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Cambodia police use force to break up rally – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Cambodia police use force to break up rally – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

Cambodia imposed an indefinite ban on demonstrations in Phnom Penh after a wave of protests in early January [AP]
At least eight people have been injured in Cambodia’s capital as police fired smoke grenades and used electric batons to break up an anti-government demonstration.Several hundred people, led by radio station owner Mam Sonando, gathered in front of the Ministry of Information on Monday to press demand for the government critic to be allowed a license for a television channel.

The government last week rejected the application, saying there was no frequency available. All existing stations are closely linked to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodia has been accused of only granting television licences to pro-government media.

Protesters and journalists were hit by police batons during Monday’s rally, according to rights activists.

Activist Am Sam Ath of local rights group Licadho condemned the crackdown on the protesters as a “serious violation of human rights”.

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said police dispersed the protest because it had not been permitted and could have led to violence.

Protest ban

The government imposed an indefinite ban on street demonstrations in Phnom Penh after a wave of protests in early January challenging the results of last year’s election, which the opposition alleges was rigged.

It was illegal demonstration. So the authorities just implemented the lawLong Dimanche, Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman

“It was illegal demonstration. So the authorities just implemented the law,” Long Dimanche said.

Sonando, who has dual Cambodian-French citizenship, was convicted in October 2012 on charges including insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state.

He was released from jail last March after a court cleared him of a secessionist plot, slashing his 20-year jail term and ordering his release from prison.

Baton-wielding police clashed on Sunday with protesters – including Buddhist monks – demanding higher wages for garment workers and the release of 23 people arrested during a recent bloody crackdown on striking garment workers, which left at least four civilians dead.

Authorities have quelled recent street protests against Hun Sen. He faces mounting criticism by rights groups of his government’s suppression of street protests intended to challenge his nearly three-decade rule.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the recent actions by the Cambodian government and is urging the United Nations member countries to press the country’s leadership to abide by previous commitments and fulfil new rights pledges.

Cambodia is scheduled to appear before the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on Tuesday.

“Hun Sen’s government violates human rights on a daily basis by violently preventing the opposition, trade unions, activists and others from gathering to demand political change,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch.

How the U.S. Employs Overseas Sweatshops to Produce Government Uniforms | A Lightning War for Liberty

How the U.S. Employs Overseas Sweatshops to Produce Government Uniforms | A Lightning War for Liberty.

The following article from the New York Times is extraordinarily important as it perfectly highlights the incredible hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it comes to overseas slave labor and human rights. While the Obama Administration (and the ones that came before it) publicly espouse self-important platitudes about our dedication to humanitarianism, when it comes down to practicing what we preach, our government fails miserably and is directly responsible for immense human suffering.

Let’s get down to some facts. The U.S. government is one of the largest buyers of clothing from overseas factories at over $1.5 billion per year. To start, considering our so-called “leaders” are supposedly so concerned about the state of the U.S. economy, why aren’t we spending the money here at home at U.S. factories? If we don’t have the capacity, why don’t we build the capacity? After all, if we need the uniforms anyway, and it is at the taxpayers expense, wouldn’t it make sense to at least ensure production at home and create some jobs? If a private business wants to produce overseas that’s fine, but you’d think the government would be a little more interested in boosting domestic industry.

However, the above is just a minor issue. Not only does the U.S. government spend most of its money for clothing at overseas factories, but it employs some of the most egregious human rights abusers in the process. Child labor, beatings, restrictions on bathroom brakes, padlocked exits and much more is routine practice at these factories. Even worse, in the few instances in which the government is required to actually use U.S. labor, they just contract with prisons for less than $2 per hour using domestic slave labor. Then, when questions start to get asked, government agencies actually go out of their way to keep the factory lists out of the public’s eye, even going so far as denying requests when pressed for information by members of Congress.

Sadly, as usual, at the end of the day this is all about profits and money. Money government officials will claim is being saved by the taxpayer, but in reality is just being funneled to well connected bureaucrats.

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — One of the world’s biggest clothing buyers, the United States government spends more than $1.5 billion a year at factories overseas, acquiring everything from the royal blue shirts worn by airport security workers to the olive button-downs required for forest rangers and the camouflage pants sold to troops on military bases.

