Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Somaly Mam. Will her lies, told in the name of a good cause, perhaps, be forgotten in a few weeks?

Dr Kek Pung, LICADHO
Ms Naly Pilorge, LICADHO
Mr Eric Meldrum, SISHA

26th October 2013

Dear Kek, Naly and Eric

I am writing in relation to both Somaly Mam and Yem Chanti – the mother whose daughters were removed from hers and her husband’s care five years ago by Citipointe church. The connection between the two will become apparent.

Poppy, Chanti and Chhork

SISHA’s mission statement online includes the following:

"To provide justice for victims of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation by strengthening the criminal justice system, and victim, social and legal support services throughout Asia….A world where everyone can live free from oppression and abuse".

The LICADHO mission statement includes the following:

LICADHO (is) at the forefront of efforts to protect civil and political and economic and social rights in Cambodia and to promote respect for them by the Cambodian government and institutions….LICADHO continues to be an advocate for the Cambodian people and a monitor of the government through wide ranging human rights programs… 

LICADHO monitors collect and investigate human rights violations perpetrated by the State and violations made against women and children. Victims are provided assistance through interventions with local authorities and court officials.

Meas Ratha, who featured in a 1998 documentary alongside Somaly Mam has recently declared that she lied for the camera at the request of Somaly Mam.

Was Somaly Mam exploiting Meas Ratha? (SISHA mission statement)? Was Somaly Mam violating Meas Ratha’s human rights (LICADHO mission statement) in telling a 14 year old girl to lie in order to raise awareness (and money) for the cause she was committed to?

I would contend that Meas Ratha has both been exploited and had her human rights violated. Do LICADHO and SISHA?

If, in accordance with both LICADHO’S and SISHA’S interpretation of human rights abuse and exploitation, Somaly Mam forcing Meas Ratha to lie is not exploitative or a human rights abuse, you need read no more of this letter. If inducing a vulnerable 14 year old girl to lie does constitute a human rights abuse, what are SISHA and LICADHO going to do about it?

The possibility exists, of course, that Meas Rath has not told the truth in October 2013; that what she told the camera in 1998, with Somaluy Mam at her side, was the truth. The only way that the truth or otherwise of her 2013 confession to Cambodia Daily journalists can be determined is if some independent NGO concerned with human rights and with questions related to child prostitution and trafficking were to ask Meas Ratha and Somaly Mam the relevant (and obvious) questions.

Will either SISHA or LICADHO be asking such questions to determine whether Meas Ratha is lying or telling the truth?

As I am sure you will all be aware, Meas Ratha is now under pressure from the Somaly Mam Foundation to recant the story she told to the Cambodia Daily. With the Foundation’s healthy bank balance (thanks in large part to Hollywood celebrities such as Susan Sarandon and Angelina Jolie) no doubt Somaly Mam hopes that her lies get no further coverage than has occurred to date. Both SISHA and LICADHO can help her guarantee that the story gains no traction by asking no questions at all of Meas Ratha and remaining silent.

Surely, in cases such as this, your silence, the silence of Chab Dai and the entire NGO community, amounts to complicity? In the same way, your collective silence on Citipointe church’s illegal removal of Chanti and Chhork’s daughters in 2008 makes you complicit in their remaining, in contravention of Cambodian law, in the custody of the church in Oct 2013.

Chhork, Kevin, Srey Ka, Chanti and Poppy

Both LICADHO and SISHA know that the only legal way that Citipointe can retain custody of Rosa and Chita, given that their parents have consistently asked for their return this past five years, is if there is evidence that they are at risk in some way in being returned to their home. When Citipointe induced Chanti to sign the sham 31st July 2008 document (and there is no question but that it is a sham) there was never any suggestion that the girls were at risk. There has never, over the past five years, been any suggestion that Rosa and Chita would be at risk if they were returned to their family. Why then are the girls still in the care of Citipointe? Why do both LICADHO and SISHA remain silent?

If LICADHO and/or SISHA believe that there is some risk to Rosa and Chita if they return to their family, both organizations should, at the very least, inform Chanti and Chhork what this risk amounts to.

James, Kevin and Srey Ka

It may well be (indeed it seems to be the case) that both SISHA and LICADHO are powerless to do anything at all to secure the release of Rosa and Chita but surely, as with Somaly Mam, an investigation should occur (some questions asked) and the results be made publicly known? If SISHA and LICADHO are not prepared to put even moral pressure on Citipointe to explain the church’s actions in 2008 and its refusal to release the girls in 2013, to whom can Chanti and Chhork turn to at least get vocal support of their rights as parents to bring up their own children?   

It may be, in a country as corrupt as Cambodia, in which the rule of law is only available to those who can afford to pay the judiciary to obtain the legal result they want, that SISHA and LICADHO are essentially powerless to intervene in the case of Meas Ratha or Yem Chanti. However, surely you can, either individually or collectively, express your concern to the Minister of Social Services (and do so in a very public manner) that no reason has been provided by either MOSAVY or Citipointe church as to why Rosa and Chita cannot be returned to their family.

As matters stand, both SISHA and LICADHO have had ample opportunity to express, in public, your NGOs’ concerns about Citipointe church’s refusal to return Rosa and Chita to their parents. You have not taken advantage of it. As has been the case with Somaly Mam’s lies this last decade, you have chosen silence rather than demanding public accountability of NGOs such as Somaly Mam’s Foundation and of Citipointe church. There is, as a result, virtually no disincentive to the Somaly Mams and Leigh Ramseys in the NGO community to lie in order to raise money. Such lies, of course, reflect badly on the entire NGO community when they are uncovered.

Please accept this letter as an invitation to both LICADHO and SISHA be interviewed for my film, CHANTI’S WORLD. I wish to give you all the opportunity to address questions relating to Cambodian ‘orphanages’ and other such  ‘rescue’ centers if you so wish.

As for Somaly Mam, I wonder if her exposure by the Cambodia Daily as a fraud will have any consequences? Will she, next month, be back in Time magazine with full page (and heavily photoshopped) photos of herself as she raises money for an NGO that has achieved both fame and fortune based on her lies?

How many lies will Somaly Mam be allowed to tell before SISHA, LICADHO and the NGO community lets her and her Foundation know that it is not appropriate, to say the least, to coach 14 year old girls to lie, in order to raise money for a charity?

Chita, Chanti and Rosa

More importantly for the NGO community in Cambodia, how many other NGOs are telling lies in order to raise money? And how will donors and sponsors react when the discover not only that they have been lied to but that those in a position to expose such lies (SISHA and LICADHO being two such NGOs) have maintained a diplomatic silence about abuses they know to be occurring?

best wishes

James Ricketson

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