Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Siem Reap Flooding - Trip Report

As most know by now, there has been flooding across the Cambodia and the region for almost two weeks, including in Siem Reap town. I drove from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap day before yesterday (Sunday) - the usual route up 6A to Skun, then National Route 6 through Kampong Thom and on to Siem Reap. The road was mostly clear of flooding save a couple of short stretches with a few inches of water across the road that were easily passable. The countryside to either side of the road was flooded to the horizon in many places, especially along 6A south of Skun and also near Kampong Thom City. The water was right up to the road's edge for much of the trip and just a little bit of rain would likely put it over the top. All of the rivers and streams (that could be distinguished from the flooded countryside) were full to the brim and moving fast and hard. Animals - cows and water buffaloes mostly - lined the sides of the road in several areas, driven out of the fields and to the high ground by the flooding.

Siem Reap town has experienced varying levels of flooding for better than a week, the worst of it toward the south end of town. When we arrived on Sunday it hadn't rained in Siem Reap for more than 24 hours and the flooding had reportedly stabilized and even retreated a bit. I'm staying at the north end of town where the flooding is minimal at the moment. Tuk-tuks and motodups were reluctant to try to cross from this side of town to the Old Market area, claiming that there was a 50-50 chance of the engine flooding out in the deeper sections along the way, so I decided to walk over to the Old Market in the early afternoon, about 8 hours ago. The following are some of the photos I took along the way. (Turns out that wading 2-3 kilometers through ankle to knee-deep water is surprisingly good exercise. Suffering some sore leg muscles tonight as a result.)

As mentioned above, the weather has been mostly dry in Siem Reap for at least 48 hours. Yesterday (it is now just after midnight) was sunny and pleasant in the morning with only a brief rain in the afternoon. The waters are receding from town at the moment, quite visibly so in the later evening.

All of the following were taken with a 17mm-55mm lens (Nikon D5100.) If it looks like I was standing in thigh deep water to get the shot, I was.
 

2 Thnou Street (Old Market Street)

Old Market

2 Thnou Street (Old Market Street) near Sivutha Blvd.

Pub Street

Water play at the intersection of Sivutha Blvd and Phnom Krom Road just south of the Old Market

Siem Reap Provincial Hospital

Tep Vong Street

Intersection of Sivutha Blvd. and Tep Vong Street

Tuk-tuk

Bow wave on Sivutha Blvd.

Snack vendors next to the river near the Old Market

Makeshift boat

Sivutha Blvd.

Many businesses have lined sandbags against the flooding.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

River Level - Phnom Penh

Two photos taken from almost the same spot on the Phnom Penh riverfront 7 days apart, the first on September 17 and the second this afternoon at about 4:00PM. As flooding sweeps the country, so far Phnom Penh has been spared, but the river continues to rise, near cresting the banks now. There is still no telling if the city will flood this week, but I have prepared, moving most of the stuff (or at least the most vulnerable stuff) in my house upstairs from the ground floor. Hopefully the effort will have been for naught, but still best to be prepared.

Phnom Penh riverfront, Cambodia, Sept 17, 2011
Phnom Penh riverfront (Tonle Sap River), city center, September 17, 2011

Phnom Penh riverfront, Cambodia, Sept 24, 2011
Phnom Penh riverfront (Tonle Sap River), city center, September 24, 2011 (today,) 4:00PM

Floods, Helicopters and Priorities

Compare and contrast: 
Seven workers at Cambodian hydropower dam swept away by floods
Sep 15, 2011, 3:22 GMT

Phnom Penh - Seven workers are believed to have drowned after being swept away by floodwaters at a hydropower dam being built in southern Cambodia, national media reported Thursday.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper said the men had tried to swim to safety at the 540-million-dollar Tatay hydropower dam in Koh Kong province.

A monitor with local rights group Adhoc said they were in a group of 70 workers trapped for two days without food after water submerged a bridge connecting the construction site to the riverbank.

Adhoc's Neang Boratino was quoted as saying nine men had tried to swim to the riverbank on Saturday, but seven were swept away.

'(The workers) were afraid of dying because they were out of food,' he said. 'The company did not find a way to lift them out even though they have the equipment.'

He said the other workers had since been evacuated.

The provincial police chief confirmed the seven were missing.

The 246-megawatt Tatay dam, which is due to be completed by 2014, is being built by Chinese state-owned company China National Heavy Machinery Corp, which could not be reached for comment, according to the Phnom Penh Post...
In summary, 70 Cambodian workers at a Chinese managed hydro-electric project are trapped by rising waters for days without food. In desperation, some try to swim out and are swept away and killed, most of their bodies have still not been recovered.

Choppers rescue tourists caught by Cambodian flood
September 22, 2011

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Flash floods at a centuries-old temple in northeastern Cambodia stranded about 200 foreign tourists Thursday, forcing officials to use helicopters to evacuate them to a nearby town.

The group visiting the 10th century Banteay Srey temple included tourists from the U.S., South Korea, France, Britain and Russia, district official Mom Vuthy said. The flooding also forced thousands of area residents to abandon their homes for high ground, or to camp on roofs or in trees, he said.

Brittny Anderson, 26, from Oregon said she was grateful for local residents who brought food to the stranded tourists as they waited on high ground for the helicopter rescues.

"I am scared for the villagers whose houses were under water," she said in a telephone interview. "I heard that the villagers had climbed trees and I'm very worried for their safety."...
In summary, a couple of hundred foreign tourists visiting a old temple are trapped by rising waters for a few hours. The government sends 3 helicopters to ferry them out. All are safe, back in their hotel rooms in Siem Reap.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

News from Cambodia

Over the last few of days I’ve spoken with friends who live and work in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and China. A few happen to be in town visiting this week and others through Facebook and such. Amongst beers and pool games and casual banter, we’ve also touched on the Cambodian NGO Law debate and criticisms, and the land-grabbing issue, especially in light of the recent violent confrontation between police and Lake residents caught on video.

Interestingly, at some point in the various conversations, mostly just in passing, each one registered some degree of surprise or awe at the open debate and availability of information in Cambodia. In the case of the NGO law, that there has been extensive public criticism and debate and that the government actually seems to be taking some of it on board. In the case of the Lake confrontation, that local and foreign reporters were present, that it was openly photographed and videoed and that it’s all available on internet in Cambodia. To varying degrees, all of these activities would have been much more restricted, if allowed at all in my friend's various countries of residence. Reflecting this observation, the Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Index ranks Cambodia a moderately weak 128, but still better, in some cases significantly better than all of the surrounding countries - which says something about both Cambodia and her neighbors.

