Thursday, October 31, 2013

LICADHO and SISHA powerless to help Chanti and Chhork get their daughters back from Citipointe church

James, Kevin and Srey Ka
Chanti and Chhork tell me that a month or so ago LICADHO spoke with their local Prey Veng Village Chief (Chhork’s father) and Commune chief (Chhork’s uncle); that both had told LICADHO, whilst the family was poor, Chanti and Chhork could provide a good home for Rosa and Chita.

If nothing has been lost in translation here, why are Rosa and Chita still in the care of Citipointe church? (That Chhork’s father and uncle hold significant positions in the community should give some indication of the kind of family network that has been available to Chanti and Chhork this past five years – a family network that Citipointe has never once attempted to tap into. Likewise, Citipointe has never met nor made any attempt to meet and talk with either Chanti and Chhork’s Village of Commune Chiefs! Indeed, Citipointe did not bother to consult with them, as is customary, before taking Rosa and Chita into care in 2008. The problem here is not just Citipointe’s contempt for Cambodian law and natural justice but that there is no-one, no body, in a position to force the church to be transparent, accountable and to obey the law.

Chhork and Poppy, James, Kevin and Srey K
Chanti and Chhork also tell me that a meeting had been held a few weeks ago at which staff from LICADHO and Citipointe church were present. Chanti and Chhork were not invited to attend the meeting to discuss their own daughters. Nor was I invited, despite my being Chanti’s legally appointed Advocate – as both Citipointe and LICADHO are aware. If such a meeting occurred why was I neither informed nor invited? More importantly, why should LICADHO and Citipointe be discussing the future of Rosa and Chita without their parents being present? They are not criminals, they have done nothing wrong, there has never been any suggestion that they have ever done anything to harm their children or that they would ever do so. I expect this form of paternalism from Citipointe, as the church acts as if it owns Rosa and Chita, but for LICADHO not to invite the parents to such an important meeting is totally inappropriate behavior for a human rights NGO.

I suspect that the reason why neither Chanti and Chhork nor myself were invited (at least as far as Citipoint is concerned) is that if we were present it would be very hard for Citipointe to tell the sorts of lies the church has told this past five years to justify its actions. Citipointe knows that I have evidence of its lies and the last thing the church would want is for me to produce it in a meeting such as the one that seems to have occurred. (The Ministry of the Interior’s ‘Anti Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department’ refused to allow me to present to it the evidence I had of Rosa and Chita’s illegal removal.)

Kevin, Chanti and Srey Ka

It is abundantly clearly that neither LICADHO, SISHA is in a position to help Chanti and Chhork get their children back, regardless of their best intentions. I do not doubt that both NGOs wish to assist but the simple truth, in Cambodia in 2013, is that both are powerless to do anything. They simply cannot compete with whatever forces are in play here that enable Citipointe to effectively kidnap the children of poor Cambodian parents and keep them for as long as they please. I suspect that it will only be when the entire NGO community in Cambodia says “Enough is enough” and begins to publicly disassociate itself from unscrupulous NGOs that such NGOs will be under pressure to either leaver Cambodia or to reform their practices such that they become accountable for their actions.

On the surface it might appear that I have wasted my time this past five years trying to get Rosa and Chita returned to their family through any and every avenue open to me. The one avenue I did not explore was finding the right person to bribe to see to it that the family was re-united. On several occasions Chanti told me that the police wanted to speak with me, that they wanted money from me. I refused each time and never did find out which police she was referring to. With the wisdom of hindsight it might have been preferable if I had paid whatever bribe needed to be paid all of those years ago. It certainly would have saved a lot of time and energy. And, more importantly, a lot of heartache for Chanti and Chhork.

Chanti and Chhork’s problems this past six or so weeks, without a tuk tuk, have been confounded by both the weather (floods) and Chanti’s mother, Vanna. I had sent Chanti and Chhork money from Australia to get their tuk tuk back. Chanti’s mother, Vanna, asked Chanti to give her the money. Chanti did so. When I asked Chanti why she replied, “My mother gave me my life, I cannot say no.” Vanna then gave the money to her own mother – no doubt with the same justification in mind: “She gave me my life, how can I say no?” This is not the first time that such a problem has arisen and perhaps will not be the last – though I have made any further monetary help for the family conditional on none of the money being given to Vanna – regardless of any entreaties she may make to Chanti.

Chanti, Poppy and Srey Ka

On closer investigation this past week I discovered that the debt Chanti owes to the moneylender, the debt that resulted in the money lender stealing the family tuk tuk, dates back more than a decade. Most of the debt is interest accrued over 10 or so years. I again suggested to Chanti that we go to the police and report what amounts to theft. She shook her head and was quite adamant that we should not as the police are corrupt.  Indeed, much of the debt Chanti had built up all those years ago was the result of paying bribes to the police when she was selling snacks and drinks in a stall down by the river. Technically, running such a stall was illegal even 10 years ago, but all of the stall holders paid the police not to arrest them. And if the stall holders could not afford to pay the bribes they had to borrow money.

