Obama Must Side With the Rights and Dignity of Cambodians, Not Strengthen the Last Thug Left Standing in Power in South East Asia. If Not Cambodia, where? If not now when?
If the U.S. won’t support those fighting for democratic freedoms in Cambodia, a country no longer with significant political, economic, military, or strategic value to the region or world, the poster child of the modern era for unspeakable suffering by government, then where else on earth will they?
“Villagers feel totally helpless as they see no recourse against official arbitrary violence and abuses. Deprived of any means to seek justice, even when their children are taken away and being murdered, they swallow their anger and sadness, bow to the powers that be, accept with resignation their fate and withdraw in silence, knowing after long years of oppressive experience that words can kill.” 1994 UN Center for Human Rights confidential report.
The United States Government is almost as afraid of former Khmer Rouge military officer, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as the millions of Cambodians who suffer in fear living under the incompetent jackboot of the rapacious, corrupt failed nation state he controls.
And by the U.S. supplicating itself to the threats of a childish temper tantrum of an obscure toothless dictator whose decades old modus operandi is to only employ his violent thuggery against the weak and vulnerable, the Obama administration is damaging the reputation of America as a defender of the principles of human rights, democratic institutions, and the dignity of man by succumbing to the implicit blackmail threats of a tinpot ruler.
The so called non-conundrum at issue is either continue to bankroll the egregious Cambodian government repression, mute criticism of their use of murder by U.S. funded and trained security forces, keep quiet about the use of intimidation as routine policy by top leaders to line their pockets with corrupt money obtained through subordinating the common good of the nation to line their personal bank accounts, and demanding the U.S. make excuses for the total subjugation of the judicial system to political dictates as a tool to erase dissent in a an amateurish imitation of Singapore, and continue to bankroll with U.S. money which funds, strengthens, and gives legitimacy to this crudely transparent farce of a veneer of democracy or Hun Sen will take the proverbial football and go play only with China.
But even if one sets aside the immorality and cowardice of such a stand, it is a policy that has failed in its diplomatic objective. The evidence of such a strategy in which America has lavished hundreds of millions of dollars to finance and strengthen dictatorship, line the pockets of the corrupt leadership, and give moral support for the most egregious architect of oppression by government in Asia today has long proved itself to be a failed strategy.
In 2012, the last murderous thug left standing in power in South East Asia is shamelessly living off the decades old fumes of the suffering of it people decades ago under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge as an excuse to maintain the most murderous and corrupt government remaining in South East Asia today. And the Obama administration, acting like a gaggle of easily impressionable high school students, is falling for the ruse as the Cambodian government snickers derisively while consolidating its incompetent, thuggish control of the government propped up by the misguided sympathy and money of the properly organized countries who effectively pay for any services normally provided by a state while its rapacious leaders stuff their pockets with the change.
Anyone who objects is humiliated, intimidated, sued, imprisoned, or murdered.
Cambodia, the last running sore in Southeast Asia, is a failed state. Not because it needs to be, but rather because it leader’s put their personal interests in front of the common good and they are aided and abetted by the wealthy nations, who more than thirty years after this strategy was first employed still fall hook, line, and sinker for it.
Let’s look at the facts: Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge were in power for three years eight months and 20 days more than thirty years ago. They were ousted by an internecine ideological dispute between communist governments and the United States in 1979 by a Soviet sponsored invasion of Vietnam, not because the invading army objected to mass murder and crimes against humanity as state policy, but because their loyalists were next on the target list of Pol Pot’s profoundly delusional and murderous state policies.
]The Vietnamese installed in power a motley collection of former Pol Pot loyalists who served as puppets for the Vietnamese and their larger cold war allies until they could stand on their own feet. They remain in power today. The current prime minister, Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, Interior Minister, Finance Minister and thousands of provincial and local government leaders and officers in the security forces that comprise the current Cambodian government were loyalists of Pol Pot.
One can argue whether this was at the time necessary or appropriate, but one cannot argue it is not fact. Cambodia stands as a nation state mainly as a symbol of some of the most egregious abuses of human rights and crimes against humanity as state policy of any government in our lifetime. Neither before or since Pol Pot, has a Cambodian government distinguished itself with much notable, the least of which is a willingness, or ability if one is to be pessimistic, to administer its affairs in a manner that is in league with the properly organized world. It is a failed state; a dependency political culture that has been unable to provide the most rudimentary of services that define a government, including education, health care, economic opportunity, a physical infrastructure of transportation, security, or basic freedoms, dignities, or opportunities for its citizens. More than half of its government budget is direct funding of donor nations. In sum, it is the last running sore of South East Asia, a failed state. It lives off the alms and misguided generosity of the it’s more capably organized neighbors and the wealthy nations of the world.
