Cablegate: Global Witness Report: Accusations, Threats,
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0820/01 1660528
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 150528Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8570
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 2317
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000820
STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL
BANGKOK FOR REO JIM WALLER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/15/2017
TAGS: ECON PGOV PHUM SENV CB
SUBJECT: GLOBAL WITNESS REPORT: ACCUSATIONS, THREATS,
Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Margaret McKean; Reason 1.4 (b) (d)
1. (C) Summary. On June 1, U.K.-based Global Witness made public a 95-page "Cambodia's Family Trees" report. The report's content is extremely confrontational by Cambodian standards as it accuses well-connected government and military officials of illegal logging activity, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Unhelpfully, the Cambodian Government responded by banning the report and calling on other governments to cut off funding to Global Witness. On June 13, United Nations Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) Deputy Representative Henrik Stenman visited Pol/Econoffs requesting Embassy assistance for a Cambodian printer, XXXXXXXXXXXX, who is receiving death threats linked to his role in publishing the Khmer-language version of Global Witness report. In addition to the reported death threat, one provincial governor (who also is Prime Minister Hun Sen's brother) was quoted making inflammatory comments interpreted by Global Witness as a threat to Global Witness representatives who come to Cambodia. When the dust settles, it is uncertain what the report's impact on Cambodia's environment will be -- as in other Southeast Asian cultures, the Khmer balk at the confrontational approach. While other NGOs chug along with quiet and often effective strategies working with the government, Global Witness may have only served to further shut down an avenue of communication. End summary.
BACKGROUND: GLOBAL WITNESS IN CAMBODIA
2. (U) Global Witness came to Cambodia in 1995 with a mission to stop illegal logging and to improve governance, transparency and accountability in the country's forest industry. In 1999 the Consultative Group of donor countries established a "Forest Crimes Monitoring Unit" to help the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) build its own capacity to prevent illegal logging. Donors appointed Global Witness as the independent monitor of this process. Global Witness published reports in 2001, March 2002, and July 2002 citing links between RGC and military officials and illegal logging activity. (Note: The reports are available on the Global Witness website www.globalwitness.org.) By 2003, the RGC had had enough of the allegations and fired Global Witness denouncing the organization as having a "hostile, untruthful, unjust and destructive attitude" that damaged the RGC. The organization no longer has an office in the Cambodia but continues to report on the logging situation here. Global Witness published "Taking a Cut: Institutionalised Corruption and Illegal Logging in Cambodia's Aural Wildlife Sanctuary" in 2004, and the most-recent June 2007 report, "Cambodia's Family Trees: Illegal Logging and the Stripping of Public Assets."
3. (U) The report is bold in its accusations of nepotism and criminal activities. It calls out Prime Minister Hun Sen's first cousin Dy Chouch (a.k.a. Hun Chouch), Dy Chouch's ex-wife Seng Keang, and Khun Thong, an in-law of the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as leaders of Cambodia's most powerful logging syndicate. It alleges the Prime Minister's 4,000-member bodyguard unit, known as the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 (Brigade 70), is financed by illegal logging activities. It lists illegal activities by logging players: kidnapping, attempted murder, tax evasion, fraud, and illegal logging. Finally, it blames the international donor community for allowing the RGC to exploit international aid without accountability.
4. (U) On page 73 of the report, Global Witness features information on U.S. assistance to the RGC military. The text raises concerns that U.S. fiscal year 2006 funding for military trucks and spare parts could inadvertently support the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces' alleged illegal logging activity. The text does make reference to USG policy not to support units or individuals who have committed human rights violations.
5. (SBU) On June 7, the Ambassador spoke with a Global Witness representative at the latter's request. The Ambassador expressed USG support for the broad concerns cited in the Global Witness report including illegal logging, corruption, and land grabbing. The Ambassador added, however, that most of the specific allegations against individuals found in the Global Witness report were unsubstantiated and lacked credible evidence. He further questioned the effectiveness of Global Witness's approach in helping prevent the deforestation of Cambodia's rainforest. Regarding US military assistance, the Ambassador noted that any such equipment would be carefully monitored and that better training of Cambodia's police and military could actually help prevent the problems Global Witness seeks to counter.
