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.

So by nature, Mr. Cambodia cannot walk normally. Small head, big stomach and skinny legs. I hope that doesn’t describe anybody here. That’s a problem. The challenge is, based on democratic values and open society and free-market economy. That’s the target. So the target is to get more bigger head. To get more education, more intellectuals, more people thinking, think tanks. And the reduction of the so-called stomach, it means reforms. So two reforms will be needed. One is reduction of the military component. It means demobilization. One part. The second part is administration reforms. It means it’s better to get 30 people paid $100 instead of 100 people paid only US$30. So, but the question is, with these reforms, where do they go, these people? It’s no secret. For everybody, it’s only private sectors could absorb, demobilize soldiers and reform from administration. FDI, the Foreign Direct Investment is not here, not yet. And why?

So Cambodians have faced this situation as a whole. And now I should say, from ’93 it was stability with the two parties have been considered a coalition. But the two hat system has not worked at all. In ’97; crisis again. There was a clash between Funcinpec, the Royalist party, and the party for Mr. Hun Sen. It was a coup, what we call July coup of ’97. And, unfortunately, Cambodian situation was worse among what we call the Asian crisis. All the civil society in the region have been shaken: Thailand, Philippines. It was Asian crisis, ’97. So we fall down again. Human rights abuse, killing in ’97. And thanks to America and the other friends, Japan, help bring some kind of pressure to Cambodia’s leadership, in particular from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s side, not to go to this wrong direction. It means they must come back to the fair and free election in ’98. So the Prince Norodom Sihanouk, having been in exile, myself and the others, have been amnestied and allowed to go back home and to run a fair and free election.

So of course it was violence in ’97. So my observation is, when civil society is absent, like Mr. Chairman said very well, we make some progress, even though we face some difficulties. There were just 12 and now there are more than hundreds. It means Cambodian people understand very well that the future of this country must be based on democratic values, open society, respect of human rights and free markets.

I just told you the political factors. It is essential that the political system of Cambodia to be functional, open and democratic. Cambodia has made important gains in the past five years, but it can easily slide back if adequate measures are not taken to resolve serious political challenges, such as a workable power-sharing formula and the dilemma at the leadership level and the prevent of future political deadlocks and the use of force as national evil: ’97. At the same time, it is crucial to ensure that there is political will at the top to support the process and expand the role of a civil society in Cambodia. One of the most critical situations is the judiciary system. Justice. Our justice, judiciary system, is not independent. It means political involvement. Ruling parties still, somewhere, control the system. And from this part, Cambodians are very reluctant to trust in their own system and in participants in this society, actors like myself and the others, have great suspicion vis-à-vis of this system.

When you touched a subject about genocide, about the Khmer Rouge trial. Of course there are two tendencies as perspective challenges. One group said, look, why bring the subject on the table. Cambodia needs more national reconciliation. Cambodian people need more to fulfill economic growth, etc., etc., and why to bring this very sensitive subject on the table. In particular, from government side allocate on this direction. And the other side said, look, justice must be made. Impunity cultures, the cultures of impunity, is not allowed any more. And it’s not just Khmer Rouge, all violence, all cultures of impunity are not allowed any more in our civil society or accepted by the Cambodian people. One thing.

Second degrees is one group advocate that is Cambodian affairs, international communities, U.S., UN, don’t have nothing to do with this. And the second group said the genocide is not in Cambodian level and degrees as rich as what we call crimes against humanity must be international court and not national court. Because you don’t trust yourself in your judiciary system. So that’s now a controversial situation.

Anyway, Cambodian people would like to say we are not agreed to promote any violence or destabilization. But somewhere justice and true support are the will of Cambodian people. Third degree now. There’s big power challenging too. Talking about international court, China and the other group of countries will be not agreed and the process is very long to set up international court. And from the other side you have America, Japan now, come up with 11 countries supported to the idea of Khmer Rouge trial. But the ways now is to bring us to some compromise. It means it will be a national tribunal with the assistance and involvement of some foreign, in particular, based on the UN proposal. The United Nations has requested strongly that Cambodian government must first elaborate a law, a draft law, supposed to be adopted by the National Assembly. And one part of the draft law concerning the Khmer Rouge trial tribunal is the collaboration between the Royal government of Cambodia and the United Nations. So it’s one important part that both sides must agree. Personally, to close this chapter on the Khmer Rouge trial, personally I think we must not forget genocide. But on the other hand, we must be practical and realistic. Security issues, and I will ask Kim Hourn to elaborate more in civil society. I’ll allow myself just to focus on the Khmer Rouge trial as one part of the civil society that Cambodia would like to see. Security issue. Suppose, one second, that on behalf of the international community there’s no agreement between the Cambodian government and the United Nations. And suppose, one second, that the National Assembly has no political will from the Cambodian side to go ahead. So the law could be stuck, it could not be adopted in the National Assembly even next year.

