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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Judge to Probe Khmer Rouge Case Despite Cambodian Resistance

An international judge attached to Cambodia's Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal says he has begun investigating a new case of suspected atrocities, without the support of his Cambodian co-investigating judge.

Swiss Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, in a statement Thursday from Phnom Penh, said he does not need the approval of Cambodian colleague You Bunleng to move forward with the new probe. Details of the new case have not been released.

Kasper-Ansermet has the backing of the United Nations in the escalating dispute with the Cambodian government, which has sought to block the jurist from assuming his post and to limit the scope of tribunal investigations.

Kasper-Ansermet was named by the world body to fill the vacancy created when German judge Siegfried Blunk quit the tribunal last year to protest alleged Cambodian interference in judicial matters.

The tribunal has so far convicted former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch. It is currently trying the three most senior surviving members of the regime, who face genocide and other charges in the deaths of up to 2 million people during the regime's 1975-1979 reign.

The Cambodian government includes many former Khmer Rouge members, including Prime Minister Hun Sen. It has voiced strong opposition to pursuing more cases, saying any further prosecutions could divide Cambodian society and spark a civil war. The government also argues that the tribunal's mandate is limited to cases against top Khmer Rouge leaders and those most responsible for atrocities.

For their part, both prosecutors and defense lawyers have for months complained of government interference in judicial matters and accused Cambodian members of the tribunal of failing to pursue other cases against key war crimes suspects.

In October, defense lawyers for defendant Nuon Chea, the number two Khmer Rouge leader, accused the prime minister and several other officials of interfering with their client's right to a fair trial. The lawyers said the interference included unlawfully blocking witnesses from testifying as well as government pressure aimed at preventing new investigations.

The government has denied the accusations.
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Viewpoint: Cambodia's garment sector faces continued challenges

With much of the success of Cambodia's garment industry based on its well-publicised commitment to basic labour standards, it's perhaps not surprising that the sector finds itself under a spotlight when it comes to wider worker welfare issues.

Indeed, several events that have taken place in recent weeks highlight some of the challenges faced by the local industry.

The most recent has been a two-day "people's tribunal", which took place this week in Phnom Penh to investigate pay and conditions at factories making clothes for brands including Adidas, Puma, H&M and Gap.

Spurred by a spate of mass faintings in at least 11 garment factories over the past year - which have been linked to low salaries and the knock-on impact on workers' nutrition, as well as poor ventilation and excessive working hours - the hearing called on international brands and retailers to take "immediate steps" to commit to a living wage for factory workers.

The minimum wage for Cambodia's garment workers rose by $5 to $66 a month in January, but remains among the lowest in Asia. Massive inflation has also meant Cambodian garment workers have seen a real wage loss of over 14% during the last 12 years.

Harrowing testimonies included one from a 27-year-old worker, a mother of a two-year-old son, working at a factory producing for Adidas. "As my income is not able to cover all my family's basic needs, I took a loan from the landlord," she explained.

"I owe him $50 in addition to $10 interest every month. Usually I can only pay the $10 interest and not start paying back the loan. If I get sick I don't have any money for treatment. I don't know what I will do if it happens. I also worry that I don't have money to support my son in going to school."

Delicate balancing act
Comments like this reflect the delicate balancing act facing international brands and retailers for whom Cambodia appeals as an ethically sound production base thanks to a monitoring programme overseen by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) - combined with the added advantage of low costs.

The industry is growing fast, with data from the Ministry of Commerce showing garment exports from Cambodia rose to US$3.47bn during the first ten months of 2011, an increase of 34% compared with the same period the year before.

And a new report from the ILO's Better Factories Cambodia initiative shows employment in exporting garment factories has reached its highest level since 2008.

There are now 345,364 workers in the 300 active factories registered with the project - a rise of 9% in the number of factories, and a 7% increase in the size of the workforce, in the six months to 31 October 2011. Fewer than 91% of the workers are women.

But while the "27th Synthesis Report on Working Conditions in Cambodia's Garment Sector" notes the industry "has demonstrated consistent compliance on indicators such as payment of the proper minimum wage and overtime wages and provision of annual leave," there is no room for complacency.

In particular it points out that "improvements can be made in other areas that contribute to the health and welfare of workers" - including triggers that may have contributed to the mass faintings, which have so far seen more than 1500 workers collapse during working hours.

Possible causes, the report notes, include poor nutrition and hygiene, the lack of a morning meal, heat stress, poor ventilation, excessive working hours, poor industrial relations and "mass psychogenic behaviour" in which one worker falls unconscious and others who witness this collapse as well.