The net result is this has empowered a cabal of thugs, overwhelmingly dominated by former loyalists of Pol Pot, to create a personal fiefdom to enrich themselves, their families, and their minions.
The good people of Cambodia, meanwhile, suffer, unspeakably.
In a few hours, president Barrack Obama will be the first U.S. president to ever visit Cambodia. And it is probable that the representative of the symbol of hope for millions to support freedoms basic to the dignity of those aspiring to be, and be supported to attain, lives of a free people will take the side of the dictators, giving their tormentors moral support and money, with a wink and a nod accompanied by obligatory empty rhetoric promising long never forthcoming support to those who desperately deserve the tangible support in their heroic efforts to simply be free; To live a life where they have opportunities to create a better life for their children; where they can object to the abuses of those with guns , money, and political power without fear of death or reprisal; who have had their jackboot of the authorities firmly held on their necks of the great majority of Cambodian citizens, for many, for their entire lifetimes.
And the most offensive aspect of this reality is Cambodia is a country where the United States along with virtually all the rest of the planet has virtually no strategic, economic, or political tactical or strategic interest in 2012. There is no more cold war. There is no significant powerful business interests to kowtow to. There is no war or insurgency group that needs to be quelled.
In sum, there is no downside to standing up for the principles of freedom and the dignity of the rights of man in Cambodia. If the U.S. cannot do so in Cambodia, where else on the planet will they? If they cannot stand on the side of human and political rights in Cambodia today, when will they ever in that cursed nation or elsewhere?
Cambodia is surrounded by economically booming competently led countries. The region has gone from 18 separate wars 20 years ago, to zero today. The cold war is over and there are no proxy armies fighting the interests of larger regional or superpowers using Cambodian territory as a hot theatre. Cambodia and it people have suffered unspeakably under a series of egregious thuggish regimes. There is no downside to standing up to supporting the principles of democracy, human rights, free speech, a free press, corruption, military abuses, and thuggish abuses of those with money, guns, and political power that deny its citizens the equal ability to access the economic, educational and human opportunities to live free and access the means to live a peaceful life free from want and fear of government abuses.
Thousands of Cambodian opposition protesters fill the streets of Phnom Penh Sunday, Sept. 13, 1998. Thousands of protesters calling for the ouster of strongman Hun Sen braved a heavy clampdown Sunday and marched through the capital to cheers from Phnom PenhÕs citizens, who threw them food and honked car horns in support. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
In the recent past hundreds of voices of dissent have been silenced by the government enforcers of Hun Sen. Hundreds have been murdered directly for expressing opinions. Journalists have been assassinated, jailed, sued, and forced into exile. Opposition politicians have been victims of the same tactics and fate. Prominent environmentalists have been killed. Thousands of peasants have been forced off their land without compensation, scores shot, and jailed for objecting. Buddhist monks have been threatened with arrest. The main political opposition leaders have been silenced, threatened, murdered, and forced into exile. Many of them have been accused of preposterous crimes for objecting.
Yet Hillary Clinton and Defence Minister Leon Pannetta and regional leaders swept in and out of Cambodia without even addressing the situation.
On Thursday, Hun Sen’s entirely politicized armed security forces arrested villagers for plastering the U.S. president Obama’s picture on their rooftops beside spray-painted messages of “SOS” as they faced forced government eviction from their homes without compensation. Dozens of police ordered villagers to remove the rooftop artwork and arrested those responsible.
“We didn’t mean any harm. We just wanted Obama to help us,” said 23-year-old villager Sim Sokunthea.
The next day, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived on Friday and met with former Khmer Rouge military commander and current defense minister general Tea Banh and promised increased assistance to Cambodia.
The Pentagon has quietly deployed teams of Special Operations forces to train counterterrorism and special-warfare forces despite overwhelming repeated indisputable documentation of the security forces virtually sole mission to repress, murder, intimidate, and imprison advocates of effective voices of dissent against government murder, repression of any voices of dissent, jailing and intimidation of any and all voices that dissent from the corrupt dictatorship that runs the government.
Land disputes have become a critical social and political issue in Cambodia, which Prime Minister Hun Sen has led for nearly 30 years. Powerful companies with influential connections to Hun Sen and his top loyalists take over land and evict villagers, who receive little or no compensation. The problem has sparked unrest nationwide, with deadly force repeatedly used by security forces to evict villagers.