Security issue, it means Cambodians are very emotional people. Suppose that the Khmer Rouge and former Khmer Rouge were launched some grenades in some embassies who burned bridges, and create destabilization in Cambodia. Who will handle? Who will be responsible for this situation. And according to some sources, there are some political games using all situations for the maintenance of their powers. There is some last fighting in Phnom Penh, so-called rebels groups. So I’m very concerned about if the tribunal had even been agreed between the United Nations and Cambodian side, will be a security issue to be taken into consideration.

Come back to the angle of the financial. I think the tribunal will be very costly, will take time. And who will pay for this? And the challenge between Cambodian judges, lawyers, and international lawyers, who will get the last word in terms of diversions? The reason why I would like to say the memorandum between the United Nations and the Cambodian government is the most important pieces of the process. Of course, China will be again, and some countries, and a second group of the friends of Cambodia will be pro-tribunal. So I would like just to put this together and to ask all of you to think about the dilemma and what kind of dilemma the Cambodians face today.

Cambodian people don’t want to see this trial as politics. In ’93, when the Khmer Rouge refused to come in the peace process, refused to join other society and have been isolated in the northwest part of Cambodia, it was two Cambodias. But now they have been integrated. And the question about the pardon. Suppose that for political reasons, the government had the right to request the pardon and submit to the King. According to our constitution, only the King can give amnesty to people. So it is very important that in the draft law will be mentioned that the government will not allow to request any amnesty for the criminals. And I think that the King will not involve in amnesty during the trial.

Secondly, it’s time now to think about cultures of impunities. And I will just ask all of you to say, more we wait, more the cultures of impunity will increase--but will not be supported by Cambodian civil society actors. I would like to say that it’s still human-rights abuse. Human Rights Watch has said they are concerned about how the government deals with arresting according to some pretext. The fighting in Cambodia, in Phnom Penh, could be former Khmer Rouge, could be rebel groups. I think it’s time that Cambodian government think seriously, and the National Assembly, to adopt as soon as possible, this law, this draft, for a Khmer Rouge trial.

And it’s time for the Cambodian government and the National Assembly to adopt the law of the liberty to freedom to create association. Now we are illegal, even my institute, because no law allowed to create any association. It’s just tolerance from the Ministry of the Interior when you request to open associations or create institutes. There is no law yet to allow the Cambodian people, according to the constitution, to participate fully in civil society. And civil society is not, again, the government. Civil society actors are like to be just a partner of the government. And together I’m sure we will achieve what we want, a democratic system and value.

Nick Platt

Thank you very much. Now I’d like to turn to Kao Kim Hourn who, by the way, is the newest member of the Asia Society’s International Council.

Kao Kim Hourn

Thank you, sir. Thank you very much Mr. President and of course it was also a great honor. Your Highness, President Nicholas Platt, ladies and gentlemen and friends, what I want to do is basically to take about 10 or 15 minutes and perhaps to complement what the Prince has already been stating, some of the issues that have been raised and maybe also to touch on some of the new key issues also that perhaps will provoke some of the thinking and maybe raise some questions. Thank you.

First, let me start by also continuing to underline what are called the achievements of the emergence and development of civil society in Cambodia. As of today, Cambodia has more than 1,000 civil-society organizations. This is according to the latest registration by the Ministry of the Interior. Of course, we have more than 700 NGOs, that is the local NGOs, plus the international NGOs. Now of course we also have to include, there are more than 80 trade unions. Also we have more than 50 media, newspapers. On top of that, of course, this is really, clearly an increasing plurality of actors in Cambodia. But I think it’s still in a stage where this development will continue to progress, because I think the quantity, of course, is very significant, but I think we have to also think about the quality of these organizations. It’s very important.

The other achievement I think we have to underline here is that the Cambodian government has to some extent already recognized the role of civil society in Cambodia. I think this is already--although we don’t have a law yet, but I think it’s increasingly, the public statement has been made by the Cambodian leaders. The other thing I think, clearly, particularly on the role of civil society in the promotions of human rights and the advancement of democracy. This has also been continually recognized by the international community. At the same time I think we see also that there is now increasingly more space for civil society actors to operate in Cambodia. And I think clearly this is really the key achievement.

Now when I say civil society in Cambodia, I think in the Cambodian context, because we have been doing a lot of workshops in the past two years we have organized more than 20 workshops in Cambodia, debated significantly at our institute. In fact, in late November and early December, we organized two national conferences on civil society. So, based on this, this is why we have some concrete information coming out. This is basically a few snapshots of achievements.

Now let me also underline the challenges that perhaps that continue to confront the civil society in Cambodia. One, of course, has been mentioned by His Royal Highness. It’s the legal framework. As of today, in Cambodia we don’t have law that facilitates--not so much managing, but facilitate the role of civil society organizations. I think without a legal framework it would be very difficult, particularly when NGOs or other civil society organizations get into trouble, then there’s no law protecting them. So the idea, of course, also is to ensure that the civil society organizations are not abusing their roles also. So I think the idea is very important that we need to have a legal framework in place in order to facilitate a constructive role in civil society. So I think that’s one critical challenge.

