Saturday, October 31, 2009

Well Done Kep Thmey

In an exciting turn of events this week, Kep Thmey villagers took the gutsy step of appealing to the Prime Minister to voice their concerns over an economic development project on their coastal waters. What some describe as a bizarre plan, two weathly businessmen plan to fill in roughly 9 kilometers of coastal water to create a new special economic zone (SEZ).

Why Cambodia needs to create land for an SEZ as many others lie vacant and bereft of investors, is a question begging to be asked and answered.

On Wednesday the Keo Chea company began filling in coastal waters directly in front of Kep Thmey village. Villlagers were unprepared and were able to do little but give token resistance. They were easily moved out of the way of over 100 large trucks by 60 police. On Thursday morning an un named resister (or resisters) cut down a tree to prevent access to the village, but again were easily thwarted with overpowering machinery.

Completely daunted by the company, yet still willing to risk all, villagers, including Chan Dara, travelled to the PM's residence in Ta Khmao on Friday and amazingly their petition was recieved by prime ministerial secretary Nov Nara.

Well done Kep Thmey!

Officials politely asked the villagers to return home and wait for a response after the Water Festival. Hah! We've seen similar delay tactics before (remember Dey Krahorm?!). In the mean time company trucks will continue delivering payloads of dirt. Keep up the pressure, and voice your dissent until you get a fair hearing and the change in company's plans that you want.

Coastal waters may sound a little irrelevant, but they are a major source of economic activity for the villagers of Kep Thmey, Totung Thgnay and Roluos. Not to mention their cultural heritage as fishing communities. Without this natural resource their livelihood will be severely curtailed and need to look for work elsewhere (ie a dead-end factory job or moto dope).

Upcoming Posts

The Problem With Negotiation.
Negotiation skills seem like a simple capacity building project. However, negotiations can exacerbate conflicts and undermine community empowerment.

Community: A Misnomer?
In land conflicts all over the country, newspapers and NGO papers often refer to "the community" as if it were a homogenous entity. Without acknowledging the complicated web of social arrangements present in a geographic locale nonviolent efforts will go to waste.

Peace and Justice: Cambodia - PJC

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The First Word

Unless you happen to be one of the groopies, nonviolence seems kinda wierd, doesn't it? I mean, it sounds whimpy at best, ineffective and idealist in a real world of real violence, at worst. But I want to change that perception that both you and I are likely to hold. We are told from knee-high and earlier that violence is part of the natural order. From Tom & Jerry to Die Hard violence gives us both laughs and adrenaline rushes we will be chasing for many years to come.

Nonviolence is a completely different story. Hence the title. Telling it requires patience and some eye surgery. It is a commitment to see things quite differently. A paradigm shift, you might say. And it takes some time to make the shift. It takes some healing (of ourselves and others) to deeply value it's alternative vision.

More than that, nonviolence attempts to offer concrete solutions to concrete problems. The problem of violence is not just cartoon fable, but something which assails us from many angles - CNN and BBC coverage of the "War on Terror" to news items of 15 year-olds in 'indefinite confinement' for their destructive urges. Clearly violence is more than just a projection, but a hard reality of wars both 'out there' and 'in here'.

I've found the journey to nonviolence hard work. I've uncovered violent urges I had preferred to ignore and deny, a penchant for the Myth of Redemptive Violence (more on this later) that seems almost unquenchable. At the same time I reject violence and desire nonviolent techniques for solving the most mundane to the most blood-curdling of issues. It could be argued I embody humanity's great capacity for cognitive dissonance.

I'm particularly concerned with Cambodia. With the ever-increasing economic 'development' that leaves most Cambodians with less, and a few with a lot more. It is not a new story by any means. What is new is the emerging story of nonviolent responses to violence and development-induced repression that began with Maha Ghosananda during the Khmer Rouge years. Each day new communities are forced into the economic development 'reality', and required to make a choice: fight, flight or nonviolent resistance. The few who chose the latter are often untrained in the ways of strategic nonviolence. In addition, few who try to support those local responses know much about nonviolence themselves, and focus more on human rights and legal process. These certainly have their place, yet the local Cambodian resister needs more.

Trucks empty loads of soil into the sea to create a new economic 'development', despite community protests.

I floated the idea of a nonviolent action and research 'entity' a while back with some folks and the response was positive, and any who didn't like the idea have yet to inform me! So the idea of a forum, this blog, has emerged in the attempt to be more collaborative and engaging than the current attempt at a website ( which has been received quite well.

This blog is attempting something different, though. Rather than focusing on the negatives, the abuses, violence and general feelings of hopelessness (there's more than enough of that already), this blog will focus on thinking through what a nonviolent response could look like, and celebrating the stories that have made use of active nonviolence in some shape or form.

To end, this blog is an invitation for you to join in on telling the nonviolent story. From where you are now on the journey. Your questions, insights, learnings, hopes and dreams. So sign up for RSS, make a comment, or if you'd like to contribute a post contact me at peaceandjustice.cambodia[at]

Peace & Jusitce: Cambodia (PJC)

End Notes:
Myth of Redemptive Violence - term coined by theologian and nonviolence proponent, Walter Wink, and refers to the notion that violence is able to redeem evil. Hence the US can start a violent 'shock and awe' campaign at the beginning of their invasion of Iraq during the 'War on Terror'. This is to say, violence used for the cause of the greater good will redeem violence used in the cause of evil.

Cognitive Dissonance - psychological term referring to the ability to hold two or more contradictory positions at one time. Eg "teenage violence is a scourge on our nation" and "anyone who opposes the war is unpatriotic".