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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - An open letter to the forgotten contestants

An open letter to the forgotten contestants

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Thou Chorn, who represents Takeo province in the Miss Landmine beauty pageant.

The Miss Landmine ban has trampled basic rights.

To the candidates of Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009:
My dear, brave, beautiful friends and most respected collaborators!

By now, I hope and believe that you have all been informed about the government's last-minute change of heart and subsequent decision to ban Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009.

Few, if any, of you are likely to be The Phnom Penh Post readers, but look at this as a message in a bottle that I am now dropping in the river of hearsay, hoping that its currents will sooner or later reach Mondulkiri, Pailin, Sihanoukville, Kompong Thom and all the other places where you live.
I am really sorry that we were not allowed to see each other before I had to leave Cambodia. After our last-ditch negotiations with the Ministry of Social Affairs made it clear that the ban was final and irreversible, my stated wish was to invite all of you to a farewell dinner in Phnom Penh to be able to talk to you all in person about all that has happened and apologise to you for my partial responsibility for any disappointment, discomfort and worry you might now be experiencing. However, the government will not even allow us to meet, even in private.

Furthermore, provincial authorities all over the country have been instructed to prevent any of you from coming to Phnom Penh to see me and the rest of our team.

Besides being a slap in the face to all of us who have been working together preparing the Miss Landmine Cambodia event for almost two years now, the Cambodian government's latest actions are clearly a serious breach of several fundamental human rights, as stated in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 13.1: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.1: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

No matter what differences of opinion there might be over the form of an awareness-raising art project, the hallmark of a free and democratic society is one where its citizens are free to exercise those rights without any fear of persecution or harassment.

The last weeks' events have shown that the Cambodian state is swiftly moving ever further in the opposite, totalitarian direction. As Karl Marx, an inspiration for both current and previous Kampuchean governments, once said: "History repeats itself first time as tragedy, second time as farce."

To me, a most telling fact is that nobody in the government or any other critics of our project has ever bothered to ask you, the main protagonists of this performance, about how you feel about taking part. Maybe because they suspect that they wouldn't have gotten the answers that they wanted.
This clearly shows that although our message is banned in Cambodia for the time being, we still succeeded in one of our main objectives:
exposing the condescending attitudes of those who always seem to believe that they know better than yourself what is good for you. Whether that comes from a genuine but misguided desire to help and "protect" disabled people, or from general, village-level prejudices against who look different, those two seemingly opposite attitudes are really just two sides of the same coin.

Meanwhile, the show goes on out here in the free world. More than 2,000 people from all over the world have already voted for their favourite candidate, and thousands more will follow until World Disability Day on December 3. Your pictures have been and are being shown on the front pages of magazines, Web sites, TV broadcasts all over the world, in countries like Argentina, Chile, Denmark, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, the US, Vietnam and even Zimbabwe!

Now, more than ever, you are being heard and seen by millions across the world who think you are brave, strong and sa'aat. Hopefully, knowing this will keep your belief in yourself and our mission strong until we meet again. Everybody still has the right to be beautiful!

All the best from yours, Bong Barang, Morten Traavik, director of Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009.

Morten Traavik is an artist, actor and theatre/film director from Norway. He is also the founder and director of the Miss Landmine beauty pageant, first held in Angola in 2007.

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