Barack Obama should use his visit to Cambodia to help stop human rights violations.
During Obama's visit the country of Cambodia in November 2012, he must heavily consider the human rights violations that occur at the hands of the government and its partner companies. Every day, communities are evicted without adequate compensation, indigenous villages’ traditional and spiritual lands are bulldozed, or a human rights activist is murdered, threatened or imprisoned. Obama's visit to Cambodia is a unique opportunity to wield the power of the U.S. government and help stop these human rights violations.
If you agree, please read the letter below outlining just some of these human rights violations, sign the petition, and share with your friends!
As you visit the country of Cambodia in November 2012, you need to heavily consider the human rights violations that occur at the hands of the government and its partner companies. Every day, communities are evicted without adequate compensation, indigenous villages’ traditional and spiritual lands are bulldozed, or a human rights activist is murdered, threatened or imprisoned. Your visit to Cambodia is a unique opportunity to wield the power of the U.S. government and help stop these human rights violations.
Here is just a short summary of ten of some of the atrocities that have recently occurred here:
1. Violations of human rights and land rights, contravening national and international law.
Boeung Kok. Families living around Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake were forcibly evicted to make way for Cambodian Senator Lao Meng Khin’s company, Shukaku Inc. They were displaced, sent to live far from the city without adequate facilities, and were not adequately compensated.
Borei Keila. Three hundred families evicted from their homes in Borei Keila for a commercial development project in January. They were promised housing but the Phanimex company reneged on the agreement, and most of the families have been left homeless and without compensation. Borei Keila residents have peaceably protested, even in front of the U.S. Embassy. In response, the Embassy issued a watered-down statement on its Twitter page about property rights and finding a peaceful resolution.
Andong Village. The government evicted Andong Village in Phnom Penh in 2006. They were relocated to an empty field far outside the city with no homes and no facilities. Since then, the villagers have been living with crowded, flooded homes and dirty water. Recently, they were asked to move again with only two weeks’ notice. They have no potential relocation site.
Communities living near the airport. Perhaps as a direct result of your visit, hundreds of families living near Phnom Penh’s International Airport will be forcibly evicted from their homes. Authorities have not yet promised adequate compensation. The eviction does not follow due process since the people were given legal permission to build and own these houses, and they have the documentation to prove it.
Indigenous peoples of the northeast. Above are only the high profile cases, which I’m sure you’ve heard of already. The stories from Boeung Kak and Borei Keila have been replicated on an enormous scale. Unknown atrocities are occurring throughout the country, especially to the indigenous peoples of the northeast. Countless villages are in disputes with companies encroaching on their land. The government claims to have fixed this problem through a land-titling initiative throughout the provinces. There are of course problems with this initiative that the government has refused to recognize, but more importantly, the government is using the initiative as an excuse to ignore the ongoing disputes that villagers have with companies. Several villages have waited for years for the court to act on their complaints as companies continue to bulldoze more of their land, and hundreds more villages still wait to receive community land titles.
2. Intimidation, violence, and murder of protesters and human rights activists.
Peaceful protesters from Boeung Kak and Borei Keila. In May, 13 women in Boeng Kak were arrested during a peaceful protest. After cries from international organizations and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the women were released. Two additional activists from the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities were arrested in September and still await their trials in Prey Sar prison.
Heng Chantha. In Broma village, Chhlong district, Kratie Province, the community of 14-year-old Heng Chantha was involved in a long-running land dispute with Casotim rubber company. Two hundred armed soldiers, police, and military police violently evicted the community. In the process, Heng Chantha was shot and killed. The government explained her killing by stating that the community where she lived was involved in a secessionist movement to form an “independent state.”
Chut Wutty. While investigating illegal logging in Koh Kong Province with two reporters, environmental activist Chut Wutty was shot dead by a military police officer. The government continued to change the story of how he died, eventually deciding that the military officer shot Wutty and then committed suicide. The court has recently chosen to stop investigating Wutty’s murder.
Ou Virak, Sok Ratha, Pen Bonnar, and Chhay Thy. While communities have waited years for land-grabbing companies to be charged in court, human rights activists in the region are swiftly brought into court for questioning: recently CCHR President Ou Virak, Radio Free Asia journalist Sok Ratha, and Adhoc activists Pen Bonnar and Chhay Thy were questioned at Ratanakiri Provincial Court for “inciting” villagers to protest.
Reporters Hang Serei Oudom and Ek Sokunthy. Reporter Hang Serei Oudom was bludgeoned to death with an ax, likely due to his exposes in Ratanikiri’s Vorakchun Khmer (Khmer Hero) newspaper. Oudom’s most recent article claimed local authorities are behind an illegal logging scandal, namely Ratanikiri Provincial Military Police Chief Kem Raksmey’s son, Keng Sanglao. Days after the article was published, Oudom’s body was found in the trunk of his car. Police Chief Raksmey arrested an officer under his command, Banlung police captain An Bunheng and his wife. Raksmey and his son retain their claims of innocence. Ek Sokunthy, another reporter working on illegal logging in Ratanikiri Province, was beaten up by police. Another group of journalists’ motorcycles were vandalized while photographing illegal timber storage.
Mam Sonando. Beehive Radio director and human rights activist Mam Sonando was accused of being the mastermind behind the “secessionist plot” in Kratie. The court recently convicted him of insurrection and twenty years in prison.
3. Lack of neutral democratic institutions for the upcoming elections.
Mu Suchea, a lawmaker from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party has already petitioned you to cancel your visit due to the partisan National Election Committee. In the upcoming July 2013 elections, transparency and neutrality is crucial. Unfortunately, the current system of elections does not allow for that.
Despite the government’s claims, the problem is not only their lack of capacity to deal with the issues that a post-conflict country faces. Instead, high-up officials in the government are actively exploiting Cambodia’s people and lands for financial and political gain. Worse, when the government faces criticism, they insist that they are doing the right thing. In response to Dr. Surya Subedi’s report, the government merely released internal memorandums to “clarify” his concerns and call them “groundless.” Active corruption and the simultaneous refusal to accept constructive criticism should not be acceptable to the United States, a country which champions the ideals of a free, transparent, and participatory democracy.
President Obama, if you come here without mentioning any of these human rights violations, you are allowing the government of Cambodia to continue their easy dismissal of human rights and refusal to accept their positive responsibility to protect their own peoples. As the President of the United States, you certainly know the power that one of your visits can hold. You witnessed what happened when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged the release of the Boeung Kak 13 from her desk in Washington, D.C.: they were released. If she had remained silent, it is very likely that they would still be in prison. If you silently arrive here, you will be legitimizing an oppressive government. You will perpetuate a culture of impunity and power-wielding. You will enable the government to convince itself, its people and the world that they are blameless.
Please, Mr. Obama, do not encourage the government to continue this culture. Use your visit to give a voice to the people who have none. If you speak up, the Cambodian government seeks the legitimization of your visit so deeply that they will at least do something to ensure that you come here. Please, employ your power to ensure the rights of a few.
The people who care about Cambodia