Sunday, July 27, 2008

Photography lesson with the CCH children - NEW BLOG is the website where you can view the photos taken by the children (above) in my lessons..... If you would like to purchase one to support the charity the launch will be in October with an exhibition here in Phnom Penh and we can post them to you where ever you are!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Winning teams

Election fever hots up today as it is now only one day until the National Elections on Sunday. Yesterday was the last day of campaigning. People today are taking down posters.

The British Embassy sent a letter to me about 2 months ago advising to keep away from political rallies etc but I have heard nothing since –Its existence is not even on its website.... Filipino colleagues on the other hand have been issued with a special ID number, have been told to keep their passports on them at all times and have packed emergency bags on Embassy advice in case they have to leave the country in a hurry. Nice to see the UK government is taking care of me.

I am little hazy as to where my passport is, have not prepared a bag and have little recollection as to who my insurance company is.... ummm.

Hun Sen, the present Prime Minister, and his party are pretty much bound to succeed. If they lose it will be chaos... but the likelihood of that happening is slim to say the least.

Things outside look/sound normal at the moment I can hear the click sound of the shuttlecock being kicked from one security guard to the other. Every male with time on their hands here appears to love the game commonly known as “keepie-upie” – Obviously, a ball being kept up in the air.

In Cambodia a group of males form a circle and kick about a shuttlecock and do it for hours. The sound it makes is part of daily life as is the sound of the call of the guys who come past with their recycling carts - a persistent squeak (think dog/baby toy sound created from a old washing up bottle and some sort of squeaky device!). I think that they practice so much they can go to the riverside and join the elite squad of “Sigh” teams (Khmer for keepie-upie) who get massive crowds watching them each night.

These “sigh” teams are probably given a higher social status here than the Cambodian Olympic team which consists of 4 men. Recently there was an article in the local newspaper explaining how they could not really afford trainers because the government was not helping them and their wage is only $50. Barely enough to survive let alone buy elite sports kit and pretty tough when your sport is long distance running. I think a large international bank stepped in and after the media focus the government has give an “appropriate” bonus of $600. You can see more at: It tells of one athletes problems in training – sleeping at the crumbling stadium here in a dormitory, having to train with other Cambodians “exercising” on the running track (invariably women in pyjamas – speed walking at a slow speed) and having to train on the roads (one is a marathon runner) in a country where drivers have no problem running you over and leaving you on the road for dead....

BBC picture of the Olympic hopeful in his dormitory

Friday, July 25, 2008

The end of Summer School

Today was officially the end of "Summer School" and on Monday I have a day off (!!!) before preparing to teach grade 3 which starts on Thursday.
Today the children in my class performed a play - They have been practising it for about a month now but at 10am this morning it was still painful to watch. They also had a song and a dance to show - at 2pm the parents were coming to watch...!!
Chaos at rehersal at 10am.
The play's plot was basic enough - Animals all lose and then change their colours/patterns. Sadly this resulted in each child having to have 3 costumes - One when they are "normal", one when they have no colour and are grey and finally a costume when they have the wrong pattern (e.g a rhino having a leopards' spots). Creating these costumes and painting them was a lot of work for5 a 15 minute play - There were 32 different set of costumes to draw and paint - I am exhausted!
Time to hit Talkin to a Stranger a lovely expat bar where Australian beer and mash potato is on the menu!
Some of the "warthog" costumes - each was the size of a small child....

One of my students in the facepaint added at the final preparatory moments!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Photography school - "Smile"

Yesterday I began "Photo School" for the children of CCH. 5 students were selected by the Director: 3 from CCH1 (where I taught) and 2 from CDCC - A second CCH centre (the boys sleep there I think) which is not too far away. The group is nice because it is a mix: 2 girls/3 boys, 3 @15 years old/1@ 13 years old/1 @ 18 years old as well as the fact that children come from both centres.

By the time the kids were all assembled there was not much time left before it got dark (4pm). Plus after waiting I was boiling, dusty and did not fancy sitting in a half finished classroom. So, I took them to Java - a cafe/bar at the end of my street (about 40 minutes by tuk tuk in rush hour from CCH) for a drink and some initial instruction on how to use the camera. I had prepared a small instruction booklet on how to take good photos but the children's English is not as advanced as I was lead to believe and so.... well there will have to be a lot of example picture showing and talking about techniques. It was good though and next week the children will hit the markets with me to take their first pictures.

