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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cambodian garment workers strike at big brand supplier

(Reuters) - Cambodian garment workers went on strike on Monday at a factory producing clothing for global brands Gap, J.C. Penney (JCP.N) and Old Navy, demanding that the plant reinstates suspended trade union representatives.

Garment-making has been Cambodia's main manufacturing industry as it recovers from decades of conflict. Last year, the sector grew 28 percent and contributed more than $3 billion towards the country's $11 billion economy.

It employs 300,000 people, many of them women, at scores of factories, owned mostly by Chinese and Taiwanese companies but it has seen its share of industrial action over pay and conditions.

The president of the Workers Friendship Union Federation said the strike would go on until the South Korean-owned factory, Cambo Handsome Ltd, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, took back three union representatives suspended after one of them was accused of stealing two T-shirts.

The company should also withdraw what he called the trumped up charges against them.

"This is a plan by the company to remove union leaders who had advocated for better conditions," union president Sieng Sambath told Reuters.

He said about 1,000 workers were on strike but a representative of Cambo Handsome's parent company, Hansoll Textile, said only about 300 workers were out in front of the factory.

Van Rin, 31, one of the three suspended unionists, said the factory had singled him out because he was promoting workers' rights.

"Even when I went to the toilet, they followed me and took pictures, they warned workers not to talk to me and said they would not get a raise," Van Rin said.

The representative of Hansoll Textile denied that.

A representative of Cambo Handsome denied fabricating charges and said one of the unionists had been caught stealing T-shirts.

"The strike is illegal because they didn't inform the authorities," said the representative, who declined to be identified.
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Somaly Mam, Sex Trafficking Survivor, Fights Slavery And HIV/AIDS In Cambodia

Her house has been burned down. She's had her car jacked. Her daughter was kidnapped, drugged and raped. But still, sex trafficking survivor Somaly Mam says she would rather risk death than give up her work saving slaves in Cambodia.

Sold into prostitution at 12 by her grandfather, Mam was brutalized and raped -- sometimes up to 10 times a day -- throughout her teenage years. While Mam made an unlikely escape to France from the brothel in Cambodia, she couldn't tolerate the cushy life there knowing that thousands of girls were being tortured at home.

So in 1996, Mam returned to the slums of Cambodia and has been fighting forced prostitution and the rampant transmission of HIV/AIDS ever since.

Mam first established AFESIP (Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire) 15 years ago out of her two-room home. She raids brothels and scours health clinics for victims to save, risking her life each time as she enrages the pimps and brothel owners. Her program, which provides shelter, education and job skills to the victims of sex-trafficking, gained even more momentum in 2007 when she established her funding vehicle, the Somaly Mam Foundation.

"Our foundation is about the survivor," said Mam, who estimates her age to be about 40. "A survivor in my program means no one can feel how we feel. We know how to talk to them. The foundation empowers the victims and lets them know that we are the survivors."

Mam has saved more than 4,000 slaves since she started her advocacy work.

While an estimated 30,000 children are sold into slavery in Southeast Asia, according to The Somaly Mam Foundation, young girls -- as young as 6 -- are particularly vulnerable in Cambodia. There, it's believed that sleeping with a virgin can cure AIDS.

But at the moment a girl loses her virginity, she completely loses her allure and value.

"Once you're in a brothel, you are bad luck," Mam told The Huffington Post. "You can't get married. They completely destroy you. So you come to hate the people around you. You can't be happy."

She feels as though she will never completely overcome the horror she experienced, getting locked in a cellar with snakes, getting raped on a constant basis and watching her friend get shot and killed. Now, she says the charity she founded and runs is what gives her strength to carry on.

Oftentimes Mam gets to the girls after they've already contracted HIV. But whether they're in good health or suffering with the fatal disease, Mam said she pushes all of them to meet their potential.

One survivor, who Mam named "Monday" after the day of the week she was saved, was sold into slavery when she was 6 years old. Today, she's 19 and studying law.