As we spoke, qualifiers such as the introduction of more restrictive laws over the last couple of years, the illusion of freedom amongst self-censorship and the apparent blocking of some websites did not go unnoted. But still, most were struck in one way or another by the fairly sharp contrast between the state of press and internet freedom in Cambodia as compared to their various East Asian homes. In this regard at least, Cambodia is the brightest spot in the dim landscape of Southeast Asian press freedom.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Polite Tuk-Tuk

The Polite Tuk-Tuk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Tuk-tuks and motodups (motorcycle taxis) rank amongst the most annoying of annoyances for foreigners in Cambodia, badgering tourists and expats with their sales pitch virtually non-stop. If you are in a tourist area such as the riverfront in Phnom Penh, the beach area in Sihanoukville or anywhere in Siem Reap, you can scarcely walk 5 feet without one after another calling to you, following you, blocking your way, spinning their pitch no matter how many times you say ‘no.’ Their harassment has tainted many a Cambodian holiday, all of which makes the guy pictured above pretty special. I spotted him a few weeks back as I walked up the Phnom Penh riverfront. He didn’t say a word as I passed, just smiled and nodded, his sign telling the story. “WELCOME: I do not want to disturb you…” it reads, going on to offer his tuk-tuk services. ‘My God,’ I thought - courtesy and information rather than harassment and hucksterism – what a completely unique and thoroughly welcome approach from a Cambodian tuk-tuk. I stopped to express my approval for his idea, even though I didn’t need a tuk-tuk right at that moment. He told me he is trying to be “polite,” hoping that foreigners would appreciate the difference. I know I do. And I want to support this guy in his effort. Since then, when I need a tuk-tuk, if I can find him, I use him. In fact I will go out of my way to give him my business, walking up the riverfront to search him out. I urge others to do the same. Good business practices such as this should be rewarded and encouraged.

He seems to hang out at the corner of Sisowath Quay and Street 148 on the Phnom Penh riverfront, just next to Metro and Riverside Bistro. He’s easy to spot. There’s the sign on the side, and he’s the only one in the group who’s not charging at you yelling “tuk-tuk!...tuk-tuk!…tuk-tuk!..."

UPDATE, Sept 24, 2011: I ran across Mr. Sally today (at his usual place in front of Metro) and asked if he would mind if I published his phone number in this post. He enthusiastically endorsed the idea. So here it is: 092-319232 (+855-92-319232.) He told me that his working hours are from 7AM-10PM (Cambodia time.) Please do not call him outside of his working hours.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The NGO Law

In September 2008, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the government's desire to enact an law governing NGOs and associations in Cambodia. Late last December the government finally issued a draft of the proposed 'Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations,' i.e. the 'NGO Law.' The stated intent of the law was to set basic parameters for the operation of NGO's and associations in Cambodia and included, amongst other things, mandatory registration of NGOs and associations (including meeting some technical registration criteria) and the requirement for periodic activity/financial reports to the government. The NGO community immediately and near universally objected to the proposed law.

There is deep suspicion of the intent of the law, the primary fear being that it will be used to stifle NGOs critical of the government (especially NGOs working in human rights, land grabbing issues and the like,) limit/control activities of NGOs in general and further restrict the rights of freedom of assembly and speech. Though perhaps at times overstated, these fears are not unfounded, as evidenced in part other new rights-narrowing laws (e.g. the 'incitement law') and by recent government curtailments on the activities of NGOs such as STT and CCHR.

Some critics of the law have argued that there should be no NGO law whatsoever. More have asked for significant revisions in the proposed law, citing flaws and perceived problems including overly burdensome reporting requirements, ill-defined criteria potentially allowing the government undue discretionary powers and a mandatory registration requirement that may violate the right to freedom of assembly. Over the past nine months the NGO community has provided feedback to the government through a series of meetings and reports and the government has revised the law twice so far, though the revisions have been minor compared to the massive overhaul demanded by the NGO community. The atmosphere throughout the process has been contentious, if not dramatic, full of dire predictions and impassioned essays.

The proposed law is currently (as of September 10) in its 3rd draft. It was reported on September 8 that under pressure from the NGO community the law has been sent back to the Ministry of Interior for further revision. A government spokesman denied that it was "sent back" per se, but that the law is still in a "period of counseling" in which changes may be made.

The following is a selection of important documents, letters, reports and articles related to the proposed NGO law. Though not a comprehensive collection, it includes articles documenting most of the major events and turns in the issue since the draft law was first issued almost nine months ago as well as essential documents such as the text of the proposed law, ICNL and NGO analyses, etc.

I will attempt to keep this list up-to-date, posting new articles and documents as they published.

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Draft text of proposed NGO law (See end of this post for other drafts)

3rd Draft of THE ROYAL GOVERNMENT LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (English and Khmer versions) (Download)
THE ROYAL GOVERNMENT LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
CHAPTER 1
General Provisions
Article 1: Aim
This law aims at setting out formalities and conditions for registering associations or domestic non-governmental organizations and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding of foreign non-governmental organizations operating in the Kingdom of Cambodia...

(Full text of the 3rd draft of the proposed 'Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations.')

-----------------

NGO Law: Articles, documents, letters, reports (by date)

UN News Center: Cambodian draft law on NGOs may breach international pact, UN rights expert warns
October 14, 2011
A Cambodian draft law making registration of associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) mandatory and banning unregistered groups, risks breaching an international treaty, a United Nations rights expert warned today, calling on the Government to review it...

UNHR: Cambodia’s draft NGO law must be fully in line with international law – UN experts
October 14, 2011
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Maina Kiai, warned that the current public draft of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations in Cambodia - if adopted - risks breaching the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights...

Sithi.org portal: CCHR Briefing Book on the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations - Media Preview Page
CCHR Briefing Book on the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations - English (pdf)
CCHR Briefing Book on the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations - English (pdf)
October 2011
This Briefing Book discusses the threat posed to civil society and democratic space in Cambodia in light of recent actions by agencies of the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”) and the controversial draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (“LANGO”). Primarily, this Briefing Book focuses upon: (1) the ongoing efforts to silence NGOs and dissenting voices, as well as the erosion of democratic space in Cambodia; (2) the fundamental deficiencies in the most recent draft of the LANGO; and, most importantly, (3) the improper use to which the LANGO may be put, given the current context. The conclusions as to the danger that the LANGO poses to civil society and to donor programs – as highlighted by recent events...