But even though the Obama administration has called on Western buyers to use their purchasing power to push for improved industry working conditions after several workplace disasters over the last 14 months, the American government has done little to adjust its own shopping habits.

Labor Department officials say that federal agencies have “zero tolerance” for using overseas plants that break local laws, but American government suppliers in countries including Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam show a pattern of legal violations and harsh working conditions, according to audits and interviews at factories. Among them: padlocked fire exits, buildings at risk of collapse, falsified wage records and repeated hand punctures from sewing needles when workers were pushed to hurry up.

In Bangladesh, shirts with Marine Corps logos sold in military stores were made at DK Knitwear, where child laborers made up a third of the work force, according to a 2010 audit that led some vendors to cut ties with the plant.Managers punched workers for missed production quotas, and the plant had no functioning alarm system despite previous fires, auditors said.Many of the problems remain, according to another audit this year and recent interviews with workers.

At Zongtex Garment Manufacturing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which makes clothes sold by the Army and Air Force, an audit conducted this year found nearly two dozen under-age workers, some as young as 15. Several of them described in interviews with The New York Times how they were instructed to hide from inspectors.

“Sometimes people soil themselves at their sewing machines,” one worker said, because of restrictions on bathroom breaks.

And there is no law prohibiting the federal government from buying clothes produced overseas under unsafe or abusive conditions.

Why am I not surprised…

“It doesn’t exist for the exact same reason that American consumers still buy from sweatshops,” said Daniel Gordon, a former top federal procurement official who now works at George Washington University Law School. “The government cares most about getting the best price.”

Labor and State Department officials have encouraged retailers to participate in strengthening rules on factory conditions in Bangladesh — home to one of the largest and most dangerous garment industries. But defense officials this month helped kill a legislative measure that would have required military stores, which last year made more than $485 million in profit, to comply with such rules because they said the $500,000 annual cost was too expensive.

As usual, it is all about the money. You think average Americans are seeing any of that massive profit? Believe me, someone is and it’s not you.

At Manta Apparels, for example, which makes uniforms for the General Services Administration, employees said beatings are common and fire exits are kept chained except when auditors visit. The local press has described Manta as one of the most repressive factories in the country. A top labor advocate, Aminul Islam, was organizing there in 2010 when he was first arrested by the police and tortured. In April 2012, he was found dead, a hole drilled below his right knee and his ankles crushed.

Conditions like those are possible partly because American government agencies usually do not know which factories supply their goods or are reluctant to reveal them. Soon after a fire killed at least 112 people at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh in November 2012, several members of Congress asked various agencies for factory addresses. Of the seven agencies her office contacted, Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, said only the Department of the Interior turned over its list.

Federal officials still have to navigate a tangle of rules. Defense officials, for instance, who spend roughly $2 billion annually on military uniforms, are required by a World War II-era rule called the Berry Amendment to have most of them made in the United States. In recent years, Congress has pressured defense officials to cut costs on uniforms. Increasingly, the department has turned to federal prisons, where wages are under $2 per hour. Federal inmates this year stitched more than $100 million worth of military uniforms.

The Marine Corps and Navy still do not require audits of these factories. The Air Force and Army exchanges do, but the audits can come from retailers, and defense officials fail to do routine spot checks to confirm their accuracy.

The Marine Corps and Navy still do not require audits of these factories. The Air Force and Army exchanges do, but the audits can come from retailers, and defense officials fail to do routine spot checks to confirm their accuracy.

For now, Bangladesh’s garment sector continues to grow, as do purchases from one of its bulk buyers. In the year since Tazreen burned down, American military stores have shipped even more clothes from Bangladesh.

This is the human equivalent of factory farming and every decent American citizen should be appalled that this is happening on multiple levels. Please share this post to raise awareness.

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Mike

Cambodia strike faces deadly crackdown – Features – Al Jazeera English

Cambodia strike faces deadly crackdown – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – As hundreds of heavily-armed military police began moving in to quell protesting garment workers Friday morning, Neang Davin looked on nervously.

“Last night I didn’t join anything, I was just driving my motorbike and stopped to watch. The police arrived, they didn’t ask anything, they just went in and began beating us,” said Davin, leaning on a bamboo stick for support. “Even though we ran into the market, we weren’t confronting them; they just went in and started beating us. They hit me on the back with a baton.”

