cambodia

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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Khmer Rouge Tribunal Begins Today

I haven’t talked much about the tribunal, largely because while I think a good tribunal would be truly beneficial for Cambodia, this tribunal, it is increasingly clear, is little more than another fig leaf for a political regime. The last one was a fig leaf for the recent invading Vietnamese; this one is a fig leaf for the international donor countries, some of who re-armed the Khmer Rouge in the eighties, while allowing their representatives to retain their seat in the UN.

My anger and disappointment about this entire thing is nearly incandescent.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Khmer Rouge war crimes trial begins -…“, posted with vodpod

François Bizot, one of the greatest academic authorities on Cambodian Buddhism, has a somewhat more measured statement on the beginning of the trial. One of Duch’s few survivors, Bizot was held in a prison camp by Duch north of Siem Reap prior to the victory of April 17, 1975, and was one of the only prisoners of that camp released. He has told his story in the bestselling book The Gate. His opinion piece in today’s New York Times deals with Duch as his own personal savior (insofar, I suppose, as Duch released him) and as a murderer of tens of thousands, in his capacity as the head of S-21. It’s definitely worth reading.

AFTER 10 years of detention, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Comrade Duch, is to appear today before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was arrested in 1999, after 20 years of living incognito, for crimes committed on his orders as commander of the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh from 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia and were responsible for the deaths of more than a million people.

Bizot, “My Savior, Their Killer.”

Also note that finally (FINALLY), a history of the Khmer Rouge period will be returned to the curriculum of Cambodian students, something which has been nonexistent for years (history ended in 1974). I have actually interviewed a man intimately connected with the destruction of the older, early PRK-era textbooks which did discuss the Khmer Rouge. There is no escaping of the fact that all these histories will be imperfect, intended to fit one political agenda or another, but the mere fact that the Khmer Rouge will be discussed in high school curriculum at all is already a major change.

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