I think it’s already, as the Prime Minister of Cambodia stated last year, that as long as he’s the Prime Minister he thinks that by not having a law yet it would be a very good thing until, at least as long as he’s Prime Minister, Cambodia’s not needing an NGO law yet. In fact, late last month there was a draft law by the Ministry of the Interior that was put on the table at a council minister. And the draft law was, in fact, did not look at all dimensions of civil society because it mainly looked at only the role of NGOs and excluded others. And so what happened is that the council minister decided to not so much reject, but to send back the draft law to the Ministry of the Interior to work on this. My feeling is that the draft law will probably be ready for debate some time next year.

Second issue I think is also a critical challenge is the question of sustainability of civil society organizations in Cambodia. Clearly, the question of sustainability regarding the funding situation because we have to understand that in the past 10 years funding has been driven from outside. And I think we should expect that there will be a decline in the coming years. And if this is to be the increasing trend, and of course we would see that the funding situation will affect not only the effectiveness of the civil-society organizations, but more importantly the future sustainability of the movement and the development of civil-society organizations in Cambodia.

Third, I would also put as a challenge, is that based on our more than 20 workshops that we organized, that there is still increasingly a misunderstanding of what the role is of civil society, by both the civil society actors themselves and the government officials. For example, on the civil society organizations, they think that civil society, or NGOs, not so much in nongovernment organizations, but AGO, anti-government organizations -that’s another thing. Also some would continue to think that civil society organizations, by working that you basically are forming a shadow government, or acting as an opposition party. I think this is a little bit, very difficult in a Cambodian political situation. So I would say this is really a challenge we have to ensure that more and more people understand the role of civil society.

On the government side, of course, there’s also a misunderstanding that they tend to label, or tend to put NGOs and other civil society actors in the same basket with the opposition party. When civil society organizations begin to criticize, whether constructively or otherwise, then you’re not part of the government, you’re not supporting the government. Therefore you’re supporting the other side. And therefore you’re not helping and so forth. So of course, there has been a lot of improvement but this is still a critical challenge.

And I think we should not expect the transformation of understanding overnight. Given the long history of mistrust, and I think that was underlined by His Royal Highness, this is one of the Cambodian dilemmas, the deep-rooted suspicions and mistrust by not only those in power but also those who are in civil society. You know very well that one of the reasons, for example, why civil society is becoming quite popular in Cambodia, and it still is popular, is because the people, they do not trust the government that much. And I think this is clearly the fact that we had three different regimes in the past who really were pretty much oppressing the people. And that’s why the trust and the confidence of people in the government is still a major challenge. Now, the other challenge I would put also on the civil society side is that there is increasingly a need to work together--forming alliances, networks, sharing information and ideas and so forth. This is still not the way forward yet. But I think there are some signs that it is emerging already.

I also put this as another challenge, the relationship between civil society and government. Now the recent violence that took place on the 24th of November is already a key in point, is that the government already allegedly linking civil society organizations to “terrorist” group. And I think it has been stated by the government spokesman and, of course, the Prime Minister himself saying that civil society involving terrorism. And I think this is something that we have to keep in mind, that this is not just one particular group or one particular person, but I think the overall image of civil society in Cambodia, that it is linked to terrorism. This is a really very terrible image. And I think that’s underlying to some extent the relationship between civil society and the government at the present. And I think hopefully that this will change over time. That is very important. Another thing is that the relationship between civil society organizations and local authorities. Local authorities continue to challenge some of the civil society organizations. And I think this is based on our discussions and, of course, to some extent I think because local authorities lack understanding also of the civil society.

Finally, I think I would say the last critical challenge facing civil society is the transformation of the relationship between civil society organizations and the partners or what we would call the donors. There’s still unease, an uneasy relationship to some extent because donors, they do have their own agenda also, you know. And therefore, and of course Cambodian civil society organizations, they try to cater to what the donors’ agenda. And therefore, some of the key projects, some of the issues that they want to work on are not being addressed the way they want. So, what I’m saying is that they are more donor-driven. And that is not a very positive thing unless the civil society organizations themselves, they think of what’s good for the society and they continue on that rather than being dictated by the external donors.

Now let me touch on briefly also on three critical roles and, of course, they will be challenges also, for civil society in Cambodia. One is the role of civil society in the reform agenda. There are many reforms that have been underway already and they continue to move forward. One, for example is the good governance agenda. And good governance, of course, is very sensitive, very political. And it can cause a lot of problems. And good governance can be a difficult subject, look at one particular project on corruption. Anticorruption is a very difficult word. In fact, last year the World Bank conducted three surveys on corruption in Cambodia. One was on the household survey. One was looking at the business practices. Another one, of course, the general understanding of the public, particularly on the civil servants. And the World Bank subcontracted the work to local NGOs. And in fact, of course, the report was not being analyzed in Cambodia. All of the data was sent to the World Bank for analysis in Washington, D.C. and of course when the report came out the government was very upset, you know, and rating Cambodia as one of the countries that was really mostly corrupt. So I think this is also underlining another tension, for example, I think to what extent the government will continue to play within this.

