Friday, May 23, 2014

(D) Letter to ACFID Code of Conduct committee 8th May 2014

ACFID Code of Conduct Committee
Australian Council for International Development
12 Napier Close, Deakin ACT 2600                                                             8th May 2014

Dear    Dr Sue-Anne Wallace
Greg Brown
John Gilmore
Bandula Gonsalkorale
Harwood Lockton
Dr Petrus Usmanij
Fadlullah Wilmot
Dr Simon Smith
Michelle Pearce
Julie Mundy

This morning I received a phone call from Chanti, asking me why no-one from ACFID had contacted her. She was very distressed when I told her that ACFID had completed its investigation. She could not understand why her own complaint of 22nd April has been ignored; why no-one from ACFID wanted to talk with herself and Chhork. It was difficult for me to explain to her (Chanti’s English is rudimentary and my Khmer bad) that the ACFID Code of Conduct committee had no interest in her complaint; that it was interested only in exonerating the Global Development Group (GDG) and Citipointe of any wrong-doing.

Given that you have collectively decided to ignore Chanti and Chhork’s complaint and refuse to request of GDG evidence that Citipointe had a legal right to remove and detain Rosa and Chita, this letter will clearly have no impact on the decision your committee arrived at before instigating its ‘Inquiry’. It is important, however, to avoid misunderstandings further down the track, that some facts and pertinent questions be placed on record.

Lest there be any confusion about the role that the Global Development Group plays in the administration of the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ the following from Citipointe’s ‘SHE Rescue Home’ website is quite clear:

“Global Development Group takes responsibility of the project according to AusAID rules providing a governance role and assisting in the areas of planning, monitoring, evaluating and auditing to ensure the projects are carried out to AusAID requirements.”

How well does the Global Development Group administer ‘AusAID rules’?

One AusAID requirement is that NGOs obey the laws of the host countries in which they are working. In this instance, evidence of the legality of Citipointe’s removal and detention of Rosa and Chita, the question that should be central to your committee’s ‘Inquiry’, could be demonstrated in two ways:

(1) Producing the 2008 Memorandum of Understanding that Citipointe entered into with the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which, both Geoff Armstrong and Citipointe claim, gave the church the legal right to remove Rosa and Chita.

(2) Producing the legal document, drawn up by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court relating to the custody of Rosa and Chita being transferred from Chanti and Chhork (who had ‘relinquished’ their rights as parents) to Citipointe church. Both Citipointe and the Global Development Group refuse to produce these documents.  That they cannot produce (2) is not surprising since it does not exist!

I draw the ACFID Code of Conduct Committee’s attention to Article 253 of the Cambodian Criminal Code – to be found, in full at:

If Article 253 were implemented, if the rule of law existed in Cambodia, Pastor Leigh Ramsey and Geoff Armstrong would be liable for up to ten years in jail for the ‘Illegal Arrest, Detention or Confinement’ of Rosa and Chita.

The 2009 MOU entered into by Citipointe church and the Cambodian Ministry of Social Affairs is not relevant to the question of the legality of Rosa and Chita’s removal but is relevant to their continued detention in the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ after Nov 2009 in contravention of the express wishes of their parents. Both Citipointe and GDG likewise refuse to produce the 2009 MOU and have, for 5 years, refused to provide Chanti and Chhork with a copy of it. This, in itself, is a breach of several sections of the ACFID Code of Conduct. I will draw your attention to just one:

B.1.1 Accountability to primary stakeholders
Signatory organisations will ensure that their purpose and processes are shaped by stakeholders and that their work is open to review and comment by partners and participants alike. In all instances those directly affected by aid and development activities are considered the primary stakeholders and their views afforded the highest priority.
Chanti and Chhork are ‘primary stakeholders’ and yet have been denied, by Citipointe church and the Global Development Group, copies of MOUs or any other documents relating to Citipointe’s continued detention of their daughters. Chanti and Chhork’s views, their needs, their rights have been consistently ignored for close to six years now. The true agenda of Citipointe and GDG is revealed in the refusal on the part of both NGOs to provide $1 in financial assistance to Chanti’s family since July 2008; in the refusal on the part of both NGOs to assist the family in becoming self-sufficient.

Your committee likewise refuses to insist that Citipointe and GDG produce documents relating to the legality of Citipointe’s actions. The reason for this will be clear to anyone who connects the dots: Members of the Code of Conduct committee know full well that the 2008 MOU did not give Citipointe the rights of removal it exercised; that there was no court proceeding in which custody of Rosa and Chita was transferred from Chanti and Chhork to Citipointe church; that not only has Citipointe broken Cambodian law, the church has done so with the full knowledge of Geoff Armstrong and the board members of the Global Development Group.  