And now, on the eve of Obama’s visit, more than 10,000 security forces have been assigned to keep order during the summit as part of Hun Sen’s determined effort to show Cambodia’s best face to the outside world.
Villagers were arrested thursday for painting SOS on their roofs and attaching portraits of President Obama days before his scheduled arrival.
And now once again, Cambodia is likely to fall victim to being used as a playground by outside powers vying over influence in regions outside their own borders, in a strategy that should have been soundly discredited as ineffective and counterproductive by post world war two modern history. The excuse this time to prolong the suffering of Cambodians to a fate none of the decision makers would accept for a moment to befall their own countries, is the growing competition for influence in Asia between the United States and China.
An October 31 letter by a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers called on Obama to confront the long list of thuggish abuses of Prime Minister Hun Sen, including demanding politically trumped up legal convictions that forced opposition leader Sam Rainsy into exile be dismissed before the next set of what every honest observer has agreed has been a series of sham elections since Hun Sen seized power in a bloody, violent military putsch in 1997 that overthrew and rendered irrelevant the $3 billion dollar international elections held in 1993.
But Washington is as afraid of the ten cent dictator in Phnom Penh as Cambodia’s own citizens, fearing relations between Phnom Penh and Washington would suffer if they pressed for rudimentary democratic policies because Hun Sen would hand over political favour to China, resulting in a rise in China’s influence over the Hun Sen regime.
The argument is should human rights take precedence as a political priority in Cambodia to the detriment of other issues. The answer is: what other issues? Cambodia has long been for sale to the highest corrupt bidder precisely because of the absence of the basic tenets of democracy, and China now controls an extraordinary bulk of the economic benefits. A level playing field, free from corruption, with a functioning independent judiciary, and opposition political voices who didn’t fear death for engaging in debate on issues of national interest would be the fruits of defending and promoting and, indeed, demanding, democracy in exchange for the hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars now sent to line the pockets of corrupt organized crime figures who pose under the guise of and take refuge in the privileges of a recognized nation state.
Australian academic Carlyle Thayer argues that Washington’s influence lies in its military support of Phnom Penh. “The president should raise his [human rights] concerns. The U.S. should see how Hun Sen responds and work out a policy,” Thayer said. “But there are other issues at stake including U.S.-Cambodia defense relations, which is about the only major conduit of U.S. influence.”
Obama’s policy of engaging Asia as a new priority may well take the submissive position of subordinating support of basic democratic values and human rights out of fear of China using economic power to dominate the competition for influence. But, as is required by U.S. law under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which forbids U.S. companies paying bribes to acquire foreign contracts, it is impossible for the U.S. to become a significant economic investor in Cambodia to compete wit China’s corrupt status quo, or any other country with a similar official code of government conduct.
And such thinking ignores the massive popular resentment that Chinese complicity in the corruption in the pillaging of Cambodian private property, resources, and economy has engendered.
In this case doing the right thing also happens to make good strategic political policy.
One might look to Burma as providing some degree of guidance. Washington’s hardline policy isolating Burma has forced the Rangoon authorities to, with important qualifications, cave to demands for allowing important levels of democratic freedoms, in contrast to U.S. policy towards Cambodia which has been to give a wink and a nod to egregious abuses as a tactic to attain closer relations and influence. The result certainly will be a decrease in Chinese influence in Burma, after decades of Beijing giving carte blanche to Rangoon in exchange for economic access to resources.
The reforms in Burma, however limited and tenuous, will certainly increase Washington’s influence there and will force a lone spotlight on Hun Sen as the last unacceptable thug among Asean countries, without a peer as the most repressive leader in Asia outside of North Korea.
Given Hun Sen’s rejection of constructive relations with any foreign powers, either regional or global, in the short term he is likely to throw what is akin to a childlike tantrum. But the fact is the lifeline of his government is economic assistance—free money—from bilateral and multilateral institutions who fund virtually all services normally the obligation of a government and compassion fatigue from the donor community is long overdue. What has given Hun Sen the most effective reassurance in recent decades is that his reputation has remained acceptably intact internationally regardless of his conduct. If that is compromised, there is little doubt the Cambodian government will have to adjust to the realities of what would be an entirely legitimate new set of conditions to prop up the collapsed dependency state of which is Cambodia today.