The loss of the family tuk tuk – the family’s main source of income  - pitched Chanti into deep despair. On top of this, the family home and the surroundings have been under water during the recent floods and two of her children have been ill. These problems have been exacerbated by the lack of a toilet. And where has Citipointe been during all this? Absent, as usual. As always. The church has done nothing this past five years to help Chanti and her family and never will. Doing nothing to alleviate Chanti’s poverty is one way the church can ensure that it can retain custody of Rosa and Chita until they are 18. That this state of affairs is tolerated by the NGO community is a sorry state of affairs.

I have bought Chanti and Chhork another tuk tuk so at least one of their problems has been resolved. Chhork is now able to earn rough $30 a week with the tuk tuk – an income supplemented by Chanti’s chickens, pigs and vegetables. Theirs is still a poor family but no poorer than the majority of Cambodian families. And, unlike most Cambodian families, this one has a safety net if disaster strikes – namely myself.

Neither the clear evidence of Rosa and Chita’s illegal removal five years ago nor Chanti and Chhork’s clear ability to take care of their daughters in 2013 is sufficient to result in their return to the family home. Nor are these demonstrably true facts sufficient to induce other NGOs or the Cambodian English language media to speak out or, at the very least, to ask questions of Citipointe in a public forum. These questions apply not only to Citipointe, of course, but to all those NGOs that play fast and loose with the truth  in order to boost their sponsorship and donor earnings; all those NGOs that, even with the best of intentions, are exploiting poor Cambodian families in pursuit of their own agendas.


When I complete CHANTI’S WORLD, the very first monies I earn from the film, will go to engaging lawyers in both Australia and Cambodia to sue Citipointe for the church’s illegal removal of Rosa and Chita back in mid 2008. In the event that I am successful, through either court, in exposing Citipointe’s clear breaches of both Cambodian and Australian law of Rosa and Chita in 2008, in the event that Rosa and Chita are returned to the care of their parents, Citipointe will simply have to find two other young girls from an impoverished family to ‘rescue’ and then exploit to raise money for the church. And all this will happen with the tacit approval of an NGO community that chooses to remain silent on the human rights abuses that it knows to occur within it.


I can only hope that one day the Cambodian people will way, “Enough, we are no longer prepared to have our children used by foreign NGOs to raise money. If you wish to help us, help our poor families, help our struggling communities, do not  take our children away from us and then make it seem as if you are doing us a huge favour.”


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Somaly Mam. Will her lies, told in the name of a good cause, perhaps, be forgotten in a few weeks?

Dr Kek Pung, LICADHO
Ms Naly Pilorge, LICADHO
Mr Eric Meldrum, SISHA

26th October 2013

Dear Kek, Naly and Eric

I am writing in relation to both Somaly Mam and Yem Chanti – the mother whose daughters were removed from hers and her husband’s care five years ago by Citipointe church. The connection between the two will become apparent.

Poppy, Chanti and Chhork

SISHA’s mission statement online includes the following:

"To provide justice for victims of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation by strengthening the criminal justice system, and victim, social and legal support services throughout Asia….A world where everyone can live free from oppression and abuse".

The LICADHO mission statement includes the following:

LICADHO (is) at the forefront of efforts to protect civil and political and economic and social rights in Cambodia and to promote respect for them by the Cambodian government and institutions….LICADHO continues to be an advocate for the Cambodian people and a monitor of the government through wide ranging human rights programs… 

LICADHO monitors collect and investigate human rights violations perpetrated by the State and violations made against women and children. Victims are provided assistance through interventions with local authorities and court officials.

Meas Ratha, who featured in a 1998 documentary alongside Somaly Mam has recently declared that she lied for the camera at the request of Somaly Mam.

Was Somaly Mam exploiting Meas Ratha? (SISHA mission statement)? Was Somaly Mam violating Meas Ratha’s human rights (LICADHO mission statement) in telling a 14 year old girl to lie in order to raise awareness (and money) for the cause she was committed to?

I would contend that Meas Ratha has both been exploited and had her human rights violated. Do LICADHO and SISHA?

If, in accordance with both LICADHO’S and SISHA’S interpretation of human rights abuse and exploitation, Somaly Mam forcing Meas Ratha to lie is not exploitative or a human rights abuse, you need read no more of this letter. If inducing a vulnerable 14 year old girl to lie does constitute a human rights abuse, what are SISHA and LICADHO going to do about it?