The other issue would be demobilization. This is also a critical issue. So I think those are, of course, another one would be public administration reform. So we have a lot of reforms that we have to go through. Another one, I think, would be a challenging also role of civil society would be the communal election, for example. This is going to be the first time that Cambodia will organize communal election. And therefore, it’s going to be massive work. And I think we can expect the local authority to execute all the work. Therefore, the civil society organizations, particularly those involving elections, will have to be more active.

Another one, I think, that was raised already this morning by His Royal Highness, is the role of civil society, particularly in the raising public awareness and education on the upcoming Khmer Rouge trial, for example. And this is also very sensitive, because I think, in fact, those organizations that are beginning to conduct surveys, educating the public about the trial, the need for participation of all the people, also being challenged by the authorities who are saying “Why are you doing this.” You know, you are raising a political issue here and so forth and so on. So I think this is really underlying a tone.

Let me, perhaps in conclusion, let me raise some of the prospects of the role of civil society, also maybe raising one or two issues of the role of international community. I would say first prospect, I think it’s going to be very critical that we have to continue to monitor is the current draft law on civil society, or NGO. We hope that this draft law will not be draconian, that it will be more liberal. And I think it will be more liberal because there are a lot of actors who want to see that this draft law will help Cambodia, not to hurt Cambodia. And I think there is some sincerity on the government’s part that the draft law will be consulted with civil society organizations, like the current process of PRSP (Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper)that has been asked by The World Bank and the IMF to do. And I think the PRSP has been consulted heavily with the civil society organizations. So I think the draft law is going to be very critical too, an important trend to look at.

Second, I think we have to look at how the relationship between civil society and government will continue to evolve. Particularly, hopefully, there will be a transformation from suspicion and mistrust to a more effective partnership between the government and civil society. We have to look--we have to go beyond public statements and so on and so forth. Third, I think it is very important also, we have to look at how the sustainable situation is. I think it would be good if civil society organizations would more or less team up, working together in alliances rather than continue to be fragmented, isolated and scattered. I think it’s very important.

Let me also touch on the last part and that is on the role of the international community. I think it’s very critical for Cambodia that there will be a sustained commitment on the part of the international community for Cambodia. I think, given the fact that so much has been invested already in the reconstruction and the development of Cambodia. And I think if the international community would withdraw too fast, too quickly, it would undermine the current development and reform process in this country. At the same time, I think the role of the international community would be very important to continue to push for a greater and more concrete reform agenda in Cambodia and I think in so doing, supporting a more open society in this country. Thank you so much.

Questions and Answer Session

Nick Platt

Thank you. Thank you for that very comprehensive review. We’re going to now open this to the group here for questions. I’m going to ask people to raise their hands and then to identify themselves and to ask their questions. And the rule is one question per customer. But I’d like to ask the first one if I might. And it deals with the question of coordinating the efforts of the civil society organizations in Cambodia. But is there any mechanism that coordinates their activities? Is there any role that the international community can play in coordinating or setting up a mechanism that could coordinate those activities?

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

I think that it was a weak point, what we talk about conditionalities. One, I’m very concerned that activities of the NGOs and actors of the civil society in Cambodia depend on fact of the foreign assistance funding. And when donors would like to make some coordination with the proposed, and to make some pressure to the government to respect, I think that it’s not working at all the conditionality because there is lack of coordination among the donors themselves before we go to NGOs in Cambodia as actors of civil society. I think they need more consultation between and among the donors. One of the future, uncertain future of the actors of the civil society in Cambodia is linked to the funding problem. So I think, yes, from Cambodian side, now we can see some tendencies into a grouping. And Kao Kim Hourn will give you some details. Yes, Cambodian actors of civil society have a tendency now to be grouping. Of course they are specialized in different arenas-human rights NGOs--my institute is more focused on civil society, the good governance example--but there is a tendency to naturally meet each other and try and come and stand on this. It is not yet a national mechanism in terms of coordination. So in conclusion, I think we need first that the donors who provide funds to assist us in civil society activities must be coordinated among themselves. And come back to the national level, it must be a national mechanism among the civil society actors.