The record of murder, violence, intimidation, imprisonment, and abuse of government institutions to enforce the personal interests of the small cabal in power is overwhelming in recent years.
Scores of opposition supporters were killed during the UN administered election process between 1991 and 1993; More than a dozen journalists have been assassinated since Hun Sen seized power in a bloody coup in 1997; That coup saw more than 100 opposition supporters tortured, humiliated and summarily executed, many with their eyes gouged out, their tongues ripped from their mouths with plyers, and their penises cut off and stuffed in their mouths while alive. These included Deputy Interior Minister Ho Sok who was acknowledged by Hun Sen to have been executed in the Ministry of Interior compound; The 1999 acid attack on a 16-year-old Tat Marina by the wife of Svay Sitha, a senior government aide of Hun Sen official;
The 2003 execution of Om Radsady, a popular elected opposition member of parliament in a Phnom Penh restaurant;
The 2004 killing of popular labor leader Chea Vichea;
The 2008 killing of investigative journalist Khim Sambo and his son while the two exercised in a public park;
and the 2012 killing of environmental activist Chut Wutty by government security forces;
The arrest and jailing for 20 years of Mom Sonando and other activists on October 1, 2012 on trumped up charges of participating in a purported “secession” movement, while three local activists were sentenced to terms of 15 to 30 years and three others to terms of up to 5 years. Sonando, 71, a critic of Hun Sen, had been arrested twice before for political activities and owned Beehive Radio, a politically independent radio station in Cambodia. His arrest came two days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s departure from the country after attending the Regional Forum of ASEAN;
On May 24 2012 a Phnom Penh court sentenced 13 women, including one 72 years old, to two-and-a-half years in prison for protesting evictions and demanding proper resettlement for people displaced by a development project owned by a Hun Sen associate and a Chinese investor in the Boeng Kak area of Phnom Penh;
In August and September2012 courts summoned the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions a prominent labor leader, charging him with inciting strikes by garment workers in Phnom Penh;
In 1997, the main opposition leader former finance minister Sam Rainsy was the target of an assassination attempt in a well-planned attack with grenades thrown into the crowd, killing protesters and bystanders, including children, and blowing limbs off street vendors. Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit was implicated as responsible and numerous witnesses reported that the assassins ran to the closed and guarded home of Hun Sen. Witnesses told investigators from the United Nations and the FBI that the bodyguards opened the line to allow the assailants to pass into the compound. The bodyguards then stopped at gunpoint crowd members who were pursuing the grenade-throwers and threatened to shoot those who did not retreat. Rainsy escaped with a minor leg injury.The FBI quickly investigated the attack under a US law providing the FBI jurisdiction whenever a US citizen is injured by terrorism. Ron Abney, a US citizen, was seriously injured in the attack and had to be evacuated to Singapore to treat shrapnel wounds in his hip.
The FBI’s lead investigator interviewed soldiers and officers up the chain of command and concluded that only Hun Sen could have ordered the bodyguard unit to be deployed at the park. He has said he had enough evidence to file criminal charges. Yet in May 1997 the US ambassador ordered him out of the country.
A 2007 report by the nongovernmental organization Global Witness says: “The elite Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 [the official name of the bodyguard unit] unit makes between US$2 million and US$2.5 million per year through transporting illegally logged timber and smuggled goods.
A large slice of the profits generated through these activities goes to Lieutenant General Hing Bun Heang, commander of the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit.” Hing Bun Heang has since been promoted and is now a lieutenant general and deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The commander of Brigade 70 at the time, Huy Piseth, who admitted to the FBI that he ordered the deployment of Brigade 70 forces to the scene that day, went on to become undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Defense. “Handing out promotions to people implicated in massacring peaceful demonstrators shows cruel disregard for the victims,” Said Brad Adams, head of Human Rights Watch. “The message sent is that human rights abusers, no matter how egregious their acts, will not only go free, but will be rewarded.”
In 2012, the Pentagon is expanding counterterrorism assistance to Cambodia, training a counterterrorism battalion even though the nation has not faced a serious militant threat in nearly a decade.
The only terrorist force of consequence in Cambodia today is the armed security forces of the current government. The U.S. is training the armed forces of Cambodia’s former Khmer Rouge commander Hun Sen, who uses his military not against any non-existent external threat but almost solely to execute and intimidate political opponents.
Cambodia has no ordinary history of egregious dictators in charge of policies that violate virtually every major tenet of basic human rights and democratic institutions more than three decades after the Khmer Rouge were driven from power, after killing 1.7 million—or about 20% of the population.
