Sounding on Cambodia, January 25 2012

Happy New Year, everyone!  The Chinese Year of the Dragon is here, and many of us in Southeast Asia will catch up in April!

Just a few days ago, Cambodian unionists held a small ceremony at Watt Langka in Phnom Penh near the Independence Monument, to remember Free Trade Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia president Chea Vichea, who was murdered just outside the temple’s walls on January 22, 2004. A wonderful film has been made about his murder and the aftermath, which drew some international attention to Cambodia’s apparently hopeless judiciary. FTUWKC seems to have eliminated their old website, and replaced it with a new, more frequently updated site, here. Twitter. Facebook.

We’re still experiencing mass faintings at factories in Cambodia. Noise has been made about fixing the situation, but it’s unclear to me what concrete steps are being taken.

One of my favorite Cambodia-related blog posts of the last year has to be Alison in Cambodia’s excellent post on the “Navel of the Village,” focused on Lovea. Lots of excellent photos, and a wonderful opening to the topic. Go look!

The Center for Khmer Studies has announced a new conference, June 9-10, 2012, on the topic “Religious studies in Cambodia: understanding the old and tracing the new.”

Northern Illinois University will be hosting the International Cambodia Studies Conference in September (14-16), 2012, in Rockford, Illinois, on the theme: “Imagining Cambodia.” Deadline for abstracts: March 15.

A new issue of the journal of Contemporary Aesthetics is devoted to “Art and Aesthetics in Southeast Asia.” All content is free, peer-reviewed, and online. Go check it out.

Archaeologists excavate sculpture workshop in Angkor,” says the headline over at the Southeast Asian Archaeology newsblog. Maybe this will help keep the criticisms of contemporary art workshops in tourist centers in contemporary Cambodia down? Nah, probably not. Very cool find, however.

The International Federation for Human Rights has released its regular summary of the Human Rights situation in Cambodia (2010-2011). Here’s the summary:

In 2010-2011, the space for civil society continued to shrink, with increased limitations on the freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly, in particular through unfair and illegitimate judicial proceedings. Human rights defenders, operating in an increasingly restrictive legal environment, found it extremely difficult and risky to denounce human rights abusers and bad practices, while peaceful demonstrations were prevented or violently dispersed. Also, acts of intimidation continued. In addition to NGO members, many trade union leaders, land rights activists, community leaders and journalists faced fierce retaliation for documenting and denouncing abuses.

Some folks know me as someone with a rather obsessive interest in peasantry and farming. There’s an absolutely excellent, short essay from Henry Saragih, the secretary general of the Indonesian Peasant Union and the general coordinator of the International peasant’s movement Via Campesina, on CNN, about Indonesian Farmers. Most of the general trends apply directly to Cambodia, or indeed peasants everywhere. Since over 80% of contemporary Cambodians have primary work experience in peasant rice production to this day, it’s worth considering. Speaking of farming, is contract farming good for farmers? Could be: according to a new study, noted on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog.


Sounding Cambodia on August 2, 2011

  • 8-year-old dies after explosion at cremation in Cambodia
  • Alison In Cambodia blogs summer fieldwork
  • Baphuon Reconstruction Completed!
  • Pansukula for Chea Vichea in France
  • Professor Sorpong Peou discovers his father is alive, ater 35 years.
more after the jump…

Al Jazeera Story about recent Garment Factory Raise and the Inflation that swallowed it whole….

as usual, the award for Best International Reporting on Cambodia in English goes to….Al Jazeera English.

Chea Mony of the much-discussed-on-this-blog Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, shows up around the 1’55 mark, and the closure has some statistics, and a short interview with a sex worker, that really brings the numbers home.

I like the way this story was done, as well, including the part with the sex worker at the end; maybe even especially because of that part.  Normally, I hate the tendency of foreign reporters to focus so easily and quickly on the sex trade in Cambodia as a catch-all symptom of corruption and desperation; not that the sex trade doesn’t usually represent precisely those things, but because the focus on it remains, for the most part, purely at the level of representation.  That’s to say, when most reporters focus on the trade in Cambodia, they rarely make an explicit connection between the factors that drove the sex worker to the trade, why s/he remains there, including the reasoning used, etc.  And they almost never treat the sex worker with respect, but usually focus on the titillating shots that will get the story attention from editors back in New York, London, or Dubai.  This one felt different to me, perhaps especially because the sex-worker interviewed at the end was translated, rather than merely paraphrased, and because the camera-work was not as predatory.


SOUNDING on Cambodia, July 2, 2010

So many things have been going on since I took an extended vacation from blogging, but here are some of the Cambodian stories I’ve been following and wondering about:


Chea Vichea: No Justice Six Years Later

Six years ago, I’d been in Cambodia for just over 1 month in my 3 year period of fieldwork, and was in the very-near neighborhood when Chea Vichea was murdered. The President of the largest democratic garment workers union, the Free Trade Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), Vichea was reading the morning newspapers in a newspaper stand (you can pay a small ‘subscription’ fee in many places to read the newspapers there) when a man hopped off the back of a moto, entered the stand, and shot Vichea dead.

