‘A force more powerful’ book gift for 2014 International Peace Day

The theme of this year International Peace Day is “the Right of Peoples to Peace”, which is to mark the 30th Anniversary of the General Assembly Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace which means to recognise the promotion of peace is necessary for full enjoyment of all human rights.

Peace should not be described as merely the absence of war or violence, which is ‘negative peace.’ It should also include communal harmony, socioeconomic cooperation and equal political representation in government for all citizens. These, along with good governance, which respects the rights of the people, constitute the positive side of peace, or rather peace building.

Even when we say ‘absence of violence,’ we must first examine what violence is. While war is direct visible violence, there is also a kind of ‘structural violence,’ the result of bad and harmful state policies that have long-term negative effects on people, such as hunger and poverty, which harm and put peoples’ lives at risk.

Reflecting to this theme and the definition above, one could not deny that people’s rights to peace has been continually violated in many countries and in many forms.

We all could join together to recall the respect to those who has sacrificed their life and effort for the peace promotion and we all have the the power and moral obligation to contribute to the world peace.

I therefore would like to make awareness contribution by gifting such a powerful book I have received in my attendance at the International Visitor Leadership Program to my fellow in Cambodia who are interested in the issue.

A force more powerful

To be the winner for a 554 page book titled “A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict” written by Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, what you could do is to answer the following (in comment section of this blog):

There is a known nonviolent activism history in Cambodia. Agree or disagree? Please elaborate.

Deadline: Answer now until mid-night of 21st September 2014, International Peace Day.

Please note that there is no an absolute answer to this, as it would depend on one’s opinion. However I will choose an opinion that is matter and favor to my subjection.

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A nature of love and a must to conserve: Cambodia’s Chi Phat Eco-tourism

People would need a space for an escape from their routine life and environment sometimes. So did I when I managed to have a weekend escape with my partner in late August 2014 to Koh Kong province where this turned to be the greatest escape weekend ever in our lives. However it was not a really proper escape as when you would suddenly met the person you have known: I met a participant attending blogfestasia—in which I co-organized in 2012—on the mini-bus and he just sit next to me. Our conversation started with where and what was our plan to do in Koh Kong province. Another newly met middle-age man sitting after him started to jump in our conversation about tourist spots and his community work as Areng community activist. I was first thinking in my head: What an escape I had now, as this was a familiar discussion in almost day-to-day operation!

Suddenly the man introduced us to visit Chi-Phat community. Without any clue of this area but an Eco-tourism spot that managed by community, we did not think long but thanked him for guiding us the location:

It was a bout an hour drive from Sre Ambel toward to Koh Kong province and there will be sign a long the national road noting “Community-based Eco-tourism, Chi Phat”. Then we could take motor-taxi or boat to reach the area. We took motor-taxi that would take 30-45 minutes depending on road condition after the rain for example. After that we need to cross a small canal which it just took us few minutes. Then, it is about 500 meter where the community-based office is located and they could explain us further about the sites and plan together the spot visits. A two or three night-stay is recommended. Find out more the accommodation means, which they offer alternative and interesting affordable choices.

Here I came to stay at a very nice bungalow:

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A great stay at Chi Phat Bungalow (Photo by the Author)

A great stay at Chi Phat Bungalow (Photo by the Author)

There were many tourist spots but I could only visit few of them given my accidental plan that allowed only a night stay there. Yet, it is still the worthwhile adventure ever. We had done hiking in the forest to see the beauty of many waterfalls:

Chhay Khpus in Chi-Phat Eco-tourism. Chhay mean 'waterfall' for Chi-Phat residents. (photo by author).

Chhay Khpus in Chi-Phat Eco-tourism. Chhay mean ‘waterfall’ for Chi-Phat residents. (photo by author).

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Then we could do another adventure on the motorbike to O-malou waterfall and at some point we had to stop and walk along the motorbike as the road condition would not allow and I feel it would be best to do hiking (yet it is a bit far as it took us more than an hour). There I called it a hidden beauty waterfall.