And alarmingly, the latest research demonstrates that compliance levels are lower than 50% on several areas that are relevant to the fainting incidents, such as exceptional overtime (5%), overtime limited to two hours per day (16%), soap and water available near the toilets (48%), and acceptable heat levels (38%).

In other findings, BFC monitors found 66% of factories have at least one union, down 10% from the previous report. While no evidence of forced labour was found, seven workers were confirmed to be below the legal working age of 15. And just 5% of the factories monitored complied with legal requirements on "exceptional overtime," while 16% complied with the two-hour overtime limit.

The percentage of factories paying the $7 attendance bonus when workers take annual leave also dropped to 62%.

As well as offering a degree of industry-wide transparency not seen elsewhere, the number of incidents continue to raise questions about working conditions at Cambodian garment factories.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion on the report last week, Jill Tucker, chief technical advisor of ILO Better Factories Cambodia, said that while BFC has no enforcement power, it is still working to drive change.

"BFC needs strong and continued cooperation from all constituents in implementing its programme, especially when BFC expands its working scope in sub-contracting factories and into the footwear industry in 2012.

"In addition, BFC has worked with buyers and international brands to ensure enforcement when factories fail to comply with the law. Shifting orders is one of the means; however, this is not necessarily the preferred solution."
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Global gambling revenue up 5.6%, led by Asia growth

Global gambling revenue climbed to a record $419 billion last year, led by growth in Asia, according to Global Betting & Gaming Consultants.

Revenue rose 5.6% from $397 billion in 2010 and is forecast to reach $448 billion this year, according to Lorian Pilling, a director at Isle of Man, U.K.-based GBGC. The strongest growth was in Macau, Singapore and Cambodia, as emerging markets proved more resilient to the global economic crisis than developed countries, he said.

"It's closely linked to the wider economic situation," Pilling said by phone today. "In 2009, at the height of the crisis, gambling was hit like any other sector."

GBGC expects commercial casinos to overtake lotteries as the main source of gambling revenue this year, bolstered by openings in the Philippines in the first half of 2012. Lotteries brought in more than 28% of revenue in 2011, followed by casinos in jurisdictions such as Macau, Singapore and Cambodia, excluding U.S. tribal gaming, at just under 28%.

"Lotteries tend to do quite well in recessions, but we need a resolution in the crisis in Europe because uncertainty is hitting the market," Pilling said.

Doubts about how to resolve the European debt crisis have undermined a recovery. Greece faces a 14.5 billion-euro ($19.3 billion) bond payment on March 20 and is struggling to secure financing to avert a collapse of the economy that could spark a new round of contagion in the euro area.

Developments in China will determine how much gaming grows in Macau, Pilling said. "If China's economy does have a crash landing, it is difficult to see Macau's gaming growth rates being maintained," he said.

Gross domestic product in China expanded at an annual pace of 8.9% in the last three months of 2011 -- the least in 10 quarters and down from 9.1% in the third quarter. Growth may slow to 7.5% this quarter, Nomura Holdings Inc. estimates.

Revenue from gaming machines outside casinos in North America fell about 14% last year, while sales from lotteries rose 2%, Pilling said. Gambling revenue increased about 5.5% in Europe after shrinking almost 6% in 2010, he said.

"A strong recovery in the U.S. would help gaming revenues that have been hit hard in recent years," Pilling said. "North America will continue to recover. We're fairly cautious on Europe; growth is seen at 3.5% across all gambling categories because of the uncertainty in the euro zone."

Global gambling revenue will reach $500 billion by 2014 as several casinos in Asia are due to open in the coming years and Singapore's integrated resorts are still only in their second full year of operations, Pilling said.
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Nuon Chea Denies Role in Security Apparatus, Killings

“I was the president of the National Assembly,” he said. “How could I work for the military?”

Jailed Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea was given the right to order killings under the regime’s policies, a tribunal prosecutor told the court Thursday.

Dale Lysak, international deputy prosecutor for the UN-backed court, said documentation of the regime showed that the security committee, which included Nuon Chea and Pol Pot, decided on “all the killings.”

Nuon Chea, as he has done continuously during his atrocity crimes trial, denied the charges.

None of the three leaders currently on trial—Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan or Ieng Sary—have taken responsibility for the 1.7 million or more deaths that took place under their leadership, despite a large body of evidence, research and scholarship.

“I was the president of the National Assembly,” he said. “How could I work for the military?”

Nuon Chea has so far been the only one of the three men willing to openly face the court, but he has spent much of his testimony issuing similar denials.

Citing international media reports, Lysak showed that Nuon Chea acted as leader of the Khmer Rouge at a time when Pol Pot was receiving medical treatment in China.

Nuon Chea said he wanted to see original documentation and hear recordings of his own voice before giving the accusations credence.
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