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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cambodia faces worrying human rights trends: UN

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Rising land disputes and crackdowns on government critics are "worrying trends" in Cambodia, a UN representative said Thursday in a speech marking international human rights day.

Christophe Peschoux, head of the UN's office of the high commissioner for human rights in Cambodia, said there had been some improvement in human rights but urged the government to behave in a "tolerant manner" towards the issue.

"We have also observed some worrying trends in recent years," he said in his speech at a rally where thousands of people gathered to mark international human rights day.

He mentioned people being forcibly evicted from their property in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh as well as ethnic minorities who have been robbed of their land in northeastern areas of the country.

"As land has become a new source of wealth, they (minority people) are being dispossessed of their lands," Peschoux said.

"And day after day villagers are robbed of their land by powerful economic interests, often with the support of the authorities," he added.

The Cambodian government has faced mounting criticism for a spate of forced evictions throughout the country over the past few years at the hands of army and police.

The Cambodian administration has also been heavily criticised by rights groups over the past year for launching a number of defamation and disinformation lawsuits against critics and opposition members.

Peschoux's speech also criticised recent crackdowns on government critics who have been sentenced to jail or fined for their comments.

"In a tolerant political environment, differences of opinion should not be dealt with through threats, intimidation or criminal action, but through public debate," he said.

In a joint statement marking international human rights day, 18 local rights groups also called on the government to open more space for the freedom of expression and to stop forced evictions around the country.
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MIGRATION-US: No Second Chance for Troubled Youth

By Ngoc Nguyen*

SAN FRANCISCO, May 28 (IPS) - Kew Chea's college graduation party was also to celebrate the release of her older brother from prison.

"I had made music and a slideshow, and I invited everybody," recalled Chea. "Two months before the party and release, we found out he would be deported. My family had no clue what deportation was at the time."

Chea's family had fled Cambodia as political refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge regime. She was not yet one, and her brother was four when they arrived in the United States in 1981.

As U.S. legislators discuss the latest immigration proposal, called the STRIVE Act, immigrants rights advocates are closely considering the proposed bill's impact on family reunification policies. However, immigration policies enacted in 1996 which have led to the imminent deportation of thousands of Southeast Asians are not addressed in the bill.

Chea's brother's story is similar to that of many refugee children adjusting to life in a new country.

Their parents opened a convenience store and worked long hours to support the family, but had little time to watch over them. He got caught up with bad friends and landed himself in some trouble. When he turned 18, Chea's brother, along with four friends, were arrested for a crime they committed while still juveniles.

Due to bad legal advice, he was tried as an adult. His friends were sentenced to two to three years in the California Youth Authority, while he received triple the sentence in the state penitentiary.

His family believed that after he served his time, he would eventually return home as a free man. But, in 1996, immigration laws took effect that allowed non-citizens who were convicted of crimes labeled as "aggravated felonies" to be deported.

"My brother had a Green Card [residency permit], and we were political refugees escaping a country the United States recognised as a country of persecution...and they embraced us as part of their resettlement programme, so it was unbelievable to us that they would send us back to this very country that they knew we were escaping from," she said.

Previously, permanent residents convicted of a crime and facing deportation would be entitled to a fair hearing before a judge. In 1990, the aggravated felony category was created, and the law said those convicted of such crimes and who served five years in prison would not be allowed to have a hearing. The 1996 law lowered the bar even further, according to Joren Lyons, a staff attorney with Asian Law Caucus.

"Let's say I steal a computer. I'm convicted of misdemeanor theft, given a suspended one-year jail sentence, ordered to serve 30 days in jail, and the rest of my jail sentence is suspended," he said. "From a criminal standpoint, I only have to serve 30 days in jail, but from an immigration standpoint, I have now become an aggravated felon."

Lyons said, in these cases, the judge does not have to weigh extenuating circumstances.

"Regardless of how long how long I've lived in the U.S., whether I'm married to U.S. citizen, have U.S. citizen children, have a good work history, no prior criminal history - none of these things matter. The only thing I can discuss with the immigration judge is whether I'm likely to be severely harmed in the country that the U.S. government is going to deport me to. I can't talk about whether I'm sorry for what I did, apologise to the computer owner or pay restitution, none of that matters," he said.

And the law applies retroactively, taking into account criminal convictions before 1996, even if the sentences have already been served in full.

Chea says her brother was picked up by immigration officials upon his release from prison and shipped to Arizona, even though there were detention facilities nearby.

"For the next three years, they told us that my brother would be deported in the next month, they told us this for 36 months. Each day my brother started to lose hope. He started thinking he might spend the rest of his life in detention," said Chea.

She described situations her brother encountered while under detention: "It seemed like so many times they had forgotten about him. They didn't know who he was. His identity was mistaken twice. He was picked him up from a detention centre in Los Angeles, and they flew him out to North Carolina and then to Texas saying he would be deported to Cambodia in the next couple of days."

"They prepared him for it, and two hours before his flight to Cambodia, they woke him up in the middle of the night...the day before Thanksgiving, and said 'sorry, we have the wrong guy' and this is three states later," she said.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a non-citizen who is ordered deported could not be detained beyond 180 days if his or her home country does not accept deportees. Lyons says the Strive Act has a provision that allows for indefinite detention.