Whilst waiting I had some fun with the younger children at CCH. They had found some sticky plant (like the stuff that you find in hedgerows in England that sticks to your clothes) - This weed/plant was however more painful when you were hit with it than the English version so the game basically was run away from the people who had the stuff/try and get it off them. Not a complex game ...but funny!
Lily in this picture is not so keen on getting hit with the plant by the naughty Panha!
... Holding a bunch of the plant - most kids had only one stick of it - ow painful!
Always wanting to stop for a photo though - This is one of the new arrivals at the Centre from the dump. A lovely child who has already started to pick up English after only being at the Centre for a month or so.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Being a generous dynamic teacher I thought it might be nice if my afternoon class made pizza. This is a challenge because Cambodians do not generally eat a) cheese b) bread (base) c) nice Italian meats d) most forms of vegetables in a form you would recognise or in the case of my class e) listen to any form of instruction the first time you say it.

On Tuesday I got the children to write to their parents (or other adult generally responsible for their welfare!) to get a class load of different ingredients. Always a risk you can end up with a bag full of the same thing.... Luckily there were some more modern Khmers in my class and they together with a Malaysian and a Filipino bought good ingredients (cheese, ham, sausage, olives, tuna and pineapple). The other children generally bought onions (I had 7) and green peppers (I had 4). This is probably because they understood what an onion is and secondly because I spent about half an hour previously explaining what a pepper was. Some children for some reason decided a potato would be tasty on a pizza - I said specifically DO NOT bring a potato! They probably misheard!!! Anyway, it is quite advanced for some Cambodians to know what a potato is so I guess I should be grateful.

I made the dough this morning and luckily it rose as required of it... It won't surprise most of you that I've never been much of a person to bake/cook. This was a personal achievement for me as I eat out every night here!

Anyway, the class took 2 hours. 13 children, kitchen the size of a stamp with the Khmer cook looking on in horror as the kids charged through her domain!! Most Khmer homes do not have an oven so it was also a novelty to have an oven (for me and the children) to cook the pizzas. Of course it was not a normal oven - It was a Cambodian one... Not too hot and likes to turn itself off. Helpful. Anyway, at the end of the day it was all fine - 13 munching kids or alternatively telling me their pushy parents want the pizza "to look nice" [insert swear word I said in my head at this point]. I was covered in tomato and flour.

Do you want a piece? ... no thought not

I also had a parent come and see me today to demand their 7 year old got homework... what was she supposed to do with her child if I didn't send homework? [ with her?? - (again, said only in my head!)]

Tomorrow photo workshop with CCH children. For now - beer!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Painting at CCH

Last weekend I began drawing the outline for a mural at the Centre for Children's Happiness - the orphanage rescuing children from the dump site in Phnom Penh. The drawing took about 4 hours so it seemed probable that the painting would take at least 6 hours... As the director also asked for the other rooms to be painted I reckoned it would take the best part of the day.

We began painting on Saturday morning and finished on Sunday afternoon.... a bit longer than anticipated. This was with the children and their Khmer teacher helping as well.

Buying paint here was easier than I thought - Although it was quite funny when I was told some of my paint would not be available for another 2 - 3 hours as they were not "making paint now" - It was 11.30am - so Lunch time and nothing else would get in the way of that.

The paint was expensive by Cambodian standards and so when the people in the shop asked if someone was doing the painting they were more than surprised at the response - That we would be doing it ourselves!! ...If you have just spent $60 on paint why would you not pay someone $5 to paint the room for you??!! They couldn't comprehend the western madness of DIY even after I had shown then the drawing I had prepared to paint the mural and how we were not doing standard painting!

Painting began on Saturday at midday and ended as the sun was setting at 6pm. One room was complete but the final touches to the mural and the second/third rooms had to wait until Sunday... when painting began again at 10am and finished at 4.30pm (and the third classroom did not get started)! .... I am quite tired but definitely very worthwhile especially when the younger children would come in every now and then to look and try and say some of the words.

The end result was excellent and will really help the kids learn. All this for $100/£50 - Such as small amount of money but this will cheer up the classroom and make a big difference to the new environment for the children's learning.

....I learnt how to sing "If you're happy and you know it" in Khmer but I have forgotten.

Children and their teacher paint the walls in bright colours

Some keen children were directed to paint the less tricky parts of the mural by me and did a very good job!

defying death on the scaffolding

The finished product....

