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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cambodia's Bill to Limit NGOs Threatening Land Rights

If Cambodia passes a law to regulate NGO activity, what influence will it have on the work of land rights activists?

The Cambodian government is on its way to passing a law that critics say threatens the country's lively civil society groups and NGOs.

The third draft of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO) would more tightly control the eligibility of civil society organisations and how they are run.

Even before the law's passage, the government seems to be already be exercising what it aims to accomplish.

The Al Jazeera's stream asks is civil society development in Cambodia at a crossroads?

This is the case with NGOs supporting land rights protesters who have spoken out against the proposed law, saying that it would give the government too much authority over their work.

"If the law is passed in its current form, everyone will lose out, from civil society to investors with an eye on Cambodia, but, above all, the Cambodian people in whose name NGOs and associations work," said Virak Ou, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

LANGO requires all NGOs to register with the government but does not include an appeals process for denied applications. Without a guarantee of objectivity or an appeals process, some NGOs fear that they will be unjustly shut down.

"Ultimately," Ou said, "the fear is that the law may be used as a legislative weapon to stifle grassroots democracy and freedom of expression and association in Cambodia, in violation of the Constitution and the principle of the rule of law."

Some of these groups have been issued warnings and one organization was even suspended for five months.

Land evictions are a controversial topic in Cambodia, where many construction and economic developments are taking place. In Southeast Asia, Cambodia is seen as a model of development thanks to foreign investment from China and South Korea.

The Cambodian organisation, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), which supported land rights protesters, received a government letter to suspend its activities on ambiguous terms.

In a joint statement, 130 NGOs claimed the suspension lacked legal justification. They believe the government's move was a symbol of increased efforts to block NGO activity so that land development projects of private and foreign companies can go ahead with greater ease.

NGOs play an integral role in educating civil society of their rights. As Cambodia launches more controversial development programs, land rights disputes and forced evictions are on the rise. In the video above we discuss the issue including how human rights NGOs are working with citizens to launch campaigns to remain on their land and to protect their livelihood.
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51% of HIV-affected households in Cambodia live in hunger: UNDP

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- Some 51 percent of the HIV/AIDS- infected households in Cambodia are living in hunger, said a new UN survey released here on Thursday, calling for more attention to the need for HIV-sensitive social protection mechanisms.

The survey on the Socioeconomic Impact of HIV at the Household Level in Cambodia is the largest and most comprehensive study ever conducted in Cambodia. It was produced by the National AIDS Authority and the United Nations in Cambodia.

It had been conducted on 4,172 households including 2,623 HIV- affected households and 1,549 non-affected households.

The study found that 51 percent of HIV-affected households reportedly suffered from hunger and not having enough food to eat, compared to 35 percent of non-affected households.

It said that stigma and discrimination happened more often on HIV-positive women than men. Some 23 percent of women reported experiencing verbal abuse as a result of their HIV status, compared with 16 percent of men, while seven percent reported experiencing physical threats or abuse as a result of their status, compared with four percent of men.

The report also found that 65 percent of people living with HIV epidemic being low self-esteem, 49 percent feeling ashamed of their status, while 47 percent felt they should be punished, and 16 percent reported having suicidal thoughts.

On the economic side, 27 percent of respondents said they lost their jobs or other source of income since being diagnosed with HIV, and it also decreased income for caregivers. Over 25 percent of the HIV-infected people have caregivers, and 18 percent of caregivers reportedly left their jobs.

It added that 65 percent of HIV-affected households had a least one loan.

In addition, the report predicted the national HIV epidemic would be responsible for an overall decline in GDP of 16.5 percent between 1993 and 2020. However, the report estimated high coverage of anti-retroviral therapy, up to 96.7 percent, successfully averted 21,497 labor force deaths between 2003 and 2009 and reduced GDP loses by 100 million U.S. dollars a year.

Currently, an estimated 75,000 Cambodian people in 60,000 households are living with HIV/AIDS, said the report.

