Sopheap Chak

Riding the wave of change in Cambodia

Category: Human Rights and Peace Campaign (page 1 of 9)

‘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.

Human rights, lest we forget

July 2014 Human Rights Spotlight: Human rights, lest we forget
(published on analysis and op-ed of the Phnom Penh Post, 29 July 2014)
Mam Sonando (centre), the owner of the independent Beehive radio station and a prominent government critic
Mam Sonando (centre), the owner of the independent Beehive radio station and a prominent government critic, and other activists run as military police officers disperse a demonstration in Phnom Penh in January. AFP


The end of the boycott of the National Assembly by the Cambodia National Rescue Party is a welcome development. The fact that both parties were able to finally come to the table and settle their disagreements should be welcomed. However, we cannot become complacent just because Cambodia’s political crisis has been signed away with a promise of reform of the National Election Commission.

Electoral reform is important in any country where election irregularities have been noted, and it is crucial to Cambodia’s democratic development – no one can deny that. But electoral reform alone will not solve Cambodia’s other crisis: the human rights crisis.

Over the past year, the human rights situation has continued to deteriorate, with people’s fundamental rights and freedoms being slowly stripped away. We must ensure that we keep this at the forefront and that we push both political parties to work towards greater protection of human rights.

So as we welcome the end of the political deadlock, we cannot forget that there still has been no satisfactory investigation into why so many people were killed and injured by security forces during protests and why victims of police violence are being denied their right to justice.

We cannot forget that journalists continue to be targeted for reporting on controversial stories on a daily basis; that defamation suits are repeatedly used to silence those who dare to speak out; and that online freedom is increasingly at risk.

We cannot forget that across Cambodia, women, the LGBT community and minorities are discriminated against in their communities and by the authorities; that the shockingly high rate of violence against women continues to keep them from reaching their potential.

We cannot forget that Cambodia’s judiciary continues to bend to the Cambodian People’s Party’s political interests, which may be exacerbated by the three recently passed laws on judicial reform; that all too often, courts of law are used to protect the wealthy and powerful, and all too rarely to render justice.

We cannot forget that garment factory workers are still not earning enough to be able to live in dignity; that employers continue to take advantage of poorly worded labour and union laws and of weak enforcement mechanisms to maintain deplorable working conditions and violate union rights.

We cannot forget that thousands of Cambodians have been evicted from their land to make way for commercial and development projects that they will most likely not benefit from; that those who have been evicted are still waiting for real compensation and solutions.

Forgetting that this human rights crisis is very much alive and well will only enable those who benefit from it to continue violating human rights with impunity. It will continue to hold Cambodia’s development back, as the majority of the population continues to see little or even no improvements in their living conditions or in their ability to benefit from Cambodia’s economic growth.

None of this means that we should forget electoral reform. But we should remember that electoral reform is not just about replacing the NEC’s members – it’s also about reforming the way that political parties campaign, so that elections become about policies as opposed to rhetoric. It’s also about eradicating corruption to ensure that voter lists cannot be altered to suit political interests and that legitimate voters are not turned away at the polls.

As we reflect on the political deal that has just been made, we must remember that there is still so much to be done to ensure that Cambodia becomes a place where the protection of human rights becomes a reality and not just a dream, and that democracy finally takes hold. We must pressure both political parties to work together towards ending this human rights crisis. We must ensure that they work with civil society to ensure that new laws, new policies and new institutions are designed to safeguard human rights and not to erode them further. Only when our legal framework is strengthened and the rule of law made a national priority will we see an improvement.

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

Quote for human rights and lives

Recently I was quoted in an article tiling “What’s the Price of Workers’ Lives in Cambodia?” by Anne Elizabeth Moore, a USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellow, Weinberg Fellow at the Newberry Library, a Fulbright scholar, and the author of several award-winning non-fiction books. The article touches upon recent violent crackdown by government on the demonstrations by garment workers demanding a fair wage, that resulted in five deaths and dozens of injuries.

Following Anne’s article, there is a response from Chrek Sophea, a Cambodian feminist and worker rights activist and former garment worker based in Phnom Penh, to Anne’s article but she mainly expressed her opinion on my quote specifically; her article tilting “The human right to a living wage is far from being won in Cambodia”

Sophea also shared her article to me directly and I am glad she did so and here is my copied response to her feedback:

Cited Sophea’s article: “According to Chak, the workers’ movement did not provide enough evidence to show that the garment workers cannot survive on the current minimum wage. But what kind of data do we need to prove that workers cannot survive on the current wage? And who should be qualified to conduct the data collection?”

My response: My argument is not to deny that hardest fact of workers has been faced. I have been traveled to area where worker has been staying, sharing room etc, and just imagine ourselves in their shoe of living standard with high inflation in Cambodia within these few years, it would even harder. So, just to make it clear with you that I don’t mean to question on this. What I has been suggesting is the way for effective advocacy by union leaders and also CNRP [opposition party] who also voiced support for workers at that time to come up with data argument. So far different argument has been raised by all sectors, let alone not to expect from GMAC per se to support this, some even put the figure higher, so if we could come up with data properly, the figure for workers salary would even higher and I would even encourage for the demand for other associated proper benefit that worker shall entitled to to ensure their adjusted salary rate would not be just ended up the same inflation challenge (namely, when I bought the orange at market, sellers would say that the price now increased because even workers’ salary increased, so here the argument is not just about salary increase but the inflation adjustment issue that the government must ensure this). That was absent during the strike.

Cited Sophea’s article: “Chak goes on to pose the question: Is it only garment workers who deserve such a pay increase? Why not raise the pay for teachers (who are also poorly paid in Cambodia) as well?”

My respone: You even raised this further, which of course this was my conversation with Anne during her interview. I did not raise this question by myself, but it was the context in the interview that whether it would be worth to have a national minimum wage or not and why only worker now, how is others. So, I had raised all civil servants including teachers who received very modest salary, and if current mass could raised up to national minimum wage or whatever it would be based on such as education, sectors etc, why not?

Cited Sophea’s article: “I could add to her questions. Why not also look at the pay of military? Or that of medical doctors? Why is it NGOs worker earn much more than civil servants? Should we debate who should get less based on their educational background?”

My response: I think you raised a good question and this is what we should draw upon more study and if these sectors could earn a proper wage to ensure their living standard with dignity, that is the benefit for the society.

Cited Sophea’s article: “Should we demand that some people have their pay lowered because they currently get paid more than garment workers and others? Of course, that would be ridiculous.”

My response: I do not know what make you draw this question, but I would say the same that it is ridiculous and like to cut head to fit hat issue.

I have realized Anne has also elaborated her purpose, definition, and ultimate aim of her article tilting “Wages: minimum, living, decent, and fair” which I believe three of us (Anne, Sophea and I myself) including others would  agree altogether:

Anne’s response to Sophea:

“What we need to do,” Chrek Sophea writes at the end of her essay, “is to support and join the struggle to improve all people’s livelihood.”

I couldn’t agree more, and believe my piece reflects that.

I am not sure if this is a matter of quote, language, or any other reason, I believe we shared common goals and this positively proved to me that people are watching the current Cambodia closely now, espeically the ordinary citizen, who are willing to stand up for human rights cause.

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