Wednesday, March 13, 2013

for Claudia Karvan, Rachel Perkins and Richard Keddie

Dear Claudia, Rachel and Richard

Your blithe banning of myself, a fellow filmmaker, from making development applications to Screen Australia, on the basis of what you know to be a lie, has not prevented me from continuing to work on CHANTI'S WORLD. This letter, to Foreign Minister Bob Carr, speaks for itself of where I am at with this project - a DVD of the promo of which you and your fellow board members have decreed would place members of Screen Australia's staff at risk were they to view it:

Senator, the Hon Bob Carr
Foreign Minister
R.G. Casey Building
John McEwan Crescent
ACT 0221 Australia

11th March 2013

Dear Senator Carr

This letter concerns a poor Cambodian family whose two eldest daughters were 'stolen' by an Australian-run NGO in Phnom Penh close to five years ago. The NGO, Citipointe church, based in Brisbane, refuses to return the girls - Rosa, aged 11 and Chita, aged 10 - to their family's care, in contravention of UNICEF'S 'Convention on the Rights of the Child') and despite multiple requests by the parents (Yem Chanthy and Both Chhork) that the church do so.

I have attempted, without success, to raise this matter with Australia's Ambassador to Cambodia, Penny Richards, in five letters - hand delivered by myself to the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, on 20th, 22nd, 26th, 28th Feb and 4th March. Ambassador Richards has not acknowledged receipt of any of my letters. It is for this reason that I am writing to you - on the hope that, as Foreign Minister, you will either be able to provide me with answers to my questions and those of Yem Chanthy (whom I know as Chanti) or inform me that the illegal removal of Chanti's children from their family in 2008 by an Australian-based NGO is not a matter in which the Department of Foreign Affairs can intervene or take an interest.

The first of my letters to Ambassador Richards can be found at:

My subsequent letters to Ms Richards can also be found on my blog, along with my letters to various other parties whom I believe should have an interest in the right of Rosa and Chita (to quote the Convention on the Rights of the Child) "to participate fully in family, cultural and social life." 

On my blog can also be found my response to Citipointe's Pastor Mulheran's not-so-thinly veiled threats to have me 'forcibly removed', arrested, jailed and banned from coming to Cambodia. Having filmed the illegal removal of the community living adjacent to the (then) new Australian Embassy I have had some first had experience of what 'forcible' means in a Cambodian context Forcible removals of Cambodians from their homes and land is an almost daily occurrence in Cambodia. That Pastor Mulheran believes that he can pick up the phone and request of the relevant Cambodian Government Minister that I be 'forcibly removed' and put in jail speaks volumes of Citipointe's modus operandi and the way in which the concept of 'civil society' manifests itself in Cambodia. The rich and powerful of all nationalities can break the law with impunity in Cambodia. 

My several attempts to raise the matter of the illegal removal of Yem Chanthy's daughters with the previous Australian Ambassador to Cambodia (along with the impending illegal removal of the Australian Embassy's neighbours) were ignored. When I refused to accept silence as an appropriate response, my subsequent letters and emails were responded to by DFAT spin doctors who answered none of my questions but merely directed me to the DFAT website. I made a video of this illegal eviction - carried out in the total absence of even the mildest protest from the Australian Embassy until five hours before the eviction itself. My video (Losing Ground - Group 78 Eviction - Part 1) can be found at:

I have enclosed a photocopy of a letter written by the Commune Chief of the village in which (Yem Chanthy and Both Chhork) own a home. It speaks for itself of the determination of Chanti and Chhork to have their daughters returned to them – five years after their illegal removal, and to be supplied with evidence of the legality of Citipointe church’s actions. A translation of the letter to Ith Sam Heng, Cambodia’s Minister of Social Affairs, reads as follows:

I am writing on behalf of Yem Chanthy and her husband Both Chhork and their two daughters – Rosa and Chita.

Rosa and Chita live in Citipointe church’s She Rescue Home in Phnom Penh. Yem Chanthy and Both Chhork have asked Citipointe church many times in the past four years to return their daughters to their care. They are not victims of Human Trafficking. They went to stay with the She Rescue Home in 2008 when Yem Chanthy and Both Chhork had financial difficulties and were very poor. In Nov 2008 they were not poor. They had two businesses and were earning money but Citipointe church refused to return Yem Chanthy and Both Chhork’s daughters.

Yem Chanthy and Both Chhork now own a house in Prey Veng and a tuk tuk and can I can afford to take care of all of their children. I request on their behalf that Rosa and Chita be released back into the custody of their parents.

Could you please also provide me with copies of the contracts that Citipointe church made with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Social Affairs that allowed the church to hold Rosa and Chita this long period of time. I have requested copies of these contracts but Citipointe church as refused to supply them.

Thank you Minister Ith Sam Heng.

Since Nov 2008 Citipointe  has refused to provide the parents of Rosa and Chita (Chanti and Chhork) with copies  of any contract or other agreement the church has entered into with the Ministries of Foreign or Social Affairs that give Citipointe the right to retain custody of the girls and to ignore the frequent requests of the parents that they be returned to the care of the family. Chanti and Chhork have no idea why their children were forcibly removed by an Australian church; why, close to five years later, they remain in the care of an Australian-based Christian NGO or what they must do to have their children returned to the family.

The Cambodian Ministry of Social Affairs likewise refuses to provide Chanti and Chhork with a reason why the girls were removed from their care, with copies of any contractual agreements the Ministry has entered into with Citipointe church or any information at all regarding what then parents must do to get Rosa and Chita back.