Clashes between police and protesters that began after midnight Friday on the outskirts of Phnom Penh escalated Saturday morning leaving at least four shot dead and 23 seriously injured.

While the government lay the blame at the feet of protesters who pushed back security forces with rocks, Molotov cocktails and homemade weapons, none of those injured were police, admitted Military Police Spokesman Kheng Tito.

Instead, it was striking workers and bystanders who bore the brunt of an unusually harsh retaliation by police who appear to have grown weary of peacefully breaking up the protests that have roiled Phnom Penh for the past week.

Garment worker woes

On December 24, workers began striking en masse after the government announced it would be raising the minimum wage from $80 a month to $95 – an offer that fell far short of unions call for $160 a month. By the time the Ministry of Labour caved a week later and agreed to an extra $5 a month boost, the genie was out of the bottle. Years of chronic underpayment and poor working conditions had pushed at least half of the nation’s estimated 600,000 workers into the streets.

The unions cannot control [the situation] at this moment.

-Khun Tharo, Solidarity Center/ACILS programme officer

Separately, at the behest of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, some 80 percent of factories voluntarily shut their gates fearing violence; a move that has sent a $5bn industry into a near standstill.

“The unions cannot control [the situation] at this moment,” said Khun Tharo, a programme officer with Solidarity Centre, an American labour rights group. “It’s going to affect the industry as a whole.”

Garments account for Cambodia’s largest export industry. Brands like H&M, Puma, Adidas, Nike, the Gap and Walmart source from Cambodia, which set up its garment industry in the late 1990s to employ a unique UN-monitoring system that was meant to ensure factories were unusually well-run.

Instead, conditions and real wages have plummeted over the past decade, leading to mounting desperation among workers for whom 72 hour work-weeks are not unusual. After elections in July saw the poorest showing yet for Cambodia’s strong-arm prime minister, garment workers have grown increasingly vocal in their call for higher wages.

“In terms of the general level of unrest, we haven’t seen anything like this in Cambodia for over 15 years, since anti-government protests in 1998. But the protests we are seeing now appear larger, and broader in terms of the issues of concern and those taking part,” said Amnesty International Cambodia researcher Rupert Abbott.

While those demonstrations for the most part have been nonviolent, increasing pushback by authorities has amped up protesters, said Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc.

“When they started to organise demonstrations, they used nonviolent ways but the armed forces came and used violence against the protesters, that’s what made them angry,” he said.

Increasing hostilities

On Thursday, soldiers from an elite battalion of the armed forces moved in on a demonstration that took place outside a factory from which the Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic sources. In addition to beating an unknown number of workers, they arrested 15 people – including five monks and the leader of the informal sector union. The monks were released, but ten were sent to court today and face charges of inciting violence, said Saray.

As night fell, said Saray, there were reports that police would be going in to clear the street – which had taken on the look of a battleground by mid-afternoon.

Local authorities did their best to protect the interest of the private and public property.

-Ek Tha, government spokesperson

“They plan to continue to crack down tonight, try to clean up the street of Veng Sreng because the protesters may try to demonstrate on the street…that’s why we’re concerned about more violence.”

Ek Tha, a government spokesman, said escalating violence came only after authorities were “provoked.”

“Local authorities did their best to protect the interest of the private and public property. As far as I understand, there were some troublemakers who provoked the problems, so the authority need to take law and order in place to safeguard the private and public property,” he said.

But Abbott said the use of such force flew in the face of international rights standards.

“If an assembly turns violent, as appears to have been the case today in Cambodia, security forces should use only such force as is strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty. They may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary for defence against an imminent threat of death or serious injury.”

Among those injured was 23-year-old Kieng Sinak, who was being treated at a local hospital for a piece of shrapnel that had pierced his eye.

A doctor told family members his eye would not recover.

“We are so poor, I don’t know how we can spend the money for surgery,” said his brother-in-law Roeun Sayeth.

Like many garment workers, Sinak’s rice-farming family relies on his scanty wages to support a number of members.

“He sends money every month, he supports three of his siblings and his parents,” said Sayeth.

“I’m not sure he will recover enough after surgery to be able to return to work,” said his cousin Chor Sokley.

