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.

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….

It’s getting tense over at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC)

So, Things are getting a bit intense over at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia).  Newish Co-Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk, whose go-it-alone style and brusque treatment of pre-existing staff at the courts has not made him a lot of friends there, talked in his typical style to the Phnom Penh Post yesterday.  He had this to say about Professor Steve Heder’s departure from the staff of the Extraordinary Chambers:

After the contract of this consultant was not renewed by our Office for certain reasons, he obviously had an axe to grind, and in a toxic letter tried to portray the termination of his contract as his “resignation” levelling all sorts of allegations at our Office. He would be well advised to bear in mind his post-contractual obligations.

This is a very serious accusation against Professor Steve Heder.  Judge Blunk essentially accuses Heder of attempting to sabotage the progress of the tribunal for reasons limited to personal satisfaction of employment. Not cool, if true.  But Heder deserves a great deal of confidence here.  Heder is the author, along with Brian Tittemore, of “Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge.” Published in 2001, this paper must be considered the most influential and significant published contribution to the prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders prior to the convening of the ECCC.

The departure appears to have something to do with the way in which the important term “those most responsible” for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. This term is important because “those most responsible” are the ones who will be charged. So the way in which the term is defined for the purposes of the court will determine how many people will eventually be tried in the courts.  Heder discusses this obliquely in a short article here, and in a longer article titled A Review of the Negotiations Leading to the Establishment of the Personal Jurisdiction of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, available here.

Heder’s contributions are significant, in other words. That’s not just my opinion, but obviously shared not only by historians of the Khmer Rouge, but also by other ECCC observers, like David Scheffer, here.

Whatever the actual situation behind Heder’s departure from the Chambers, his response to Blunk’s public shot across the bow probably didn’t lower the temperature. After rehearsing his account of the events behind his departure, he responds directly to Blunk’s threat:

As for my post-contractual obligations, I continue to reserve the right of reply to any inaccurate or misleading information published about my work for the ECCC, such as this statement by Judge Blunk, who would be well advised to get his facts straight.

The whole letter is here, and worth a read.

 

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.

Sounding on Cambodia for April 18, 2011

Happy Khmer New Year, everybody! សួស្តី ឆ្នាំ​ថ្មី! I’m a few days late of course, but my wishes are sincere for all of that.  May your upcoming year be full of health, success, happiness, and peace. I was not able, this year, to attend the awesome (and increasingly awesome) New Year’s events at my local Khmer temple – Wat Munisota [I can’t ever say that name without wanting to point out how fantastically funny and smart the namers were: Munisota means (in Sanskrit and Khmer): “That which is heard from the sage” (the Dharma), but of course, it also sounds very much like “Minnesota,” which was intentional. Brilliant, good humor], in spite of some excellent invitations.  But I’m hopeful I might be able to make it to the Madison temple‘s New Year celebration this coming Saturday.

In this week’s Sounding on Cambodia, I talk about:

  • The 36th anniversary of the Fall of Phnom Penh, April 17, 1975 [The picture above is Lon Nol Buddhist-inspired propaganda which characterizes the communist insurgency as Vietnamese anti-Buddhist monsters, defeated by the power of Nang Thorani’s hair in the scene of the Buddha’s enlightenment].
  • “Aid to Cambodia Rarely Reaches the People it’s Intended to Help,” by Joel Brinkley, and a review of Joel Brinkley’s new book, “Cambodia’s Curse,” by Elizabeth Becker
  • PM Hun Sen rumored to have lung cancer – no confirmation
More after the jump…

Sounding on Cambodia for August 5, 2010

I’m in the throes of a stereotypical pre-tenure academic summer, writing very productively, but never productively enough, happy with my work, but worried it’s not good enough, watching my children grow up, and wishing I had more time to spend with them rather than writing, excited about the imminent beginning of classes, and dreading the end of my ‘free time’ for writing.

So, instead of thoughtful commentary, here are some of the things that have caught my eyes and ears on Cambodia today:


More laudatory stories about the new documentary Enemies of the People. Very excited to see it.

This story, from the Moth (a storytelling website), is by Andrew Solomon, and tells the story of a Khmer woman who created her own, apparently largely successful, path out of the crippling depression that was destroying the lives of the women around her after 1979 (end of Democratic Kampuchea, the state of the so-called Khmer Rouge). Step one: Forget. Step two: Work. Step three: perform manicures and pedicures. Seriously. I was prepared to scoff, but found this deeply powerful. Go ahead and give yourself 15 minutes to listen to the whole story. It came to my attention via Alison, of AlisoninCambodia, an excellent archaeological blog.
Andrew Solomon – Moth Podcast

Now, back to work.