Simple, honest Cambodians versus bullies in bulldozers
As most people enjoy the cheer of Christmas and all its festivities, a grandmother and mother to a disabled son languish in jail. The mother is unable to care for her vulnerable family or enjoy the season that is supposed to be filled with cheer.
Sixty-five year old Tim Sakmony’s story is a sad reflection of the Cambodian government’s continued program of forced evictions. For speaking out about the impending loss of her home and her subsequent fears for her disabled child, she has been forced into silence, through what Amnesty International believes are trumped up charges.
Bulldozing slums is nothing new in Cambodia and the Australian government was at one stage dragged into this shocking practice of human rights abuse during the construction of the Australian embassy in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.
This modern monument of steel, glass and concrete should have marked the beginning of an exciting new era in Cambodia in 2009 but now stands as a very visible reminder of the Cambodian government’s relentless campaign of forced evictions.
That’s because the construction of the Australian Embassy was undertaken only after the local families that lived there were dragged kicking and screaming from their shanty homes to make way for it.
Because of their part in protesting acts like this, Tim and fellow activist Yorm Bopha will on Boxing Day face trial at Phnom Penh Municipal Court and could be sentenced to between six months and five years in jail if found guilty.
More than three years on from the scandalous forced eviction of ‘Group 78’ to make way for the Australian embassy, the bulldozers are now squarely aimed at the Borei Keila and Boeung Kak lake communities.
These are also, by no coincidence, communities where Tim and Yorm have been outspoken critics of the government’s program of forced evictions. And sadly, instead of engaging meaningfully with communities about the realities of development and relocation, Cambodia has responded to this outcry by attempting to bully people into submission.
So sensitive are the authorities to criticism that they have Tim facing charges in part brought upon her for her request for the apartment promised to her disabled son as compensation for being forcibly evicted from her home.
As Amnesty International and our supporters raise awareness about these blatant human rights abuses, we lead the call for Australians to make their disgust at this practice known. That’s because despite the Cambodian government acting like a bully in its own backyard, as with many bullies, they are likely to stop when they’re confronted about their appalling behaviour.
As most Australians gather to watch the Boxing day Test, these two inspiring women face charges for crimes they didn’t commit. But while the match unfolds, we will continue to send a message to the government of Cambodia, amid the growing public outcry gathering outside of the country, this campaign of forced evictions must end.
Amnesty activists are going to be writing letters and sending emails over the Christmas break to demand the release of Yorm and Tim, bolstered in knowing that we’ve had this fight before and won.
This year as you relax with your family over the Christmas break, pause for a second and think about what it would be like to live under threat of eviction from your own home. Consider adding ‘make the world a better place’ to your new year’s resolution list and join Amnesty in its fight to hold governments to account.
This resolution could also be the priceless gift sitting at the top of people like Yorm and Tim’s Christmas wish list.
Simply show your support alongside Amnesty for these two inspiring women by clicking here.
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