The ACFID Code of Conduct committee is determined to protect Geoff Armstrong and GDG at all costs. If this means ignoring evidence (by not asking for the MOUs) so be it. If this implicates your committee in serious human rights abuses and the breaking of Cambodian law, so be it. GDG must be protected at all costs!

In his Feb letter, Chief Executive of GDG, Geoff Armstrong, wrote the following to me:

“We have thoroughly investigated your concerns and we can’t see any area where SHE Rescue Home has not adhered to their requirement of the ACFID Code of Conduct. Therefore a Code complaint cannot be made.”

Let me draw your attention to a few of the parts of the ACFID Code of Conduct that Citipointe has not adhered to.

“B.1.5 Non-development activity
Funds and other resources designated for the purpose of aid and development will
 be used only for those purposes and will not be used to promote a particular religious adherence or to support a political party...”

The girls in the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ have no choice but to attend a Christian church in Phnom Penh. The girls are likewise refused permission to take part in any Buddhist ceremonies or festivals with their families. If your committee were conducting a genuine Inquiry and not merely going through the motions, it would ask of Geoff Armstrong:

“Did GDG, at any time in the past six years, in the process of monitoring and evaluating the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ ask the girls resident in it if (a) they were forced to go to a Christian church in Phnom Penh and (b) if they were denied the opportunity to join their families in Buddhist ceremonies, celebrations and festivals?”

The ACFID Code of Conduct is clear in what it proscribes in relation to human rights:

B.3.1 Human rights in aid and development
1 Signatory organisations will ensure that they provide a commitment to internationally 
recognised human rights principles within their organisation.
2 Signatory organisations will ensure that their aid and development activities are consistent with respecting and protecting internationally recognised human rights including civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Another question for Geoff Armstrong that could be asked (should be asked) if ACFID was conducting a serious Inquiry:

“As a result of the Global Development Group’s monitoring of the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ are you satisfied that the church is not in breach of its human rights obligations to Rosa and Chita (along with other girls resident in SHE) and to the parents of these girls?”

Following are a few of the Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:
Article 9
Children should not be separated from their parents unless it is for their own good. For example, if a parent is mistreating or neglecting a child. Children whose parents have separated have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might harm the child.
Article 20
Children who cannot be looked after by their own family must be looked after properly by people who respect their religion, culture and language.
Article 25 Children who are looked after by their local authority rather than their parents should have their situation reviewed regularly.
Article 35
Governments should make sure that children are not abducted or sold.
The reality is, in accordance with Cambodian law, that Rosa and Chita were ‘abducted’ by Citipointe church with the full knowledge and blessing of the Global Development Group. This potentially defamatory accusation could be countered, with ease, by Citipointe and GDG producing copies of the MOUs and the court documents transferring custody of Rosa and Chita from their parents to the church. In its refusal to ask Citipointe and GDG to prove the legality of the removal, your committee is now morally complicit in the illegal removal of the girls from their family. The ACFID Code of Conduct Committee has failed in its duty of care to Rosa, Chita, Chanti and Chhork and to all the girls in the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ and their parents. And you will continue to fail in your duty of care for as long as you accept that Citipointe and GDG are under no obligation to produce the MOUs.

Leaving aside Cambodian law, AusAID rules and regulations, the UN Convention on the rights of the child, the actions of Citipointe church, with the blessing of the Global Development Group (and now with the blessing of the ACFID Code of Conduct committee) has caused immense distress to Chanti and Chhork this past close to six years. See my recent letter to Pastor Leigh Ramsey:

Imagine how you would feel if, in a time of financial crisis, you accepted short-term assistance from a Buddhist organization and, when the crisis had passed, this Buddhist organization refused to return your children and sent you photos of them dressed in orange – clearly having been forced to become Buddhists.

I trust all recipients of this letter can appreciate, if you have children of your own, the heartbreak experienced by Chanti and Chhork as a result of their daughters’ removal. That you should protect Citipointe and GDG, regardless of the human rights of Chanti, Chhork, Rosa and Chita is disgraceful. You should all hang your heads in shame.

best wishes

James Ricketson

cc The Hon Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ms Alison Burrow, Australia’s Ambassador to Cambodia
Pastors Leigh Ramsey and Brian Mulheran
Geoff Armstrong and the Global Development Group board
Various media outlets

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