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC): CAMBODIA: CCHR releases a Briefing Book on the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations and the Shrinking Space for Civil Society in Cambodia
October 7, 2011
Today the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), a non-aligned, independent, non-governmental organization (NGO) that works to promote and protect democracy and respect for human rights throughout Cambodia, releases a briefing book titled “Briefing Book for Donors and Others on the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations and the Shrinking Space for Civil Society in Cambodia" (the "Briefing Book")...

Phnom Penh Post: Ministers react to UN criticism of NGO Law
Phnom Penh Post: Ministers react to UN criticism of NGO Law
September 30, 2011
Government officials yesterday said criticisms of the draft NGO law made by United Nations Special Rapporteur Surya Subedi on Wednesday were out of date as significant modifications are being discussed for the “fourth generation” of the legislation. During a session at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday, UN Special Rapporteur Surya Subedi flatly informed the Human Rights Council that the Cambodian Government should scrap the current version of the controversial draft law...

UN News Centre: Cambodia’s draft law on NGOs deserves further review – UN expert
September 28, 2011
An independent United Nations human rights expert today urged the Cambodian Government to carefully review a draft law that may hamper the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the South-east Asian nation...
(Also see UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia urges authorities to stop the current draft NGO law below)

UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia urges authorities to stop the current draft NGO law
September 28, 2011
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, urged the Cambodian authorities to carefully review the current draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, expressing concern that “it may hamper the legitimate work of NGOs in the country...”

New Cambodian law 'cracking down' on NGOs
September 28, 2011
The Cambodian government is pushing ahead with a new law to govern thousands of non-government organisations (NGOs), which would allow it to shut them down at will...
(This article seems to be a rehash with no new information or developments. I include it here because it seems to be making the rounds on internet.)

WSJ: Cambodia’s NGO Law Reveals Growing Confidence
September 20, 2011
...It’s still unclear if the current draft of the law, which would impose potentially onerous new reporting and registration rules on NGOs and aid groups working there, will be approved. But even if it isn’t, the simple act of proposing such a law could flag an important stage in Cambodia’s economic and political evolution, analysts say, as Phnom Penh grows more confident about disengaging with Western donors...

Phnom Penh Post: Opinion: NGOs’ hidden agenda
Phnom Penh Post: Opinion: NGOs’ hidden agenda
September 19, 2011
In their letter to 17 United Nations agencies, Brad Adams and his peers in the Group of 10 International NGOs have made a regrettable mistake and revealed their true intentions to the international community. This “letter” is the latest example of the relentless pressure big-name NGOs are exerting on the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC)...

The Diplomat: NGOs and Cambodia by Tim LaRocco
September 14, 2011
Civil society in Cambodia is typically a highly contentious issue. As a past volunteer with an NGO based in Southeast Asia, I’m fully aware of the ambivalence associated with civil societal organizations. It’s a subject that has been well chronicled as commentators have attempted to reconcile diverging opinions by highlighting the urgent need for NGOs in the developing world, while recognising that many of these institutions are victims of their own benevolence...
(Also see  Foreign Policy Association: Cambodia: NGOs vs. Government by Tim LaRocco)

Phnom Penh Post: NGO law remains in ‘consultation period’
Phnom Penh Post: NGO law remains in ‘consultation period’  
September 13, 2011
Civil society groups have the opportunity to express their concerns to relevant ministries regarding the government’s controversial draft law on associations and NGOs, an official said yesterday.“They have the opportunity to write up their concerns and their grievances to the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday."...

Groups urge UN to mull funding Cambodia NGO law
September 12, 2011
Ten international human rights groups have raised concerns in a letter about a draft law in Cambodia which they say will allow the government to shut down aid agencies. The letter addressed to the heads of 17 U.N. agencies, urged them to press the Cambodian government not to enact the law, which is being considered by the Council of Ministers, and to think about a funding freeze for programmes involving state agencies if the law is adopted in its current form...
(See Letter [9/9/11] to the United Nations Development Programme from 10 IOs urging UN to act on NG0 Law - English)

Cambodia Daily: Draft NGO Law Back at Ministry of Interior
September 10-11, 2011
Government officials on Friday said a controversial draft law aimed at the NGO sector, currently at the Council of Ministers, could see changes as it undergoes a review by the Ministry of Interior...

Letter (9/9/11) to the United Nations Development Programme from 10 IOs urging UN to act on NG0 Law - English
Letter (9/9/11) to the United Nations Development Programme from 10 IOs urging UN to act on NG0 Law - Khmer
September 9, 2011
Re: New law threatening the operations of NGOs and associations in Cambodia - Dear Helen Clark, We write to bring your immediate attention to very serious developments in Cambodia concerning the recently released third draft of the Law on Associations and NGOs...

VOA: Controversial NGO Law Sent Back for Re-Draft
September 8, 2011
A contentious law aimed at regulating Cambodia’s non-governmental sector has been sent back to the Ministry of Interior, following international concern that the draft as it stood could damage the country’s development...

September 8, 2011
Government officials and police yesterday disrupted a human rights training session provided by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Natural Resource Protection Group (NRPG), and threatened to arrest the organisers...

Cambodian Government Uses NGO Law to Silence Critics
September 7, 2011
In late July the Cambodian government released a third draft of its highly contentious Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO Law). A number of provisions in the law have the potential to impair the activities of human rights and civil society actors in the country...

September 7, 2011
Non-governmental organizations play a pivotal role in enhancing…

September 7, 2011
On June 21, Slate Magazine's Ken Silverstein's article, "NGOs in Cambodia: Accommodation with the regime can be very profitable," examined non-governmental organizations in general, and in Cambodia in particular. The findings were not flattering to NGOs. But I took away more than one lesson. When I was with the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, a Khmer nationalist resistance, at the Khmer-Thai border...

September 6, 2011
The Australian Greens want the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to publicly defend the rights of Cambodian Non-Government Organisations facing a crackdown by Phnom Penh...

September 6, 2011
Press Release – Phnom Penh, 6 September 2011: Today, 6 September 2011, it was reported in The Cambodia Daily, that provincial authorities in Kampong Thom would seek the suspension of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Natural Resource Protection Group (NRPG) as a result of perceived incitement...

