The return to their family of Rosa and Chita two days ago, stolen by Brisbane-based Citipointe church close to 6 years ago, should have been a joyous occasion. It was not. For reasons that I can only speculate about, Citipointe chose to make the re-integration as traumatic as possible for the girls.
Friday, May 30, 2014
Rosa and Chita will survive. They will get over this latest human rights abuse inflicted by Citipointe church, but it will take time.
Before recounting the events of the last few days, I would like to acknowledge the important role played by the ABC. A couple of months ago Lateline’s Steve Cunnane ran a story that was seen by many more people than read my blog, giving the story ‘legs’.
One of those who viewed Lateline was Mr Michael Johnson, a Brisbane based barrister and former member of parliament. He offered to act pro bono on behalf of Chanti and Chhork and wrote to the church. (See below if interested) Michael’s letter set in motion a sequence of events that led to the bitter-sweet conclusion of two days ago.
Without the ABC, without ‘Lateline’ and ‘Four Corners’ and other such programs unafraid to ask difficult questions and hold people in positions of power accountable, our democracy would be greatly diminished. The ABC is a national treasure. And without lawyers with a pro bono passion to see justice done, the poor and powerless are all too easily screwed by the rich and powerful. Thank you ABC. Thank you Michael Johnson.
The release of Rosa and Chita back into their family two days ago should have been an occasion for unalloyed joy and celebration. It has not turned out that way. Rosa and Chita are both in shock. The church gave the girls no notice that they were about to be torn away from their ‘SHE Rescue Home’ friends, their school mates and teachers, their familiar surroundings and daily routines. The only world they have known for the past six years was destroyed by Citipointe’s lack of empathy (and perhaps even concern) for the impact this would have on an 11 and a 12 year old girl - both unceremoniously delivered back to their family, unannounced, in a materially poor village in which there are none of the first world amenities Rosa and Chita had become accustomed to, living in a Christian institution.
The re-integration of children back into their families after a long absence is a process that must happen slowly, step by step, with the emotional and psychological well-being of the children always foremost in the minds of the adults in control of re-integration. The lack of such a process here has resulted in Chita spending much of the past 2 days in tears. She misses her friends. She refuses to speak with anyone, has withdrawn into herself and appears to be very depressed. Rosa is coping better but only just. If Citipointe had set out to make the re-integration process as painful as possible for the girls, the church could not have chosen a better way to do so. It seems that Citipointe, in a panic that the church might be sued by Micharl Johnson for the illegal 2008 removal of the girls, chose to get rid of them poste haste – hoping that in so doing questions surrounding the legality of the church’s removal and detention would simply disappear. The church has put self-interest above the emotional needs of the girls during what Pastors Leigh Ramsey and Brian Mulheran knew in advance would be a difficult transition.
The re-integration process, after six years of institutional living, should have occurred slowly and in accordance with a well thought out plan. Rosa and Chita should have been allowed weekend visits to their family for a few months to give them a chance to become accustomed to the radical changes that were to occur in their lives. They should be allowed, now, to maintain contact with the friends they have grown to love within the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ this past six years. They should have been given the opportunity to finish one school term in their Citipointe school and start a new term in their new school. As it has turned out, I was two hours away from flying back to Australia when I learnt that Citipointe had delivered the girls back to their family two days ago – the parents, Chanti and Chhork instructed to place their thumb prints on a document (which they could not read) that absolves the church of any wrong-doing (read below is such details are of interest).
I had to cancel my flight to Australia and have spent much of today arranging for the girls to be enrolled in a new school.
It would seem that Citipointe has timed the return of Rosa and Chita to occur at a time when I was not in the country and to do it in such a way as to cause maximum distress to the girls themselves – thus making them want to return to the ‘SHE Rescue Home’.
After all these years of coming to Cambodia, knowing the country well and understanding the way corruption works (it pervades every aspect of life here), I am nonetheless astounded that Citipointe has been able to manipulate the Cambodian judiciary and the Ministry of Social Affairs in such a way as to leave the church free to steal the daughters of materially poor Cambodians with impunity. More shocking, perhaps, is the fact that such illegal removals can occur with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the Australian Ambassador to Cambodia and the Department of Foreign Affairs; that the Australian Council for International Development – whose job it is to see to it that AusAID-approved NGOs obey the law of their host country and the ACFIF Code of Conduct – refuses to even ask Citipointe, or its funding partner the Global Development Group, to produce documentary evidence of the legality of its 2008 removal of the girls.
