“When we are motivated by compassion and wisdom, the results of our actions benefit everyone, not just our individual selves or some immediate convenience. When we are able to recognise and forgive ignorant actions of the past, we gain strength to constructively solve the problems of the present,” said His Holiness the Dali Lama in one of his lectures.
Showing compassion, as a world leader, is a core skill that shapes relationships between countries and helps builds meaningful peaceful relations between nations – something that is very badly needed now in the tribalistic and backward-looking spirit of populism espoused by Donald Trump’s in his “Make America Great” campaign.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly urged the United States to show compassion and end its practice of forcibly deporting convicts with Cambodian heritage to the Kingdom.
“We request an amendment to the agreement on deportation. Such deportation splits up families of our Cambodian people,” said the prime minister in a speech last year. “When they are jailed in the US, their families are allowed to visit them in the prison. However, when they are deported, they are far apart from their families.”
For those left behind in the United States, the break-up of families often results in severe emotional consequences. A survey conducted in the US recently revealed that 70 percent of deportees and family members exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, including hopelessness, despair, sadness and shock.
But these numerous pleas from Mr Hun Sen, to show compassion, have just fallen on the Trump administration’s deaf ears.
In the run-up to Khmer New Year, at a time when families are supposed to be together, the US forcibly deported 43 Cambodian citizens who were convicted of crimes in America. This was the largest group ever deported and they arrived in Cambodia on Wednesday.
In an opinion piece published in Khmer Times’, Khmer Girls in Action – an advocacy group in Long Beach, California, pointed out that the aftermath of deportation is a heavy burden that impacts women who take on the role of supplementing their family income when the main income earner, most often males, are detained or deported.
The most disturbing part of these forced deportations is that a substantial number of the individuals who have been forcefully removed from the US include individuals with mental disabilities or mental illnesses.
A recent study done by the California State University of Long Beach indicates that many of the Cambodian deportees showed symptoms of depression which also impacted their ability to work and keep jobs. The study also found that those with mental health problems could only keep jobs for six months or less.
The forced deportation of these “special needs” Cambodians just highlights the cruel consequences of deporting non-US citizens with mental disabilities or mental illnesses and the difficulty in caring from them once they arrive in Cambodia.
The routine deportation of individuals with mental disabilities implicates the rights to life, health and medical care outlined within international human rights law. The International Covenant for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESR), for example, “recognises the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
Enforcement bodies, like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, hold that the removal of persons with serious medical needs to countries where they cannot receive treatment violates these articles.
Despite this, the US has the temerity to arm-twist Cambodia on human rights when Washington itself practices double standards in the forced deportations of non-citizens. In May 2000 the United States was voted off of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. This reflected the frustration of much of the international community with the United States’ increasingly obstructionist approach to international institutionalism.
The United States’ opposition to the proposed International Criminal Court (ICC) reflects its pursuit of double standards in human rights policy. Double standards are manifest in US support for Israel and Turkey with their records of gross human rights violations.
The ideals of tolerance, equality and equal rights are now shattered in the US with the demonization of non-citizens, tolerated vulgar expressions of racism and the rise of white supremacist groups. Can we now expect more planeloads of deported Cambodians?