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A Cambodian’s Impressions of the 2012 Stockholm Internet Forum

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If you asked me what’s the biggest difference between Stockholm, the Swedish capital and Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia where I come from, I’d answer straight off without any hesitation: it’s the temperature! It’s now roughly 2 – 5 degrees Celsius in Stockholm – which is freezing for a Cambodian whose country in April is going through its hottest season with temperatures around 35 degrees.

“Social Media is Fast-Social Change is Slow”

It was extremely cold outside, yet  the atmosphere inside the  Stockholm Internet Forum which took place in the capital  from 18- 19 April was pretty hot! It was aimed  at deepening the debate among IT enthusiasts, business corporates, human rights and internet activists, and policymakers on how freedom and openness on the Internet promotes global development. Its focus was on freedom of expression on and off  the Net. There were many interesting sessions and side events which summarized  different sessions; live streaming recordings from the Forum can be viewed here.

View from the top corner of 2012 Stockholm Internet Forum, Photo taken by the Author who was attending the event

Two main linkages received considerable discussion at the Forum. First, the linkage of  freedom of expression and the Internet to global development which was underscored by some participants who raised the issue of the  preconditions of the physical and political infrastructure before demands for freedom and access to the Internet were made. To kick off the conversation, the moderator of the first session cited what a young boy had said about why freedom of expression was important for him. A tweet gave the boy’s words:

“without freedom of expression” I can’t talk about who’s stealing my food” moderator @rmack intro #sif12 #fxinternet

His words go to show that poverty is not only a lack of water or food but also a lack of freedom and that therefore enjoyment of human rights is also a priority concern for human development. The milestone of technological development as a catalyst for development cooperation, however, should not be questioned as the notion has been already recognized and outlined in the Millennium Development Goal 8 which is to develop a global partnership for development.

The Swedish Government reaffirmed its committment to openness and internet access rights.  Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, posited two traditions with deep roots in his country.  Firstly, “the somewhat more recent leadership role in the Net transformation of our world, and secondly the longer one of protection of freedom of information which has made it natural to make all the issues concerning freedom of the Net one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy now; we urge all governments to  agree that freedom of the Internet is a RULE not an exception”.

The other important linkage  discussed was  business responsibility in supporting human rights. It seemed that Forum participants and panelists agreed that corporations have a duty to respect human rights and exercise due diligence. The ICT sector was identified as a “freedom provider” which means providing access to information, communication and new services which contribute to the practical enjoyment of associates’ rights as well as freedom of expression.

Failed or undemocratic governments also pose great challenges for the operating environment in many countries and an appeal was made to companies (IT/internet providers) to take their role as human rights defenders seriously by not crossing the red line of any direct act that could make others vulnerable “namely by give information about internet users to the government.”

The UN Framework and Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were strongly welcomed as these highlight the need for due diligence and place responsibility on states and corporations as regards protection and promotion of human rights. I particularly recall the comments of  Suneet Singh Tuli, President and CEO of Data Wind Ltd about: “ blocking social networking also means blocking prosperity on these markets,” – in which he said that it is evident that extensive closure of the Internet is a violation of human rights and intervention against global development.

When a government controls access to the Internet of its people, it also limits access of the global community.  Likewise,  Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO  argued that “when a government is depriving its citizens’ access to the Internet the whole world is affected in that nobody gets access to those citizens’ stories and perspectives.” Hence, the duty of  human rights defenders and “freedom providers”  should be  to defend a free and open Internet.

To conclude,  the various heads of states  and human rights activists  at this Forum agreed that  freedom of the Internet cannot be seen as an isolated issue and has to be mainstreamed by governments. Moreover, freedom of expression on the Internet is an important human right. I see this as a very positive push in the direction  of creating global internet freedom. I  just  hope that the maximum number of governments can take a step in this direction and providing  freedom since at present there are far too many of them who censor the Internet for their citizens.

All photos of the Forum taken by Chak Sopheap

UN Special Rapportuer to Freedom of Expression attended the session 1 of the forum, “High-level Segment Internet freedom for global development.”
“Social media is fast – social change is slow.”
Dinner Reception with the Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (SPIDER).
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The Rise of Digital Democracy in Cambodia

The Rise of Digital Democracy in Cambodia ? Bertelsmann Future Challenges.

The Rise of Digital Democracy in Cambodia

Globalization and the development of technology has brought better access to information and? increased civic participation to most countries and Cambodia is no exception. While non-governmental organizations have traditionally been the key advocacy players, technological advances have now heralded in the rise of citizen journalism networks. The trend, however, is still minimal due to an overall climate of restricted governance.

