Mr Rong Chhun

I received a very disturbing e.mail this morning from a friend who is still in Cambodia.

Mr Rong Chhun – fearless advocate of education, opponent of the corrupt practices that have spread through Cambodia’s public service and champion of the teaching profession in his role as President of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Assocation – has been arrested.

I have copied the e.mail below. Please contact Ms. Ouk Chhayavy at the e.mail address below to let CITA know of your solidarity with them.  If you have any leverage, through the press, through a professional association or by writing to your MP or directly to the Cambodian Government, please use it to demand the release of Mr Rong Chhun.

“Dear Colleagues,

 This morning Tuesday 21st of January Mr. Rong Chhun President of CITA and the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) was arrested by the police while attending a meeting with workers in Phnom Penh city.

 We are now gravely concerned for Mr. Rong Chhun’s safety and security has we have not been able to contact him since he was arrested and we are unable to identify where he is been detained.

 We are also worried that the arrest of Mr. Rong Chhun is  a strong signal from the government towards our CITA members who have already been intimated and threatened at provincial level  when exercising their rights’ to freedom of assembly and expression.

 This continued harassment of CITA and of Mr. Rong Chhun in particular demonstrates the government lack of respect for teachers’ rights as guaranteed under the ILO Conventions 87 and 98 or for the due process and best practice as recommended in the ILO-UNESCO Recommendations on the Status of Teachers.

 We call on EI, teachers’ union and other Labour Unions to urgently raise the arrest of Mr. Rong Chhun with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and Ministry of Interior in Cambodia and to bring international trade union pressure and media attention to this continued abuse of workers’ rights in Cambodia. 

 For further information please call me directly at:

 +855 12681791

 Or  email me at:

 ccupro.assist@gmail.com 

  Yours in Solidarity,

  __________________

Ms. Ouk Chhayavy

vice-President 

CITA”

The Trial of the Khmer Rouge leaders – each new delay reduces the credibility of this process of international justice

Only five of the Khmer Rouge, responsible for one of the worst genocidal regimes of the 20th Century, have ever stood trial.  One, Comrade Duch, in charge of Toul Sleng, has been convicted.  The continuing shambles of the Extraordinary Chambers, set up in political comprise with Hun Sen, Cambodia’s astute political leader, brings no justice for these, some of the thousands of victims from the Toul Sleng torture and interrogation camp, themselves only a small number in the genocidal scale of the Khmer Rouge killings:

faces of victims Toul Sleng

faces of victims Toul Sleng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The four accused, of whom only three are now fit to stand trial, as Ieng Thirith has developed dementia (a long life denied to her victims), are pictured below

Khie Sampan and Ieng Sary

Khie Sampan and Ieng Sary

Nuon Chea and Ieng Thinrith

Nuon Chea and Ieng Thinrith

Today brings new evidence of the chaotic conditions of the Khmer Rouge trials have descended as translators, unpaid since December, go on strike.

Playing a clever long game, Hun Sen has ensured that the ‘Extraordinary Chambers’, a joint court run in Cambodia with participation and support from the international community, has effectively run into the sand.  The costs have been horrendous, the ground rules a fudged political compromise, the conclusion a long way in the future.

The losers are the Cambodian people denied an opportunity to come to terms with the horrendous crimes committed in the 1970s.   Click on the link below for Guardian coverage:

Staff on Strike

Previous blogs on this long running saga can be found at:

Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal: where next?

Thet Sambath fears for his life

Judge quits trial

Enemies of the People

Enemies of the People: a film you should see

 

 

Vacancies for skilled educators in Cambodia ..!!

vso

VSO is recruiting now for volunteers to provide advice and support to Provincial Education Offices in 10 of Cambodia’s Provinces.  This is part of a wider UNICEF funded programme to strengthen the capacity of Cambodia’s Ministry or Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) to support schools and teachers and thus to develop Cambodia’s education system. It’s a great volunteering opportunity – this can be a life-changing experience, with some wonderful opportunities to learn more  than you knew was possible, to live in a fascinating part of the world, to form some relationships that will last a lifetime and to make a contribution to developing a country whose hardworking people want a better future.  You would be working in the Provincial Office and also out in schools.  Here are some of the details from the job spec:

VSO Cambodia is seeking ten volunteers to work in ten provinces in Cambodia for a project which is has matched funding from EU, SIDA and UNICEF. This project is part of the Capacity Development Partnership Fund (CDPF), managed by UNICEF, to support implementation of MoEYS’ Capacity Development Plan.. Education management advisers in each province will work as a team at national level with other education volunteers in their province to build the management and leadership capacity of the target Provincial Education Offices.

