmer Rouge” who are still alive?

The question of ‘former khmer rouge’ constantly recurrs, like acid after a bad meal. Many people were Khmer Rouge, and are therefore ‘former Khmer Rouge,’ but in an example of social common sense, it seems that the appelation “Former Khmer Rouge” is most often applied to those who use force in ways deemed oppressive and amoral, often regardless of whether or not the people in question are actually former cadre or not.

This has been noticed by others in the metonymic use of the word “Pol Pot” to signify simply “Khmer Rouge Soldiers,” though in both cases it needs to be carefully noted that these are post-experiential uses, since the Khmer Rouge never referred to themselves as Khmer Rouge (They were the minions of Democratic Kampuchea, or more universally, simply “Angkar,” the ‘organization’), and Pol Pot was not widely known inside of Cambodia until after 1979, and became famous largely through the anti-Khmer Rouge propaganda of the new People’s Republic of Kampuchea. But people are still referred to as ‘Pol Pots’ or as ‘Former Khmer Rouge,’ in a way that acts as political shorthand for a shared, constructed historical consciousness.

Villagers have been ordered to leave by Oct 30 or face forced eviction, according to villagers and rights workers. They claim that RCAF soldiers have detained villagers and burned down a total of 27 homes in recent months. Ing Kong Chit the Cambodian Center for Human Rights monitor in Battambang, said villagers have reported that former Khmer Rouge fighters from Regiment 53 of RCAF’s Battalion Two burned down the seven huts on Sunday night and that district authorities did nothing to stop them. ((KI Media)) Continue reading

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