Though population penetration of social media sites is?reportedly low, Facebook has a population penetration of 3.18{ada422a91571c9f32663835004e322394559eff300a971d9698e6f9db6bdae5e} which is growing fast. In the last six months Facebook subscriptions in Cambodia increased by 26{ada422a91571c9f32663835004e322394559eff300a971d9698e6f9db6bdae5e} to a total of 469,660. Grass-root advocates have also engaged strongly with technology to amplify their appeal for the respect of human rights in terms of freedom from eviction and protection of forests. Examples of this are the? ?Prey Lang-It?s Your Forest Too,? blog that gives public updates on some of their activities like prayer ceremonies and distribution of leaflets to save the endangered forest and the ?Save Boeung Kak Campaign?

Despite the emergence of a notion of digital democracy, participation by young bloggers in demanding their rights is still far from the norm. On-going government restrictive measures via legal and judicial channels and the police that usually?target politicians, ?journalists, and activists critical of the government has hindered greater youth participation. This means that the governance advocacy movement is still mostly driven by civil society organizations like Sithi, a Cambodian human rights portal that aims to crowd-source and document reports of human rights abuse, or Saatsam, a virtual library of information on corruption that aims to encourage public participation in combating corruption and promoting transparency.

Compared to ??old media? in Cambodia, ?new media? such as online news, social networks and personal blogs currently enjoy more freedom and independence from government censorship and restrictions. This may be? largely because, with such low internet penetration, ?the Royal Government of? Cambodia has yet to recognize the internet as a significant threat. However, there have been several recent reports of blogs and websites being blocked.

Despite the claims by the Cambodian government that it supports freedom of expression and access to the internet, there have been various attempts in the past to control the internet, attempts which mainly targeted artists. There have been crackdowns on websites critical of the government or publishing information on the business associations of the Prime Minister and members of his family. Websites and blogs showing pornography or sexually explicit images were also closed down including? which was only accessible to internet users outside of Cambodia. The latest?crackdown is the block on blogspot sites reportedly following an order from the Ministry of Interior to all Cambodia?s internet service providers.? This crackdown is apparently a government reaction to the KI media post in December 2010 which described key government officials as ?traitors.? KI Media is a prominent online media blog critical of the Government.

In early 2010 the Cambodian Government planned to introduce a state-run exchange to control all local internet service providers with the declared aim of strengthening internet security against pornography, theft and cyber crime. This plan however has been postponed so far due to popular opposition even from inside the government.

In spite of the blurred boundaries between freedom of expression and restriction, the web has become a place where those Cambodians who do have internet access can communicate, debate and organize. A number of websites and blogs are disseminating news, entertaining the public and serving as a platform for political, economic and social discussions. New media has the potential to be a huge facilitator for change in Cambodia. However it is absolutely crucial that it remains the free and open forum for discussion that it is today. Major changes in political will and current legislation are also needed to reduce the climate of fear that hinders broader participation.

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Cambodia: Rising Civic Mobilization

Written by Sopheap Chak

The article has been originally published on FutureChallenges

Soluy Hansen was a young adventurous woman who wondered through life experimenting different things in Cambodia but always believed in the saying that ?everything is possible.? One such experiment was living in a pagoda and interacting and spending time in the jungles with monks who enriched her with the Buddhist philosophy and practice. Another was praying with members of a Muslim community at a provincial Mosque which cleared many doubts she had about Muslim religion. She also spent a few months with soldiers at the Preah Vihear province a border area where there were constant conflicts with neighboring Thailand.

All her experiences show that that she was willing to engage in activities which were usually a social taboo. Women in Cambodia are expected to stay at home, not to mention about living in pagoda or with soldiers. Her message to other young women in Cambodia was to get out of the comfort zone in order to learn.

When she spoke at a civic mobilization conference on June 4th, she inspired many others with her experiences. I was also amongst these speakers where I was also given a chance to inspire a great number of audiences; but instead, I felt that I had more inspiration from the other speakers whose personal life stories were very powerful and compelling.

Over the past few years, civic mobilization in Cambodia has gained momentum with the emerging power of digital and social media. Unlike in rice production where farmers awaited the rains for a good yield of crop, the young generations no longer await the initiatives from the government or civil society organizations to yield results.

They are taking their own initiatives through social movements led by youth groups and mobilizing their peers to be the agents of social change for the sake of their country?s well-being. Having attend some of these social movement, it is promising for Cambodia to see many young are very proactive and are willing to sparkle their dream for the country development.

A number of events including TEDx Phnom Penh, KhmerTalks, Cambodia Women in Business, and Barcamp Phnom Penh has been highlighted. Please read more on the original article published on Future Challenges