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Monday, September 03, 2007

Netherlands failing to tackle sex tourism

Children's aid organisation Terre des Hommes says Dutch tourists travelling abroad are still able to engage in illegal sex with minors without fear of prosecution, five years after a new law aimed at curbing this criminal activity took effect.

The law empowered the Dutch justice authorities to prosecute Dutch tourists here in their home country for sex crimes committed abroad, but since it came into effect in 2002, only two men have been charged.

In a new report, Terre des Hommes focuses on Cambodia, a country visited by over 100,000 sex tourists each year according to some estimates. It is not known how many of these visitors are Dutch.

Piece of candy
There is rampant poverty in Cambodia, accompanied by a widespread sex industry in which many children work, both in brothels and on the streets. "They can be bought with just a piece of candy," says Terre des Hommes' researcher Lucien Stöpler.

It is a well-known fact that the Cambodian police do not have the resources needed to stop the annual invasion of sex tourists. For this reason, those Western countries where many of these tourists come from have agreed to assume more responsibility.

Two prosecutions
Prosecuting sex tourists in their home countries is a good start, according to Terre des Hommes, but not if the justice authorities simply sit back and wait for someone to get arrested in Cambodia. While only two Dutch nationals have been prosecuted in the Netherlands for sex tourism since 2002, Terre des Hommes believes the actual number of Dutch sex tourists must be far greater. The title of the organisation's latest report speaks volumes: 'What We Don't See, Doesn't Exist'.

In other European countries, meanwhile, more progress has been made. "The United Kingdom has a system in which they train the Cambodian police in technical investigative methods," says Stöpler.

"British police officers also go out to Cambodia to help track down British sex tourists and to ensure that they are actually convicted. The Netherlands could certainly follow this example."

No idea
So far, the Dutch authorities have had almost no contact with their Cambodian counterparts, and this - according to Stöpler - is where the problem starts. The Cambodian police have no idea what signs to look for when searching for suspected Dutch sex tourists, he adds.

Terre des Hommes has begun its own small-scale training programme in Cambodia, but Stöpler says a much bigger effort is needed.

"You need to invest time and money in this problem. The country is still emerging from a civil war, it is very vulnerable, and the children of Cambodia would be greatly helped by more vigorous efforts to track down their abusers."

So is it ignorance, or unwillingness on the part of the Dutch authorities that's causing the failure to tackle this problem? The Terre des Hommes' report says it is mainly the latter.

"The Dutch justice ministry did not want to cooperate with my research into this problem," says Lucien Stöpler.

"That is, as far as I am concerned, an indication that the ministry is not interested in this problem. That is why it has not freed up any resources to deal with it."

Terre des Hommes has decided to submit its report directly to the Dutch parliament in the hope that it will be able to spur the justice minister into action.
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With uncertainty ahead, Cambodia turns to US to buoy garment sector

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Safeguards protecting Cambodia's garment sector expire by year's end, and the country hopes the United States, its biggest market, will help stave off a disastrous downturn in the industry which accounts 80 percent of all exports.

Trade officials, led by Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, were in Washington in July urging US Congress to pass legislation that would slash tariffs on goods from 14 of Asia's least developed countries, or LDCs, including Cambodia.

The measure is the only way to insulate Cambodian manufacturers from a changing global industry that increasingly favours larger producers, like China, with better infrastructure and cheaper production costs.

"We know our quality is the same as the Chinese, we are fighting only over the price," said Cham Prasidh, adding that US tariffs on Cambodian garment exports are between 15 and 25 percent.

"If we don't pay the duty, it means we are competitive," he told AFP in an interview last week.

"Our economy is mainly based on our export of garments ... anything that is affecting this sector is affecting the whole Cambodian economy."

Some 70 percent of all Cambodian textiles go to the US, said Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC).

Continued access to that market is crucial to the survival of the garment sector, which was worth 2.5 billion dollars last year and employs more than 330,000 people, mostly young women supporting families in rural Cambodia.

"If we are able to get a reduction or exemption ... it would definitely go a long way to ensure the continued growth and survival of the industry," Loo said.

Cambodia's garment sector was sent into a spin in the first months of 2005 following the end of US textile quotas that guaranteed the country protection from larger competitors.

Factories began closing in rapid succession and thousands of workers were made jobless.

"Safeguard" restrictions imposed on some Chinese textiles in mid-2005 by the US and European Union stabilised the sector, even spurring it on to greater growth.

But while Cambodian trade officials had lobbied Washington for tariff reductions since 2004, their efforts have taken on a greater urgency amid rising fear that the end of Chinese restrictions this year and next could again throw the industry into crisis.

"Our industry suffered significantly" in the months immediately following the expiration of the US quotas, said Loo.

"If safeguards are removed and no new mechanism put in place to restrict China, our industry will suffer similarly," he added.