Two clearly innocent men were arrested and convicted in a kangaroo court, in an attempt to derail the search for the real killers.  These two men, the ‘plastic killers,’ have finally been provisionally released, and will hopefully be fully exonerated soon. But the real killers have not faced justice.

I’ve written about this many times in the past.   Others have made a movie about it, which you can watch for free here. But the union is acting in the streets and the factories, and that’s more important than any other possible action.

Chea Mony, the slain leader’s brother and current leader of the union, marked the sixth anniversary of the killing by leading a march of nearly 100 workers and a dozen opposition legislators to the spot where the shooting took place. The march was held under heavy security but was peaceful and no one was arrested.

“Today, I wish to send a message to the government that it is time to arrest the real murderers,” Chea Mony said. “If the government continues to ignore our appeals, then we will hold a one-week, nationwide strike,” he said, adding it would come some time this year. [link, link]

Photos at KI-Media, Khmerization, and Daem Ampil.


SOUNDING for Week Ending 1/15/2010


KI-Media consolidated a series of youtube clips from a French-language documentary film about the Khmer Republic under Lon Nol, from 1970-1975. Very worth checking out, especially if you can understand French. [link]

Whenever the topic of the Khmer Rouge comes up, you’re bound to hear someone impugn Noam Chomsky as a Khmer Rouge apologist. Here’s a new review of the evidence, which seems pretty evenhanded to me. Check it out. [link]

Milton Osborne wrote an essay on “The Mekong River Under Threat” for Asia-Pacific Journal, reprinted here in Japan Focus. Milton Osborne, “The Mekong River Under Threat,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 2-2-10, January 11, 2010. [link]

Important statements from Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), on the reason why there were fewer labor actions in this last year:

The president of the Cambodian Free Trade Union of Workers stated that there were more than 100 demonstrations and strikes held by workers in 2009, but this number is less than in previous years. However, the decline in numbers is not due to better working conditions, but due to restrictions imposed by the government on demonstrations and strikes, especially due to suppression of workers movements by the local authorities. [Daem Ampil, translated by the Mirror. link]

Mony has also written to the US government asking for them to drop all export tariffs from Cambodian goods to the US. [link]

The International Republican Institute (IRI), rather infamous among those who pay attention, even rising to the level of international scrutiny during the US 2008 presidential election (McCain is a booster), declares that Cambodia’s government just keeps getting better. Read it here. [link]


Thich Nhat Hanh has finally spoken out forcefully, laying the blame for the violent evictions of students, monks, and nuns in Vietnam, upon mobs for hire at the command of the Vietnamese government. This is important; wait for more. [link]

Another positive review of Anne Hansen’s excellent book How To Behave, by Craig Reynolds. [link] I reviewed Hansen’s book previously for the Journal of Asian Studies, 67.3, pp. 1123-1127.


Of course, the biggest news of the week is the unimaginable devastation ongoing in Haiti. It’s unbearable. Please consider giving money to worthwhile organizations.  William Easterly, the most prominent critic of bad development aid and proponent of effective aid, has a blog called “Aid Watch.” Over there, Laura Freschi has published suggestions.  Please take a moment. [link] Avaaz has other good suggestions [link]. You might also read Anthroman’s reflections on Pat Robertson’s horrific comments.


Not that this is really news, but the World Food Program announced the other day that of all the world’s hungry people, three-quarters are the rural poor. [link]

I’m digging on the Middle Mekong Archaeological Project’s weblog. Check out these two posts: Guano and sacrificial pigs, and A family in every pot. The latter includes this awesome, death-related, photograph.

Oh yes, Google might stop helping the PRC censor its citizens. [link]


Chea Mony Receives Death Threats For Protest

I was public last week that I think independent unions should focus on economic issues and worker organization, rather than involving themselves in questions of national sovereignty. Regardless of how I feel about such strategic issues, this is disgusting: Chea Mony, President of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the FTUWKC, has started receiving death threats.

Death Threatening Email Toward Chea Mony

Free Trade Union President CHea Mony claimed to have received a death threat by e-mail on Monday after leading a small demonstration Sunday against the Thai troop presence in the dispute area near Preah Vihear temple.

The e-mail, which threatens Chea Mony with death unless he joins the ruling party, was sent from the address, and its anonymous author claimed to be a union activist as well as an employee of the Interior Ministry.

“If you join the CPP, you can find [assassination former FTU leader] Chea Vichea’s killers, but if you join the SRP, everything will be the same,” said the e-mail “I don’t advise you which way to walk, but you need to have some powerful people behind you to protect your security, otherwise [people] will follow to assassinate you.” Chea Mony said he isn’t putting too much stock in the e-mail. “I am not concerned about my security. I feel normal, “he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak questioned the letter’s authenticity and denied that any ministry officials were involved. “Chea Mony is not an important person. This is not a threat,” he said.