The possibility exists, of course, that Meas Rath has not told the truth in October 2013; that what she told the camera in 1998, with Somaluy Mam at her side, was the truth. The only way that the truth or otherwise of her 2013 confession to Cambodia Daily journalists can be determined is if some independent NGO concerned with human rights and with questions related to child prostitution and trafficking were to ask Meas Ratha and Somaly Mam the relevant (and obvious) questions.

Will either SISHA or LICADHO be asking such questions to determine whether Meas Ratha is lying or telling the truth?

As I am sure you will all be aware, Meas Ratha is now under pressure from the Somaly Mam Foundation to recant the story she told to the Cambodia Daily. With the Foundation’s healthy bank balance (thanks in large part to Hollywood celebrities such as Susan Sarandon and Angelina Jolie) no doubt Somaly Mam hopes that her lies get no further coverage than has occurred to date. Both SISHA and LICADHO can help her guarantee that the story gains no traction by asking no questions at all of Meas Ratha and remaining silent.

Surely, in cases such as this, your silence, the silence of Chab Dai and the entire NGO community, amounts to complicity? In the same way, your collective silence on Citipointe church’s illegal removal of Chanti and Chhork’s daughters in 2008 makes you complicit in their remaining, in contravention of Cambodian law, in the custody of the church in Oct 2013.

Chhork, Kevin, Srey Ka, Chanti and Poppy

Both LICADHO and SISHA know that the only legal way that Citipointe can retain custody of Rosa and Chita, given that their parents have consistently asked for their return this past five years, is if there is evidence that they are at risk in some way in being returned to their home. When Citipointe induced Chanti to sign the sham 31st July 2008 document (and there is no question but that it is a sham) there was never any suggestion that the girls were at risk. There has never, over the past five years, been any suggestion that Rosa and Chita would be at risk if they were returned to their family. Why then are the girls still in the care of Citipointe? Why do both LICADHO and SISHA remain silent?

If LICADHO and/or SISHA believe that there is some risk to Rosa and Chita if they return to their family, both organizations should, at the very least, inform Chanti and Chhork what this risk amounts to.

James, Kevin and Srey Ka

It may well be (indeed it seems to be the case) that both SISHA and LICADHO are powerless to do anything at all to secure the release of Rosa and Chita but surely, as with Somaly Mam, an investigation should occur (some questions asked) and the results be made publicly known? If SISHA and LICADHO are not prepared to put even moral pressure on Citipointe to explain the church’s actions in 2008 and its refusal to release the girls in 2013, to whom can Chanti and Chhork turn to at least get vocal support of their rights as parents to bring up their own children?   

It may be, in a country as corrupt as Cambodia, in which the rule of law is only available to those who can afford to pay the judiciary to obtain the legal result they want, that SISHA and LICADHO are essentially powerless to intervene in the case of Meas Ratha or Yem Chanti. However, surely you can, either individually or collectively, express your concern to the Minister of Social Services (and do so in a very public manner) that no reason has been provided by either MOSAVY or Citipointe church as to why Rosa and Chita cannot be returned to their family.

As matters stand, both SISHA and LICADHO have had ample opportunity to express, in public, your NGOs’ concerns about Citipointe church’s refusal to return Rosa and Chita to their parents. You have not taken advantage of it. As has been the case with Somaly Mam’s lies this last decade, you have chosen silence rather than demanding public accountability of NGOs such as Somaly Mam’s Foundation and of Citipointe church. There is, as a result, virtually no disincentive to the Somaly Mams and Leigh Ramseys in the NGO community to lie in order to raise money. Such lies, of course, reflect badly on the entire NGO community when they are uncovered.

Please accept this letter as an invitation to both LICADHO and SISHA be interviewed for my film, CHANTI’S WORLD. I wish to give you all the opportunity to address questions relating to Cambodian ‘orphanages’ and other such  ‘rescue’ centers if you so wish.

As for Somaly Mam, I wonder if her exposure by the Cambodia Daily as a fraud will have any consequences? Will she, next month, be back in Time magazine with full page (and heavily photoshopped) photos of herself as she raises money for an NGO that has achieved both fame and fortune based on her lies?

How many lies will Somaly Mam be allowed to tell before SISHA, LICADHO and the NGO community lets her and her Foundation know that it is not appropriate, to say the least, to coach 14 year old girls to lie, in order to raise money for a charity?

Chita, Chanti and Rosa

More importantly for the NGO community in Cambodia, how many other NGOs are telling lies in order to raise money? And how will donors and sponsors react when the discover not only that they have been lied to but that those in a position to expose such lies (SISHA and LICADHO being two such NGOs) have maintained a diplomatic silence about abuses they know to be occurring?

best wishes

James Ricketson

Thursday, October 24, 2013

letter for Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Australian tax-payers will provide $97.2 million in foreign aid to Cambodia this financial year.  Despite serious allegations of electoral fraud, Australia has congratulated Prime Minister Hun Sen on his victory. Would it be unreasonable for Australia’s Prime Minister to request an independent investigation into alleged electoral ‘irregularities’ in the recent Cambodian elections as a condition for providing this aid?