Foreign diplomats are also closely watching developments, keenly aware of the industry's importance to Cambodia's economic health.

"The entire economy hinges on the success of the garment sector and America must absolutely get rid of the tariffs" if the sector is to survive, said one Western diplomat.

Cham Prasidh said his delegation met with more than 20 members of the US Congress during the July trip, and that "all of them were very supportive."

The Tariff Relief Assistance for Developing Economies, or TRADE Act which cuts tariffs to the 14 Asian LDCs, is already before the US Senate.

A parallel bill extending duty relief to all least developed countries is expected to be brought before the House of Representatives, Cham Prasidh said.

"Some (Congress people) have agreed to co-sponsor, but many of them are waiting to see the new legislation first," he said.

Other US officials point out that tariff relief for poor nations is already being considered within the Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations.

But those talks broke down last year, and Cham Prasidh said Cambodia -- as well other poor nations -- cannot wait for a Doha resolution.

"We don't know when these talks are going to be completed -- maybe this year, maybe not," he said.

"So that is the reason why we try to ask that LDCs get this quota-free and duty-free access as an early harvest rather than leave us to wait until the end of the Doha rounds," he added.

"The situation is very critical," he said, but efforts are being frustrated by a fluid political situation in Washington.

Several lawmakers who backed the original legislation are no longer in office, and US presidential elections next year only add to the political uncertainty.

"We continue to believe there is a slim chance to push this bill to be introduced and passed, because they have to find an option," Cham Prasidh said.

"Our bill is so instrumental for the LDCs, and everybody agreed with this perception," he added.

"The only question is whether the political environment will allow this type of bill to be passed."
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Cambodia can 'terminate' genocide tribunal if ex-king prosecuted: official

A Cambodian cabinet minister has said that the Cambodian government could "terminate" the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] if it "illegally" attempts to charge former King Norodom Sihanouk [official website; BBC News profile] with crimes committed during the Communist Khmer Rouge's control of Democratic Kampuchea [BBC News backgrounder] from 1975-79, according to Cambodia Daily [media website] Monday.

Sihanouk was the symbolic head of state for the regime of Pol Pot until he was forced out of office in 1976. Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said that because the ECCC operates under Cambodian law [text as amended 2005, PDF], it may be disbanded if it attempts to violate the immunity granted to Norodom Sihanouk by Article 7, Paragraph 3 of the Cambodian constitution [text].

The now-retired king resumed office again in 1993 and then stepped down in 2004 in favor of his son; he has not been questioned or investigated by the ECCC, but last month a letter from the US-based rights group Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equality called for Sihanouk's immunity to be stripped so that he could be charged. The government immediately issued a statement rejecting the idea [People's Daily Online report], emphasizing that the issue was "clearly and definitively excluded at the time of the former king's retirement." The People's Daily has more.

The UN-backed ECCC was established in 2001 to investigate and try those responsible for the Cambodian genocide that occurred between 1975-1979 and resulted in the deaths of approximately one-third of the Cambodian population. To date, no top Khmer Rouge officials have faced trial. Last month, the ECCC brought its first charges against Kaing Khek Iev [TrialWatch profile; JURIST report], better known as "Duch", who was in charge of the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh.
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Cambodia's organic farming efforts bear fruit

By Lach Chantha

TAKEO, Cambodia (Reuters Life!) - More Cambodian farmers are turning back the clock and using natural fertilizers as a drive to reintroduce organic farming bears fruit.

Khim Siphay is producing a lot more rice and vegetables on his farm these days and he pays very little for the fertilizers or pesticides he relies on.

"Using pesticide or fertilizers kills important insects and causes the soil to become polluted," the 46-year-old farmer said.

"I use compost and it helps keep the soil good from one year to another. All of my family members help make the compost."

Three-quarters of Cambodia's 13 million population depends on agriculture in a country where the average daily income is less than $2 making cost-efficient, and healthier, organic farming attractive.

The shift is part of a project started by a non-governmental organization, Centre d'Etude et de Developpement Agricole Cambogien (CEDAC) to wean farmers off harmful and expensive chemicals.

When the project was launched in 2000, there were only 28 farmers willing to go back to the old-fashioned way. Now, there are around 60,000 throughout the country and the farming method is endorsed by Cambodia's Ministry of Agriculture.

Rice yields per hectare for farmers who have gone organic have almost doubled and seed requirements have fallen by 70 to 80 percent, according to CEDAC. This means an income rise per hectare to $172 from $58, as organic rice is sold at a premium.

"The important point of organic farming is that farmers don't need to spend money on fertilizers and pesticide so they spend less money on farming," said CEDAC official Yang Saing Koma.
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Ex-Khmer Rouge stronghold bets the pot on casino boom

From the road one is immediately aware of the "Danger Mine" signs -- tiny red squares with the distinctive white skull and cross bones flashing warnings from the surrounding bushland.

