On 7 June 2007, German rock legend Herbert Groenenmeyer, U2's Bono, Bob Geldof and
civil society umbrella organization Global Call to Action against Poverty organized
the P-8 Rock Concert in Rostock, Germany to highlight the plight of the world's poor,
to coincide with the G-8 Summit where the leaders of the world richest countries
were meeting in nearby, seaside Heiligendamm. I represented Cambodia, one of the
"Poor 8" countries invited, along with Bangladesh, represented by Nobel
laureate Mohammad Yunus. Following is my speech to an electric crowd of 80,000 and
several million more TV viewers.
Hallo Rostock !
My name is Theary Seng and I run the Center for Social Development in Cambodia. The
Center for Social Development is a Cambodian human rights NGO which monitors 7 courts
(including the Khmer Rouge Tribunal), advocates for good governance and accountability
(many times with Transparency International) and conducts grassroots dialogue with
villagers all over Cambodia on Justice & Reconciliation. One of our main donors
is Deutscher Entwicklungsdienst.
I stand united with you today to resoundingly proclaim: Poverty is not fate. Poverty
is not destiny. Poverty is man-made; it results from the greed and arrogance of power,
poor governance and ill-conceived policies. Today, we join voices against the scourge
of poverty and to urge the G-8 leaders to be more mindful of Cambodians and the less
fortunate of this world.
Yes, Cambodia is back - but not everyone. In Cambodia, 35 percent live on less than
50 US cents a day.
Lack of education causes poverty
Enrollment is up, but we have one in two Cambodian child not completing primary school.
The girls are most vulnerable to dropping out first because of the lack of toilets
- 10 Million out of 14 Million Cambodians do not have access to toilets - or the
girls are needed at home to care for sick family or they are trafficked and sold
into prostitution or they have to work to supplement the family income. In Cambodia,
education is supposed to be free, but students must often supplement teachers' meager
salary of $30 a month.
War causes poverty
Poverty causes war. We, in Cambodia, had to start literally from the Year Zero, when
almost 2 million Cambodians died as a result of the Khmer Rouge, including my parents
- my dad immediately when the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, and my mom later when
we were in prison and I was 7 years old.
Corruption causes poverty
In Cambodia, the Anti-Corruption Law has been in draft form since 1995; 12 years
later, still no political will, still no law. Now we struck oil, and fear the Resource
Curse. If big businesses control more and more of the world's resources, they must
bear social responsibility. Let them start with transparency of information of what
they pay to government, and let us join the Publish What You Pay movement to pressure
them to do so.
Environmental destruction causes poverty
At least 30% of Cambodia's dense, tropical forests have been illegally depleted by
the rich and powerful. Last Sunday, Global Witness - which the government has banned
from the country for its past reports - released via the internet another scathing
report. On my way to join you here, the Cambodian government again threatens confiscation.
Landlessness causes poverty
The Cambodian poor face illegal evictions, or they are forced to sell their land
cheaply to pay for heath care and life's unexpected crises.
The G-8 leaders believe they can judge our future. In Cambodia, we are currently
trying to judge our past for our future. But at least, the G-8 are 8 individuals
who control and possess power; in Cambodia, there's only one.
So, today, let us be reminded: Poverty is not destiny. Poverty many times is man-made.
Poverty is the worst form of violence. Hence, let us do everything in our power to
fight against this worst form of violence.
Amidst the poverty, there's also much beauty in Cambodia; come visit us. We still
need your help.
And today onward, ich bin eine Rostockerin ! Danke schön
Theary C. Seng
The Voice of Justice column is a regular feature of the Phnom Penh Post. Both the
column and the logo are expressions of the Center for Social Development (CSD) which
bears full responsibility for the opinions expressed. The CSD Voice of Justice logo
depicts a Cambodian figure pushing aside the black curtains of a repressive past,
as s/he yearns to enter a world of freedom of expression and democracy, represented
by the blue of the inner circle. The scales of justice above the figure show the
supremacy of law, and are in gold, which according to Cambodian mythology stands
for strength, rooted in the earth. The Constitution is placed in front of the figure
to represent the protection it affords. The logo is encircled in pale blue to symbolize
peace, whilst the two golden naga motifs, which appear on the CSD logo, identify
the Voice of Justice as a program of CSD.