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Cambodian Civil Society: Challenges and Prospects

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

Transcript of panel discussion

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh
Founder and Chairman
Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn
Executive Director
Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace

Program is followed by a Question and Answer Session

Nicholas Platt

Good morning, everybody. I’m Nick Platt. I’m President of the Asia Society and I’m delighted to welcome you this morning to our program, “Civil Society in Cambodia: Challenges and Prospects.” This morning’s program is a part of Asia Society’s new and exciting initiative called “Asian Social Issues Program,” a public-education initiative which looks at critical social challenges, like human-rights violations, poverty, environmental degradation, in various parts of Asia and considers the solutions and the responses that are being generated in the region to address these challenges in a sustainable and coherent manner.

The Asia Society, along with our co-sponsors, the Open Society Institute and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, is honored to welcome His Royal Highness Prince Norodom Sirivudh and Dr. Kao Kim Hourn. They will speak today on “Civil Society in Cambodia: The Challenges and the Prospects.” I’d like to acknowledge two special guests today: Mr. Akira Iriyama, President of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Shingo Nomura, a well-known philanthropist who gave the World Hunger Organization a gift of $10 million. Where are you Mr. Nomura? Thank you.

His Royal Highness Prince Norodom Sirivudh founded and chaired the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, a nonpolitical, nonpartisan research and policy organization. Dr. Kao Kim Horn is currently the Executive Director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace and also holds several offices in the Cambodian government.

Nearly a decade after Cambodia’s first post-Communist election, there’s been an acknowledgment that the effort by the UN to create a pluralistic democratic state was a failure and that the political power structure that existed prior to the election has returned. However, it’s become clear that the influx of foreign aid groups is producing a lasting legacy. A new era is taking root in this war-torn nation, a nascent civil society and a culture of human rights is becoming institutionalized. The political elite in Cambodia is beginning to realize that government and military are not the only actors to contend with. So the society groups, human rights groups, private associations, entrepreneurs, and international aid organizations are all important actors that are putting pressure on the government to be transparent, open, accountable, and to allow greater participation and opposition.

At the start of the last decade, there were just 12 local nongovernmental organizations in Cambodia. Today there are 360, a sort of shadow government that provides services ranging from the protection of women, to the digging of wells, to the provision of legal aid. Many of those involved are young Cambodians who received their first education in political and civil rights during the period of UN control.

Today, much of the international focus on Cambodia involves an emerging campaign around the world to put mass killers on trial at an international tribunal. His Royal Highness Price Norodom Sirivudh and Dr. Kao Kim Hourn will bring us up to date on the current situation in Cambodia and the thinking on what the trial will look like; who will be involved; whether it will be UN-sponsored; whether it will be held in an international site or locally. They will also talk about the challenges and the opportunities for establishing better governance, open participatory democratic institutions, and the rule of law in the country. And finally, they will address what role the international community can play in helping Cambodia in its post-war reconstruction. And so, with this and without further ado, I now turn to Prince Norodom Sirivudh and Dr. Kao Kim Hourn.

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First, I would like to thank the Asia Society and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Open Society Institute for organizing this seminar. And thank you for very kind words that you have in presenting all of us. Kao Kim Hourn and me, we just arrived very late--a long trip from Cambodia to New York. And without any intentions to interfere in American politics, I just met your Ambassador before we left Cambodia. And two weeks ago he asked me, “Your Highness, what do you advise us? We don’t have any President now so far.” I said, “Look, Mr. Ambassador, in ’93 the United States and the other country, the international community of United Nations has spent more than $2 billion US to bring peace to Cambodia and we have fair and free elections and they are under UN supervision. And you know, we get two prime ministers. So if you ask my advice, I say, co-President.”

But I think Americans value in terms of democratic system and values have bring someone or some party and said, “Look, we must respect some national supreme interest.” So, I would like to congratulate both of them, President Bush now and Mr. Al Gore for the sake of the nation. There are some concessions from the others and we regret that '93 in Cambodia isn’t any concession, even if you lose the election, thank you.

So as you know well, I myself was in jail after sent to exile. And thanks to the Asia Society it’s always supportive to all the democrats. And I think that you work for National Reconciliation. Let me put it this way. Mr. Cambodia faced the situation, small head, big stomach and skinny leg. And why small head? Because during the genocide, Khmer Rouge period we lose a lot of intellectuals. Professors, MDs, engineers have been killed. And after the peace agreement in ’91 and the ’93 election on behalf of the National Reconciliations, the full faction, the full army has been combined to the National Armed Forces. So one part of the big stomach is the overweight army. It’s a unique situation, not perhaps in the world, but in Asia, for a faction together give this small country, Cambodia, this overweight army. And the other side of the stomach is the heavy administration that we call heritage from the Communist, centralized, system. So it’s overweight administration too. It means we have 100 people to be paid US$30 instead of 30 people paid US$100. You know, that’s a problem. And skinny legs because private sector is not there. The foreign direct investment is not here.