Landmines -- thousands of them -- lie unseen, in some places only metres (yards) from the road.

But the hidden killers are one of the few reminders left of the war that raged a decade ago across this remote hill country in Cambodia's western-most reaches.

The tanks that were commonplace have since given way to truck convoys rumbling across from Thailand, past casinos and highrise hotels that residents hope signal a rebirth for this former Khmer Rouge stronghold.

These ex-guerrillas, whose misguided dream of a classless agrarian utopia had violently rejected the fruits of capitalism, are now in the business of making money.

On the roads leading to the border, some 30 kilometres (18 miles) away from Pailin town, garish billboards emblazoned with playing cards and roulette wheels suggest riches are waiting for gamblers -- mostly Thais flocking to Cambodia for one-day high stakes excursions -- at the Diamond Crown and Caesar casinos.

More than a dozen casinos dot the borders with Vietnam and Thailand, raking in an estimated tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars each year and fueling the economies of several hard-scrabble Cambodian cities along the way.

The largest, Poipet in Cambodia's northwestern corner, has emerged as a key gaming centre and trading hub with Thailand.

Considered by many as a magnet for vice, Poipet is still viewed with envy in this stripped down frontier town of tidy but stunted buildings whose illicit gem and timber trade financed the Khmer Rouge during the communist movement's last years.

"Poipet is much bigger than Pailin, we cannot compare," said the town's deputy governor Ieng Vuth.

Until recently, Pailin was Cambodia's "wild west," cut off from the rest of the country, the final refuge of a murderous regime that at the height of its power in the late 1970s had killed nearly a quarter of the country's people.

The town today is still a rambling low-slung place that chokes in dust during the dry season and is a hard two-hour drive from the nearest city Battambang.

Roads into town are lined with single-storey stalls -- cutters and dealers wringing the last few dollars out of a gem trade that dried up years ago. The surrounding hills are bare, logged out in the 1980s and 1990s.

The gaming industry seems the quickest route to stardom for a tiny municipality with little else to offer other than its proximity to Cambodia's biggest source of punters: Thailand.

"The big money for the border area is in casinos -- our market is for Thais," said Ieng Vuth, whose father Ieng Sary served as the Khmer Rouge's foreign minister during the regime's 1975-79 rule.

Thais, who are banned from gambling in their own country, come across by the hundreds each day and are thought to play as much as 100 million dollars a year in Cambodian casinos.

Besides the Caesar and Diamond Crown, a third casino, the Krom, is staffed and running in Phrum village, an otherwise desolate outpost between Pailin and Thailand that has become a cluster of gambling dens and at least four hotels.

A fourth casino is also in the works, Ieng Vuth said.

Young women, neatly dressed in skirts, vests and bow ties, shuttle back and forth between the casinos and the adjacent hotels. At the Diamond Crown, a huge annex is being built to handle the overflow of visitors.

"When I saw Pailin for the first time it was a jungle area, but now it is developed and has many buildings," said Chhim Sovann, a 37-year-old fruit dealer who moved to the area 10 years ago after the Khmer Rouge defected en masse to the government and effectively crippled the movement.

"Now, Pailin is becoming a money making town," he told AFP, standing in front of the Caesar, a colonnaded gambling den bejeweled with lights across its white facade.

Hopes are that the money from Pailin's casino boom will pave the way for other development. The area is most seriously lacking roads, and Ieng Vuth said this is discouraging both investors and visitors.

Elsewhere in Cambodia, record numbers of tourists have dumped billions of dollars into the economy over the past two years, and Pailin -- behind the curve by several years -- wants to take advantage of this unprecedented boom.

"Pailin has many hills and waterfalls, and we want to develop those areas as tourist destinations," Ieng Vuth said.

"If we talk about natural assets, Pailin is so beautiful. When we have good roads many people will go back and forth."

Foreign investment in the sector, though, remains disappointing, he said.

"Many investors have studied about tourism development, but they have not signed contracts yet," he added.

Still, signs that Pailin is slowly emerging as a tourist destination are already appearing.

Tidy brick and tile homes or freshly painted guesthouses have sprung up among the tin-roofed shacks, giving Pailin the quaint, prosperous appearance of a small Thai town.

The Hang Meas hotel, originally a spartan way-station for traveling government and NGO officials, has had a karaoke and discotheque installed, while foreign tourists, non-existent here only a few short years ago, can be seen wandering past lively fruit vendors and smiling children.

"Pailin has huge potential for economic development. We have many nice resorts," said Khlok Nguoy, cabinet chief of Pailin Municipality, adding that hundreds of South Korean tourists have already begun visiting the area.

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