Draft of NGOs law under discussing at Legal Team at Council of Minister today (Sept 5, 2011) of Cambodia
September 5, 2011 
Please be informed that Draft of NGOs law is under the hand of council of minister team which were set by Prime Minister to review this draft today Sept 5, 2011. After the team review it, the draft law will be returned to Ministry of Interior (MoI) …This law has a double standard of authority to register as legal entity…Another the big challenge is regarding article 13 of draft NGOs law in which is needed all the group of people who want to create NGOs or legal entity shall register.some NGOs might link this activity to persuade all members of UN to not vote for Cambodia to seat. However Cambodia's application was endorsed or supported by China…

August 31, 2011
The Cambodian government has hit back at groups criticizing a proposed NGO Law and took a swipe at the international community for not doing the same for Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. The statement came amid mounting pressure from donors, as well as foreign and domestic civil society groups...

August 30, 2011
A new draft law to regulate NGOs will have an adverse affect on government criticism, a leading rights activist said Monday...

August 30, 2011
A Cambodian government spokesperson has defended a controversial law aiming to regulate non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and has slammed critics who have urged foreign donors to consider a funding-freeze if the law passes in its current form, the Phnom Penh Post reported...

Response To Anonymous Critique by Elizabeth Becker
August 29, 2011
I have had numerous requests for my response to an anonymous article published in the Cambodian government’s official press –Agence Kampuchea Press or AKP on August 24, 2011.  The article was intended as a critique of my opinion piece that ran in the International Herald Tribune on August 17, 2011...

Phnom Penh Post: Government slams critics of NGO law 
Phnom Penh Post: Government slams critics of NGO law
August 29, 2011
A government spokesman has hit back at a coalition of 10 prominent rights groups that have urged Cambodia’s foreign donors to consider freezing funding if the controversial law on NGOs and associations is passed in its current form...

ABC: Rights groups lobby foreign powers over draft Cambodian NGO law
August 29, 2011
A group of ten major international rights groups have asked the American, British and Australian governments, among others, to consider cutting aid to Cambodia if a law's passed covering non-government organisations...

Foreign Policy Association: Cambodia: NGOs vs. Government by Tim LaRocco
August 26, 2011
...My argument, on the other hand, is that there is not nearly enough oversight on Cambodian civil society at present. High maintenance costs, and the salaries and benefits of the expatriate staff of Cambodia’s two thousand or so NGOs have not resulted in many benefits for the impoverished segment of the population that civil society is supposed to be helping, despite the prefaced munificence of the various institutions...

Guardian: Donor governments asked to review Cambodia aid if NGO law is passed - Human rights groups call on UK, US and Australia to apply pressure on Cambodia if severely restrictive draft law is adopted
August 26, 2011
Human rights organisations are calling on donor governments to reassess their aid programmes to Cambodia if the country passes a law that can be used to muzzle local and foreign NGOs...

AKP: Commentary: Elizabeth Becker and the Campaign to Put NGOs above the Law
August 24, 2011
Nobody seems entirely sure of the number, but it is generally believed that more than 2000 non-governmental organisations operate in Cambodia. One of the reasons for the uncertainty about the number is that Cambodia is one of the few countries that has not established laws and procedures for the formation and operation of NGOs...

ICNL: Cambodia
August 24, 2011
It is feared that any new law governing NGOs and associations will increase the RCG’s discretionary power and tighten its restrictive hold over civil society...

Al-Jezeera: Cambodia's bill to limit NGOs - If Cambodia passes a law to regulate NGO activity, what influence will it have on the work of land rights activists?
The Stream - Cambodia's bill to limit NGOs (AJstream, YouTube)
August 24, 2011
Cambodia’s Council of Ministers recently released a third draft of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO) that would more tightly control the eligibility of civil society organisations and how they are run. Several NGOs have spoken out against the proposed law, saying that it would give the government too much authority over their work...

Cambodia: Letter to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé Regarding the Cambodian Draft Law on NGOs
August 23, 2011
The following letter was sent by Human Rights Watch and nine other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to French Foreign Minister Alain JuppĂ©, concerning a draft law which would severely restrict the activities of  NGOs in Cambodia...

Cambodia : Civil Society and Private Sector Groups Condemn Government’s Arbitrary Suspension of Local NGO “We Are All STT”
"We Are All STT": Civil Society and Private Sector Groups Condemn Government's Arbitrary Suspension of Local NGO
August 21, 2011
We, representatives of the undersigned members of civil society and private sector groups, support national development that is equitable, inclusive, and sustainable. We believe national development should contribute not only to the growth of commerce and industry but also to the welfare of the wider population...

Cambodian govt warns NGOs over letter to donors – paper
August 23, 2011
The Cambodian government has warned an umbrella group of non-governmental organisations over critical letters it sent to international donors funding a $142-million railway project, the Phnom Penh Post reports...

Joint letter to Hillary Clinton about the LANGO signed by 10 INGOs Aug. 23 2011: New law threatening the operation of NGOs and association in Cambodia
Joint letter to Hillary Clinton about the LANGO signed by 10 INGOs Aug. 23 2011: New law threatening the operation of NGOs and association in Cambodia
August 23, 2011
Dear Secretary of State, We write to bring your immediate attention to very serious developments in Cambodia concerning the recently released third draft of the Law on Associations and NGOs, which is now before the Cambodian Council of Ministers for consideration. The implications of this law could not be more serious. As written, it will allow the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to intimidate and potentially shut down local, national and foreign NGOs, associations, and informal groups that criticize the government or government officials...

The NGO Forum’s Public Statement relating meeting with Ministry
August 22, 2011
NGOF confirms that a meeting took place on 18th August 2011 between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and NGOF together with an international NGO. During the meeting, a warning letter was issued to NGOF and the international NGO...

Phnom Penh Post: NGO Forum breaks silence on ‘warning’
August 22, 2011
NGO Forum confirmed yesterday it had received a “warning letter” from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over its advocacy on behalf of communities affected by a railway rehabilitation project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and AusAID...

Phnom Penh Post: More NGOs scrutinised
August 19, 2011
International NGO Bridges Across Borders and umbrella group NGO Forum met yesterday morning with officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who accused both of making “false” and “unfair” claims to the Asian Development Bank about the death of two children relocated by a railway rehabilitation project. The meeting follows the suspension early this month of NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut for allegedly “inciting” villagers to protest against the railway project...

Silencing Cambodia's Honest Brokers By ELIZABETH BECKER
August 17, 2011
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Paris peace accords that ended the Cambodian war and any further threat from the murderous Khmer Rouge. It required all the major powers — the United States, leading European countries, the former Soviet Union and China — as well as most Asian nations to come up with an accord, a rare achievement. In a speech last week, Gareth Evans said that during his eight years as the Australian foreign minister “nothing has given me more pleasure and pride than the Paris peace agreement concluded in 1991”...