From the Cambodia Daily by Yun Samean, 21-08-2008

FTU President Chea Mony Received Death Threat E-Mail

FTU President Chea Mony received a death threat letter by email on Monday 18, August 2008 at 4:15 PM after riot police cracked down his rally on Sunday 17, August 2008 for a small peaceful demonstration against the Thai presence in the dispute area near Preah Vihear Temple and Ta Moan Thom Temple.

An anonymous e-mail accused Chea Mony joined with the Human Right Party who led by Kim Sokha and warned that the rally of both Rong Chhun and Chea Mony against Thai troop invasion was wrong.

The unknown author e-mail which was received on August 18, 2008 at 4:15 PM meaning both threatening and pity when the big political parties such as Sam Rainsy Party and Cambodian People Party have been functioning in the society, Chea Mony did not join with these two parties but Human Right Party which the e-mail claimed that this party has relationship to an opposition party in Thailand.

The e-mail also threaten that all documents or e-mails have been followed up and controlled and all his activities have been hunted by police.

Chea Mony rejected that he did not have any relation to any political party and he also did not file a complaint to authorities to the author of this threatening letter.

“I don’t involve in Kim Sokha’ s party at all. The author uses me to get something else done. I don’t involve in Kim Sokha, I don’t involve in People Party, I don’t involve in opposition party at all so I ignore all political parties but this is another politics of one who want to kill me, he just told me this party, that party to assassinate me then answer that this party murder that party”

Cambodian Independent Teacher Association President Rong Chhun who led with Chea Mony on Sunday rally said that”We know that at the end there is the threatening to Chea Mony’s insecurity…..all the points in the letter worry us via e-mail.”

Until today, Chea Mony does not file any complaint to the authorities because he loses confidence in the inefficient, corrupted and dependent judiciary system related to this anonymous author of this letter.

“I don’t file a complaint because none impartial investigation have been made or any suspects have been arrested in many high profile assassination over years including Ven. Som Bunthoeun, Funcinpec official Oam Rathsady, Apsara dancer Piset Pilika, FTU leader Chea Vichea, Ros Sovannret, Yim Ry, Hy Vuthy, popular singer Touch Sonich, Pov Pahnapich,Funcinpec Radio Journalist Chour Chetharith, Radio Ek Mongkul, opposition journalist Thun Bunly, Phnom Penh judge Soksetha Moni, as well as the recent murder of an opposition journalist Khem Sambo and his son who were shot in July ahead of national election, all have gone unsolved…they are death with injustice.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak told Kampuchea Thmey Daily that he didn’t receive any complaint from Mr. Chea Mony at all just to be aware of this information via journalist who interviewed him. He said that if Mr. Chea Mony files a complaint or not, it’s his right, no one force him and perhaps he thinks that he can responsible for himself.

“Chea Mony’ s accusation for another reason that I believe that this kind of accusation is an purpose that Chea Mony wants and let’s see this image….he might get escape to the third country or other place then claims that seeking threatening asylum “ added Khieu Sopheak “It just serves benefit Chea Mony wants…..don’t need to care at all.”

Labor Leader Receives Threat After Rally

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
21 August 2008

A labor leader received a threatening letter Wednesday, following demonstrations over the weekend by workers upset by the ongoing Preah Vihear standoff.

Chea Mony, who became the president of the Free Trade Union after the murder of his brother, Chea Vichea, in 2004, said he received a threatening letter by e-mail, asking to join the ruling Cambodian People’s Party or live in insecurity.

“They threatened me, wanting me to join the CPP and Human Rights Party,” Chea Mony said Wednesday.

Chea Mony led a demonstration of several hundred workers on Sunday to protest troop deployments at Preah Vihear temple, but authorities broke up the rally.

He had not filed a complaint with authorities, Chea Mony, said, because he had no faith in their ability to protect him.

Chea Vichea was gunned down in broad daylight, and two men widely believed to be innocent are serving 20-year sentences for the murder.

No suspects have ever been arrested in a number of high-profile murders over the years, including union leaders Ven Som Bunthoeun and Ros Sovannaret, Funcincpec official Oam Rathsady and film star Piseth Pilika.

The murder of an opposition journalist, Khim Sambor, who was shot in July ahead of national elections, has so far gone unsolved.

Ministry of Interior spokesman said it was Chea Vichea’s right whether to file a complaint, but he said the police have “tried our best” to arrest suspects in the murders.

Chan Saveth, a rights investigator for Adhoc, said the authorities should take the threat seriously.

“If it’s true, we are concerned about the safety of Mr. Chea Mony,” Chan Saveth said.