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.

Cambodia: Where is human rights trend heading to?

I was leaving a private sector work to join with civil society organization as I believe I could not belong to private sector, then it has been 8 years already when I looked back to my first start in human rights work. My first start back then was not a welcoming moment as the leader of the organization (Kem Sokha back then and now the deputy leader of main opposition party) and few other human rights activists were arrested in connection to the human rights day celebration. With that incident, I shall run a way if I am scared of this risky job, but I did not. I was at office during that time of Kem Sokha’s arrest while I came on weekend to clear pending tasks. That moment  inspired me to work further in my role to contribute to the the whole organization work in collaboration with other community to demand for their release and promotion of human rights respect in Cambodia.

I kept saying the human rights situation is fluctuated like the economic graph where it was up and down at certain period. Here the graph where I has drawn up:

Human Rights Situation Graph, drawn by the Author, Sopheap Chak (CC BY-ND 2.0).

After years of working with the expectation to see the trend of human rights situation would went up as the government would envision for the economic growth where the two could converged along the way together, the scenario of human rights has returned back to the point where I had started in late 2005. Now the question is whether the trend would move on, will it be up or further down?

Cambodian government, although under criticism of failure to protect and promote human rights for years, there has been attempt to address the criticism and 2013, the year of 5th mandate national election saw a mixture of development where restriction was applied in the mid of promising development of people participation in democratic process. Thanking to a not-yet restricted social media where majority of youths utilize this tools to disseminate and discuss political subject. The common self-censorship attitude appears to be lessen among most commentators who bravely speaks in their name and their identity to criticize government policies.

The ongoing political deadlock in which parties clashed on result of election held since 28 July 2013 has still not yet reached its common door for political resolution. With election result showing the decline of voters’ support to the long-time ruling party made the government leading by the Prime Minister Hun Sen to promise for an in-dept reform in its governance performance. Such commitment shall reflect well with policy formulation and implementation. Yet, the recent violent crackdown on protests by oppositional party and other civil actors such as unions and land activists may draw back that promise and further affect the score that people would place for this ruling party.

While many are in line with opposition party whose slogan for change of this country may not purely in line for political support but for the change they want to see, the opposition is mandated to  set clear strategy for change they had promised too; otherwise the support they has enjoyed to back up their political agenda would slowly decrease.

Now the main question is what next the political parties would need to correct the current situation? As a human right advocate, I condemn the violent means that affect human rights situation and parties need to restore this situation immediately before it would get even worse. It even become necessary for the claiming government to ensure that their in-dept reform including the improvement of public service and functions shall mainstream human rights principle so that its claiming rule of law and democratic state is translated in real practice. The current violent crackdown resulting to death of civilians and protesters must be properly investigated without finger point of blame and those who commit of this act must be brought to justice otherwise the culture of impunity is always there. The arrest of activists who exercised their right to freedom of expression and assembly and crackdown on their demand is not going to solve the root-cause of problem, instead it would just like adding fire on fuel, where it made the current political situation even worse.

The political solution I could see to address this deadlock is when both parties would agree now to set the rule of game together given the condition here accepted first: Re-election after National Election Committee would be reformed and recognized by all parties! For ruling party who claimed of victory could win with dignity by accepting this and if you are the winner you shall be confident in your voters again. For opposition party who kept contesting the election results, please mind your position that you are in battle field in the game you accept to enter (if re-election would happen), you are in to accept the result, if not, there is no way that countless elections would satisfy yours (I remembered during the CNRP party are to discuss to boycott election or not, Kem Sokah claimed to boycott while Sam Rainsy claimed to join election (meaning to accept the standard of the game) and yet party could contest result later if dissatisfied). So, my message to both parties, please agree to the point to make our nations proud of you both!

Cambodia: The Two Sides of Intra-Asian Migration ? Bertelsmann Future Challenges

Cambodia: The Two Sides of Intra-Asian Migration ? Bertelsmann Future Challenges.


Cambodia: The Two Sides of Intra-Asian Migration

Migration is a worldwide phenomenon from which Cambodia is no exception. After a long decade of isolation due to genocide and political conflict, this country is now integrated with regional blocs or bodies?like ASEAN and WTO?and has adopted the free market system which is meant to respect the free movement of people.