A few hundred metres away from Sinak’s room, family members of those shot dead gathered outside the hospital’s mortuary for news of their relatives.

Blinking back tears, the sister-in-law of deceased Yean Rithy said she was unsure how his wife and two-year-old child would fare.

Like many others, she was aghast at suggestions the protesters were to blame.

“The protesters just have empty hands. The police have guns. So how could they be at fault?”

Cambodia garment workers’ strike turns deadly – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Cambodia garment workers’ strike turns deadly – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

At least three Cambodians have been killed when police opened fire on garment workers on strike, as a nationwide wave of protests, backed by the main opposition party, presses on in demand for wages to be doubled.

An Associated Press photographer and human rights workers said police fired AK-47 rifles on Friday, after several hundred workers blocking a road south of the capital Phnom Penh began burning tires and throwing objects at them. Several wounded workers could be seen after the shots were fired.

Cambodia garment workers’ strike turns deadly

Phnom Penh deputy police commissioner Chuon Narin told AFP news agency that three people had been killed and several others wounded in the capital.

About 500,000 Cambodians are employed in the garment industry, the country’s biggest export earner worthing $5bn a year to the economy. The government has offered $100 as a minimum monthly wage, short of a $160 wage pledged by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

The clash comes a day after Cambodian soldiers forcefully quelled a separate demonstration by striking workers, marking a violent turning point after two weeks of relatively peaceful strikes, marches and demonstrations of unprecedented scale in Cambodia. Security forces, which have a reputation for zero-tolerance, have so far exercised restraint.

The violence comes at a time of political stress, as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has protested daily for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down and call for new elections.

Hun Sen won elections last July that extended his 28-year rule in the poor Southeast Asia nation, but protesters led by opposition head Sam Rainsy accuse him of rigging the vote. Hun Sen has rejected their demand.

Although the wage and election issues are not directly linked, Cambodia’s opposition has had long and close ties with the country’s labour movement.

Cambodian troops in riot gear break up strike – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Cambodian troops in riot gear break up strike – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

Two witnesses said they saw troops striking a Buddhist monk [Reuters]
Cambodian troops armed with batons and rifles have broken up a protest by textile workers demanding a doubling of wages as part of a nationwide strike by unions allied with the main opposition party.Witnesses said around 100 soldiers wearing riot gear and carrying assault rifles on Thursday used force to clear hundreds of workers protesting outside their factory about 20km west of the capital, Phnom Penh.

“Soldiers beat up everyone,” said labour rights activist Chhorn Sokha of the Community Legal Education Center. “They had sticks, electric batons, slingshots and stones.”

Soldiers beat up everyone. They had sticks, electric batons, slingshots and stones,Chhorn Sokha, Labour rights activist, Community Legal Education Center

At least 10 protesters were detained and it was not known yet how many were hurt, she added.

Photographers, including one from Reuters news agency, were hit by batons while covering the protest. Two witnesses said they also saw troops striking a Buddhist monk.

The clashes mark a violent turn after two weeks of relatively peaceful strikes, marches and demonstrations of unprecedented scale in Cambodia. Security forces, which have a reputation for zero-tolerance, have so far exercised restraint.

The garment workers, whose industry is a major employer worth $5bn a year to the economy, have joined protests led by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which says it was cheated out of more than two million votes in an election last July.

The CNRP has courted some 350,000 garment factory workers with the promise of a minimum monthly wage equivalent to $160, a proposal dismissed by the government as unsustainable.

Their support for the CNRP represents one of the biggest challenges to the 28-year rule of authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

He has been credited with steering Cambodia away from being a war-scarred failed state to a promising frontier market, but opponents say his power comes not from the people, but from the sway he has over independent institutions and allege he rigged the election, which he denies.

The strike has blocked roads briefly in Phnom Penh and threatened to cripple an industry that is the biggest foreign currency earner for Cambodia, one of Asia’s poorest states. The government offered on December 24 to raise the minimum wage from $80 to $95, but the unions have rejected that.

Gap Adidas, Nike and Puma are among big brands that outsource manufacturing of footwear and apparel to Cambodian factories, in part due to the cheaper labour costs than China.

 

Cambodia tensions threaten to boil over – Features – Al Jazeera English

Cambodia tensions threaten to boil over – Features – Al Jazeera English.

 

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