It would seem, from Pastor Mulheran’s 21st Feb letter to myself (in which he threatens to have me ‘forcibly removed’) that some part of the justification for not returning Rosa and Chita to the care of their parents (or perhaps the entire justification) resides in Rosa and Chits being ‘deemed’ by the church and the Ministry of Social Affairs to be victims of Human Trafficking. Citipointe knows, as does the Ministry of Social Affairs, that the girls were not and never have been victims of Human Trafficking. Indeed, it is only recently that Citipointe has introduced the ‘Human Trafficking’ element to the church’s seemingly never-ending reasons not to release Rosa and Chita back into the care of their family. That Citipointe church can simply wave its magic wand and turn two girls into ‘victims of Human Trafficking’ speaks for itself of the church’s clutching at straws to justify its actions.

It is telling that neither Citipointe church nor a representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs has visited the villages of either Chanti’s or Chhork’s families (20 minutes part in Prey Veng province) to talk with their respective Commune Chiefs. It is telling also that no representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs has ever visited the current home of Chanti and  Chhork (or any of their previous homes this past five years) to make an assessment regarding the suitability of the living conditions for Rosa and Chita. As my documentary reveals the family home is far superior in every respect to the homes that 80% of Cambodians live in.

Chanti and Chhork now own a tuk tuk (a three wheeled taxi) and have a regular (if modest) income. Chanti and her mother Vanna supplement the family income with jobs that involve making and selling artifacts for tourists. And the family is the owner of a home in the village of Chhork’s family in Prey Veng – a village in which many members of Chhork’s extended family live. (Chhork is one of 15 brothers and sisters). Twenty minutes up the road is the village in which Chanti’s mother Vanna’s extended family lives. Again, it is telling that in the close to five years that Rosa and Chita have been living in the She Rescue Home, Citipointe has refused every request made by Chanti and Chhork that the girls be able to visit their two extended families in Prey Veng – a mere two hour drive from Phnom Penh – or to take part in any Buddhist or family celebrations.

By Cambodian standards Chanti and Chhork’s family could now be characterized as lower middle class – struggling to keep their heads above water financially, as is the case for the bulk of Cambodian families. And yet Citipointe church refuses to return the two eldest daughters of the family to the care of the family. A question:

Do you, as Foreign Minister, have the moral authority to request that Citipointe church present Chanti, Chhork and DFAT with copies of any and all contracts or agreements that give the church the legal right to hold Rosa and Chita against the wishes of their parents?

On 13th Feb 2008, ten Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the following in his apology speech to the ‘Stolen Generations’ of Australian Aboriginals.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history. The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.”

In ten or twenty years time will the then Prime Minister of Australia be issuing a similar apology to the children and parents of Cambodian families broken up by NGOs such as Citipointe’s ‘She Rescue Home’? Why, in 2013, are Australian NGOs able to export the thoroughly discredited form of social engineering that led to the ‘Stolen Generation’ apology to third world countries – in some cases whilst in receipt of funding from AusAID? Again I ask, do you as Foreign Minister have the moral authority to at least publicly denounce this practice?

In Nov 2012, whilst in Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australia would  (I am quoting a press release here):

“…fund a $50 million Asia-Asia Program to combat Trafficking in
Persons, which will reduce trafficking in persons by strengthening
criminal justice systems in Cambodia….Investigators and prosecutors
will be supported to increase convictions and reduce opportunities for
trafficking, while victims of trafficking will be supported through
the criminal justice system. Trafficking in persons is a global issue
that ruins the lives of its victims and profoundly affects their
families and communities…”

Whilst trafficking takes many forms, it is the headline-grabbing manifestations that capture the attention of the media – particularly young girls who have been trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. There are less headline grabbing forms of trafficking, however – such as the one that Chanti and her daughters Rosa and Chita have fallen victim to. I need not recount, in detail, how it was that Citipointe church used a combination of bribes, deceit and outright lies to acquire custody of Rosa and Chita. This is well documented in my letters to Ambassador Richards and documented in full on my blog:

There is a thriving orphanage industry in Cambodia – not because there is a glut of orphans (there isn’t) but because running an orphanage or a rescue centre for victims of Human Trafficking is a great draw card for non government organizations wishing to cajole members of the donor pubic into opening their hearts and wallets. The problem is, in Cambodia in 2013, that roughly 75% of orphans living in orphanages are not orphans! They have at least one living parent but he or she is poor.  Likewise, only 16 % of the girls living in the She Rescue Home are (by church’s own admission) actual victims of Human Trafficking. However, by a verbal sleight of hand the church can (and does) present the 84% that are not victims of Human Trafficking as being victims of Human Trafficking. This is very effective fund-raising ploy but a totally dishonest one.

Consider the following quote from Cambodia’s:

Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation

Article 8:Definition of Unlawful Removal

The act of unlawful removal in this act shall mean to:
1)      Remove a person from his/her current place of residence to a place under the actor’s or a third persons control by means of force, threat, deception, abuse of power or enticement, or
2)      Without legal authority or any other legal justification to do so to take a minor person under general custody or curatoship or legal custody away from the legal custody of the parents, care taker or guardian.

Article 9: Unlawful removal, inter alia, of Minor

A person who unlawfully removes a minor or a person under general custody or curatorship or legal custody shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 to 5 years.

The italics are mine and are a neat summary of the way in which Chanti and Chhork’s daughters, Rosa and Chita, were removed from their care.

I would like to finish with a quote from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,  to which Australia is a signatory:

Built on varied legal systems and cultural traditions, the Convention is a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations. These basic standards—also called human rights—set minimum entitlements and freedoms that should be respected by governments…. It spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

Rosa and Chita have been denied, by Citipointe church, the right “to participate fully in family, cultural and social life”. They have been denied to right to participate in any way at all in family, cultural and social life – other, that is, than a few hours of supervised visits each month – amounting to around 24 hours per annum.

yours sincerely

James Ricketson

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