My family and I escaped a Communist Dictatorship in the late 1980’s. This has very much shaped who I am today, and what I do.
I saw first hand a people group denied any personal rights under the political philosophy of Communism – which had grave economic, social, psychological and human right implications for the individual and for families.
Ultimately, the fall of Communism occurred in my country of birth through a revolution of the people uprising and assassinating their own Dictator.
I have a deep empathy and compassion therefore for the remaining people groups around the world living under cruel dictatorship regimes.
Cambodia was of course one of these countries.
Even after the cruel leadership of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge was toppled in Cambodia, Cambodia still does not enjoy freedom, peace and security.
Prime Minister Hun Sen – who is referred to as a dictator and an autocrat – has ruled the Cambodian people since 1985. throughout the last three decades, the Prime Minister has increasingly undermined fundamental human rights. The leader’s tenure has been characterised by electoral fraud and the brutal suppression of political opposition. For example, in 2011 Hun said that if anyone tried to hold a demonstration against his rule “I will beat all those dogs and put them in a cage.”
According to recent reports, the Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family are seen to be bleeding the country dry economically through corruption and an abuse of their power.
Investigators from the UK-based group Global Witness who trace corporate ownership – recently said they had uncovered numerous examples where companies linked to members of the Hun family managed to secure lucrative public contracts with capital of more than US$200m.
In some cases, these commercial deals through the abuse of power and the use of corruption have resulted in “devastating impacts for Cambodian citizens and the environment, including land grabs that have caused mass displacements and destitution among Cambodia’s rural poor” – the Global Witness says.
Hun Sen’s son-in-law Sok Puthyvuth, the CEO of the Soma Group is linked to urban land grabbing, Global Witness says – threatening to displace approximately 165 households without providing compensation.
Despite overall economic growth, six million Cambodians – that’s 40% of the population, still live below or close to the poverty line.
In 2015, Cambodia ranked 150th out of 168 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the lowest score in south-east Asia.
Not only is the Cambodian Government steeped in corruption and the instigators of mass human rights abuses of their own people, they are not cooperating with International Courts in relation to giving evidence of the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge era.
Numerous public statements by Cambodian officials and the publication of previously confidential court materials revealed numerous instances of government non-cooperation with the United Nations-assisted Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), set up to prosecute those most responsible for crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-79.
Another devastating fact of Cambodia is their overwhelming dependence and abuse of Humanitarian Aid projects run by foreigners within their country.
Cambodia boasts the most NGO’s and Aid organisations in any country in the world.
This flood of Western money continues to enable inept governments, corruption to thrive, and a community who has become so dependent on Aid and humanitarian contributions – it does not know how to function without it!
There are various human rights organisations in Cambodia trying to help the local Khmer people – but they are up against not only criminal enterprise, but resistance and arbitrary arrest from the Government itself!
Of great concern is the Prime Minister’s targeted attack on NGO’s and Humanitarian Aid workers in Cambodia.
According to Human Rights Watch, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government launched new assaults on human rights in Cambodia recently- arresting and jailing members of the political opposition and activists, and passing a draconian new laws on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Land confiscations continues and corruption remains rampant.
The new NGO law allows the authorities to arbitrarily deny NGOs registration and shut them down.
After passage of the law, Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials launched a campaign against human rights-oriented NGOs, including those focusing on land disputes and women’s rights.
The law is aimed at critical voices in civil society and could seriously undermine the ability of many domestic and international associations and NGOs, as well as community-based advocacy movements, to work effectively in Cambodia.
Human Rights Watch explains that the law gives the interior, foreign affairs, and other ministries sweeping, arbitrary powers to shut down domestic and foreign membership groups and organizations, unchecked by judicial review, and allows them to prohibit the creation of new NGOs. It requires registered groups to operate under a vaguely defined obligation of “political neutrality,” on pain of dissolution, and criminalizes activities by unregistered groups.
These laws are restrictions on the right to freedom of association – and they go well beyond the permissible limitations allowed by international human rights law.
It has also been reported recently that the authorities in Cambodia have been involved in cases of arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment of their own citizens!
Authorities launched repeated street sweeps that detained hundreds of alleged drug users, homeless people, beggars, street children, sex workers, and people with disabilities in so-called drug treatment or social rehabilitation centers.
Detainees never saw a lawyer or a court, nor had any opportunity to challenge the legality of their detention.
Detained individuals received no meaningful training or health care, and faced torture, ill-treatment, and other abuses including, in some centers, forced labor, and at least three people died in suspicious circumstances.
This is Dictatorship in action.
These violations on the basic rights of people to:
- due process;
- access to justice and
- access to legal representation
- as well as a violation on their freedoms of association,
- and to merely to subsist
– are all the signs of the Cambodian Government slipping back into a dictatorship regime.
This is evidence that Cambodia is digressing politically, socially and ultimately – economically.
In this political and economic climate, criminal enterprise, exploitation, slavery and human trafficking thrives!
It is in this environment that local Cambodian parents are selling their children into sex slavery – without actually understanding what they are doing.
And it is in the climate that I will be taking a team to rural remote parts of Cambodia next month to provide legal human rights education awareness training to community leaders on the dangers of human trafficking, education on the rights of women and children, an anti trafficking children’s program and a mothers and babies health clinic.
This is part of Fighting for Justice Foundation’s efforts to curb the demand of human trafficking before it begins through advocacy, education and outreach.
This, of course, is the international arm of our human rights outreach work.
FFJF focuses on empowering, enabling and equipping local communities to help their own. We seek to teach communities how to ‘fish’.
Fighting for Justice Foundation is focused on curbing the demand of human trafficking through social reform through advocacy, education and outreach in partnership with pre-existing local services and community leaders.
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