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn

Thank you very much. I think this is one of the key proposals that have been put forward already by the government, that the government has been saying--the government has a lot of difficult times to communicate with civil society organizations because there are so many of them. So the idea right now that there would be what we call a government-civil society forum. And I think the idea, of course, is to coordinate between the government and civil society and to build a partnership. And I think the idea, of course, is that civil society actors will have to--organization--will have to team up in forming the alliances, networks. I think coordination doesn’t always lead to effectiveness, you know. I think that is very clear. Also coordination doesn’t always lead to good governance. I think particularly on the donor side, no donor would like to be coordinated even among themselves. But the idea, I think I agree with you, that yes it is very important that if the donors, particularly they would have a big project, for example and then ask a number of civil society organizations to work together on a particular project. And the idea is, of course, rather than have small project and then you split up and everything, is to have a more solid project and then you have the combined efforts of civil society. For example, on election issue, you might have one big project on election and then ask all the NGOs in Cambodia to work on election to come and work together on that particular project. I think that’s one way of working, one possible way of working together.

The other thing I think is important is, perhaps there will be important if those NGOs working on different issues, they have to come together and build up this group, you know, maybe a working group on whatever--on environment, on human rights, on election--so there’s a wide range. But of course there have been already emerging of these groups already. But I think it’s still too early to assess whether these working groups are effective or not.

Nick Platt

Thank you very much. Now who would like to ask the first question from the audience?

Question from the Audience

I'm a student of international affairs at Columbia University. I was wondering, when you say civil society, and you did mention labor unions, NGOs and the media, but I was wondering if you could elaborate a little what you mean when you say civil society. And what are they, just the advocacy groups, the public information groups, or are they other things than the roles that you envisioned when you say civil society. Thank you.

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

I think this is, again, that’s why I say--when I start my presentation--I contextualize it in a Cambodian way. And I think that’s very important because we never have a consensus on what would be--what a definition would be--an operational definition of the concept. And I think it’s always dangerous to look beyond the conventional understanding of what civil society is. And we debate about this. The first workshop we started, we debated about what we mean by civil society. And I think a lot of us agreed. Everything can be included except, one, the government. Two, political parties. And third, business. And the reason why, for example, the government and political parties, because they are all for power. Number two, businesses, they’re all for profits. And those who are not for power and profits--they are part of civil society. I think that’s how we contextualize it in Cambodia.

Nick Platt

Kao, would you like to add to that? Fine. You had a question?

Gloria Kins

I’m Gloria Kins, Washington International UN Diplomatic Times. From observing our own elections, which was not just power politics, but big bucks--who had the most money for advertising and communication throughout the United States and the international community--my question is, who are the big businessmen in Cambodia? How are they oriented? And who would they reach out to in the international funding world of big business, major corporations, from the Western world that will help influence a proper election?

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

Difficult question. As a former government and former Secretary General of the ruling party, I can say that it was not the same spirit in Cambodia as in America. For instance, the Royalist party came from the struggles, you know, as a background from the Thai borders during the struggle and coming in town in ’93 to run election without any money. So it was some time work without money. Because it’s not necessary, they support you. But they can not stand anymore the others. So all the world has been concentrating to your party because it’s just like a punishment vote for someone and we gain credit.

But you are right. You are right in the second term. During the ’98 elections, when we talk about high corruption in Cambodia, when we talk about lack of transparencies. And we talk about like a rule of law promotes this kind of what we call a tycoon, a tycoon spirit. It means the big guys in Cambodia. We have a lot of money, we don’t know where it comes from, the money. But they are there. And they make some illegal business with some compromising with leadership from the ruling parties. And so this kind of situation is quite frequent in Cambodia. And you are right. Some political leaders have been promoted and supported by this group of tycoons. But the reason that civil society, NGOs, a lot of NGOs have now focused on an anticorruption, what we say, operation. It’s very difficult when you are, not yourself strong enough to contain the situation, that political party have been corrupt. Of course elections have some fraud too. That’s the reason why Kim Hourn asks donors to be very--to pay attention, to promote NGOs together to work at an election because civil society actors could be observers, could contribute to rectify that the party that makes a lot of money can corrupt the waters. That’s one part of the answer.

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn

Thank you. I think that’s correct. Let me also just add to His Royal Highness. I think most big business, individuals, businessmen in Cambodia, basically are tycoons. They have come to the position where they are today usually through corruption and some are very much involved in illegal activities. And I think this is very clear. In Cambodia, there are no regulations on election funding. You can support anyone, any political party you like. You can spend as much as you want on election. So I think in that regard we are still far away from real democratic practice, particularly on election.

Nick Platt

Are you happy with that? You want to follow up?

Gloria Kins

I was going to say that I’m listening to the coordination of the NGOs. And it would seem to me that one way to coordinate the NGOs is to get the media on your side, to even contribute free their time, those who believe in you. We even have here in the United States for situations where it’s NGO and contributing reality of future of the government, our institutions give free radio and media time, newspaper time, etc. Maybe this is something where you should be appealing to the powerful media all over the world or also big businessmen in real estate, not just the media. Take who owns The New York Times; take who owns The New York Post here in New York. These are not just newspapers. They’re motivated by very big business.