A last minute request by the CCH teacher - To write "Welcome to English" on the end wall...

Here is a photo collage of the whole thing - its too big to take one photo so here are lots stuck together to get an overall impression (some small bits are missing). Its quite large - as you can see from the (small) child in the right handcorner.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Teaching v Litigation

In my old job I sat in front of a computer for more hours than was healthy and worried about other people's problems more than they did (Yes - This is it in a nutshell so potential lawyers take note!)...
As a teacher here I am paid about 15% of my old salary but the decrease is worth it when I think of the plus points to teaching - When in my last job did my daily routine include things like ... having a group of 30 people: roar with laughter at a funny voice (I was demonstrating a radio advert), be amazed at the probability of pulling a small blue bear out of a bag (which also contained red bears - no not a magic lesson but maths), sing 10 times in one day "The ants go marching (hurrah hurrah)", get joy from a piece of chalk and drawing their friend's shadow, complement me on how wonderful (and young) I look (ha!) and marvel and think I am a genius because I can whistle by putting my fingers in my mouth?... .... ummm never. (Note again to future lawyers: clients don't go in for chalk, singing, bears or whistling - They like something more concrete for their money).

The hardest part is a) not swearing and b) not laughing when they are going something naughty but funny (note: both highly acceptable and expected in law).
Coloured ice - very exciting!
These are copy Picasso's - could you not tell? (oh and balloon planets)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Update/more information - Evicted families

If you have read earlier posts you might remember that I helped out on International Children's Day at a fun day for kids who had been evicted with their families to a remote location from Phnom Penh to an area with no facilities. Here is an article written by the (human rights/legal) NGO assisting them - It gives some idea of the way these people now have to live:

Its been a wet day here - after a full day teaching (- 7.30am til 4.30pm?! Living here is supposed to be a break...) I was soaked during my 3 minute moto drive home. So, its not all fun in the sun here!


I've just discovered that one of my photographs is on the Guardian website for its 17 chosen shots following its June photography competition.

That's nice!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mural creation at CCH

Today was the beginning of the creation of the CCH mural. Upon arrival at the orphanage the director told me about the building works that had taken place since I was last at the orphanage last week.

Previously the classrooms which were on the first floor of a building that is to the side of the dormitories had windows but they did not have any glass –they just had the usual iron bars every Cambodian house has (whether you have glass or not). Now, glass windows have been added which is great - Hopefully it will make the rooms better for teaching (quieter and less of the ever present dust).

About a month ago I saw that the building housing the classrooms actually also has a second floor as well (the stairs are somewhat hidden around the very back of the building) and that although rooms existed there was no building work in process. However, today the director told me that the rooms would be finished by the end of next week for children to sleep in – This includes a ceiling (there is a roof but no ceiling at present) and glass in the windows.

The director also told me he would like to paint the outside of the orphanage – the windows (and possibly some of the masonry – I’m not sure!) So the mural project has been expanded to painting not just a mural but all of the rooms and the outside of the building as well.... The children are going to help though with the painting of the outside (phew!).

I’ve designed the mural and today we drew the outline so that it can be painted next week.
My rough mural design for a wall that is about 10ft tall and 20ft wide....

It looks good at the moment although it is just an outline. Health and safety remains a non-existent factor in Cambodia – I moved the ladder to result in one of the ceiling beams falling down on me – Luckily quite light and metal framed! No injury.
In action!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC)

Being a (non-practising(!)) lawyer in Cambodia I guess it is about time that I devoted some time to talking about the ECCC – That is the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (commonly referred to as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal).
The ECCC just on the outskirts of Phnom Penh

An extremely condensed low down on the Khmer Rouge period...

The time in which the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia is probably one of the most horrific times in modern history. Between 1975 and 1979 the KR regime imposed brutal methods in an attempt to create a “pure Khmer” society based on agricultural production. In order to reach its aims they employed extreme means - torture, arbitrary executions, imprisonment with no trial, forced labour, persecution (of the religious and the educated or indeed anyone who opposed them). No proper health care was in place, food was rationed to the extent that people often starved to death. The Khmer Rouge forced people out of the cities and into the country. Adults and children were forced to work in the fields. Phnom Penh was practically deserted after a mass evacuation in 1975. The KR sought to erase any traditional and foreign cultural influences and sought to seek to destroy the Cambodian culture by “re-educating” people.