Phnom Penh Post: NGO ‘incitement'
August 15, 2011
The Ministry of Interior has accused a local NGO it suspended earlier this month of “inciting villagers” set to be displaced by a railway reconstruction project, citing it in a statement obtained by The Post yesterday as a reason for halting the organisat-ion’s operations...

Guardian: Third draft of Cambodia's associations and NGO law overlooks key concerns - New legislation threatens to hinder the delivery of development aid to Cambodia by curtailing fundamental rights
August 12, 2011
…the latest draft of the NGO law puts this relationship at risk by severely restricting freedom of expression and potentially reducing the voice of many organisations that represent and protect the marginalised: farmers, labour unionists, land activists, students, sex workers, and the disabled...

Pending Passage of NGO Law, Cambodia Suspends Urban Poor Group
August 12, 2011
Cambodia’s suspension of a local non-governmental organization critical of a government project raises concern over an administrative crackdown on groups advocating the rights of the marginalized. The move comes at a time when the country is about to pass a law...

Phnom Penh Post: NGOs warn law close to 'point of no return'
August 5, 2011
Civil Society groups yesterday blasted the government’s drafting of the NGO law, pinpointing a lack of any “meaningful consultation” with affected stakeholders and deceptive language within the legislation itself.The Cambodian Center for Human Rights, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and rights group Licadho all expressed grave concerns about the third draft of the law and inadequate public consultation yesterday...

Urgent diplomatic intervention on Cambodia NGO Law
August 4, 2011
We are writing to you concerning a draft law on “Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations” which is due to be adopted imminently by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC). Our agencies are very concerned about the impact that this law will have on the ability of civil society to operate in Cambodia...

Phnom Penh Post: Concern over NGO law third draft
August 2, 2011
The most widely-criticized provision of the government’s controversial NGO law – mandatory registration – remains in the legislation’s third draft, which has reportedly been sent to the Council of Ministers. Rights group Licadho blasted the latest draft in a report released yesterday, saying the law “remains a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation whose only apparent purpose is to control civil society”...

UN General Assembly, Human Rights Council: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
August 2, 2011
In September 2008, during the fourth legislature (2008-2012), the Government decided to adopt a law regulating the activities of non-governmental organizations and associations. On 15 December 2010, the Ministry of the Interior publicly released the first draft of the law and invited NGOs and other stakeholders to participate in a first public consultation on the draft on 10 January 2011...

Letter on NGO Law from CIDSE agency to EU Delegation in Cambodia
August 2, 2011
We would like to thank you for meeting with CIDSE members and our Cambodian partner NGO Forum on 11 July. It was a positive opportunity to exchange information about the situation in Cambodia and to share with you the specific concerns of civil society organisations (CSO) relating to the draft NGO law...

ICNL: Comments on the Third Draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations of the Kingdom of Cambodia
August 1, 2011
Summary Analysis - The third version of the draft law is little changed from the second version, and most of the fundamental issues of previous drafts remain...

LICHADO: DRAFT LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS & NGOs: COMMENTS ON THE THIRD DRAFT
August 2011
On July 29, 2011, the government released a third draft of its widely criticized Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO Law), once again claiming that the newest draft addresses the litany of concerns that have been raised by civil society. One needs look no further than the first chapter of the law, however, to discredit the government’s reassurances. Registration is still mandatory, meaning Cambodians cannot exercise their fundamental rights of assembly, expression and association without navigating complex registration procedures and securing the blessing of government officials, who would be given absolute power to create or dissolve civil society groups...

3rd Draft of THE ROYAL GOVERNMENT LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (English and Khmer versions) (Download)
THE ROYAL GOVERNMENT LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
CHAPTER 1
General Provisions
Article 1: Aim
This law aims at setting out formalities and conditions for registering associations or domestic non-governmental organizations and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding of foreign non-governmental organizations operating in the Kingdom of Cambodia...


July 29, 2011 - Third draft of the proposed NGO law released

NGO and Associations Joint Statement on the Second draft of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (648 endorsements as of July 7, 2011)
We, civil society organizations including Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, highly appreciate that state-civil society cooperation has been a key factor in the development of Cambodia from a war-torn country to a peaceful vibrant developing country. Many times government and civil society organizations have had different opinions but met in constructive discussions, and more frequently still, government and civil society organizations have met in good cooperation...

Slate: Silence of the Lambs - For do-gooder NGOs in Cambodia, accommodation with the regime is very profitable
June 20, 2011
Yes, it's always a fine time to be an expatriate aid worker in Cambodia, where several thousand NGOs and aid organizations operate. By day, swarms of foreign do-gooders clog the streets of Phnom Penh in their company-provided SUVs, and by night they fill bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Collectively, NGO workers represent a privileged caste, isolated and detached from the people who serve as the objects of their benevolence...

RFA: Draft of NGO Law Withheld
June 6, 2011
Cambodia is expected to push ahead with a controversial law closely regulating nongovernmental organizations despite concerns by human rights groups that the legislation will severely restrict NGOs from operating freely within the country...

Phnom Penh Post: NGO pressure mounts
May 24, 2011
Cambodia's controversial NGO law is being drafted for a third time, the government confirmed yesterday, as the number of organisations slamming the latest public version of the legislation neared 600. Critics have stated that the legislation would cripple Cambodian civil society if it were adopted, citing provisions that would outlaw unregistered voluntary organisations, force foreign NGOs to collaborate with the government and leave government involvement in NGO activities unchecked...

Cambodia’s troubling NGO & Associations Law
May 11, 2011
The way the law is drafted will make it easy for the government to target and shut down NGOs working on politically sensitive issues (such as, for example, land grabbing). The law will also impair the work of international organizations in Cambodia, as well as the effective disbursement of development aid funding...

Guardian: Western donors must stand up to Cambodia's government - Phnom Penh's NGO law seeks to tighten its grip on civil society, but aid donors mustn't cave in to this government threat
May 9, 2011
More than a month has passed since the Cambodian government released the second draft of the hotly debated law on associations and NGOs, and all is quiet on the legislative front. While it's too early to tell whether this is a positive sign, there are clues that it might be...

Cambodia Daily: At Donor Meet, US Ties NGO Law to Aid
April 21, 2011
The US, Cambodia's third-largest bilateral donor, yesterday warned the government that baid levels could be frozen if the draft law…

INCL: Cambodian Government releases revised draft Law on Associations and NGOs
April 8, 2011

Joint Statement - Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and the Centre for Law and Democracy
April 8, 2011
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)1 have studied the Draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (draft NGO Law) and have compared it with international standards on the right to freedom of association, as well as better international practice regarding laws regulating non-governmental organizations (NGOs)...