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE: BAN THE REPORT
6. (U) Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith came out with a government ban on the Global Witness report shortly after it was released to the public. Later the Cambodian Embassy in London issued a statement appealing to donor states to cut off their financial support for Global Witness. The RGC justified their obstructive reaction by stating the report's allegations are not true. The RGC is also spotlighting information in the report attributed to anonymous or confidential sources which they say is unreliable. They say they will conduct their own investigation into the report's claims through Cambodia's current independent forest sector monitor, Societe Generale de Surveillance.
7. (C) In separate meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, and Om Yentieng, a close advisor to the Prime Minister, the Ambassador bluntly informed them that efforts to ban the Global Witness report would prove counterproductive and ineffective. By seeking to ban the report, he explained, many observers would conclude that the allegations in the report must be accurate. Om Yentieng confided that the Prime Minister had wanted to ignore the report, but other CPP members insisted on a more confrontational approach. The Ambassador urged RGC officials and the Global Witness representative to engage in a quiet, candid dialogue about corruption and illegal logging.
8. (SBU) Other environmental NGOs in Cambodia say most of the information in the Global Witness document is old news -- having either made an appearance in previous Global Witness reports or been taken as common knowledge by groups long ago. The difference in this report is that Global Witness decided to name the high-level government officials and their family members who are allegedly involved in illegal activity. Additionally, Global Witness purposely released the report just in advance of the June 19-20 government-donor coordination meeting. Partly because of this, the RGC likely felt pressed to rebut the reports allegations. However, the severe response makes the government look bad. Particularly when the report hubbub is likely to blow over on its own and, in fact, already seems to be doing so. In the case of the 2004 Global Witness report, the RGC banned that edition, too, but found itself able to skate by the report's allegations without having to take serious steps towards reform. (Note: Interestingly, President of human rights NGO LICADHO Dr. Kek Galabru told Poloff that when the RGC banned the 2004 reports, about 2,000 copies of it were seized at the international airport in Phnom Penh. The reports soon disappeared, Galabru said, through the hands of airport workers and others who were eager to read the information. End note.)
THREATS AND INTIMIDATION
9. (C) On June 13, United Nations Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) Deputy Representative Henrik Stenman and Human Rights Officer Julie De Rivero visited Pol/Econoffs requesting Embassy assistance for a XXXXXXXXXXXX, who is receiving death threats because of his role publishing the Khmer version of the controversial report. XXXXXXXXXXXX. Via UNOHCHR, he applied for a tourist visa to the U.S. to visit his son, mother- and sister-in-laws in Minnesota for up to three months until he feels it is safe to return to Cambodia. He is currently set to travel to the U.S. on June 15.
10. (C) Unconfirmed media reports stated Prime Minister Hun Sen's brother, Kampong Cham province governor Hun Neng, issued an open-ended threat to any Global Witness staff who comes to Cambodia that he would "hit them until their heads are broken." Kek Galabru XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff most Global Witness staff left the country in anticipation of threats and before the recent report was published. WildAid Program Manager Michelle Owen said that other environmental NGOs in Cambodia decided not to publicly support or confirm any of Global Witness's findings specifically because they worry the RGC might retaliate against them. USAID-funded WildAid operates on a working-level with Forest Administration rangers and military police to conduct confiscations of luxury wood and other natural products. Owen said the WildAid does not face many threats or intimidation in their day-to-day work. However, she says there have been a few violent incidents in the past year when she has wondered if someone with government connections might be involved. On the other hand, WildAid's director insists that the highest level of the RGC are always responsive to her concerns and have intervened to assist in protecting the areas under WildAid management.
11. (SBU) The mission of watchdog groups such as Global Witness demands they make public allegations of corruption and harmful government activities. However, in the Cambodian culture, like other Southeast Asian cultures, such an approach to problems often only serves to shut down communication. The public calling out of government officials does not give them an opportunity to "save face," as is so important in Khmer society. Arguably, Global Witness can have adverse effects on their own cause by working outside cultural norms. The Global Witness report itself tells of Cambodia's unchecked forest degradation by government officials despite Global Witness's past efforts. The Danish assistance organization, Danida, stated in their 2007 Atlas of Cambodia that forest changes accelerated more between 2002 and 2005 than in previous periods. Global Witness's method of approach has alienated the Cambodian Government and has not prevented damage to Cambodia's forests. Unlike the watchdog groups, other environmental NGOs such as WildAid use quieter tactics and tend to work together with the Cambodian Government to reach their ecological goals.