The KR’s mass killings resulted in huge mass graves (est, 200,000 graves) across the country. At least 189 torture/detention centres existed. The brutal regime and the execution of so many people make it impossible to estimate the scale of the killings but it is estimated that 20% of the population (1.7 million people) were killed. Some estimate the figures as high as 33%. This high figure is shocking to the core but not surprising when you consider what actions would make the Khmer Rouge kill a Cambodian – For instance, something as simple as eating an insect you have taken from the ground and eating it because you are starving to death or going to the toilet without permission from a KR official could have resulted in your torture or execution.

I cannot begin to detail the atrocities committed by the KR here or give the detail of the crimes committed giving the coverage those who suffered deserve. A good starting point for the interested (and short on time) is the famous movie “The Killing Fields”. There are numerous first hand books covering the situations faced by individuals who miraculously survived. I would recommend “Survival in the Killing Fields” (Haing Ngor) or either of the books by Loung Ung.

In the meantime instant condensed information can be found at

The punishment of the Khmer Rouge

It was the Vietnamese invasion into Cambodia which eventually toppled the Khmer Rouge. Since the fall of the KR (and since the UN and the governments of the world stopped recognising the KR as the official government of Cambodia in favour of the communist Vietnamese) numerous bodies have been calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. It is only since 1990 that serious thought has been given to the matter. However, in 1979 Cambodia did itself try and bring “justice” by holding its own tribunal (People’s Revolutionary Tribunal) - However, the verdict of this tribunal is not considered to be just by the International Community as the trial only lasted 5 days and was given in absentia of those accused with no real hearing of the evidence.

The problems with establishing the ECCC are numerous - One problem is that so many people were perpetrators carrying out the orders of the KR. Former torturers drive moto taxis, work in the market, work in the fields and are in the present government (although they defected from the KR)...They are indistinguishable from the other Cambodians who were the victims.

Also decades have passed since the atrocities were committed. A further problem is that if the KR leaders who were convicted by the Cambodian tribunal joined the government, then government pardoned them – leaving a problem with a) the fact that they can claim they have already been convicted (double jeopardy rule) combined with the fact that b) they have been pardoned!

Here is a very quick legal overview of the aspects to be considered by the ECCC.

  • The tribunal will only hear accounts of crimes committed between 1975 and 1979. The accused may therefore use the defence that his/her acts were committed outside of this time frame.

  • The ECCC will try the crimes of Senior leaders alone (although many of the most infamous leaders have died - Pol Pot being an obvious example). The court will have the responsibility to decide exactly who was a 'senior leader' and who was 'most responsible' for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge.

  • Defendants of the ECCC may be held liable for either direct or superior responsibility. If the defendant planned the act/ordered it etc then he/she may be liable. This is important because many of the Senior leaders did not actually kill/torture people themselves but ordered other people to do it (who would have been almost certainly killed had they not done as asked)

  • Only certain crimes may be judged by the Court – It will focus on the most serious offences under international and Cambodian law (more on this below)

  • The law must be applied as it was in 1975-1979. Modern interpretations should not be given. So, the crimes (such as genocide and crimes against humanity) and the principles (such as direct or superior responsibility) must be interpreted as the law stood at this time.

The crimes to be tried

The ECCC will hear evidence on the charges of any of the following crimes:


The elements of genocide are:

(a) an individual commits a prohibited act; The acts are: killing/causing serious harm/inflicting conditions to bring about the groups destruction/measures to prevent birth/forcibly transferring children.

(b) with an intent to destroy; The accused must be shown to have committed one of the acts above against at least one of the protected groups below with an intention to destroy that group in whole or part.

(c) in whole or part a national, ethical, racial or religious group; the victims must be a member of one of these groups.

(d) Some argue that the crime also has a 4th element – That the prohibited act was “part of a manifest pattern of similar conduct or that it was the type of conduct that could bring about the destruction of the group in whole or in part”. This is not however decided under International Law and may be a new area of law the Tribunal rules upon.

Crimes against humanity

In general crimes against humanity include grave abuses committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians on racial, political, religious, national or ethnic grounds.

(a) A prohibited act must be committed –murder/extermination/enslavement/deportataion/ imprisonment/torture/rape/persecution/or “other inhumane acts”;

(b) The act must be “widespread or systematic”. Some argue that in the 1970s the acts must be “widespread and systematic”. It is more widely thought however, that if the attacks are part of an organised policy or series of attacks then generally this is enough for this element of the crime;

(c) the attacks must be against civilians in the protected groupings: racial, political, religious, national or ethnic. Other tribunals (in Yugoslavia and Rwanda) have not required discriminatory intent towards the group. Whether the ECCC also takes this approach remains to be seen;

(d) the mental element – “knowing that the attacks are widespread and systematic”. The individuals needed to know that what they were doing was part of a broader attack.

