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Cambodian Civil Society: Challenges and Prospects

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

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.