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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Paris accords failed to save Cambodia

By Gaffar Peang-Meth
Guest Commentary

Washington, DC, United States, — In 1991 there were high hopes for Cambodia’s future. The brutal regime of Pol Pot had been knocked from power; guerilla warfare between the four Cambodian factions was being transformed from a shooting war to a contest at the ballot box; and the Final Act of the Paris Peace Accords promised Cambodia a liberal democracy whose citizens would at long last enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms.
Some interpreters of historical events dub what followed in Cambodia after the Peace Accords as a United Nations “success story.” It could have been a success story. The words and the vision in the settlement framework pointed to that direction.

The Final Act of the Paris Accords sought to “restore peace” to Cambodia, ravaged by “tragic conflict and continuing bloodshed,” through “an internationally guaranteed comprehensive settlement.” It was adopted on Oct. 23, 1991 by 18 participating governments – Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam – where officials of Zimbabwe and Yugoslavia represented the non-aligned movement and the U.N. Secretary-General and his special representative were participants.

Signatory states declared to “commit themselves to promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia, as embodied in the relevant international instruments to which they are party.”

Among other things, they agreed to maintain, preserve and defend Cambodia’s “sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability, neutrality and national unity”; restore and maintain Cambodia’s peace; promote national reconciliation; “ensure the exercise of the right to self-determination of the Cambodian people” through free and fair elections; and the “non-return to the policies and practices of the past.”

The Accords stipulated Cambodia’s Constitution as “the supreme law of the land”; promised adherence to fundamental rights of “life, personal liberty, security, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, assembly and association . . . due process and equality before the law, protection from arbitrary deprivation of property or deprivation of private property without just compensation . . . consistent with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international instruments.”

Annex 5 states, “Cambodia will follow a system of liberal democracy,” with an “independent judiciary . . . empowered to enforce the rights provided under the Constitution.”

Yet, from the outset of the Accords, the necessary “neutral political environment conducive to free and fair general elections” was never ensured. “The strict neutrality” of “administrative agencies, bodies and offices” responsible for “foreign affairs, national defense, finance, public security and information,” which the Accords placed under the direct control of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, to “exercise (its authority) as necessary to ensure strict neutrality,” was never consummated. Authority was not assumed by UNTAC, but remained in the hands of the Hun Sen government.

Some people do things simply because they can, with no fear of consequences. When Prince Ranariddh of the royalist FUNCINPEC – the French acronym for the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia – won the elections in 1993 as the people expressed their right of self-determination, Cambodian People’s Party leader Hun Sen, who had ruled Cambodia under Vietnam’s protection since January 1979, was allowed to elbow himself into a co-premiership with Ranariddh. The peoples’ ballots were rendered irrelevant, with the blessing of the U.N. Transitional Authority.

Hun Sen and the CPP immediately began preparations for the 1998 elections. In 1997, Co-Premier Hun Sen’s forces fought Co-Premier Ranariddh’s royalist troops in the streets of Phnom Penh in a coup d’etat that killed many and sent Ranariddh fleeing to neighboring Thailand.

The world community realized that unless Ranariddh returned to participate in the upcoming elections, the Paris Peace Accords would be meaningless. It took coordinated high-level international pressures and threats for Ranariddh to agree to return to Cambodia. But Hun Sen and the CPP were already in firm control of the country. Recently, from eventual exile in Malaysia, Ranariddh was compelled to foreswear political activity before Hun Sen would allow him to return to his homeland.

In spite of the Paris Accords’ stipulation that “All persons in Cambodia . . . shall enjoy the rights and freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international human rights instruments,” in contemporary Cambodia, Hun Sen runs the country with an iron fist. He exercises control over the three branches of government.

With opposition much in disarray, an alternative to his rule is lacking. With the international community desirous of political stability, human rights are neglected and donor countries continue to make up half of the national budget that sustains Hun Sen’s regime.

