Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Cambodian Civil Society: Challenges and Prospects

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

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

Yes.

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.