Things impress me in Sweden

One thing that many of us may aware about Sweden is the Nobel Prize—known as the legacy of Sweden’s Alfred Nobel (1833–1896). However, after my second trip, I have more to tell than the impression I made during my first trip and I hope this will reflect to Cambodian context where we could learn.

Educating children is a key

There are things similar to Japan where school children are taught to interact and expose to outside community aside their school boundary. During my visit to Royal Palace—when the changing of the guard pirate were to show off—a middle age man shouted to the crowd where I was standing behind: Could you please move a bit and let kids stay in front? I then saw a group of roughly 20 kids walked into the crowd. Some tourists were not happy to let so many kids occupied their space, while many were smiling to see so many kids in queue and of course they were willing to let kids in as this is morally right thing to do. Kids were actively observed and discussing among each other on the performance and I believe this would be later discussed in their class of their visit. I was impressed at how schoolteachers were spending time with their students and such field-trip mission would let these young kids exposed to real world besides their daily theoretical learning in classroom.

Kids were standing to see pirate of changing guard at Stockholm's Royal Palace (Photo by the Author)

Kids were standing to see pirate of changing guard at Stockholm’s Royal Palace (Photo by the Author)

While I was impressed with such act, I reflected this to my own experience. I could only visit the Cambodia’s royal palace for the first time only when I was in grade 12 (the final year in high school degree) with other few friends as a study reward, meaning not everyone was entitled to such visit led by a teacher. Having said so, it means that such field visit was very limited in school agenda or let’s not hopes to be initiated by schoolteachers who were struggling to earn extra aside their official teaching time to support their low salary.

Despite of this, similar approach to have such field trip for students are seen in some private schools in Cambodia which is good expose but this shall be initiated in public schools too so that every kids would has access and learn from such extra activities and this requires sufficient funding in education program as well as the teacher’s salary.

Another component that I learned from a study visit is the fact that Sweden is already advanced at openness and compulsory to include “sexual rights” as part of their educational curriculum for kids from age 13 to 19 years old. Such educational platform allows students to openly learn the issue around sexual rights but this was believed a step forward to raise kids awareness to different gender identity and sexual orientation so that this would tackle on the discrimination against sexuality. What I gathered from the communication I had with few Cambodians who were also impressed at this openness approach with kids on sexuality in Sweden was that they would be still hesitate, although they well understood the topic, to accept such thing adopted in Cambodia if to reflect from parents’ point of view. They suggested for those including I myself who were trying to get their opinion on matter to wait until these people have our own kids. I could understand their concern with tradition we had been used to and while Cambodia’s education system is not that advance compared to Sweden, but Sweden also experienced similar tradition’s clashes until they could have a smooth transformation. It thus requires us to learn and see what and where we could start from it.

Openness and Engagement with Civil Society

I should not surprised at how openness and closed engagement the government as well as parliamentarians with civil society in Sweden has, yet coming from a country where position does matter, I could not help to impressed with this and think out loud how it be better for Cambodia to learn such positive manner. The city hall did not fail to welcome delegates—mostly from civil society organizations—for the second time of my visit in Sweden where my former visit in the role as blogger. The representative of city hall of Stockholm proudly welcomed guest and introduced the spirit of engagement with civil society regardless political or social background.

Cambodian delegates were greeting by the Deputy Governor of Stockholm's City Hall (Photo by the Author)

Cambodian delegates were greeting by the Deputy Governor of Stockholm’s City Hall (Photo by the Author)

The representative also brought us to visit the important building of the hall and explained the rationales of specific architecture. One thing that impressed me is the city hall’s Council Chamber —a venue where meeting of Stockholm’s city council will be conducted. The design was full of openness idea behind as shown with a painting on the cell of the building with sky, star, sun and noon to represent that the meeting of the member will be conducted in an open space where public can see their conduct and any discussion shall be made public as they are now practicing with live streaming and opening access to media and public observation.

Chamber of city hall (Photo by the Author)

Chamber of city hall (Photo by the Author)

We were also welcomed by representative of parliamentary at the parliament in which I am sure such practice would be rare in Cambodia.

I acknowledge these are the positive side of Sweden that I had exposed during two visits (I spent roughly a week per visit), so this is not to conclude the whole picture of Sweden as any place shall has its shortcoming and to the extend when the local resident would have more to say about their own country.

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When justice is a prisoner

May 2014 Human Rights Spotlight: When justice is a prisoner

(published on analysis and op-ed of the Phnom Penh Post, 06 June 2014)

Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association president Vorn Pov

Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association president Vorn Pov speaks from inside a police truck as it enters Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month. Heng Chivoan

When justice is a prisoner

Fri, 6 June 2014

In January, the government engaged in a violent crackdown on growing labour and opposition protests in and around Phnom Penh, resulting in the death of five people. Military forces and police also beat up protesters, and arrested 23 of them over the course of two days. Those arrested, including four prominent human rights defenders, are now known as “the 23”. The violence and arbitrary nature of their arrests, their five-month detention and the recent court verdicts finding them guilty illustrate the intolerance of the government towards anyone threatening its economic interests or its legitimacy.

Last Friday, judges announced the 23 had all been found guilty of acts of violence and related charges, and sentenced them to between one and four and a half years’ imprisonment. However, all sentences were suspended and the 23 were released the same day, in part due to growing pressure from international brands, international unions and international and local civil society. Brands such as H&M, Gap and Levi Strauss are important buyers for Cambodian factories and represent crucial economic interests, with the garment industry’s exports exceeding $4 billion in the first nine months of 2013 alone.