Nick Platt

That, I take as a comment and not a question.

Gloria Kins

No, my question is, why can they not do the same thing? Coordinate their media as well and pull in as much free time as they can, which is not NGO. This is public relations.

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn

Thank you. I think that is a very valid and very good point. I think there are already international media that contribute to Cambodia. I think particularly in civil society. The New York Times among others, that give free stories to the local media, like The Cambodia Daily, so they can print free without having to pay, for example. I think it’s already there. But on the Cambodian side, media development, I think we are still pretty much in early stage. You know, I would put--I mean with due respect to my colleagues here--other media, particularly Cambodian media, I think we probably have the equivalent to media in America in the 1800s. It’s still pretty much mouthpieces of the political parties. It’s still very much run by tycoons. Of course very few who are very much independent. Because it costs money to run media in Cambodia. And I think if you don’t have to subscribe to whether politicians or rich businessmen, then you’re not in a position to do so. And I think it would be very difficult--and it’s why it’s very difficult to appear to media to be generous. In fact, even public, the radio stations or television stations, you have to pay to advertise for the good cause of the country.

Benny Vitiono

I am Benny Vitiono, a retired UN civil servant with experience in Cambodia. I would like to refer to the small head that His Royal Highness talked about, the many scientists who were killed off by the Khmer Rouge. My point is that someone who is 10 years old in ’79 would now be how much? I don’t have my calculator. 31 years old. And what I mean is there could be a new, completely new generation of scientists, depending on the educational system. So I’d like to ask that. And since I am only allowed one question, I have a second part to this question. I learned this from Al Gore. My second part is what about people educated abroad and coming back? I’m from Indonesia and a lot of our ministers, including President Habibi, not this one but the previous one, were educated abroad. So two questions, one is to educational system in Cambodia now and also returning scientists. Thank you.

Nick Platt

Those are valid, related questions.

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

Sometimes I ask people, don’t tell me who are you. If you allow me to look on your budget in your household, and I will perhaps tell who are you. When I see someone spent 80% of their budget household on red wine, I say you are a drinker or you have a lot of guests in your home. And 5% for the children to go to school, I say you’ve got a problem with education. Look at Cambodian National Budget when you have a special representative of Secretary General in my country. It’s no doubt that if you look to the US$500 million as a national budget--it’s somewhat smaller than some American company--and we depend on assistance from donor countries about 75-80%. So when you look, about 45-48% have been spent in defense and securities and less than 2% on education. You say, this country is not on the right track. It’s not a peaceful country. We don’t care about what’s going on inside, how overweight an army you face. That’s a figure. This country spends less than 3% in education and spend more than 45--close to 48% in defense and security.

“Oh, we have just got peace from the UN. It was a Khmer Rouge plot in the northwest, so we must contain and we must make military operation. And now we see again happen there’s some fighting come up because commune elections come up soon, 2001. And on behalf of this, we will arrest a lot of opposition people and scare a lot of intellectual and civil society on behalf of the rebel group. And we will have to maintain a national budget spent on security and defense.” So it’s no way--it’s lack of political will for we call a rehabilitation of Cambodia. It’s clear, if the next national budget is still spent more than 25% in defense, and we are still spending just US$1 per head for education, comparing to $700 for Thailand for head in terms of education, this country cannot reach what you wish, that a new generation could be well educated and catch the gap from small head to big head. For me it’s just budget. The reason why is that there’s nothing to hide. In politics you can have a lot of interpretation. But in terms of national budget, the number is here. Thank you.

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn

I just want also--I think that’s a very important point about education versus development. I think we have to put where, put the budget where we’re talking about. And I think our national budget allocation, particularly for education, particularly for social spending, education and health, for example, that’s just extremely too low. And I think that the government and others, donors also, are recognizing, is that it’s a very difficult reality where to cut. And I think particularly on defense spending. Hopefully this will be a continued debate. Hopefully also there will be a lot of pressure to continue to reduce the spending on defense and security.

I come back to the question of the younger generation. For those who were fortunate enough to come--well to leave Cambodia--they were lucky. They were able to have the opportunity to get better education and so forth. But for those who were left behind, who stayed on in Cambodia, they are very unfortunate. Because they had no opportunity to get education, in fact, because of the conflict in Cambodia. For those who did not leave, they had very little training, very little education and therefore, the contribution to the society becomes even more questionable. But having said that, I think the current policy of the government, particularly in the last year, there has been an attempt to attract the Cambodians living overseas by giving visa exemption. Those who were born in Cambodia, they can return without having to pay visa and can stay as long as they want and so forth and so on. This is something very encouraging. I hope there will be more. But I’m not sure at this point how many Cambodians who left Cambodia returned to Cambodia. That would be a very good research project to look at. But I would say, yes, the future Cambodia will depend on the younger generation to Cambodia who are not so much burdened by the past.