"This bill would authorise the Department of Homeland Security to keep people in indefinite detention under certain circumstances," said Lyons. "What's disturbing about this is that these are people who have served full sentence for criminal conviction, but held under civil detention for years and years and years...because of a political dispute between their country of birth or citizenship and the U.S."

When Chea's brother signed his deportation order, the U.S. had no repatriation agreement with Cambodia. Several months later, however, in 2002, the countries signed one. Currently, 14-hundred Cambodian Americans are under deportation order. One hundred and twenty-six have already been deported, including Chea's brother who was deported in August of 2004.

She has visited her brother twice in Cambodia and says the law affects deportees and their children, spouses and parents in the United States.

"There are few that have jobs, those with college degrees can't find jobs, it's a struggling country...a lot of guys have the stigma, U.S. has kicked back, nobody wants them, U.S. threatened economic aid and travel visas," said Chea.

"The Cambodian government doesn't want them, the civilians are afraid of them, it's really hard for them to survive. A lot of guys who were sent back are breadwinners - they supported mothers, fathers, and wives and children. When they're deported, their wives pick up the work, often times working two jobs, raising their children, taking care of parents and sending money back to Cambodia to make sure their husbands survive in Cambodia."

Immigrants' rights advocates, like Chea, want due process restored in deportation cases and re-entry for those who have already been deported. As a public interest attorney, she says she still has faith in the legal system, but she says it has robbed her of her innocence and her brother of his life.

"My brother made a mistake as a kid, but he never had a second chance and he tried to prove it in so many ways that he was a changed individual and ready to start his life again and yet they never gave him the opportunity," said Chea.

"No judge heard his situation, nobody knew what his circumstances were. They didn't think about the fact that he came here when he was four years sold, he doesn't speak Cambodian, doesn't know what a Cambode even looks like. He has no memory and in every sense of the way, aside from the way he looks and the fact he was born in Cambodia, he's not Cambodian, he's an American...and everything he knows is American culture that he's been raised under. What we've created is an American kid and they sent him back.."

*This article is part one of a two-part series on the impact of U.S. deportation policies on the South Asian immigrant community. Part two appears on May 29. (END/2007)
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Thousands in Capital March for Rights

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh

Some 5,000 human rights activists and supporters marched through Phnom Penh on Wednesday, as Cambodia marked International Human Rights Day.

The group marched from Wat Phnom in the north of the city, to the central Wat Botum Vadei. City and police officials allowed the march, the largest such gathering since national political campaigning in July 2008. No incidents were reported.

“We still have concerns about serious rights violence related to the slow pace of judiciary reform and continued impunity,” Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, told the marchers.

Land grabs, forced evictions and threats to human rights advocates and government critics remained problems, he said, while freedom of expression was under threat.

Human trafficking remains a concern, he said, as well as the theft of ethnic minority land in Ratanakkiri province by “powerful men conspiring with companies.”

The march came the same week that 1,700 families were evicted from land in Kampong Thom province, in a three-year land dispute with a Vietnamese rubber plantation. Seven people were jailed after villagers torched three bulldozers and a company generator in protest of an eviction order.

Rights advocates also pointed to recent attacks on the opposition and other government critics, citing criminal cases and the suspension of parliamentary immunity for three Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers, including the opposition leader himself.

Of concern, too, was the sentencing of Hang Chakra, an opposition newspaper editor, to a year in jail after he published articles alleging corruption in the powerful Council of Ministers.

“You can be sure that you are not alone here today,” the European Commission Charge d’Affaire, Rafael Dochao Moreno, told participants Thursday. “You have all Europeans with you.”

The EU has 20 human rights projects in Cambodia, he said, but added, “We are not here to solve your problems. We are here to facilitate dialogues between the government and civil society.”

The EU announced Wednesday a donation of $1.3 million for human rights projects in Cambodia.

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Asian political parties exchange views on "social market economy"

SIEM REAP, Cambodia, Cambodia, co-chaired with Pakistan, on Thursday, a two-day seminar on "social market economy" with the participation of 16 representatives of Asian political parties aimed at exchanging views and experience to find a suitable policy, which could be applied for their own national strategy.

Yos Son, Chairman of the Commission for International Affairs of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), said at the opening session that the participating political parties, many of them the ruling parties, can share their experience in contribution to the establishment of an "Asian Community," according to the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Office of the Council of Ministers.

"We are hoping that this Community would become one-family in which all members will obtain peace, security, stability, prosperity and sustainable development," Yos Son addressed in the meeting, which was held in Siem Reap, the location of world famous Angkor Wat temples.

He also said that "the leaders of the CPP have highly valued the key role of the social market economic system, which guaranteed the balance between the free market economy and the social security system."

"The CPP has acquired a number of great experience from the implementation of its economic policy along the line of free market economic system," he said.

Cambodia's growth hit double digits between 2005 and 2007 thanks to the government's policy of free market economy, which brought along the multi-billion foreign direct investment (FDI).

Cambodia's officials have said, despite the global downturn since mid-2008, the impact on its economy was not much, given the country's key sector of agriculture and tourism are in good shape.

Some participants praised Cambodia's efforts to overcome the financial crisis. The representatives attending the seminar were from Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia and Bangladesh and etc.

This seminar will be concluded on Friday with the keynote remarks by Sok An, deputy prime minister, member of the Standing Committee of the CPP and also Vice-President of CDI (Centrist Democrat International)- Asia Pacific since 2006.

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