VOA: International Groups Decry NGO Law ‘Threat’
April 7, 2011
Eight prominent international organizations issued a statement Thursday urging the Cambodian government to drop a controversial law to regulate NGOs, claiming it would hurt development in the country...

Joint Statement - International Human Rights NGOs Oppose Cambodia NGO Law, Cambodia: Withdraw Flawed Draft NGO and Association Law, Revised Draft Does Not Address Rights Concerns
Joint Statement - International Human Rights NGOs Oppose Cambodia NGO Law, Cambodia: Withdraw Flawed Draft NGO and Association Law, Revised Draft Does Not Address Rights Concerns
April 7, 2011
Cambodia’s draft law regulating associations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should be abandoned because it will undermine rather than promote civil society in the country, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Forum-Asia, Global Witness, Southeast Asia Press Alliance, Frontline Defenders, and FIDH and OMCT within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said today...

Freedom House: Proposed Cambodian NGO Law Fundamentally Flawed and Should be Abandoned
April 1, 2011
Cambodia’s proposed law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) contains provisions that place troubling restrictions on the ability of NGOs to organize and function effectively. Freedom House calls on the Cambodian government to abandon the law in its current version as it is fundamentally flawed...

LICADHO: Second Draft of NGO Law Falls Short on Fundamental Rights
March 31, 2011
The second draft of the proposed Association & NGO law (NGO Law) is not significantly different from the first draft, and remains the most serious threat to civil society in Cambodia today, according to a new briefing paper from LICADHO...

2nd Draft of LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (English)
THE ROYAL GOVERNMENT
Second Draft
LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
CHAPTER 1
General Provisions
Article 1: Aim
This law aims at setting out formalities and conditions for registering associations or domestic non-governmental organizations and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding of foreign non-governmental organizations operating in the Kingdom of Cambodia...


March 24, 2011 - Second draft of the proposed NGO law released


Cambodia Daily: Ministry Irked By US Remarks On NGO Law
Feb 25, 2011
The Interior Ministry yesterday responded to US criticism…saying public remarks by a visiting diplomat had "broken the consultation process"…

Phnom Penh Post: NGO law talks not over: US
February 24, 2011
The government has committed to further consultation with civil society on its controversial draft NGO law, a visiting United States State Department official said yesterday, though Cambodian government officials did not provide a clear road map of their plans...

CCC: Summary notes meeting with MoFA on 23th February 2011 (Download)
February 23, 2011

Phnom Penh Post: Ministry to review NGO draft law amendments
January 27, 2011
Local civil society groups have submitted suggested revisions of the Kingdom’s proposed NGO Law to the government, though it remains to be seen how the recommendations will be reflected in the legislation. Nuth Sa An, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said he had submitted recommendations proposed by NGOs to Minister Sar Kheng...

Phnom Penh Post: Government stands by controversial NGO law
January 11, 2011
THE government defended its controversial new draft NGO law in the face of mounting criticism and asked for input from civil society representatives at a consultation in Phnom Penh yesterday...

Cambodia Daily: Gov't Defends NGO Law, but Is Open to Change
January 11, 2011
A government led workshop on the proposed law...

Phnom Penh Post: Hun Sen focuses ire on NGO law critics
Phnom Penh Post: Hun Sen focuses ire on NGO law critics
January 6, 2011
Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday took aim at critics of the government’s new draft NGO legislation, ahead of a government-hosted consultation on the issue on Monday. Speaking at the inauguration of a high school in Kampong Cham province, Hun Sen slammed critics of the law in the NGO community, arguing that they were demanding too many rights...

SEAPA Alert: Proposed NGO law a threat to civil liberties, free expression, Cambodian civil society says
January 5, 2011
...some 250 representatives of foreign and local NGOs met over the weekend to agree on basic points and draft a statement calling on the government to revise some of the provisions in the bill, which if passed will be known as the "Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations"...

Phnom Penh Post: Call for NGO law overhaul
January 4, 2011
Several hundred NGO representatives met in Phnom Penh yesterday to discuss concerns and recommendations regarding a controversial new draft NGO law, just days ahead of a consultation with the government on the issue...

Joint NGO and Civil Society Position on the Draft Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organizations
January 5, 2011

CCC: Consolidated Report on Issues and Recommendations on Draft Law on Associations and NGOs in Cambodia (Download)
January 4, 2011

NGO calls for extended consulations on proposed Law

Cambodia Daily: NGOs Express Concern Over New Draft Law
December 27, 2010

Phnom Penh Post: Group criticises draft legislation on NGOs
December 27, 2010
THE government’s draft NGO law is “burdensome” and provides the government with the unchecked authority to restrict the activities of NGOs in Cambodia, according to a new report from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights...

Proceedings of CCC Members and Non-Members Consultative Meeting on NGO Law and Association Law (Download)
December 23-24, 2010

Detail Analysis on Draft of NGO Law by ICNL: Comments on the Draft  Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations  of the Kingdom of Cambodia
December 22, 2010

Collection of Analysis Documents: December 2010 (Download)


December 15, 2010 - First draft of the proposed NGO law released


LICADHO: Is an NGO Law Justified in Cambodia
June 2009
…a brief examination of the reasons they put forward suggests that the reverse is actually true - in reality, this proposed legislation is intended to restrict the lawful activities of Cambodian civil society organizations…

VOA: NGOs Worry Over Intent of New Law
March 31, 2009
A draft law to tighten control over Cambodia’s many non-governmental organizations is nearly completed and will soon be at the Council of Ministers for final approval before moving on to the National Assembly. Rights groups and other watchdogs are increasingly worried over the motives behind the law...

Phnom Penh Post: NGO law key to security: PM
Phnom Penh Post: NGO law key to security: PM
February 18, 2009
Hun Sen warns of terrorist cells via NGOs, while development groups say bill is overkill and would curb efficacy of their work...

LICADHO: NGO LAWS & CRACKDOWNS ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS: INTERNATIONAL LESSONS FOR CAMBODIA
November 2008
In October 2004, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, tabled a report on the status of human rights defenders worldwide. Her report highlighted a number of factors which allow for government crackdowns on human rights defenders’ work. All of these factors are present in Cambodia...

Phnom Penh Post: Govt's proposed NGO regulation law overkill: civil society
October 8, 2008
Rights groups brand the PM's proposed NGO Law "unnecessary", saying terrorism and fraud can be solved through more effective means...