Endebtedness and a lack of viable employment opportunities are commonly identified as the push factors causing many Cambodians to migrate to neighboring countries including Thailand, Malaysia, and South Korea. The pull factors such as the high demand for less skilled workers in 3D (dangerous, demanding, dirty) jobs in these countries converge with the prospect of high paid employment and a better life, and the existence of established recruitment networks. As the 2010 CARAM ASIA report on ?Remittances: Impact on Migrant Workers? Quality of Life,? states, it is estimated that between 1998 and the end of 2007 there were about 180,000 Cambodians working in Thailand, while a total of 10,532 Cambodian migrants were in Malaysia and 3,996 Cambodians had gone to South Korea. The following shows the figures as a chart:

The complex economic and political system results in both opportunities and challenges for migrants who may encounter either economic prosperity or hardship, social integration or disintegration (in terms of discrimination or racism, for example) and either experience respect for human rights or their violation.

The importance of remittances in contributing to the economies of the receiver countries has been well recognized. The burden of socio-economic development reliant on development aid has been shifted or at least reduced by the earnings contributed by poor migrant communities working hard, in some cases under harsh conditions, to send funds back home?to their struggling families and communities. According to a World Bank report, in 2007 Cambodia received approximately USD 322 million of inward remittance flows. It has been shown that remittances have tripled within 10 years and now represent more than 4.1 percent of Cambodia?s GDP.

Yet the positive effects of remittances from abroad should not make us lose sight of their darker downside. The following case is a good example and also illustrates the role played? by intra-Asian migration and the role of blogosphere in assisting justice and the protection of migrants rights.

An investigation on the reported death of a Cambodian domestic worker in Malaysia was initiated by the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia in cooperation with the police, according to an article by the Phnom Penh Post.

The aunt of the domestic worker was informed by the labor recruitment firm APTSE & C Cambodia Resource Co Ltd that her 19-year-old niece had died from pneumonia. However, the pre-departure medical test in Cambodia in September last year had shown her to be in the very best of health.

It?s now alleged that she could have been murdered following exposure on a news aggregation website, Khmerization, which published and circulated an email from an anonymous person who reported that a maid in Malaysia was being abused by her employer.

The case was picked up by human rights groups and politicians who appealed for a proper investigation. The anonymous sender of the letter wrote to Khmerization:

?We came across a blog on your website (khmerization.blogspot.com) regarding ?Malaysia Embassy saved Cambodian maid alerted by Khmerization?s article?, posted on 23 March 2011. We would like to bring your attention to the recent death of a Cambodia maid where we suspect the actual cause of death is due to the constant physical and mental torture inflicted on her by her employer.

According to people in the local neighborhood, they have constantly witnessed the deceased being beaten up and abused and she had many times sought help from other maids in the neighborhood. One day before her death, she passed down a message saying that if she really were to pass away without any valid reason, would we please inform her uncle back in Cambodia?.

Khmerization had also once before successfully convinced the authorities to investigate and assist in the case of another Cambodian maid who was allegedly abused by her employer in Malaysia. Apart from publishing an article about the abuse, Khmerization also circulated an email encouraging its readers towrite to embassy officials in Malaysia.

According to the 2011 report prepared jointly by CARAM Asia, CARAM Cambodia and Tenaganita on ?Reality Check: Rights and Legislation for Migrant Domestic Workers Across Asia,? there are over 40,000 Cambodian migrant domestic workers in Malaysia of which women account for 51.7{ada422a91571c9f32663835004e322394559eff300a971d9698e6f9db6bdae5e}. The report outlines some common violations experienced by domestic workers:

  • Working conditions differ from the contract signed between migrant domestic workers and their agents in Cambodia including lower wages and debt bondage not known to workers prior to departure.
  • Detention at recruitment agencies? training center
  • Underage girls sent to work with falsified documentations
  • No payment of wages
  • Irregular payment (migrant domestic workers are only paid at the end of their contract)
  • Long working hours
  • On call 24 hours a day
  • Excessive duties and tasks
  • No days off
  • No privacy
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Confiscation of personal documents

This case shows the two sides of intra-Asian migration.? Although remittances in some cases are essential for the survival of the migrants? home economies, standards for their decent treatment in the host countries are equally important. As the Dalai Lama proclaimed in his speech to the 2008 United Nations World Conference on Human Rights, ?No matter what country or continent we come from we are all basically the same human being. We have the same common human needs and concerns.?