O-malou Waterfall, the hidden beauty. (photo by author) DSC_1265 DSC_1243 DSC_1215 DSC_1210

I could not help myself to be trapped under this hidden beauty and amazed at the combination nature of love as this ecosystem complement and treat each other well to make a lively creature on earth. Having seen this and aware of many illegal logging and natural resource destruction which some were under the so-called claim of development (that environmental and social impact assessment were often neglected and conducted in a secret manner), I encourage everyone to visit the place and join hand with communities to support their force in protecting and promoting the nature, such as save the Areng Valley for example, so that it could return us back with healthy life and our children could have the chance to live with these remaining natures. I could see the potential model of Eco-tourism where it could generate income for government as well as the support directly to communities and such model shall be repeated in other places for the better off for both nature and people.

Find out more and how to contact Chi-Phat community via http://www.chi-phat.org/ (the same for http://www.ecoadventurecambodia.com)

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Death by Association

Despite unprecedented numbers taking to the streets to demand a better future, union rights continue to take a battering in Cambodia

By Chak Sopheap, published on September issue of Southeast Asia Globe.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) recently found Cambodia to be one of the worst countries in the world for labour and union rights. Only countries where the rule of law has completely broken down, such as Somalia and the Central African Republic, managed to trump Cambodia’s terrible ranking.

Chak Sopheap is executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

The garment industry is the Kingdom’s largest export earner, employing more than 475,000 people, but the human rights situation in the industry is appalling. Working conditions are poor and impact heavily on the health of garment workers – in particular, mass fainting is a regular occurrence. Safety standards are not met within factories, workers do not receive liveable wages and there is virtually no job security.

Moreover, Cambodia is increasingly seen as a dangerous country in which to be a trade unionist. Unionists have been faced with continuous harassment and intimidation for attempting to defend their rights and participating in strikes. There has been an emerging trend of the government stalling union registration and issuing public threats to all unions that if they participate in further strikes, they will have their licences revoked. Union members are often fired as a result of their union activities and have recently been targeted in a series of arrests.

Over the past year the situation has continued to deteriorate, with strikes, protests and demonstrations led by trade unions often violently dispersed by state security forces, sometimes using live ammunition. At the start of the year, protests by garment workers turned deadly when at least four workers were killed after soldiers opened fire on the crowds of protestors.

The new generation – one that did not experience the Khmer Rouge regime – is one that is willing to challenge the status quo. It wants change and is willing to take to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand greater rights and a better future.

That is a scary phenomenon for a government that has gone largely unchallenged for the decades it has been in power. As a result, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has employed extreme measures to suppress dissent. They have even started to employ private, untrained security guards to do their dirty work. While violence on all sides must be condemned, the use of these guards, and the disproportionately excessive force they use against protestors, has been one of the year’s greatest issues. 

But the government isn’t the only player for whom this new generation poses a threat. Powerful and organised unions, who seek to exercise their rights and demand liveable wages and improved standards, are a clear problem for private entities that have come to Cambodia seeking cheap labour. By targeting unions, the government can scare workers into submission, thereby appeasing powerful economic investors.

Worst of all, things could get worse if the impending trade union law is adopted. The government has promised to adopt the law, which includes vaguely worded provisions that will make it even easier for the government to restrict union rights, by the end of this year.

Given the ITUC’s appalling ranking for the country, key players need to ensure that union rights are protected. With the opposition now having taken their seats in the National Assembly after a year of boycott, we must push the government to put in place effective mechanisms that would enable transparent dispute resolution, as well as address key concerns such as the minimum wage. We must also push Members of Parliament to ensure that the draft law on trade unions is made public and that civil society concerns are listened to and addressed. At the same time, unions must be clear in their demands and operate within the law. 

We must also work with the international brands and businesses operating here in Cambodia. They can play an active role in ensuring that the rights to freedom of assembly and association are respected.Despite a complete lack of evidence against the 23 people that were arrested during January’s protests, the international brands buying from Cambodia played a large part in their release, evidencing the reach of their influence. 

The current situation in Cambodia is one where fundamental human rights are repeatedly being stripped away. Only when all stakeholders sit around the same table and cooperate will workers finally be able to enjoy the rights they are entitled to.

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