The two beds in the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ occupied by Rosa and Chita will soon be filled by two other girls whose materially poor parents will have been duped into believing the church wants to help them. They will soon discover that they have lost all their rights as parents guaranteed by Cambodian law, by Australian law and by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The illegal removal of these two girls will be funded by AusAID approved tax-deductible charity dollars. The two girls will be re-packaged for gullible sponsors and donors as ‘victims of human trafficking’. This will result in vast sums of money flowing into the coffers of Citipointe, whilst the church pursues its other religious goal – turning these girls into young Pentecostals and, in the process, alienating them from their family, their community, their culture and their religion.
There are days when Cambodia breaks your heart. Today is one of them for me. The bitter taste is offset by the sweetness of seeing Chanti’s family together for the first time in six years.
Citipointe’s farewell gift to Rosa and Chita was a 50 kilo bag of rice ($35) and two second hand bicycles ($60).
Ms Sam Mostyn, President
Australian Council for International Development and
ACFID Code of Conduct Committee
12 Napier Close, Deakin ACT 2600
30th May 2014
Dear Ms Sam Mostyn and
Dr Sue-Anne Wallace
Dr Petrus Usmanij
Dr Simon Smith
With no prior warning, Citipointe church delivered Rosa and Chita back to their family two days ago. There was no re-integration program and the girls had no opportunity to say goodbye to their friends. Chita, in particular, is so devastated that she cannot speak and is in tears most of the time. Rosa is faring better but is also in a state of shock.
I have little doubt but that this sudden delivery of Rosa and Chita to their family on the part of Citipointe is a response to the legal letter from Mr Michael Johnson written to Citipointe on 2nd. May. In releasing the girls in this manner, Citipointe hopes that all questions about the illegal removal and detention of them will disappear. This is not so.
I have lost count of the number of times I have asked you, as President of ACFID, Ms Mostyn and you as Chair of the ACFiD Code of Conduct committee, Dr Wallace, if you believe the parents, Chanti and Chhork, are entitled to be provided with copies of the MOUs relating to the removal of their daughters. You have both refused to answer this question many times now – despite the ACFID Code of Conduct being quite clear about the parents rights vis a vis acquiring copies of these MOUs.
On 23rd. May Chanti and Chhork made a formal request, in writing, to the Global Development Group, to be provided with copies of the MOUs – as is their right as ‘stakeholders’. In the event that GDG refuses Chanti and Chhork’s request, will the Australian Council for International Development insist that GDG hand over copies of the MOUs? This is not a rhetorical question. As a matter of professional and personal courtesy I would appreciate a response to it.
ACFID could obtain copies of the MOUs with just one phone call. If these MOUs do indeed give the Global Development Group and Citipointe the rights they have exerted in relation to Rosa and Chita’s custody this past close-to-six years, neither NGO has anything to fear from the contents of the MOUs being made public.
cc The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Foreign Minister
(L) to Pastors Ramsey and Mulheran 2 days after the unannounced and unplanned return of Rosa and Chita, dated 30th May 2014
Pastors Leigh Ramsey and Brian Mulheran
322 Wecker Road
30th May 2014
Dear Pastors Ramsey and Mulheran
I had no choice but to cancel my flight back to Australia; to stay in Cambodia to try, as best I can, to help with the emotional mess your church has created. Both Rosa and Chita are in shock at the sudden and unannounced transformation in their lives. Chita is quite traumatized. She has been in tears for much for the past 18 hours and has slipped into what could best be described as a form of catatonic depression. One day she was living in a Christian institution in Phnom Penh, with a secure lifestyle and a group of friends; the next she is dumped in a materially poor village with a family that was given no warning at all of their impending arrival. How could Citipointe be so lacking in even a basic understanding of child psychology and of the effect so rapid a transformation would have on an 11 year old girl who has spent more than half her life in an institution?
It is now close to six years since Citipointe illegally removed Rosa and Chita from their home, using the sham 31st July 2008 ‘contract’. And then, on 28th May 2014 representatives of your church arrive at Chanti and Chhork’s village with Rosa and Chita and present the parents with an equally sham ‘contract’ for them to sign. Fearing that this may be their only opportunity to get their daughters back, Chanti and Chhork sign a document which, as with the 2008 ‘contract’ has no legal validity.
