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The Universal Declaration On Human Rights Turns 70

Today is United Nations Human Rights Day. Here is  the Universal Declaration On Human Rights. The child in the photo above has the right to a COMPULSORY elementary education. Further, the UNDHR Is Legally Binding In Cambodia As Per Article 31 of the Cambodian Constitution. Are the articles in both the UNDHR and the Cambodian Constitution being adhered to by the ruling defacto CPP government?

Read about what civil society groups in Cambodia think. Please remember also that the political situation is in turmoil. Who is responsible for this?

Happy Human Rights Day From Cambodia.

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Cambodia : How The CPP Destroys Opposition Grassroots Movements Using Photography

In the photo above, Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) supporters take part in a commune election rally on June 2nd, 2017 in Chork village, Tboung Khmum province, Cambodia.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has made international headlines in recent weeks with a crackdown on media, civil society and political opponents.  Those events and the arrest and imprisonment of opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha were reported widely via conventional international media as well as social media. While these happenings were taking place, the virtual destruction of grassroots opposition political movements was going on mostly under the radar in select rural areas of Cambodia.

A few months ago, CPP officials called 300 government civil servants to a meeting in a provincial capital.  The civil servants, not all of whom support the CPP but none the less wore party shirts to the gathering, were told that if people in rural areas wouldn’t support the de facto CPP government, no infrastructure improvements such as new dirt roads or electricity connectivity would be forthcoming.  Weeks later at another meeting, government workers were admonished to say only positive things about the government and to report those within the government who didn’t.  In effect, they were told to spy on each other, a tactic used by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

About 6 weeks ago, those whose job is to serve the public were summoned by provincial department heads to take photographs.  Their assignment was to take headshots of people over 18 while they wore CPP logoed shirts for “ID purposes”.  In one province, they were tasked to take 3000 photos in a commune comprised of ten villages. Hundreds of these people are farmers who didn’t want to be bothered but the CCP commune chief rounded them up and forced them to be subjects of this odd documentary photography project.

Rolling the clock back about 40 years, another photography project in Phnom Penh took place at the infamous Tuol Sleng s21 prison.  A Khmer Rouge photographer who, in the words of former Magnum photographer John Vink, “should be dropped into a hole of oblivion” took headshots of people who were thought to have committed a “crime”.  One doesn’t need to possess a sophisticated degree of visual literacy to recognize unhappy faces. Any viewer looking at a few hundred mug shots taken by the civil servants recently would see hundreds of the villagers appeared upset.  All subjects were forced to put on CPP logoed shirts much as Tuol Sleng prisoners were forced no hold numbers underneath their chins.  A government worker/photographer reported “The people don’t like me but they don’t know I’m on their side”.  He also stated one young man looked so angry in his photo that the commune chief told him to go get another photo taken. The man refused.

In another province, a man who returned from a migrant labor position in a foreign country stated “They know who I am”.  He related that while working on foreign soil he made a few comments about Prime Minister Hun Sen on Facebook which were a bit critical.  A few days later a Ministry of Interior employee who reports to ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak CALLED HIS MOTHER!  The next day, a CPP commune chief visited the man’s 60ish mom to “educate” and intimidate her regarding her son’s Facebook posts.

Who is Khieu Sopheak, the Interior Ministry spokesman?  Let’s step back a moment.  On October 26th, 2015, two CNRP members of parliament were viciously attacked outside the National Assembly building.  Video shows that the assault was planned and well-coordinated.  Nay Chamroen and Kong Sophea both suffered serious injuries and each man spent a month in a Bangkok hospital.  They allegedly “insulted” their attackers by calling them “youn” slaves.  Youn was a word that was used to describe Vietnamese people BEFORE there was a country called Vietnam and today is viewed by some as prejudicial to them.  As a reaction to this “insult” the lawmakers were brutally set upon BUT General Khieu Sopheak said, “If it were me I would have used a GUN”.

If you are a poverty stricken woman in your 60’s and people from Khieu Sopheak’s office called YOU, would you be scared?  If one of his henchman showed up at your door, would it strike fear in your heart?  And what about her son working abroad?  Was he afraid for his mother’s well-being?  The answer to all the questions are yes if you are a poor Cambodian.  After the son returned to Cambodia he was forced to wear a CPP shirt and pose for a picture.  If he hadn’t, he could have clandestinely been shot or beaten himself, along with his mother.

The civil servant/photographer who doesn’t like the CPP or its tactics reported that the photo assignment was a calamity of errors, including the error messages displayed on camera LCD’s.  The camera problems started after a provincial department head drove his Lexus SUV off a muddy road. The mud was almost knee deep and the vehicle sustained about $1000 worth of damage.

All of these activities were planned, according to a story published on August 29th, 2017, in the Phnom Penh Post.

Imagine for a moment what Cambodia would be like if government personnel spent their work hours doing their real jobs instead of systematically destroying opposition grassroots politics by instilling fear in rural villagers.  Imagine that the CPP helped ALL Cambodians rather than only voters who support their political party.  Imagine government employees promoted based on merit instead of nepotism.

When a known CNRP supporter shows up at a village chief’s office to obtain an ID in order to obtain a loan from a microfinance institution for example, the spy/photographer/propagandist/civil servant claimed they’re told “It’s not available.  There’s a computer glitch”. The real glitch lies within the actions of the CPP.  Their actions show how difficult it’s become to consolidate their power.  The CPP needs to either re-format their policy card or eventually, Cambodians will choose a different bunch of photographers and re-format the cards themselves.