Nick Platt

Any other questions on the budget, the issues that we’ve just been talking about? Okay, next set of questions. You, sir.

Kurt Jensen

Good morning. My name is Kurt Jensen. My wife and I are the lucky parents of a Cambodian boy and my question is sort of--I’m cheating again, a two part question. My sense is that there is a very strong sense of paranoia that runs through society in Cambodia. And I think it’s probably well-justified. So if I’m correct in that, and please tell me if I’m wrong, I don’t know, A: How do you sort of overcome that paranoia or make that psychological adjustment? And B: Wouldn’t actually shrinking the military help ease that sense of paranoia?

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

The solution, I think, is try to sit down around the table. I think the lack of communication between governance and civil society. There’s no consultation between different political party leadership. You know that King Norodom Sihanouk had bring people together two times. US$2 billion is not paranoid, it’s a reality, brings us no winner, no loser in elections. It’s not paranoid, it’s realistic. People said, I would like to be the Prime Minister. We get two Prime Ministers. It’s not possible. In ’97, it was violent. A lot of people had been killed again. So who’s come up again? King Norodom Sihanouk said “Look, sit down and let’s talk in the national reconciliation spirit.” I think we must recognize that some exaggeration in terms of Cambodian situation. But somewhere there is no communication among the parties, between National Assemblies and government. The question time is quite new in Cambodia. Even MP are not able to ask Governor to come and answer some questions. I think that the solution is only sit down at the table and avoid the suspicions, spirit could be between us. So I think it’s time now that military--I understand that 20 years of war promote this kind of category of social, military thinking: illegal drugs, child prostitution, corruptions, kidnapping. I suspect that it’s linked to kind of what we call lack of communication between civil society, government, legislative and executive branch. And in particular among the military and us.

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn

I think you have to look at the fact that Cambodia, after all, is very much a very young society. If you look at on two points, on two grounds. One if you look on the ground of demography. There are more than 50% of Cambodians who are younger than the age of 20. Second, I think, if you look at the fact that Cambodia’s only emerging from a long period of conflict. And therefore I think we should not be, we should not have, high expectation that this society would transform overnight. I think it would be very difficult. That’s one thing. Secondly, I would agree entirely with His Royal Highness, that we need to continue on a cultural dialogue and consultation. This is part of building more trust, more confidence and perhaps more political common security. Because the fact that people become insecure, a sense of insecurity, that is part of real politics. People, you know, they don’t look long term, don’t see the need for long term. That’s why I think what is important is that we need to continue to dialogue more. And I think that’s a way we can also engage the military through discussions, through education, so forth and so on. I think that’s vital to building Cambodia.

Nick Platt

In the back.

Sue Downey

Question for Prince Sirivudh. Impunity, which I agree is a huge problem in Cambodia and I don’t think can be solved easily and quickly. It will probably take several generations. But you’re using this as one of the examples, or justifications for the Khmer Rouge trial. Now I’m not disagreeing with you. But do you really believe that the trial will overcome, or at least reduce the culture of impunity in Cambodia?

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

You are right. I am not sure that will be. But in, at least in terms of principle, without any engagement, and without any commitment from leadership, from other governance and institutions, in terms of principle, I think that we don’t go anywhere. I don’t think that the Khmer Rouge trial will bring, will you know, which degrees of destruction of the impunity cultures. I don’t say this. But at least there will be some commitment in terms of principle against impunities, cultures of impunity, that we would like to stand on. King Sihanouk said clearly, in the court I’m ready to answer to the court. We’d like to see more engagement from leadership in terms of process to reach, you know, cultures of law, culture of rule of law. So I agree. I agree with you, that yes, it’s not sure that we reached it. But at least we need engagement and commitment in terms of principle.

Akira Iriyama

This is Akira of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. I would like to raise a related question to the question just voiced by the lady. In regard with the Pol Pot court, there is a line of argument which goes, “Justice should prevail at any cost.” Well, this line of argument is sort of self-sufficient and the conclusion is all too obvious. But we are hearing today that this belief and this mistrust of the parties involved is so deep that hasty kind of solution may put the country into another fiasco. If that is the case, there may be another line of argument that justice should prevail depending upon its social cost. Well opinion, in particular, opinion from this continent tends to employ the first line of argument. Whereas, Asian voices, not necessarily impunity kind of culture only, may tend to employ the other line of argument. May I ask, not as an official person, but as an individual, from these two knowledgeable Cambodian gentlemen, which line will be most likely to be employed in the days to come? Thank you.

