Longtime observer pessimistic about Cambodia reform

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To paraphrase the old Esquire magazine, why is Hun Sen laughing?  (Source: Phnom Penh Post)

“This is no country for decent and outspoken men.”

So begins Sebastian Strangio’s crystalline analysis of Cambodia’s political environment in the highly respected Mekong Review.  The one-and-a-half-year-old quarterly journal has given me permission to excerpt a substantial portion of the author’s astute perspective on the chasm between what might be desirable in the Kingdom of Wonder and what might be achievable.

Strangio — whose recent book on Cambodia under the 31-year rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen has received terrific reviews — draws a line between what ought to be the situation in the country versus what actually is the possibility of change.

You can read the full essay in the publication, and I suspect the excerpts below will peak your interest.
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With politics and human rights, expats have a problem

eople protest the detention of four human rights workers and an election official on Monday morning near Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison. Source: Phnom Penh Post

A few activists protest the detention of four human rights workers and an election official on Monday morning near Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison. Source: Phnom Penh Post

It is a debate that has persisted since long before I started making Cambodia my home: What should expats do or say when they object to the actions of a foreign government that permits them to live in its country?

The question surfaced again here in Cambodia when a Facebook “friend” posted a story that has dominated the three English-language dailies for days.

A subsequent report in the Phnom Penh Post on Wednesday centered on a speech in which the prime minister said he might seek to have five jailed Cambodians forgiven for their entanglement in what has been dubbed a sex scandal concerning the acting president of a political party opposed to his ruling one.  Hun Sen’s remarks followed Monday’s arrest of civil rights activists essentially for wearing black shirts as they headed to a demonstration in Phnom Penh to call attention to their plight.

If civil society groups hold back during legal proceedings, suggested the price minister, the arrested individuals could be released from custody on one condition.  He said:  Continue reading

Why so much violence in this officially Buddhist nation?

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In guest post, the writer explores the Khmer Rouge’s violence and violence today.

This illuminating post is published verbatim with the permission of journalist and novelist Philip J. Coggan, whose blog is the source and is well worth following.  If you are in Cambodia, you also likely will appreciate his new book, Spirit World, available at Monument Books.

Here is the big question: how and why did a Buddhist nation produce one of the 20th century’s worst genocides, and one which is marked by so many horrific instances of cruelty and savage violence? A whole chapter in my book Spirit Worlds is devoted to this and for my answer I relied heavily on Alexander Laban Hinton’s Why Did They Kill?. This article therefore stands as a sort of review of Hinton’s book, which is essential reading for all those who want to understand Cambodia.

At one point in my book I remark that underneath the Cambodian smile there lurks Continue reading