Essential qualifications:

  • Qualified teacher with recognised third level degree in education
  • Professional qualifications or experience in education management, leadership or administration

 Essential work experience/skills:

  • At least 4 years of experience in the field of education management, leadership and planning, including working with Ministries and local authorities Experience with analysing data and building budgets
  • Excellent interpersonal, mentoring, facilitation and communication skills
  • Able to present information in a clear and concise manner
  • Verbal and written fluency in English
  • Computer literacy
  • Resilience, flexibility, adaptability, culturally sensitive and as sense of humour when faced with problems, obstacles and frustrating circumstances

 Desirable:

  • Experience of working in central or local government in a education context
  • Pervious volunteer experience and commitment to capacity development
  • Proficiency in IT – use of Word and Excel and Power Point
  • Good report writing skills and an ability to collate and use data in reports

 Strong in all selection dimensions, especially:

  • Positive and realistic commitment
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Sensitivity to the needs of others
  • Working with others

Essential personal qualities

The ability to build good working relations with staff at the provincial and district offices of education is essential to be able to work effectively in Cambodia (just as important as having the right qualifications and experience). The volunteer professional must be patient and remain calm and friendly in the face of the numerous frustrations he/she will experience. Sensitivity to the needs of others is therefore paramount. The volunteer must be capable of understanding and working within Cambodian societal and working culture.

The volunteer professional must be a good communicator in order to build others’ capacity. The volunteer professional must be pro-active, friendly and open with colleagues in order to build good relationships.

The volunteer professional must be prepared to work in a team with other volunteer professionals and the full-time volunteer assistant (who act as translators as well as providing logistical support).  The programme is delivered through small teams or individuals in each province in order to implement activities effectively and to achieve maximum impact. Volunteer professionals and volunteer assistants are expected to develop a strong professional relationship with each other in order to maximize and complement each other’s strengths.

Working in a volunteer team is different to working in a normal professional team – there is more overlap between professional and social life than many volunteers have experienced before.  The volunteers themselves form a multi-cultural community with widely varying backgrounds, each with their own expectations and understanding of their work within the programme. It is essential that the professional can cope in this context.  The volunteer will need to be able to overcome personality clashes, if they occur, for the benefit of the programme and project.

The volunteer must be willing to be based in the main provincial town. He/she will need to have a sense of adventure, however, as sometimes their work will involve travelling, sometimes to remote locations, with their Khmer colleagues; this might involve overnight stays in district town. Travel would usually be by a moped motorcycle (100/125cc motorbike) with automatic clutch.

The Initiative to take ideas forward and sometimes to work independently will also be needed, while bearing in mind that local staff should be involved in the work as much as possible.

Adaptability is a key to living and working in Cambodia. At the personal level, the volunteer will have to make major adjustments simply to live and work in a different culture and environment.

Volunteers need to demonstrate and practice cultural sensitivity. This involves being non-judgmental and accepting of various religious and cultural traditions.

Language requirements:

 Excellent spoken and written English

Commitment to learn Khmer language. The volunteer will have a full-time assistant to help with translation for work purposes. However, it is essential that the volunteer learns Khmer in order to build relationships, be able to live comfortably and to use it for some working purposes whether with or without part-time assistant. VSO will provide basic Khmer language training in country for 2-3 weeks. VSO will also provide funding for continued language training during the placement

The volunteer will need to commit to studying the pre-departure language resources available on Volzone prior to arriving in Cambodia which will equip him/her with basic vocabulary ready for intensive language training in country.

 

Please see a link to the Khmer learning resources below:

http://volzone.vsoint.org/course/view.php?id=204

The ability to build good working relations with staff at the provincial and district offices of education is essential to be able to work effectively in Cambodia (just as important as having the right qualifications and experience). The volunteer professional must be patient and remain calm and friendly in the face of the numerous frustrations he/she will experience. Sensitivity to the needs of others is therefore paramount. The volunteer must be capable of understanding and working within Cambodian societal and working culture.

The volunteer professional must be a good communicator in order to build others’ capacity. The volunteer professional must be pro-active, friendly and open with colleagues in order to build good relationships.

The volunteer professional must be prepared to work in a team with other volunteer professionals and the full-time volunteer assistant (who act as translators as well as providing logistical support).  The programme is delivered through small teams or individuals in each province in order to implement activities effectively and to achieve maximum impact. Volunteer professionals and volunteer assistants are expected to develop a strong professional relationship with each other in order to maximize and complement each other’s strengths.

Working in a volunteer team is different to working in a normal professional team – there is more overlap between professional and social life than many volunteers have experienced before.  The volunteers themselves form a multi-cultural community with widely varying backgrounds, each with their own expectations and understanding of their work within the programme. It is essential that the professional can cope in this context.  The volunteer will need to be able to overcome personality clashes, if they occur, for the benefit of the programme and project.

