Cockfighting Roosters, Impunity and “Inner Slavery:” Anatomy of a Society Incident

Chicken are seen on a truck at a market in Phnom Penh on January 25, 2013. Photo by TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP

Raising roosters for cockfighting in the middle of Phnom Penh on the rooftop terrace of a building on Preah Sihanouk Boulevard near the junction of Monivong Boulevard: This is what I will talk to you about this week as it illustrates, in its own way, the worst quirks of social life in the country.

I heard the story from the owner of the apartment whose terrace is next to the one where frolic those birds that are noisy and malodorous when raised in such conditions.

For this neighbor, the nightmare started insidiously with the arrival of the first bird. Beside the fact that the rooster would scream “cocorico” at untimely hours, the disturbance, while real when this brutally wakes you up well before sunrise, could be bearable. 

But, little by little, one and then two, and then three, and finally as many as nine roosters roamed freely on the neighboring terrace. Infernal noise every night, smell of excrement, birds intruding on her terrace: This neighbor started living a nightmare. And not only her, but the other residents of the building as well.

She complained to the people who were taking care of the animals—people who were probably working in the motorcycle stores on the ground floor of the buildings next door. They told her bluntly to go away. The empty beer cans thrown on the terrace floor led one to believe that she was not dealing with devoted Buddhists or with people who, for lack of being concerned about the wellbeing of their neighbors, would be concerned about maintaining good neighborly relations and respecting laws and regulations. Because, while raising cockfighting roosters is not an offense in itself, betting money on those fights is prohibited.

Knowing that she was not the only resident to be affected by those bothering birds, the neighbor attempted to organize a common front with her neighbors to try to force those difficult, if not frightening, bird breeders to move those creatures.

But no one wanted to join her. She was even advised not to pursue her action. It was even suggested that, if worst came to worst, she would be the one seen as causing trouble. Why this reaction? Fear.

Their thinking was very simple: If those people raising cockfighting roosters were taking the liberty of showing such arrogance, it was because they were protected. By whom, we did not know. But no matter. There was therefore no other possible choice but to let go, unless one could find a person more powerful than the bird breeders’ alleged protectors so as to have a chance to succeed.        

“It’s impunity for some and inner slavery for others,” summed up the main victim of those feathered devils.

Had the people raising the roosters paid someone in authority since they were behaving as if they could not be affected by any complaint? To whom should the neighbors make payments for who knows whom to get out of this situation? These are the questions that, unfortunately, one ends up asking oneself in such a situation…

Not directly linked to this, although maybe it is, let’s point out the following. In the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released on Jan. 31, 2023, by Transparency International, Cambodia obtained a score of 24 out of 100, which is a slight improvement compared to the CPI score of 23 one year ago, which had been the third lowest score in the Asia-Pacific region behind Myanmar in 157th position and North Korea ranking 171th. This score on the Transparency International list of 180 countries and territories also put the country in 150th position in terms of corruption perception compared to 157th position one year ago, which represents progress made, although limited in spite of the efforts made by the authorities.   

No doubt because this corruption, which eats up the legitimacy of the legal authorities and establishes impunity as a norm of social functioning, spreads deeply throughout society, down to small events of daily life such as conflicts among neighbors…in which sometimes roosters—innocent gallinaceous birds—occupy center stage in the human comedy.            


Related Articles