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn

Well, actually let me go back to Suzanne’s question and then to come back to your question, sir. I would say that the trial hopefully will reverse the process of the cultural impunity. Because the trial, hopefully, will make the leaders more accountable of their own actions. I think by bringing those who were allegedly, particularly the Khmer Rouge leaders who are tried, hopefully that will give lessons to others that they cannot behave in a different way. They have to be accountable. And I think also it will enhance the rule of law and justice if the trial proceeds smoothly and, of course, with the support of the people, particularly if the trial has sufficient credibility. I would also argue that I would not want to see the Khmer Rouge trial another 10 or 20 years down the road. I think as a Cambodian who lived through that period, through the nightmare period of the Khmer Rouge era, I would argue that if we wait until the Khmer Rouge leaders are dead, it is meaningless to have a trial. I mean why organize a trial, I mean why have a trial to try dead men? It does not work.

The second thing I think, what is important, my line of argument is that we must use the process of the trial to build capacity of our judges, or the prosecutors and so forth and use the process to enhance the confidence and the trust of the people in the judicial system of Cambodia. Because right now there isn’t enough confidence of the people in the judicial process because the judicial process is not credible. And I think hopefully by involving external actors, in this case the United Nations and others, in the trial, that would help to invigorate the process. And I think that’s why it’s important to have the trial today. Otherwise, because the current generation-the older generation right now, they’re going to be dead in the next 20 years. And the younger generation doesn’t care at all about a trial. They don’t want a trial. That’s why there is a sense of urgency that we must have a trial today or we would never have a trial at all.

Nick Platt

Does that also address Mr. Iriyama’s question?

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn


John McAuliff

John McAuliff of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. First, I wanted to commend Asia Society for sponsoring this program, commend the Japanese foundations for funding it. I think one of the unrecognized dimensions of the whole Cambodia issue is the role that Japan, both officially and unofficially, has played in bringing about a process of reconciliation between the Cambodian parties and giving Cambodia space internationally. So, I think people should recognize this important role.

Nick Platt

I agree. I agree.

John McAuliff

Also I wanted to commend our speakers. They convey the sense that I feel on every visit to Cambodia and talking with Funcinpec people and CPP people that we are on a different page. There are still many problems. There are very serious problems. But we’re in a different era now, but it’s not yet recognized, especially in the United States. And my question is, I would be interested in what your recommendations would be to the incoming administration. We’ve had three very good ambassadors who have played a very important role in Cambodia. But they have especially, Kent Weideman and Ken Quinn, have been limited by their, the absence of resources. I mean, do you think that the U.S. should now recognize the different reality in Cambodia and renew direct bilateral government aid? Should that be in areas to support demobilization? Should it be in areas of education, whether that’s university-level scholarship or the program that had been, that was canceled after ’97 of trying to retrain every primary schoolteacher in Cambodia. I mean what do you think--should the policy change and what should its priorities be?

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

Thank you. Yes, I thank the United States--and thanks to Japan, of course, once again. And you are right that we are able to travel and to expose this situation. Once again, I think the United States must revise some approach vis-à-vis Cambodia’s situation. Of course, it’s not to say to give freely without any control U.S. assistance to Cambodia. All donors have their own agenda. But at least civil society NGOs and humanitarian assistance--when I say humanitarian assistance, it’s including education and non-military assistance to be promoted. In particular on this area, arena of civil society actors.

On the other hand, even I am not against where I told you that some problems come from non-educated military spirit. When the military recognize their role as one part of the civil society, because there is confusion that military is not part of civil society. It’s not true. Army is one part of civil society. And the day that Cambodian army would be demobilized and United States could assist in the process of demobilization. And to bring this non-educated army, who just think about fighting and corruption, to the good army, thinking about the role in civil society. I think we must do it. So my personal stand is now time to assist Cambodia. Of course I understand that we have been frozen, U.S. assistance to Cambodia. But not to the government as a bilateral, but to the actors of civil society. This would be promoted. And to look for the possibility of how to reform this army to the liberal and democratic army, playing role in civil society. Thank you.

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn

Let me add three points quickly. One, I would say that it’s important that the U.S. should understand that there is some progress made in Cambodia, rather than continue to be driven by the Cold War mentality. Second, there is a disturbing trend in the fact that China is increasingly becoming more influence in Cambodia. And in this regard, I think the United States should be more to stay engaged with Cambodia. We have Cambodia overcoming some difficulties. Also not just have Cambodia, but also neighbors also ASEAN and this region is very vital to the United States. I also would agree with His Royal Highness that the United States should continue to support academic exchanges, educations. Also particularly in trade. I think it’s an area where you can help the Cambodian economy that, of course, in so doing would help the Cambodian workers and so forth. And I think trade will be vital and therefore any quotas, particularly GSP quotas, should be examined closely. But at the same time, should be opening the opportunities for Cambodia to export more to the United States. Yes, I think this is some area we--the U.S. should look at.

Nick Platt

Okay, I think we’ve had a real treat this morning. Our speakers, despite the length of the distance they’ve come and so forth, have been remarkably lucid and informative. And my hat is off to both of you. I think the audience has also asked very excellent questions. And I myself have learned a great deal. So let’s give them a big round of applause. Thank you for coming. This session is closed.