While it was heart-warming to see the mothers, fathers, wives and friends of the 23 cry with relief after learning that their loved ones would be set free and reunited with their families, their release should not overshadow the core issue that these verdicts represent and that is symptomatic of Cambodia’s judiciary: a lack of independence used by the government as a tool to suppress opposition voices.

The conviction comes after an obviously biased trial. Violations of the 23’s right to a fair trial were seen at every stage of the process, from the impunity with which security forces killed and injured protesters in January to the very courtroom in which a judge took on the role of prosecutor. During the five days of trials, no incriminatory evidence was presented and the defendants’ rights to a fair trial were repeatedly violated. Judges turned into prosecutors, blatantly assuming the guilt of defendants, qualifying protesters as “gangsters”, preventing defence lawyers from presenting evidence and censoring defendants’ testimonies. In light of the conduct of the hearing, there was no doubt regarding the political nature of the case: the 23 were in jail to set an example and to dissuade workers from protesting against an industry from which government officials and members of the elite greatly benefit.

The only thing the 23 could be found guilty of is having exercised their freedom of assembly, guaranteed by the constitution. Today they are free, but they remain guilty in the eyes of the court. The verdict illustrates that despite a lack of evidence, the judiciary could not openly dismiss the arrests made by security forces and instead handed down suspended sentences. The suspended sentences also now represent a constant threat hanging over their heads, while the five months they spent in prison stand as a reminder to anyone who protests of the risks they are taking. The happiness of seeing them free should not divert Cambodians or the international community from the reality of this verdict.

It is no secret that the judiciary in Cambodia is not independent and is partial to the interests of the elite and the government. It is not a tool for justice but rather a tool to suppress dissident voices. The government’s control of the judiciary will be further reinforced, as only a few weeks ahead of the verdict, the National Assembly adopted three laws “reforming” the judiciary.

The laws, which had been gathering dust for years, were rushed through a one-party assembly and adopted after only two days, despite repeated calls for consultation by the UN and civil society. Leaked drafts of the laws revealed that they will not reform the judiciary in a manner that would strengthen its independence as we had all hoped. Instead, they will reinforce the influence of the executive branch over the judicial and grant direct powers to the Ministry of Justice over the judiciary to advance and promote judges and prosecutors, control expenses and discipline judges.

If the judiciary were truly independent, the security forces responsible for beating up and arbitrarily arresting the 23 would be investigated as well. However, while the 23 stood trial and were convicted, not one military or police officer has been investigated or even simply questioned about the violence in January. The 23 are now free, but justice remains prisoner to the political manipulations and intimidations of the ruling party.

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

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A Need for an Open and Transparent Legislation and Judiciary Reform in Cambodia

April 2014 Human Rights Spotlight: A Need for an Open and Transparent Legislation and Judiciary Reform in Cambodia

Main roads nearby the National Assembly were blocked in Phnom Penh on 23 September 2013 when the Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni convened the first post-election sitting of parliament. Photo by the author, Sopheap Chak (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Main roads nearby the National Assembly were blocked in Phnom Penh on 23 September 2013 when the Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni convened the first post-election sitting of parliament. Photo by the author, Sopheap Chak (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Cambodians are observing the in-depth reform promised by the ruling government—formed according to election result that has been contested by the opposition party who has now still boycotted the national assembly since September 2013 when the first session convened.

While it would be too early to assess the in-depth reform agenda here; however, it is not difficult to track down key concerning element and voice out our concern at early stage to ensure the government could now mirror itself to the promise.

Legislation and its process in spotlight: A number of new pending laws include the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), the Law on the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Courts, the Law on Trade Unions, and the Cybercrime Law—all of these given the exception to the LANGO has been so far secret and three laws concerning to the judiciary reform has already received approval from the Council of Minister, right after the Khmer New Year holiday, without prior publication and open and broad consultations although civil society has repeatedly requested so. The parliamentarian member from the ruling party confirmed the three draft laws related to the judiciary reform has now arrived at the National Assembly and this shall be discussed and to be adopted in coming June.

All the mentioned law will highly impact human rights. With the purpose of the laws to promote and protect the Cambodian people interest, it becomes more necessary that the draft laws shall be made public so that relevant stakeholders and concerning civil society could offer input to reflect that purpose. By designing in such secretive manners, it only adds up to the public curiosity and question on the real intention of the government over the laws.

Amid current political deadlock and the last election result that shows the decline in number of people support, the ruling government would be able to restore people trust by implementing what it has promised within its political platforms and the rectangular strategy-phase III that highlight the necessity in “strengthening governance and capacity of public institutions in order to improve the efficiency of public service delivery” via “continuing legal and judicial reforms to ensure social justice and promote rights of people along with INTEGRITY, TRANSPARENCY, and ACCOUNTABILITY of civil service.” The government has also voiced its commitment to mirror themselves by listening to civil society more.

“We have many mirrors to use if we want to use them and we learn to accept the reality, including a platform for public consultation with the people that must be done regularly to listen to people’s opinion,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen during his talk on reform promise.

For the opposition party, the current political deadlock and its boycott to national assembly cannot be an excuse for them to stay silent on the issue neither. They has the obligation in the name of a political party who gain a large number of votes, meaning people are in trust with them to ensure their role in check and balance, to ensure a proper development of legislation and judiciary reform and other issues in the country—the role that more beyond their focus on political negotiation.

Posted in Human Rights and Peace Campaign, Nyobay, Social Politics | 1 Comment