Report from the front: Cambodia

A typical scene in a Cambodian garment factory. Photo from Reuters.

New Orleans   Jeff Fox was the organizing director of the British Columbia Government Employees Union (BCGEU) and the head of the British Columbia NDP for many years before retiring.   In recent years he has been based with his wife in Kosovo, but given her role as country director there with an American pro-democracy training institute and his own wealth of experience, he has picked up a gig from time to time.   And with equal regularity he has filed reports from Kosovo on some basis to a mailing list which includes me.  He talks a lot about dog walking, beer drinking, his “beloved” Black Hawks, the temperature, guerilla gardening, and other “typical” Canadian subjects,  but when he pressed “send” on “Kosovo #85” today upon his return from several weeks of work in Cambodia, there was something starkly different, and worth immediately sharing:

Their faces press against the police bus windows, they screamed out in anger and horror. These 13 women had just been sentenced to 2.5 years in jail. 24 hours before they had attended a rally to protest the illegal expropriation of their land and the transfer of ownership to a Cambodian senator. This battle had been raging for a couple of years. But yesterday was different. These women were arrested, provided no defense counsel, tried within 24 hours in a closed court, sentenced to 2.5 years and whisked away to prison.

An environmentalist takes journalists out into the forests to show first hand the environmental devastation by private companies awarded 99 year land concessions by the government. The police confront the prominent environmentalist and within minutes shots ring out and he is dead. The police officer, out of remorse, is said to commit suicide. It took 3 shots from a AK 47 to do so. No charges are laid.

4 female garment workers are demonstrating against working conditions that would be unacceptable anywhere. The factory owner, and good friend of the government, takes out his gun and shoots 4 of them. None killed but all hurt badly. The owner denies any responsibility until he is informed that someone recorded it and it is on YouTube for all to see. The police are forced to arrest him but charges are minor.

A citizen returns to a hotel thinking that a cherished piece of jewelry was left behind in their vacated hotel room. The room occupant answers the door and proceeds to severely beat the citizen and is joined in his efforts by his bodyguards. The room occupant happens to be the head of bodyguards for the Cambodian Prime Minister. Again, flat denials until the video from the hotel security system appears on YouTube. No charges are laid after the victims are “convinced” to accept a cash offer.

There are other such stories that occurred during my time there. The English language papers cover all these stories but the government controlled Khmer papers provide little or no coverage. Cambodian citizens are largely unaware of these events that have occurred over the past month.

I left Cambodia with many positive memories. It is a beautiful country filled with remarkable people. But it is a country with no rules for the rich and powerful. It is a country with no opportunity for justice for citizens. It is a country where the truth is hidden. It is a country lead by a man who believes it is his right to govern this country by any means he deems appropriate. It is a country in desperate need of change.