"The report will be an important base for us to find ways to improve the livelihoods for the HIV-affected households," said Tia Phalla, vice chairman of the National AIDS Authority.
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Helping Hands: A fire truck for Cambodia

Summit resident holding fundraiser to buy and donate third rescue vehicle
By Kathryn Corazzelli

Doug Mendel stands next to Engine 633, which was graciously donated by the Red, White and Blue Fire District, in Prey Nop, Cambodia.

Since 1997, Summit County resident Doug Mendel has made 17 trips to Cambodia. His first, as a traveler for three days, got him hooked.

“I fell in love with the country: the people, the culture, the weather, food and crafts,” Mendel said.

On his third trip in 2001, Mendel spotted a fire station in Sihanoukville, a southern province of the country. A volunteer firefighter for the Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue at the time, Mendel realized the locals were responding to fires in flip-flops, T-shirts and shorts.

“I figured I could probably help them out,” he said.

So Mendel started collecting supplies and gear — bunker pants and coats, boots, helmets, gloves and suspenders. He was able to bring his first three boxes over in 2003.

Mendel kept his efforts up, and in 2005 earned his nonprofit status. The Douglas Mendel Cambodian Relief Fund was born. At the nonprofit's height, Mendel was helping six different fire stations with donated supplies and gear.

The first fire truck he delivered was in March 2006. Red, White and Blue Fire District donated it, and Mendel raised $18,000 to ship it. The truck went to Sihanoukville, where it lived for about six months before moving 20 miles north to a small town called Prey Nop. About once a year, a huge fire would break out in the town, and by the time the closest truck was able to make it from Sihanoukville, whatever had been on fire was gone. Right after the truck was transferred, a market with multiple stalls caught on fire. Because the vehicle was there, 100 stalls — and 100 families' livelihoods — were saved from going up in smoke.

In 2007, Mendel again donated a fire truck. He had one built in country before donating it to a station in a northeastern province.

The Cambodians love American fire trucks, Mendel said. They believe they're built better and are more durable.

“It's nice to see the firefighters using the supplies and gear I give them,” Mendel said. “It seems like they have more pride; that they know that somebody cares about them.”

An 18th trip

Two months ago, Mendel heard about a fire truck for sale in Fairplay — a 1977 American LaFrance 50-foot ladder truck, to be exact. The news captured Mendel's heart because there is currently only one ladder truck in all of Cambodia; in the capital Phnom Penh, which has a population of two million people. The extra vehicle would “help protect life and property.”

So Mendel, along with Red, White and Blue, are holding a spaghetti dinner fundraiser from 5-8 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Breckenridge firehouse on Main Street to help purchase the fire truck. He's hoping to raise $10,000, which would pay for the vehicle, and then a little bit extra in case he needs to foot the cost of shipping. Mendel has been working with Cambodia's Ministry of Interior to see if they will pay for shipment — which runs $16,500 — but he won't find out for another few weeks.

“If they don't pay for shipping, I'll just move on to the next project: raising $16,500,” Mendel said. “It's nice having a project that's so much bigger than myself.”

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U.S. and Cambodia Chamber of Commerce ink deal on trade loan guarantees

PHNOM PENH (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The U.S. Export-Import Bank (Exim Bank) and the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) inked the Memorandum of Understanding on trade loan guarantees to boost trade between the U.S. and ASEAN member countries, according to a statement released by the U.S. embassy here on Thursday.

The MoU was signed between the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Carol A. Rodley and Kith Meng, the CCC's president, earlier this week.

The agreement between the two entities reflects an initiative under the U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement (TIFA), said the statement.

"Under the agreement, Exim Bank provides loan guarantees to underwrite the risk of nonpayment of medium- and long-term loans extended by commercial banks to ASEAN buyers of U.S. goods and services," it said.

The CCC will now join business chambers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam under this framework, it added.

In June 2009, President Barack Obama determined that Cambodia became eligible to receive financing for purchases of U.S. exports by its private-sector buyers under the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945.
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