Sunday, January 26, 2014

For Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. Should Australia provide $100 million in aid to a Cambodian dictatorship?

Young Cambodians use social media to keep family and friends posted on the events unfolding in Phnom Penh

The Hon Julie Bishop
Minister for Foreign Affairs
House of Representatives, Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600                                                                                      

26th Jan 2014

Dear Minister

Whilst Australians celebrated Australia Day, the people of Cambodia suffered yet another setback in their quest to become a functioning democracy.

A peaceful demonstration was to have taken place today in Freedom Park, the only public space that the Hun Sen government allows protests to occur - to demand the release of 23 striking garment factory workers held after a demonstration on 2nd Jan which saw 5 workers killed by the Cambodian army. Why the Cambodian army should be present at a demonstration by strking factory workers is a question the Hun Sen government refuses to answer. Why the Australian government provides military assistance to the Hun Sen government is a question I would like to ask?

The protestors arrived at Freedom Park this morning to find several hundred armed military personnel, police black helmeted security guards with batons and cattle prods. The following video speaks for itself of the lengths that the Hun Sen government goes to prevent freedom of assembly and freedom of speech – both of which rights are enshrined in the Cambodian constitution:

Compare what you see in this video record of events with the observations made on the Department of Foreign Affairs website:

“Despite democratic freedoms in Cambodia, there are periodic reports of intimidation and political violence.”

There are no democratic freedoms in Cambodia other than those that Prime Minister Hun Sen decides, on a whim, to allow.  ‘Reports’ is an inappropriate euphemism to use in relation to the countless images and video clips to be found online that bear witness to actual acts of intimidation and violence. Here is just one that you might like to look at:

The Hun Sen regime is, to all intents and purposes, a dictatorship, supported to the tune of around $100 million a year by Australia in foreign aid – some of which goes to a Cambodian military that shoots and kills garment factory workers on strike demanding to be paid $160 a month for their work. This is $40 a week or a little over $6 a day or 60 cents an hour. The workers who are asking to be paid 60 cents an hour provide we Australians with the cheap clothing to be found at Target, Big W, Coles and other retail outlets. They deserve our support. They deserve the democracy that the Cambodian constitution guarantees them. These workers and others in civil society engaged in the fight to secure their democratic rights of freedom and assembly and speech deserve meaningful support from Australia in the form of a cessation of all aid until there is an independent investigation into the killing of the garment factory workers such that the killers and those who gave the orders to shoot to kill can be brought to justice.

best wishes

James Ricketson

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