Phnom Penh Post: Hun Sen critical towards NGO’s
September 29, 2008
The Prime Minister brought up the imminent adoption of a civil society law, believing that “terrorists” might try to settle in Cambodia under the disguise of non-governmental organisations. During his speech about general politics, the Prime Minister highly criticised the NGO workers who are against the adoption of a law on NGO’s in Cambodia...


September 2008 - Prime Minister announces government's intent to adopt a law regulating the the activities of NGOs in Cambodia


LICADHO: NGO LAWS & CRACKDOWNS ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS: INTERNATIONAL LESSONS FOR CAMBODIA
September 2006
In October 2004, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, tabled a report on the status of human rights defenders worldwide. Her report highlighted a number of factors which allow for government crackdowns on human rights defenders’ work. All of these factors are present in Cambodia...

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Other documents, websites, organizations and document sorts other than by date


Text of proposed NGO law (drafts)

3rd Draft of THE ROYAL GOVERNMENT LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (English and Khmer versions) (Download)
THE ROYAL GOVERNMENT LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
CHAPTER 1
General Provisions
Article 1: Aim
This law aims at setting out formalities and conditions for registering associations or domestic non-governmental organizations and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding of foreign non-governmental organizations operating in the Kingdom of Cambodia...

(Full text of the 3rd draft of the proposed 'Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations.')

2nd Draft of LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (English)
THE ROYAL GOVERNMENT
Second Draft
LAW ON ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
CHAPTER 1
General Provisions
Article 1: Aim
This law aims at setting out formalities and conditions for registering associations or domestic non-governmental organizations and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding of foreign non-governmental organizations operating in the Kingdom of Cambodia...

(Full text of the 2nd draft of the proposed 'Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations.')

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Cambodian Committee for Cooperation (CCC) Links

Cambodian Committee for Cooperation (CCC) Homepage
(Including several links related to the proposed NGO law.)

Currently, CSOs are able to operate openly in Cambodia with little interference from government.International NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) while local NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Interior (MoI).  The draft Law on Associations and NGOs could change this and give government authorities far reaching far-reaching power to control the rights of citizens to organize and express themselves...

(Comprehensive collection of Cambodia Daily and Phnom Penh Post articles about the NGO law. Also other important international articles and Khmer language articles from Raksmei Kampuchea newspaper.)

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International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) Analyses and Documents

ICNL: Cambodia
August 24, 2011
It is feared that any new law governing NGOs and associations will increase the RCG’s discretionary power and tighten its restrictive hold over civil society...

ICNL: Comments on the Third Draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations of the Kingdom of Cambodia
August 1, 2011
Summary Analysis - The third version of the draft law is little changed from the second version, and most of the fundamental issues of previous drafts remain...

Detail Analysis on Draft of NGO Law by ICNL: Comments on the Draft  Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations  of the Kingdom of Cambodia
December 22, 2010

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Social Media

Twitter: OpposeCambodiaNGOLaw

Facebook: Oppose the Cambodian NGO & Associations Law

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Elizabeth Becker/AKP exchange

Response To Anonymous Critique by Elizabeth Becker
August 29, 2011
I have had numerous requests for my response to an anonymous article published in the Cambodian government’s official press –Agence Kampuchea Press or AKP on August 24, 2011.  The article was intended as a critique of my opinion piece that ran in the International Herald Tribune on August 17, 2011...

AKP: Commentary: Elizabeth Becker and the Campaign to Put NGOs above the Law
August 24, 2011
Nobody seems entirely sure of the number, but it is generally believed that more than 2000 non-governmental organisations operate in Cambodia. One of the reasons for the uncertainty about the number is that Cambodia is one of the few countries that has not established laws and procedures for the formation and operation of NGOs...

Silencing Cambodia's Honest Brokers By ELIZABETH BECKER
August 17, 2011
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Paris peace accords that ended the Cambodian war and any further threat from the murderous Khmer Rouge. It required all the major powers — the United States, leading European countries, the former Soviet Union and China — as well as most Asian nations to come up with an accord, a rare achievement. In a speech last week, Gareth Evans said that during his eight years as the Australian foreign minister “nothing has given me more pleasure and pride than the Paris peace agreement concluded in 1991”...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Just one kiss!

I was in a little village in Prey Veng last week checking out a local event, the only barang there at the time. As I stood at the edge of the crowd somebody started pawing lightly at my back, gurgling "barang…barang…" I turned and was confronted with one of the witches from Macbeth - a gnarled old lunatic of a farmer woman right in my face, ripe of palm wine, shit-faced drunk and lust in her eyes. "Barang, kiss…kiss barang" she said coming at me arms outstretched. I stepped back, but not fast enough. She latched on and scissored my leg like a horny bulldog. "Kiss!" she burped in wine-scented Khmer, holding on tight. The crowd slowly turned toward us, staring. A bystander tried to help, gently urging her off my leg, but she swung a stick at him. My driver stood a couple of meters back and tried to lure her away with money, but she wouldn't take the bait. She just kept insisting "one kiss, maybe two." Clearly trapped, I decided to take a different tack. Leaning in, I spoke to her softly, "I'm married and my wife would be very angry," I said. She puckered her lips, "one kiss, perhaps two." I smiled uncomfortably and pled, "my wife is a very jealous woman, everyone will see us," motioning to the crowd (and in fact everyone was looking at us.) I continued, "My wife will be very angry if I kiss a different woman. She will make a big problem for me." That seemed to connect. She gave me a broad, toothless smile, let go of my leg and stumbled off.

On the way back to Phnom Penh, my driver told the story about 14 times.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Criminal Logic

Purportedly an Angkorian era lintel from Baphuon temple that the author of the article ("Taking Home a Piece of Angkor Wat") was considering buying from an antiquities dealer in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo lifted from the article "Taking Home a Piece of Angkor Wat"

Your television has been stolen from your living room. The thief sells it to a fence, who puts the word on the street that he's got a nice big-screen plasma for sale. Prospective buyers, Joe Suburbia and his wife, hear about the TV and would really like to buy it, but they also know it is of dubious origin and, considering themselves to be a 'good people,' feel conflicted, if only a bit. The fence offers some soul soothing logic…

"Well, who really 'owns' stuff, so to speak? I mean, his Dad gave him that TV, so it's not really his anyways. Besides, why should he be the only one to get to enjoy it? Why shouldn't we be able to move that TV to your house where you and your friends can enjoy it? And on top of that, he didn't even take very good care of it, so doesn't that mean it's not really his?