The volunteer must be willing to be based in the main provincial town. He/she will need to have a sense of adventure, however, as sometimes their work will involve travelling, sometimes to remote locations, with their Khmer colleagues; this might involve overnight stays in district town. Travel would usually be by a moped motorcycle (100/125cc motorbike) with automatic clutch.

The Initiative to take ideas forward and sometimes to work independently will also be needed, while bearing in mind that local staff should be involved in the work as much as possible.

Adaptability is a key to living and working in Cambodia. At the personal level, the volunteer will have to make major adjustments simply to live and work in a different culture and environment.

Volunteers need to demonstrate and practice cultural sensitivity. This involves being non-judgmental and accepting of various religious and cultural traditions.

Language requirements:

 Excellent spoken and written English

Commitment to learn Khmer language. The volunteer will have a full-time assistant to help with translation for work purposes. However, it is essential that the volunteer learns Khmer in order to build relationships, be able to live comfortably and to use it for some working purposes whether with or without part-time assistant. VSO will provide basic Khmer language training in country for 2-3 weeks. VSO will also provide funding for continued language training during the placement

  • The volunteer will need to commit to studying the pre-departure language resources available on Volzone prior to arriving in Cambodia which will equip him/her with basic vocabulary ready for intensive language training in country.

Please see a link to the Khmer learning resources below:

http://volzone.vsoint.org/course/view.php?id=204

Cambodia’s war crimes trial – where is it going next?

Ieng ThirithFurther depressing news from Cambodia demonstrates how cleverly the government have wrapped up the ‘Extraordinary Courts’, set up to deliver justice by bringing to trial the key figures in the Khmer Rouge, responsible for some of the worst crimes against humanity of the last century and whose legacy still taints Cambodia’s present and some of its future.   First Ieng Thirith has been released, as unable to stand trial – thus being accorded a level of humane medical consideration she denied to millions.  Now it looks as though the Courts may run out of money (click here ).

The main argument in favour of moving these courts from the Hague to Cambodia was to avoid their portrayal within Cambodia as being ‘anti-Cambodian’, in the way that the Hague trials of Serbian leaders have been portrayed in Serbia, fuelling some of the extremist Serbian nationalists.  However, the Cambodia government have all along been determined not to turn over too many stones.  After all many of them were themselves, along with many prominent people in contemporary Cambodia, part of the Khmer Rouge at some time.   First they secured UN agreement that the trials would be held in Cambodia, then that the majority of the judges would be Cambodian appointees, then that the number of potential accused would be limited to five (Duch, already tried, and the four currently being prosecuted).   Obstacles and problems have multiplied (leading to some of the UN appointed lawyers losing patience click here), while the public face has still been that ‘justice will be done’.

It is possible to argue in favour of this ‘compromise process’ – see my earlier blog on this, ‘International Justice for Cambodia‘.   However any form of justice looks increasingly unlikely.   Those currently on trial all lived peaceful lives into their 80s and have been able to see their grandchildren.  Many of those who beat, starved and hacked their countrymen to death go about their business, sometimes known and feared in their communities, sometimes hiding in other places.  The North West of the country is still full of former Khmer Rouge cadres, now working in public service as hospital nurses, or teachers, or local government officials.  Had their been a Truth and Reconciliation process, or some other such public civic acknowledgement of wrong, with a chance for victims and their families to express their grief and for those guilty to express their regret, perhaps the country could have moved to a better place.  Deceit still underpins public and private life.  The secret political manoeuvring to protect those in positions of power, to pretend the past did not exist, the darkness behind the eyes of many of those, now in their 50s and 60s, who lived through the Killing Fields – this is the legacy of a failure to find a respectful path to the future.  Meantime those in Cambodia who try to lift the veil are themselves under threat, as exemplified in the brave story of Thet Sambath, whose memorable film, ‘Enemies of the People’, now available on DVD, featured in many of my previous blogs  (see here, here and here ).

Many younger Cambodians just want to move on.  They want a future, not a permanent past.  Everywhere around them, they can see that Cambodia is no North Korea.  While Cambodia’s unaccountable political elite are not too much different to the ‘strong’ governments of many post-conflict states, their continuity in power has brought stability, even a degree of dependability, into economic life.  On the back of this, open borders and free commerce have sustained hope and optimism among the hardworking Cambodian people, while economic growth has pushed along at or around 10% p.a., with a blip in 2008-9.  The many Cambodians who are working hard to create a better future for their country deserve as much support as the international community can give. They have a vision that we can all sign up to – of a future where every individual receives the basic human rights to which they are entitled, rights to education, health care, freedom of expression, rights which are still not fully realised.