Cambodia is a Buddhist country and Buddhists believe EVERYTHING is temporary.  Cambodians know in their hearts that FEAR of GOVERNMENT IS TEMPORARY. So is CPP rule and oppression, even at the grassroots.

*Neither the civil servant nor the man who had worked abroad was identified in this article since each fear being investigated by the CPP. The government worker is also afraid of losing his job and is concerned with being physically attacked.

Cambodia : Will The Cambodia National Rescue Party Be Banned?

A recent crackdown
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) supporters are taking part in a campaign rally prior to the 2017 national commune elections in Chork Village, Tboung Khmum Province, Cambodia. Photo copyright John Brown 2017.

 

A recent crackdown by the ruling defacto government, the Cambodian People’s Party has alarmed the UN, governments and human rights observers around the world.  With former CNRP president Sam Rainsy living in France after resigning from the party due to what most observers cite as politically motivated court convictions, the man who replaced him as party chief, Kem Sokha, was arrested in the dark of night at his home in Phnom Penh and whisked away to the notorious CC3 prison in Tboung Khmum province. He was charged with treason and faces between 15 and 30 years in prison.

Things weren’t much better for press freedom as The Cambodia Daily, an English language newspaper, was forced to close.  It was charged with tax violations despite the fact that no audit was ever carried out.  Further, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America were told by the government to cease operations in Cambodia as well.

Those whose job was to strengthen democracy took a hit when the NGO National Democratic Institute was kicked out of the Kingdom, and environmentalists didn’t fare much better as Mother Nature, an environmental NGO was dissolved while Equitable Cambodia, a land rights NGO, was temporarily suspended.

Although the  UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights is legally binding in Cambodia by virtue of article 31 of the Cambodian Constitution, nearly all the articles laid out are currently being violated.

In May of this year, the results of a public opinion poll commissioned by the CPP was leaked to media and indicated that support for the party hovered around 35%.  In other words, the rulers knew they were going to lose the upcoming 2018 national election and had two choices, reform or repress.

The CNRP, supported by such people as in the photograph above may well be relegated to the trash heap of history, but surely the CPP is in decline and is experiencing the painful realization that it is on its way out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thailand : Not Your Typical Refugee Photo But A Refugee Nonetheless

In the photograph above, a ethnic Kayan (Karen) “big ear” refugee woman from Burma takes a moment to rest her head on a block of wood on the porch of her home in Ban Nai Soi, Thailand.

I posted it to mark World Refugee Day.  It’s observed every year on June 20th. 

The Karen people left Burma (Myanmar) to flee war atrocities.  After this photograph was taken, Mae Hong Son Mayor Direk Konkleeb disbanded this village in order to consolidate 3 tribes into one encampment, thereby making it more convenient for tourists to visit them.  The people are considered a tourist attraction in Thailand.

I was a bit shocked at what I saw at this camp.  I went alone on a songtiaw for about a dollar rather than join a typical tourist group.  I arrived at 7:30 am and paid no admission since the “ticket office” was closed.  Tourist mini-vans begin arriving around 11:00 am ($25 USD at the time).  Once the tourists got there, many barked orders to the “big ear” and “longneck” people living there.  One woman said, “Come out of your house and stand here!”.

As for me, I drank coffee with the people in this village early in the morning and since many of the folks spoke English, got to know them before I pulled out my camera.  I found out that most of them wanted to go home but didn’t dare as the ethnic Kayan people were being persecuted there.  Many ethnic Kayan women wanted to take their rings off from around their necks and go live a normal life in a developed country (I’m still in contact with a woman who did just that).

If you want to know more about this situation as it was then, read the photographers note on this page.  If you buy a ticket to go “see” these people, you are enriching the tour companies that view these encampments as nothing more that human zoos IMHO.  My advice to you is JUST DON’T GO!

Wars and violent conflict create refugees.  Corruption leading to poverty of the masses also creates what are known as economic refugees.  Let’s do what we can for them.

This photograph was taken on March 15th, 2006.  It has never been published or licensed.

Thailand : Boredom At The Bus Station In Pai

Two gentleman await the bus in Pai, Thailand.  Although Pai is a unique Southeast Asian destination, it is saturated with tourists.  If you want to get away from it all, Pai is not the place for you.

This photograph was taken in February, 2006.  It has never been published or licensed.

Cambodia : Reclining Buddha In Tbong Khmum Province, Cambodia

The distorted face of a large reclining Buddha statue is reflected in a large silver bowl at a Buddhist Temple in Tboung Khmum Province, Cambodia.   Tboung Khmum Province is Cambodia’s newest province after being carved out of Kampong Cham Province.  Most political observers say it gerrymandering by the ruling Cambodia People’s Party to benefit the rulers before commune and national elections.

The photograph was taken April 7th, 2016.  It has never been published or licensed.

 

Thailand : Celebrating King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 78th Birthday Chiang Mai

A Buddhist monk is holding a silver bowl as he marches in a procession to mark the 78th birthday of King Rama lX (Bhumibol Adulyadej) in Chiang Mai Thailand.  The King died on October  3rd, 2016 at the age of 88 and was the world’s longest-reigning monarch after seven decades on the throne.  On October 26th he will be cremated more than a year after his death.

This ceremony was attended by more than 1000 orange robed Theravada Buddhist monks in the Tha Phae Gate area in the old city section of town.

The photograph was taken on December 5th, 2005.   It has never been published or licensed.