Persuaded, the prospective buyers wipe their brows in relief and say, "So, how much do you want for it…" 

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Do you accept the fence's logic? Does it matter that your Dad gave you the TV or that you don't take good care of it? Are Joe and his wife right to buy your stolen TV?

I would answer no, no and no. The fence's logic is a weak and obvious rationalization for theft. Who gave you the TV or how well you took care of it have no bearing on your ownership of it. And Joe and his wife are not only receiving stolen goods but doing so knowingly, as evidenced in part by the fact that they would entertain such specious and self-serving logic. 

In fact, the logic seems so weak as to be unrealistic. Would anybody really offer such a transparent rationalization for buying stolen goods? Well, in an attempt to justify buying Angkorian-era Khmer antiquities in Bangkok, the following blog entry comes very close.

In an entry shamelessly entitled, "Taking Home a Piece of Angkor Wat," the writer explores the "gray area" of buying stolen antiquities:
"Who owns cultural relics from generations or millennia ago?  Just because people were born within the modern borders that a historical sight sits, why do they have the ownership right?  Why should cultural relics stay in a place rather than cross borders and share their beauty with people that can’t make it to their original location?  At what point of destruction or lack of care does a culture relinquish it’s (sic) ownership right?"
Somewhat general questions. We might at first imagine that he is exploring the issue in abstract or perhaps some borderline or potentially debatable case such as some antiquity of unknown origin or something that is comparatively common like Roman coins or cuneiform tablets. But no. In the following paragraph he almost immediately identifies the piece he is considering buying - a lintel from the Baphuon temple in the heart of Angkor Thom (see photo above) - a specific, unique, irreplaceable piece from one of the most important temples in the center of the old Angkorian capital in Cambodia. It would be difficult to imagine how such a piece (if authentic) was not looted.

From there his concerns turn to the pragmatic - the authenticity of the piece, how to skirt US import law and finally, the price, which turns out to be the determining factor in his decision of whether to purchase it or not.

He does pause in the next paragraph to touch on the ethical questions he posited, if only abstractly and in brief. But it seems to me this surfacy address is little more than a half-hearted exercise in self-absolution. The beginning and end of the article reveal the author's real feeling on the subject. The opening paragraph is a giddy account of what can be had in Bangkok for a price, everything from "endangered animals" to "ill-gotten antiques." And in his final words of the essay he decides against buying the artifact, not because of the ethical considerations but because it is too expensive:
"Upon arriving, excited and scared, to purchase our piece of the Angkor Kingdom we received bad news.  The price we had been quoted was incorrect by one zero.  Previously it was very expensive, but attainable, but now it was just too expensive.  The lessons we learned in the process though, were worth it, without finding a piece we loved, doing the research, debating among ourselves, and deciding, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to think through the right, wrong and grey area of being a tomb raider."
The last sentence sums it up nicely - a straightforward admission of what he is trying to justify - "…being a tomb raider," i.e. a thief. 

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For more see:

It Surfaced Down Under!: Reprehensible

Safe Corner: The ethics of "tomb raiding?"

Allison in Cambodia: Taking home a piece of Angkor is NOT OK

Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk

Wikipedia: Baphuon

BBC: Cambodia completes Angkor temple renovation 'puzzle'

Heritage Watch

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sign of the Times


An odd thing happened to me on the way to the coffee shop. Walking from my house to the riverfront, I had to cross Norodom Blvd - a busy 4-lane thoroughfare through the center of Phnom Penh. I made it half way across but got trapped in the middle by traffic. Standing there on the yellow line waiting for a break in the flow, an on-coming car slowed and the Cambodian driver waved me across in front of him. I nodded an acknowledgment and smiled as I crossed the street. He smiled back.

Reaching the other side, I was shocked and confused by what had just happened. I had never experienced such a thing in Cambodia before. A Cambodian driver in Phnom Penh not only yielded to a pedestrian, but did it for no more reason than traffic courtesy and my safety. I was astounded…dumbstruck…I considered the possibility that I had somehow been sucked into a parallel universe. But no. It had really happened. Other expats have reported similar happenings of late leading me to think it may be another indication of a more general transformation that has taken place.

In my observation the character of Phnom Penh's traffic has changed in recent years. Traffic here used to be truly anarchic, and while it may still appear so to the new eye, in fact traffic has gotten considerably more ordered. Amongst other things, traffic police are enforcing a few laws these days, people usually drive on the correct side of the road and something more than half the drivers actually obey traffic lights. It appears to me that a significant portion of the drivers in Phnom Penh are making an effort to obey at least some of the basic rules of traffic. While there are constant and obvious violations of this new order, the fact that there is an order to violate makes today's traffic categorically different from years past.

This is a quantum leap away from where we were a decade ago when there was true anarchy on the road - no rules whatsoever, no enforcement of whatever regulations there were, just a lawless semi-egalitarian free-for-all in which all traffic was something of a slow moving multidirectional merge. But while a portion of the population is coming around to the idea of following some traffic rules, there is another segment that has moved in a completely different direction.

Just yesterday, walking up the riverfront near Wat Ounalom I saw a late model BMW race through the intersection of Sothearos and Sisowath Quay at no less than 90kph. No exaggeration. This is a busy, uncontrolled fork in the road where 20kph is too fast for saftey. This guy blew through at 90kph without a glance or care or touch of the brakes. I don't know how he managed to miss everybody.

In fact, I see fairly regular examples of this behavior - top end luxury vehicles at high speed on the wrong side of the road, brights flashing, passing wildly, blasting up busy streets and through intersections with reckless disregard for the life and limb of others. You can see the remnants of this behavior on occasion, such as the sign in the photo above or smashed traffic barriers at the Independence Monument, and of course the occasional splattered motorcycle driver or mangled car wreck.

And unsurprisingly, though it is common to see traffic police working certain areas in Phnom Penh, stopping vehicles for violations like running traffic lights and driving without a helmet, I have never seen the police stop even one of these wild-driving luxury cars, that is unless it has already crashed into a traffic divider or gotten hung up on a hapless motodup.

As Phnom Penh (and Cambodia) move away from the traffic anarchy of the past, much of the population has taken to the idea of at least some order and even, on occasion, courtesy, as I experienced on Norodom the other day. Whether due to fear or respect for the law, they are making Phnom Penh a better place. While another, much smaller, elite portion of the population is taking the old anarchy to new and previously unheard of extremes, doing whatever strikes their fancy with wanton disregard for the law or the people they may injure or kill. And it seems that the authorities are uninterested, unwilling and/or unable to rein them in.

Not unlike some other areas of abuse by Cambodia's elite.