James Ricketson
Phnom Penh

The Hon Tony Abbott
Prime Minister
Parliament House
Canberra, Australia

24th October 2013

Dear Prime Minister

On July 28th Cambodia held elections. On the evening of 28th Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party claimed victory. Over the following days a mass of evidence appeared suggestive of what can most kindly be described as ‘irregularities’. The Opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party requested that there be an independent investigation into these alleged ‘irregularities’. Hun Sen’s ruling party refused to allow an independent investigation to occur.

Australia congratulated Hun Sen on his victory despite serious doubts as to whether or not his party had won the election at all. Was this an appropriate response to the election result under the circumstances? More importantly, is it possible, now, that Australia could, diplomatically, add its voice to those of other countries that are calling for an independent investigation into the election results? Australian tax-payers are, after all, providing Cambodia with $97.2 million in aid this financial year!

Your government could certainly justify its shift in position by pointing to the 2 million Cambodian voters (a third of the voting public) who have signed a petition requesting such an investigation. Would 2 million Cambodians sign such a petition if they believed that Prime Minister Hun Sen had in fact won? If they had confidence in him and his government? Would irregularities of the kind alleged to have occurred in Cambodia be allowed to go uninvestigated in Australia?

Copies of the petition will be delivered to the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday 25th Oct.

It may be, if an independent investigation were to be conducted, that it would be discovered there have been ‘irregularities’ of the kind that Sam Rainsy’s Cambodian National Rescue Party believes and claims to be the case. If so, if that is what emerges from an independent investigation, that will be the end of the matter and the 2 million signatories to the petition can put the matter behind them and get on with their lives.

If there is no independent investigation, these 2 million signatories will not believe that Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party actually won the election. For the next five years they will believe that his government is illegitimate. This is not a desirable state of affairs. 

A quote from AusAID’s website is in order:

Cambodia has made considerable progress in raising living standards but it remains one of the poorest countries in East Asia. About 25 per cent of the population live in poverty and income inequality is widening between urban and rural areas, where 90 per cent of poor people live. Cambodia's progress towards meeting its 2015 Millennium Development Goals is mixed. Promoting sustainable development in Cambodia is in Australia’s interest. A more stable, prosperous Cambodia will contribute to regional economic growth and assist in fighting transnational crime.

AusAID’s summary contains half truths and spin. ‘Making considerable progress’ is what NGOs, the World Bank, the IMF and other donors say and write when little or no progress at all has been made. 25% of the population live in poverty sounds much better than 40% suffering from malnutrition (despite billions of dollars in foreign aid this last decade) and the use of the expression ‘mixed’ in relation to results and effectiveness usually means ‘failure’.

It is the last sentence of the AusAID statement that is of interest here, however. It is in Australia’s interest that there be a “more stable, prosperous Cambodia.” A more stable Cambodia necessitates that the Cambodian people believe and accept that their government is a legitimate one. At least 2.2 million voters do not believe this to be the case as a result of the 28th July elections. It is in Australia’s interests that these 2.2million Cambodians have their doubts put to rest by the implementation of an independent investigation.

As for a ‘more prosperous’ Cambodia, this objective is not likely to occur unless and until there is rule of law in Cambodia; until corrupt politicians are not able to steal the nation’s natural resources for their own benefit with impunity; not able to steal the homes and land of Cambodians with the full knowledge that these poor people will find no redress, even if they could afford legal representation, in a corrupt court system.

Is Australia’s $97.2 million in aid benefiting the Cambodian people or is it enabling the Cambodian government to offload its responsibilities to its own people  - for poverty reduction, health and education etc - onto donor countries? If so, is it possible that we are, regardless of the generous intentions that underlie the giving of such aid, propping up a bad government?  And is it possible that we have led ourselves into a trap that is difficult to escape with this aid? If Australia were now (after all these years)  to tie its aid to the Cambodian government abiding by its own laws and ceasing to allow senior members of it from engaging in land grabbing and stealing national resources, what would Prime Minister Hun Sen’s response be? He has made it clear. “You cut off aid and it is the poor who will suffer.” Are we, perhaps, engaged in an unhealthy symbiotic relationship with Cambodia through our dispersement of aid that we cannot cease giving without harming the very people it is intended to help?

Given the sheer number of reported and well documented  ‘irregularities’ and the weight of evidence in support of electoral fraud, would it be unreasonable for yourself and Australia’s Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop, to tie our country’s $97.2 million in foreign aid to the establishment of an independent enquiry to determine who won the 28th July elections?

yours sincerely

James Ricketson