“War crimes” – Beaches of the Geneva Convention

The 4 1949 Geneva Conventions – These protect certain groups such as civilians, prisoners and soldiers in times of war (by the 1970s it was established that this meant international armed conflict). This will limit the prosecution as the KR atrocities were domestic abuses. However, article 3 of the Conventions can apply outside international armed conflict:

a) Article 3 protects the most fundamental of rights such as murder, torture and the right to a fair trial. The context of these crimes, to secure a conviction, however must be in the “nexus of an armed conflict”. It is not clear whether the ECCC judges will find that there was a sustained conflict in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 but it is more likely to find that there was a conflict between 1977 and 1978 when the border conflict with Vietnam escalated.

b) The harm must have been inflicted willingly.

The Convention on Cultural Property

There is a possibility of the charge of destruction of cultural property. However, this treaty only applies to sovereign states not individuals – it is not a crime but a measure to allow states to get finaincial compensation from other states - Therefore the ECCC may be reluctant to stretch the law so that it applies to individuals as a crime. However, such crime may exist as a customary law.

Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons

This poses the same problem as above – It is a state based remedy not a crime. There is a separate treaty which allows for this to be a crime but Cambodia is not a party to this treaty and it is not mentioned in the ECCC law. Again, customary law may be used by the judges to overcome this hurdle

Domestic crimes (such as homicide, torture, religious persecution)

The 1956 Cambodia Penal Code may also be used to bring charges against the accused (the crimes being murder, torture and religious persecution). However, Cambodian jurisprudence is not well developed and so what makes up the elements of these crimes in the 1970s is not at all clear. The ECCC judges will therefore have considerable discretion. This is almost a safety net for the tribunal. Being convicted of hundreds of murders does not have the same stigma as a conviction for genocide but would still lead to a considerable prison sentence.

Finally - The purpose of the law lecture!

This week Ieng Sary (former Khmer Rouge foreign minister) has been in front of the ECCC and hitting the Cambodian (and international headlines). The ECCC is hearing matters prior to his trial kicking off properly –Preliminary matters. On Monday Sary asked for the Tribunal to rise early because he felt dizzy and tired. [Ummm – I’d like to say that must have been just like how the millions of people he put to work in the fields on no food/water in the baking head for 4 years felt before they were killed or died of disease/malnutrition but that would be politically incorrect.]

At present the ECCC is hearing his bail application. His lawyers claim he should be released due to poor health and that he should be placed under house arrest instead. The concern is that he will not otherwise be fit to stand trial in approximately a year’s time (he is 82 years old). The ECCC is also expected to hear arguments as to whether he should be facing trial at all.

It is expected that his lawyers will argue whether the pardon he was granted (see above) by former king Norodom Sihanouk makes it impossible for the ECCC to charge him. The interesting thing is that he is now charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has previously been convicted by the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal for Genocide. The pardon that followed was therefore for the Genocide conviction – Genocide is not the same crime as those present charges of crimes and crimes against humanity so how double jeopardy or the pardon can apply seems to be a bit of a non-argument... It’s simply not the same crime.

Sary's wife Ieng Thirith, Khieu Samphan (former head of state), Nuon Chea (chief ideologist) and Kaing Guek Eav (former Toul Sleng torture centre director and also known as Duch) are the other KR leaders currently in detention awaiting trial. Duch is expected to have his trial begin in September.

I promise other posts on the subject will be shorter... I was having law withdrawal symptoms!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The application of the rule of law in Cambodia...

Yesterday evening, returning home at about 10pm I saw the aftermath of a crash at the end of our street. There was an ambulance (rare) and lots of Khmers standing around the scene. There was no car and so it looked like a sole drunken motorbike wobble/accident. I have read elsewhere that the rumour is that the incident was the result of a drunken Australian who drove around the Independence Monument roundabout and in his drunkeness veered into a motorbike resulting in killing two people and injuring one other. Apparently, no action will be taken as the individual is on secondment to a Governemental department or similar.... Exceptionally sad. So typical here. This is in addition to the armed robberies (day and night) going on at the moment.