By controlling the purse strings, donor countries assert they have some leverage to demand good governance, even from a dictator. But Hun Sen has made a mockery of both the domestic political and judicial systems – lifting legislators’ parliamentary immunity, filing frivolous lawsuits against his opponents – and the international court that has been seated to try cases against alleged perpetrators of atrocities under the Khmer Rouge regime – of which Hun Sen was a part.

So blatant is his disregard for international norms that he has warned foreigners that he has other “laws” to deal with “foreigners” who play with Cambodian politics. Good governance is entirely absent.

Today’s Cambodia under Hun Sen and the CPP has more roads, bridges, modern buildings, and fancy villas. It is more appealing than the Cambodia of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge whose regime of murder and mayhem devastated the country from 1975-79. But under Hun Sen, the rich get richer, nearly half of the population lives below poverty level, many live off the city’s refuse, and high officials are accused of siphoning several hundred million dollars each year for personal enrichment.

Generous monetary aid to Hun Sen and the CPP helps strengthen authoritarian rule, which is legitimized by elections in an environment of intimidation and fear. The level of deadly attacks may have declined, but how many fewer threats, how much less intimidation, and how many fewer deaths make elections “more free and fair”? Are Cambodians “more free” because they are given ballots to put in election boxes under the watchful eyes of party cadres and agents?

Does a government that sells natural resources for private gain, evicts the weak and the underprivileged from their land in order to permit development by the wealthy and the powerful, sues its citizens and lifts the immunity of lawmakers whose words and opinions aren’t in agreement with those of the party in power, represent progress toward a more democratic future?

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Library ship books fifth visit


Newspaper section: NewsThe education ship Doulos returns to Thailand this month, marking its fifth visit since 1987. The 95-year-old ship will dock at Bangkok Port, Berth 1, at Klong Toey from July 30 to Aug 23.

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has confirmed her visit to the ''floating bookshop'' next month. The princess also went aboard during the ship's first visit to Thailand 22 years ago.

The Doulos also visited Thailand in 1990, 2001 and 2006. The last visit saw as many as 60,000 people tour the ship and buy books collected from around the world.

The ship, with its slogan ''Bringing Knowledge, Help and Hope'', is run by GBA Ships (previously known as Good Books for All), a private, non-profit, charitable organisation registered in Germany in 1977.

It has stopped off in Hong Kong and is now in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. After the Bangkok visit, it will head on to Malaysia to complete its Asian tour.

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AFC Futsal draw to be conducted in Malaysia

THE draw for the West Asia qualifying tournament for next year's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Futsal Championship will be held on July 22 at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, it was announced yesterday.

Bahrain are one of seven teams set to compete in the tournament, which will be held in Doha in October. It will mark the kingdom's international debut in futsal.

The competition feature four ranked nations in the sport and three unranked teams - one of them being the Bahrainis. Lebanon are the favourites. They are currently classified as the top team in the West Asian region and eighth overall in the AFC.

Iraq (14th), Kuwait (16th) and hosts Qatar (19th) are the other ranked teams. Jordan and Saudi Arabia join Bahrain as those without ranking.


Apart from the West Asian event, qualifying tournaments will also be taking place in the Asean and East Asian regions.

The Asean teams, which will be divided into two groups, are Australia (ranked fifth), Malaysia (10th), Indonesia (11th), Vietnam (18th), Brunei (21st), Cambodia (NA), Myanmar (NA) and Philippines (NA).

The East Asian squads are Japan (third), China (fourth), Korea Republic (13th), Chinese Taipei (15th), Macau (17th), Hong Kong (NA) and Guam (NA).

The top three teams from each of the four qualification groups will advance to the AFC Futsal Championship, along with four nations who have already pre-qualified.

The squads that are already in are Iran, Thailand, Japan, and the host Uzbekistan. Iran, Thailand and Japan are in based on their top three rankings in the 2008 tournament, while Uzbekistan qualify automatically as hosts.

Bahrain's national futsal team, coached by Brazilian Gustavo Zloccowick, are scheduled to begin their daily training programme soon. Zloccowick has named a preliminary training pool of 35 players.
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