"She was talking about wanting to go [work at] the court because the court treated her really badly," Mam said. "She wore short skirts so the judge talked to her like it made sense that they raped her."

Part of the healing process, Mam shared from her own experience, is being honest and open with the pain she and the survivors have endured. Now divorced, Mam said she isn't interested in sex or developing intimate relationships. The smell of sperm and getting close with men is just too painful a reminder of the torture to which she was subjected.

Though she's abstaining from relationships, Mam makes sure to remind herself to tend to her needs, to stay strong and healthy to fulfill her work.

"I realized I had to take care of myself for my girls," Mam said. "I don't want any of them to get pain from me."

Want to help Somaly Mam's cause? Donate to her foundation here. Read more!

Cambodia, still scarred by landmines, now faced with decreased mine-action funding

The Conference of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty began this week with 100 States Parties to the treaty present in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Although Cambodia remains one of the most landmine-polluted countries in the world, the amount mine action funding it received from the international community declined significantly in 2010 .

The conference will provide an opportunity to remind the States present about the continued plight of Cambodia and the many other mine-affected countries, to challenge the obligations of States Parties to the treaty and to push universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty.

At least three States not party to the treaty used anti-personnel landmines in 2011, tripling the number of user countries for the first time in seven years. Handicap International condemns the use of these weapons, which continue to injure and kill civilians in countries around the world.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen officially announced the start of the 11th Conference of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, which will be held from November 28 to December 2 in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia remains one of the most mine-polluted countries in the world: According to the Landmine Monitor 2011, more than 700 square miles of land – approximately twice the area of New York City -- were still contaminated.

In 2010, mine action funding provided by the international community decreased by 27 percent compared with 2009, falling from $33.3 to $24.3 million. In addition, less than 0.5 percent of these funds were dedicated to raising awareness about mines and explosive remnants of war.

"This is a grossly inadequate amount when we know that more victims of these weapons are recorded every day in Cambodia," said Marion Libertucci, head of weapons advocacy for Handicap International. "This conference reminds States of the dramatic situation of the country so they do not forget the devastation caused by these weapons, even 40 years after their use," Libertucci added.

A Handicap International delegation will be present at the conference to remind States Parties of their responsibilities, notably to ensure the promotion of this treaty to non-parties. The number of States not party to the treaty to have used landmines increased from one in 2010 (Burma) to three confirmed in 2011: Israel, Libya and Burma. There are also strong suspicions that Syria may have used these weapons in 2011.

"This new use of mines is unacceptable and of particular concern," Libertucci said, adding "We call upon States Parties to the treaty to strongly condemn any new use of landmines and to undertake all possible steps to stop the use of these weapons."

The conference opened on a positive note from Finland, which announced on Friday that the Finnish parliament approved a government proposal to join the Mine Ban Treaty in 2012. "Finland has set an example by passing the accession to the treaty on November 25, which marks a new openness encouraged by the Conference," Libertucci said, making Poland the last country in the European Union not to have ratified the Ottawa Treaty. "The commitment of Finland should be imitated by all States not party, so that the tragedy caused by landmines is finally stopped," asserted Libertucci.

The United States, not yet a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty, will attend the conference as an observer. The U.S. has not used landmines since 1991 and has not produced any new landmines since 1997. The Obama administration launched a review of U.S. landmine policy in December 2009; this review – which the international community hopes will culminate in U.S. accession to the Mine Ban Treaty, has not yet concluded.

Press contact: Tom Shelton, Handicap International UK
Tel: +44 (0)870 774 3737 | media@hi-uk.org
http://www.handicap-international.org.uk/

About Handicap InternationalCo-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an international aid organisation working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, we take action and raise awareness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. Handicap International is a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Cluster Munition Coalition.

Find out more•What we do > Landmines and cluster munitions
More information about Handicap International's fight against these indiscriminate weapons

•Landmine Monitor 2011 - Full report available online
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