In time, the trials will be written into the history books.  The jury is still out on whether or not the malign legacy of the Khmer Rouge, still evident in the Cambodia’s contemporary politics, will end up there as well or whether the generation that lived through the Killing Fields will pass that legacy on to the future.  It could be argued that this is a very familiar historical pattern.  After all, most of the landed, titled aristocracy who continue to enjoy significant privileges in the UK today gained their land and titles through choosing the right side of the previous civil conflicts, fought long ago.  I was reminded of this again on our recent visit to the grounds of Inveraray Castle, historic home of the Dukes of Argyll.

History-420x220

 

 

 

For a short summary of Cambodia’s recent story, see here.

Aminatta Forman, Sierra Leone and ‘The Memory of Love’

I have just finished listening to ‘The Memory of Love’, on an audiobook read by  Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.  This powerful story won the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book of 2011.   It was recommended by my daughter Beth, who has a great eye for a good book.

As ever, my experience of listening was coloured by the ‘reader’ – his or her interpretation of pace, voice and emotion inevitably influence the listener’s perceptions. At first, this was a chore.  The book begins slowly and is read slowly.   If reading, I might have been tempted to start to ‘speed read’ – listening while gardening, my attention slipped in and out of the story.  We are in the company of an English psychologist, Adrian, who is on some kind of placement in a Sierra Leonean (we only find out which country we are in much later) hospital, listening to an old man, Juilius, well-educated and perceptive, talking about a woman he loved, or rather, coveted – the wife of a colleague and friend.  This slow pace is maintained as the author skillfully weaves the other important characters into the story.  Her descriptive writing gives a really close sense of place.  Her words words paint a fine picture.  Adrift in his own life, Adrian becomes more and more caught up in the lives of the much more real people with whom he now shares his life – the aid workers, expat medical staff, war victims and above all Julius, Kai and Mama K.  I found myself constantly impressed  by the quality of the writing.   It is a cleverly constructed story, woven together with intelligence, based on deep knowledge of the country, its people and the work of the main protagonists (doctor, history academic, psychologist).  Yet as the story progressed, and the events more urgent, more violent, more tragic, I only felt outside.  I was aware of myself, looking at the author as puppeteer, her hands too visible in the actions of her people, her eyes to readily seen in her descriptions of what they could see and hear.   I felt a little manipulated.

Then my feelings began to change.  I saw the book through different eyes.  I saw author and book together.  Looking back it is easy to see the turning point.  I looked up Aminatta Forna on the internet and as a result I knew that this was a very personal book.  Her father, a doctor, politician and an Amnesty prisoner of conscience, was executed on trumped-up charges in 1975;  she, born in Scotland, has been actively involved with Sierra Leone as it emerged from its decade of darkness, when bloody civil war was waged by child soldiers.  Now I understood her deep insight into the issues raised by the lives of Julius and Mama K, Adrian and Kai, her understanding of them and the place where they lived.  I saw author and book together.  Her own story gave her the right to be taken seriously in this story.  I no longer felt manipulated, emotions moved around by some clever writer, dropping from the sky to observe and report.  I felt invited to share.  I cannot now wait to read her earlier non-fictional memoir, in which she writes of her father and his country, The Devil that Danced on Water.

Although I ended up powerfully moved by the book, and the dilemmas and challenges which life threw at her characters, I also saw it in a comparative perspective.  My own volunteer experience offered some insight.  I recognised that perspective of the recent ‘visitor’, dropping into the lives of others.  But much more powerful was the comparison I was constantly making of post-trauma Sierra Leone with post-trauma Cambodia – so many similarities in these two small countries, countries the Foreign Office calls ‘fragile, post-conflict States’.  And beyond these countries, so many other people in the former Yugoslavia, Palestine and Israel, Afghanistan, South Africa.  The contrast between the privileged freedom to chose, the freedom of those of us born into post-World War 2 Europe, and the fated hand dealt to so many in the second half of the 20th Century.  Yet underneath and through and above it all, hope.  Hope expressed best in community.  Hope in reaching out and believing in a future worth building.  Hope in recognising the complexity that has brought us to where we are, and the need to turn and face the future together.

I recommend this book highly.  It has depth and rich quality in the writing.  It has depth and insight in the story.  It touches the emotions and brings hope.

Prosecuting the Khmer Rouge – the story rumbles on …

Nice update on the tension between international standards of justice and the manipulations of the Royal Govt of Cambodia in relaiton to the proceedings of the Extraordinary Chambers against various former Khmer Rouge officials on the Open Society blog.  Every month this drags on it becomes clear that it’s all about political manoeuvring and not at all about justice!