But U.S. government policy has not been to stand up for the poster nation of modern inhumane government policy. Rather, it has been to coddle and be successfully intimidated by the successive leaders who were trained, schooled and members of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.
The current dictator, Hun Sen, an ex Khmer Rouge military officer who broke from the notorious group not because he objected to mass murder as a state policy, but rather that he was next on the list of targets, lost Cambodia’s only modern free election organized by a $3 billion dollar U.N. conducted 1993 elections.
Four years later he seized control in a bloody, vicious coup detat that left hundreds of opposition figures horribly tortured, thousands forced to flee the country, and every last vestige of minimal modicum of opposition politics silenced through, intimidation, murder, and imprisonment by his government.
The Pentagon and the State Department have responded to Cambodia, along with Burma, the last running sore of incompetence and corruption and thuggery in Asia, by not just downplaying and coddling the dictatorship, but financing and encouraging it to hardening its Stalinist organization of power.
For instance the Pentagon has embraced and financed a hereditary dictatorship promising to institutionalize the Hun Sen regime. Hun Sen now stands as the longest serving dictator in the world, holding power since 1979. All three of Hun Sen’s sons have been trained financed and encouraged by the U.S government to inherit power in Cambodia. All three hold influential posts in the Cambodian government and military.
Hun Manet, the eldest son, was sponsored by the U.S embassy and paid to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated in 1999. He earned a master’s degree in economics from New York University, also paid for by U.S funds. A deputy commander and major general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, Hun Manet is widely seen as the heir apparent to his father.
The U.S. military also paid for the prime minister’s youngest son, Hun Many, 29, to earn a master’s degree in strategic studies at the National Defense University in Washington in 2011.
And the U.S. military organized Hun Sen’s middle son, Hun Manith, a senior intelligence official, to be trained in counterterrorism in Germany, according to American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
In 2008, the U.S. government created a special Cambodian anti-terrorism military unit ostensibly to combat al-Qaeda sympathizers. In 2003, a leader of an Indonesian al-Qaeda affiliate was hiding in Cambodia and other members of the group were charged with plotting to bomb the U.S. and British embassies in Phnom Penh.
But such sanctuaries are a direct result of widespread institutional official corruption of the Cambodian government which is sanctuary to more wanted criminals on Interpol lists than any other country in the world, notably European pedophiles, petty criminals, Russian and Asian organized criminal syndicates, and representatives of armed insurgencies purchasing weapons from dozens of groups from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh to the middle east, to Africa. It is precisely because of Cambodian government policy that exchanges sanctuary for such groups for corrupt payoffs to operate with impunity and protection of the Hun Sen government that they migrate to Cambodia. TO fund and strengthen these same forces is a misguided and counterproductive strategy of what on the surface is a clueless U.S policy.
In the State department’s annual report on terrorist activity in Cambodia in 2011, it listed no problems in the country. But the U.S. counterterrorism training has been expanded. U.S. Ambassador William E. Todd singled out Hun Manet for his leadership and praised the performance of his troops this year saying: “Your commitment to training, your dedication to perfection, and your willingness to sacrifice for your country clearly demonstrates this unit’s unspoken pledge to be the best counter-terrorism force in Southeast Asia,” according to the U.S. Embassy’s Web site.
Although terrorism is not on the list of Cambodia’s problems, the Pentagon’s reasons to continue training is a means of increasing access and influence, but none of either has been focused on defending or promoting or strengthening democratic institutions. By financing and training and encouraging not just Hun Sen’s cabal of loyalists, but his immediate family directly benefits the Cambodian prime minister, ensuring that with his own in charge Hun Sen can rely on the loyalty of the armed security services to any dissent or challenge to his rule. The U.S. military counter terrorism training is run by a U.S. Special Forces group based at the U.S. Embassy.
“We support Cambodia in its development as a responsible regional partner,” said Lt. Col. Brad Doboszenski, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command, Pacific and “is guided by U.S. policy objectives, not personal relationships.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Catherine Wilkinson said “We have to make sure we’re not working with people who commit gross human rights violations, but we can’t turn our backs and not provide training,” which “helps to prevent these problems from reemerging.”
Independent monitors of Cambodia’s political development take exception to such analysis. ““There’s almost this childlike faith that if these people are exposed to the U.S. military, it will invariably lead to a more professional military,” said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. “There was almost no acknowledgment about how the U.S. could be helping to consolidate the power of highly abusive actors.”