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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NGOs debate over use of armed guards

NGOs debate over use of armed guards

NGOs have been debating whether to use armed protection due to insecurity and

the high rate of crime in the country.

Aid organizations first raised

the question of the ethics of armed protection among themselves at the beginning

of the year. Some NGOs argued armed protection was contradictory to the nature

of their work.

This led to American Friends Service Committee

circulating a letter calling for NGOs to use non-violent means of protection

which stirred up the debate.

In the letter AFSC argued that using armed

guards "contributed to the level of violence by encouraging the use of weapons

and force to resolve problems".

It asked NGOs to reconsider the necessity

and implications of using armed guards and to consider non-violent means of

protection such as neighborhood watch systems and mail campaigns.


letter called for efforts to try and solve causes of security problems in a way

that encourages "non-violent action for changes in society."

The letter

emphasized the need to build trust and understanding within communities for

solutions that "create peace in Cambodia".

AFSC director Bill Harrod

said: "Those at risk put out a greater risk by being armed. Using armed guards

is an admission we're no longer able to function in their society."


has had two cars and two motorbikes stolen in Phnom Penh, some of them at


Of the number of NGOs surveyed by the Post, UNDP, Handicap

International, UNHCR, Unicef and Carere use armed guards, for the most part

provided by the government.

A UN spokesman said the majority of UNDP

offices used the armed guards made available to NGOs by the government.

He rejected the argument that using arms attracts problems. He said:

"That's one person's view. It does not enhance your vulnerability. Because of

the financial value and amount of assets we have, and for security reasons, yes

it's better for us to have arms. You'd be criticized if you didn't have


"If there was a robbery and I was an insurance agent, the first

thing I would want to know is were the guards armed."

In the UN

spokesman's view the security situation in Phnom Penh was worsening with an

increasing number of bag snatches and break-ins at staff residences.

World Vision International very nearly chose to use arms for the same

reason. Director Jai Sankar said his organization almost decided take up a

government offer to supply armed guards.

He said: "If the government,

under whose authority we live here, has made this offer and we haven't taken it

up, then when something happens how could we go to the government for help? They

could say 'We offered you protection'."

Sankar said the fears of World

Vision's own unarmed guards, who at one time felt their lives were threatened by

the high insecurity, was another factor that almost drove him to take up armed


However it was the objections of other NGOs whose premises

are near World Vision's that made them postpone the decision.


said: "Now we don't see the need. The situation has improved and we've got

alternative means of ensuring protection, for example by not attracting the

attention of robbers."

Care International have a policy of not using arms

for protection in any situation. Director Graham Miller told the Post that Care

had a policy worldwide not to have arms either in the office or in vehicles, or

to use armed escorts when traveling in the provinces.

He said: "We

believe arms could attract problems. Historically in countries like Somalia and

Kenya which have the same problem [as Cambodia] we choose not to have armed

escorts because often arms is what bandits are after. So we try to steer clear

of it."

The Halo Trust, a British-based demining organization, neither

carry weapons, nor employ armed guards, nor allow house guards to carry weapons.

Location Manager Chris Moon said: "Our position is we don't have

weapons. It's not in the field of what we're here to teach."

He said

Halo Trust is also against allowing armed police to accompany them in the

provinces unless there is a serious threat and they are advised to do so by the


Umbrella NGO group Co-operative Committee for Cambodia has

no overall policy on the question of armed protection. Coordinator Sally Lowe

said the committee left it up to individual NGOs to decide for


AFSC believes numerous means of non-violent protection are

available. They suggest mail campaigns, a neighborhood watch system, continued

dialogue with government authorities, support for control of weapons,

utilization of radio contact, public awareness programs, and making premises

appear occupied when they are empty.

Harrod says AFSC is not advocating

an overall policy for NGOs to adhere to, but is trying to discourage the use of

armed protection amongst NGOs and raise awareness of the ethics of armed

protection. NGO vehicles became a favorite target for robbers last year with

armed men waiting to steal them when their drivers returned to their




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