Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th January, 2019

auschwitz entranceOn this day we remember the six million Jews exterminated by the Nazis in Germany and the occupied territories, along with the Roma, disabled and LGBT people deemed imperfect or undesirable by the Third Reich. I was born five years after the War, but during my childhood the black and white pictures of Auschwitz and other death camps were a shocking reminder of what had happened not that long before. The slogan “Never Again” was popularised and for me came to embrace much more than concentration camps, as I hated the whole idea of war as well — especially the mindless death mill of the Western Front in the First World War and the millions of civilian casualties in the Second, along with the wholesale destruction of historic cities, their art and civilization. That is why I became such a strong supporter of the European Union — the European Project — as it developed, creating a Europe in which Never Again could be a reality, though on the fringes of the EU terrible things did happen, such as the massacre of young Muslims by Serbs at Srebrenica in 1995.

bosnia intenment cmpGenocide has reared its head in many parts of the world, from the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to the machete slaughter of Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda. That is why Holocaust Memorial Day is so important, to remind us constantly of the barbarity that can be part of the human condition unless people are educated and structures put in place to make it impossible. I have often heard people in Britain saying complacently that it could never happen here, but such confidence is misplaced. Had the Nazis occupied mainland Britain I am sure they would have found some people willing to help them with their dirty work. If you don’t believe me, look at the hatred on the faces of some of the far right demonstrators who have taken to the streets in recent months, their intimidation of people they disagree with and the callous attitude to refugees and migrants rising their lives to get into Europe or across the Channel into Britain. “Let them drown!” I have heard people say, their “patriotic” sense of entitlement driving them to repel all boarders, cheered on by the more disgusting elements of the popular Press. For some Brits, “migrants” are not human, and once you start to dehumanise groups of people you have started on the slippery slope that can lead to genocide. The evidence is there; it has happened before.

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Cambodia Once Again Will Stun the World ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th August, 2018

COUTEL-Temoigner, entre acte et paroleThe title of Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s new book (Cambodia Once Again Will Stun the World, Balland, €15) reflects the boundless optimism that the man himself displays, despite the many hard knocks he has received over the years and his involuntary status of political exile. I guess the allusion in the title is to the golden era of Angkor, where, at the start of the 12th century, an estimated one million people lived around the temple complex, which would make it the largest conurbation of its time. But for most people, of course, Cambodia entered their consciousness when the genocidal crimes of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) came to light. Though a sizable majority of the population today are too young to have any direct experience of the horrors of the concentration camps and killing fields, the trauma endures, barely alleviated by the kleptocratic nature of the regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The PM, his family and cronies have amassed great fortunes over recent decades while most Cambodians suffer a standard of living that is among the lowest in South East Asia, and much of the country’s environment has been ravaged.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won 90% of the seats in last month’s general election, which was widely denounced by foreign governments as a sham. Sam Rainsy’s National Rescue Party was excluded, having been forcibly “dissolved” by the authorities last year, though he pursues his political agenda in exile through the newly-created Cambodia National Rescue Movement. This book, in a series of sometimes sketchy, very short passages, gives some pointers to the sort of society he would like to see in a putative Cambodian renaissance, based on the rule of law, an end to corruption and full civil rights. As a devout Buddhist, he is forgiving towards his political enemies, even if they do not return the courtesy, and he is prepared to work with any outside country, including China, to build the nation he envisages. This is not entirely pie-in-the-sky, as Sam Rainsy in the 1990s was Minister of Finance in the government of Norodom Ranariddh (which was overthrown in a coup in 1997) and he has excellent international contacts, not least through the Liberal International. But for the time being, he is an outcast, admired (often in secret) by millions of his compatriots, denounced by Hun Sen, and sadly unlikely to be able to flesh out the bones of his vision for a new Cambodia any time soon.

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A Cambodian Spring ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th May, 2018

A Cambodian SpringWhen the wave of popular uprisings — given the misnomer The Arab Spring — swept across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011, few of us international journalists paid much attention to what was going on over in Cambodia. But for some time already, residents of marginal housing round Boeung Kak Lake in the capital, Phnom Penh, had been protesting about the flooding and in some cases destruction of their homes because of land reclamation and the industrial activities of a company with close links to senior figures in the government. Chris Kelly’s documentary, A Cambodian Spring, shot over a period of six years, focuses in particular on two young women activists in that campaign, who speak truth to power, though later they were to have an irrevocable personal falling out. Assisting them at times was a media-savvy Buddhist monk, the Venerable Sovath, who filmed the harassment of demonstrators and the demolition of homes and increasingly became an outspoken activist himself, to the extent that he was evicted from his pagoda by a religious hierarchy that accused him of having become political. Such occurrences reminded me of the Buddhist monks who self-immolated in Saigon during my period in Vietnam, though nothing so extreme occurred with Sovath. The rather idyllic city of Phnom Penh that I remembered from 1969 would soon have its population expelled wholesale by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge to the countryside, where hundreds of thousands perished in the killing fields, while others were instead tortured and murdered in hideous urban concentration camps. A later Vietnamese invasion therefore came as something of a relief, but the Cambodian People’s Party government of Hun Sen that has been top dog for the past 30 years has proved itself to be less interested in defending the rights of poor people but rather in allowing key figures and allies to enrich themselves, including through land grabs.

Sam RainsyHad Chris Kelly just limited his film to the story of the three main protagonists and had he provided an effective running commentary throughout, I think A Cambodian Spring  would have been a very powerful movie. Instead, the viewer is left to make his or her own sense of what is going on, and in the first part the story is confused by some coverage of farmers in Siem Reap province who were also clashing with the authorities. Later, the opposition politician Sam Rainsy [pictured] is suddenly shown returning to Phnom Penh from exile, to be met by enthusiastic crowds, but we are not told that he would soon have to flee again, his democratic tail between his legs, under merciless assault from the government and state media. The film runs to two hours, which is probably 30 minutes too long; some strict editing would have been beneficial. As it is, there is much that will fascinate those who want to learn more about Cambodia. But should a documentary leave quite so many unanswered questions?

A CAMBODIAN SPRING will premiere at Curzon Soho on 17th May 6.30pm and released in cinemas from 18th May http://acambodianspring.com/

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Sam Rainsy and Cambodian Child Prostitution

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd October, 2010

The shocking reality of child prostitution in Cambodia today was the focus of a fringe meeting at the recent ELDR Congress in Helsinki, at which the country’s Leader of the Opposition, Sam Rainsy, was a guest of honour. A mortifying film was shown, which included interviews with current and former child prostitutes — mostly girls, but one boy — as well as some details of how members of Sam Rainsy’s party (along with some extremely brave local women) have been trying to help rehabilitate them and bring some of the abusive brothel owners and clients to justice. That is a horrendously difficult task in a country in which the police and the courts are susceptible to bribery and Sam Rainsy’s party has seen over 50 of its activists assassinated. Sam himself is currently having to live in exile in Paris, as he has been sentenced to 10 years in prison (for perfectly legitimate political activity), which the Cambodian courts say would be added to a previous two-year conviction if he were to return to Pnomh Penh. The most chilling parts of the child prostitution film dealt with the mothers who effectively sold their daughters into prostitution. One was so traumatised by what had happened to her and her family during the murderous years of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge that she said she would do it again. There are several international NGOs working to curb sex tourism involving minors in South East Asia, and several European governments have passed laws making it possible to charge their nationals who abuse children while in Cambodia. But as was underlined by the film, the vast majority of the brothels’ clients, sometimes paying a lot of money to take a young girl’s virginity, were locals, many of them powerful and viscious enough to be untouchable by justice.

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