Citipointe’s dumping of the girls, unannounced, is compounded by the pathetic nature of your church’s parting gift to Rosa and Chita (and the family) – one 50 kilo bag of rice and 2 second hand bicycles. The combined value of these would be less than $100.
When I have done what I can to smooth the transition for Rosa and Chita from institutional living to village life I will put all of my effort into securing copies of the MOUs that both Citipointe and the Global Development Group insist gave you the right of removal and detention. If, as seems to be the case, the Australian Council for International Development refuses to ask for copies, I will pursue this matter in an Australian and/or international court and in other ways available to me now that the custody question has been resolved.
I again ask, as Chanti and Chhork’s legally appointed advocate, that Citipointe church immediately produce copies of the 2008 and 2009 MOUs. I am copying this to various individuals in a position to insist that Citipointe produce the MOUs and to others who could well ask the question and draw their own conclusions as to why Citipointe refuses to produce them.
Please do not think that the return of Rosa and Chita is the end of this matter. It is the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Your church will now trick some other parents into giving up their daughters and the pattern will be repeated, both in Cambodia and in India, until someone in a position to do so puts a stop to Citipointe’s child-stealing scam.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
(K) letter to Pastors Ramsey and Mulheran re secret agreement entered into by Citipiointe, 2 village elders and one policeman
Dear Leigh and Brian
As always, my letter speaks for itself.
I leave for Australia today and trust, if it is true that Citipointe intends to release Rosa and Chita, that this will happen in a timely fashion and in accordance with an agreed-upon reintegration program.
I trust also that, in accordance with the requests made many times this past five years, that Citipointe and/or the Global Development Group will supply MOUs to verify that the removal of the girls in 2008 and their detention since that time was legal.
Pastors Leigh Ramsey and Brian Mulheran
322 Wecker Road
29th May 2014
Dear Pastors Ramsey and Mulheran
Chanti has, this morning, provided me with a copy of a document drawn up by the “Head of Ponley Nekom Village, Ba Poung Commune, Peam Rour District, Prey Veng Province.” It is dated 26th May. I have attached a copy of the document in Khmer and a translation of it.
This 26th May document makes reference to an agreement that has been witnessed by (1) Police of Peam Rour District and (2) Head of Ba Poung Commune, in addition to the signatory of it - the Head of Ponley Nekom Village.
There is no reference in this document to the nature of the agreement that has been entered into between these three men and Citipointe. There is no reference to Chanti and Chhork having been a party to this agreement – the terms and conditions of which Chanti and Chhork have no knowledge of.
In the preparation of whatever agreement has been entered into, Chanti and Chhork had no opportunity to be advised by anyone.
As Chanti and Chhork’s legally appointed advocate I would have been in a position to provide some advice but had no knowledge of the agreement until after it was struck. As Chanti and Chhork’s legally appointed counsel, Mr Michael Johnson would have been the person best suited to provide Chanti and Chhork with advice regarding whatever agreement Citipointe was proposing on 23rd May.
Before asking Chanti and Chhork to enter into any other contractual agreements regarding Rosa and Chita, could you please provide copies of these to Chanti and Chhork, to myself and to Mr Michael Johnson.
If it is Citipointe’s intention to return Rosa and Chita to their family, as intimated in this 26th May document, the re-integration process needs to be carried out in a way that minimizes the potential damage done to both Rosa and Chita and the family by their sudden transfer from a Christian institution in Phnom Penh to a Buddhist family in a fairly remote village in Prey Veng.
As Citipointe is aware from previous correspondence, I am in the process of trying to find a school that is appropriate for Rosa and Chita to attend such that they can continue their education at the level to which they have been accustomed this past six years. I do not know what this level is, what subjects they have been studying or any other particulars regarding their education. Could you please provide me with as much in formation as possible about Rosa and Chita’s education to date such that I can find the best possible school for them?
If Citipointe intends to return Rosa and Chita to their family it would be in the interests of both the girls and their family that this occurred during a school vacation. And it would be preferable if sufficient time elapsed between Citipointe’s decision to release the girls and the commencement of the new school term for all the necessary arrangements for the transfer to be made with a minimum of disruption to their lives. As I may well be in Australia it would be appreciated if you could give me sufficient warning that the transfer is to take place so that I can travel to Cambodia and assist the family in adjusting to the new state of affairs.
