News in Review: Cambodia – October 13, 2015

Photo credit – Nora Lindstrom, International Alliance of Inhabitants

News in Review: Cambodia – October 13, 2015

Despite 35 years since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia still reels from its aftermath. Current events this week in Cambodia exhibit the regime’s continued effects on Cambodia’s workforce, currency, land distribution, mental health, and political process.

Cambodia Minimum Wage Increases

After weeks of negotiations between unions, the government, employers, and manufacturers, the Cambodian Government has confirmed that the monthly minimum wage for garment workers will increase from $128 to $140. The $12 increase is far less than what unions were seeking, and more than what manufacturers had lobbied. Though a wage of $135 was agreed upon, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a $5 government-supported subsidy, increasing it to $140 per person, in a suggested politically-motivated move. Two unions have not signed onto the deal, protesting that the new wage does not match inflation or provide a living wage. Meanwhile, the Garment Manufacturers’ Association’s Secretary-General Ken Loo warns that if buyers do not also start paying the factories more, they will start to close up, resulting in divestment in the country.

Carmichael, Robert. Cambodia Raises Monthly Minimum Wage to $140. Voice of America. October 8, 2015.

Kitya, Tha. Cambodia Raises Minimum Wage For Garment Workers But Unions Remain Unhappy. Radio Free Asia. October 8, 2015.

Vannak, Chea. Minimum Wage Gets Boost. Khmer Times. October 8, 2015.

Cambodia’s Currency: Riel vs. U.S. Dollar

Cambodia is heavily dependent on the U.S. dollar. It accounts for 90 percent of banking deposits and 83 percent of total transactions within the country. In 1992, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) intervened in Cambodia for peace operations, and brought the dollar with it. At the time, it was an optimistic alternative to Cambodia’s currency, which had been susceptible to inflation. And, recently Cambodia was one of the few Southeast Asian countries to not be severely affected when China devalued the yuan. However, with a desire to be autonomous, and global downturn in the strength of the U.S. dollar, the National Bank of Cambodia is trying to switch over to their local riel, which may be prove to be a complex transition.

Cambodia aims to reduce dollarization.” Xinhuanet. September 29, 2015.

Is It Time for Cambodia to Wean Itself Off the Greenback?Knowledge@Wharton. The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. October 6, 2015.

Peter, Zsombor. “World Bank Says Cambodia Will Weather China Slowdown.” October 6, 2015.

 Human Rights Defenders and Residents Arrested over Protesting Land Evictions

On October 7, a subpoena was delivered to the wife of Mr. Ny Chakrya, Head of the Human Rights and Legal Aid Section of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). It stated that Mr. Ny Chakrya should appear before the Investigating Judge of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on October 21, where he will face charges of “public defamation”, “acts of slanderous denunciation”, and “publication of commentaries to put pressure on jurisdiction,” involving prison time. It is the latest in a series of arrests of human rights defenders, activists, and residents (including 76-year-old grandmother Nget Khun) protesting massive resident evictions attributed to World Bank-backed development projects. About 3,000 families have been evicted from their homes, and those remaining have endured massive flooding; Boeung Kak Lake, once a source of livelihood for many living by the lake, has been filled with sand to make way for shops and high-rise condominiums.

Phorn, Bopha, Michael Hudson, Barry Yeoman, and Ben Hallman. “World Bank Fails To Stop Attacks, Arrests of Villagers Protesting Big Projects.” The Huffington Post, The Nation, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. September 10, 2015.

Pomeon O’neill, Alexandra. “Continued judicial harassment against Mr. Ny Chakrya.” Worldwide Movement for Human Rights. October 12, 2015.

Witnessing Cambodia with Pen Chanborey.” The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). October 12, 2015.

Post-Khmer Rouge: The Killings Stopped, but the Psychological Trauma Carries On

It has been forty years since the Khmer Rouge first instituted its ruthless regime, with 1.8 million people dying over the course of five years. While 70 percent of the current population was born after the regime, Cambodia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and only 50 psychiatrists provided for a national population of 15 million people. The reconciliation process is fraught as people struggle with living next-door to the alleged killers of their family members. The post-conflict trauma is evident in subsequent generations. Youth have reported depression, stress and insomnia, attributed to school studies and relationships, but particularly to financial struggles and family members who are sick.

Sophanna, Roath. RUPP Youth Mental Health Day. Khmer Times. October 7, 2015.

Zweynert, Astrid. Cambodia seeks way out of post “killing fields” mental health crisis. The Thomson Reuters Foundation. October 5, 2015.

A “Culture of Dialogue” and Accusation of Plotting a Coup

This week, the Foreign Minister of Cambodia accused the opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) of plans to “topple the government.” The 2013 national elections were close, heavily disputed, and accused of being rigged by the National Election Committee, in favor of the currently ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). After a long deadlock, the two parties agreed to work on peace-building and working together in a “Culture of Dialogue.” But, now it is theorized that the CPP has used the “Culture of Dialogue” to undermine and neutralize the CNRP, and its previously vivacious fiery vigorous leader, Sam Rainsy. The opposition party insists it is not planning a coup, but helping “build a strong democracy” and looking to the 2017 and 2018 elections. All the while, some political observers have expressed hesitation that if it backs down in critiquing the CPP, it could lose the next election; and, with 10 opposition activists currently in jail, this is something it cannot afford to do.

Harfenist, Ethan. “Cambodia’s Withering ‘Culture of Dialogue’.” The Diplomat. October 12, 2015.

Kitya, Tha. “Cambodian Opposition Slams Foreign Minister Over Claims of Coup Plot.” Radio Free Asia. 12 October 2015.

Reaksmey, Hul. “Hun Sen Each Declare Confidence in Upcoming Elections.” Voice of America Khmer. 12 October 2015.