Regardless of our differences, the re-integration process is one that Citipointe and I must work on together. There needs to be an agreed-upon time-table, in writing, such that Chanti and Chhork know what their rights, responsibilities and obligations are; such that both Citipointe and I know what our respective responsibilities are vis a vis Rosa and Chita over the next few years.
The first step in achieving a smooth transition for Rosa and Chita back into the family is for Citipointe to let Chanti, Chhork, myself and Mr Michael Johnson know precisely what the nature of the agreement is that has been entered into between Citipointe and the three men referred to in the document signed by the Head of Ponley Nekom Village on 26th May.
Events moved very fast this day, as I was packing to leave for the airport. There was some confusion (a lot, as it transpired) as to what was going on; what had already gone on. Shortly after sending the above letter to Pastors Ramsey and Mulheran, I sent the following note.
“Closer questioning of Chanti revealed that yesterday, after promising me that they would sign no more documents without first showing them to Mr Johnson and myself, representatives of the church arrived at their home and told them the must place their thumb prints on certain documents if they wanted to get Rosa and Chita returned to their care.
Given Chanti's promise to me yesterday, she was reluctant to admit that she had a copy of the document she and Chhork signed. I am having it translated now but it seems that Citipointe has decided to intimidate Chanti and Chhork into signing a document that will see the release back into their care of Rosa and Chita.
If this is what the translation reveals, I would like to point out that for five years Citipointe has been maintaining that the decision to release the girls was one to be made by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
As soon as have an accurate translation I will write again - either from Cambodia or Australia.
An hour later I had a translation:
Reference on request of YEM CHANTHY, dated 31st July 2008 to International C T Phnom Penh Organization of Recuse and Care in order to accept my two children to adopt and take care and studying ago and also I still recognize for official because of I made in without forcing from any person.
Date, May 28, 2014
Witness Thumbprint of Spouse
Chief Office of Peam Ror District Husband Wife
CHEA SOKHA PHUN CHHORK YEM CHANTHY
Head of Ponley Nekhom
Having seen applicant
has made in front of us in genuine
Date: May 28, 2014
Head of Commune
(Signed and Sealed)
Upon talking to Chanti and Chhork with a proper interpreter I learnt, to my shock, that Citipointe had dumped Rosa and Chita with their parents the day beforehand – a fact I had not picked up because Chanti (whose English is rudimentary) had used (or it seemed so to me) the future tense, not the past! I now wrote the following:
Dear Leigh and Brian
When Chanti and Chhork told me this morning that Rosa and Chita were to be returned to the family they used the future tense. Upon conducting an interview with them just now, with a competent translator, I learnt that representatives of your church turned up yesterday with Rosa and Chita and presented their parents with an ultimatum. Here are the girls, if you want them to stay, place your thumb prints here.
Under these circumstances I can understand why, after so many years of false promises, Chanti and Chhork took the opportunity and placed their thumb prints of a document which attempts to provide retrospective validity to the 31st July 2008 'contract'.
The speed with which this has happened, the total lack of a reintegration process, of consultation, is clearly a response to the legal letter from Mr Michael Johnson. Citipointe knew that whilst it could ignore me it could not ignore a barrister prepared to take this matter to whatever court was required for it to be resolved in accordance with the law.
Two points need to be made here:
(1) Citipointe has yet to provide any evidence at all that its removal of Rosa and Chita in 2008 was legal and
(2) Citipointe's dumping of Rosa and Chita at the drop of a hat, in the total absence of due process, and with no offer to assist them from here on in in their lives, reveals the true motives of the church in keeping them this long. From what Chanti and Chhork tell me the sum total of the church's assistance to the reintegration of the girls back into the family is one 50 kg bag of rice and two bicycles - with a total value of around $100.
(3) Citipointe will now be free to trick some other materially poor parents to give up their daughters to fill the beds vacated by Rosa and Chita. Given that it has taken me close to six years to get Rosa and Chita back (with the vital help of Mr Michael Johnson) these poor Cambodian parents have little or no chance of getting their daughters back.
Whilst it is good that Rosa and Chita have been returned to their family, the circumstances surrounding their return leaves so many questions unanswered - the key one being: "Where are the MOUs that gave Citipointe the right to take the girls in the first place?"