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Cambodia: The Elusive Peace Dividend

 PDF version of Cambodia: The Elusive Peace Dividend Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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Almost a decade after the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, Cambodia is at peace and the government is at last secure enough to contemplate the trials of some Khmer Rouge leaders. The country has a coalition government that is stable, has reclaimed its seat at the United Nations (UN), and has become a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is posting 4 per cent annual economic growth rates and making modest strides in economic reform. Clearly the country has moved forward: it is intact, it is without internal or external threats, and it has the necessary framework for good government.

Given the gulf that existed between the political groupings of Cambodia in 1991 when the Paris Accords were signed, and the lack of a liberal, democratic tradition in the country, the existence of a stable coalition government by the year 2000 could be seen as an important first step in achieving the potential offered by the 1991 settlement. But this judgment must remain considerably clouded given the systematic resort to political violence and abuse of process by key players to get to this point. Cambodian politicians could have done better. There is peace but the majority of Cambodians are still waiting for their peace dividend, and many believe that it will never come. Social welfare is virtually non-existent and the national economy has little prospect of supporting the growing adult population.

Cambodia remains a strongman�s state, replete with lawlessness, human rights abuses, grinding poverty, bloated security forces and an economy thriving on prostitution, narcotics trafficking, land grabbing and illegal logging. The ruling Cambodian People�s Party (CPP), led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has now achieved long-sought legitimacy but this has come essentially by default � by marginalising political opposition, wearing down donors and diplomats, and maintaining a lock on power through the military and local government offices.

The government has pledged itself to an ambitious agenda for growth and reform, yet it remains to be seen whether the CPP will deliver. There is considerable room to believe that the CCP�s public commitment in a donors� meeting in Tokyo in February 1999 to a program of political reform and social welfare is disingenuous. In the most important areas of necessary reform foreshadowed in 1991, the government has made little progress. The likelihood of large-scale violence or a collapse of government control is relatively low, but all parties cannot ignore the cumulative effects of ongoing abuses by the ruling party or the potentially explosive issues on the horizon. Economic inequalities are increasing, and are being met more frequently with public protests against land grabbing and corruption. Tensions within the armed forces are being exacerbated by attempts to reduce the size of the forces, while attempts to replace old guard local officials may unleash violence against their opponents. One of the most sensitive, if not potentially traumatic, issues is the question of a tribunal for the surviving Khmer Rouge leadership. The ruling party cannot agree within itself on the way forward, and any decision will elicit strong public response. The government has yet to show consistent leadership on any of these major issues despite its commitment to donors to do so.

The international community, deeply involved in pushing Cambodia to the horrors of 1975 and then in trying to bring it back, bears a particular responsibility for the state of the country. Those who signed the 1991 Peace Agreements can take credit for finally drawing the teeth of the Khmer Rouge and bringing an end to the civil war, and those who have kept the country financially solvent in subsequent years can take much of the credit for the limited gains made. But they should all be now honestly reviewing their role in creating and subsidizing the government that today controls the country.

ICG�s previous report on Cambodia emphasised the importance of breaking the cycle of impunity, stepping up preparations for local elections and reforming public finances by shifting excessive military spending to social sectors. These recommendations still hold, although none has been addressed effectively by the Cambodian government or the donor community.

This report makes the following additional recommendations.

Linking Aid and Governance Reforms

1. Donor governments must adopt a more visibly political approach to coordination, solidarity behind agreed goals, and a much more critical eye toward the Cambodian government, being willing to take action if agreed goals are not achieved.

2. The Consultative Group (CG) meetings of donors should include a greater diversity of politicians and Cambodian NGOs. If this is not acceptable to the Cambodian government, the CG should convene a separate meeting with Cambodian NGOs to be held the day before the formal meetings with Cambodian officials.

Land disputes

3. Donors should support the creation of an effective dispute resolution system that maximises representation for farmers and civic activists and minimises the participation of provincial or military authorities.

4. Donors should prepare immediately to increase aid for food and health care to offset the causes and results of landlessness.

5. Donors should give ongoing assistance to the clearance of landmines as a means of making more land available.


6. Demobilisation that actually addresses the declared purposes of the program must be a higher priority both for the government and the donor community.

7. Donors should not fund the demobilisation project sponsored by the World Bank as currently envisioned. Efforts should be more focused, and include a strategy for cantonment of weapons, ending the small arms trade on the streets of the major towns and cities, and cutting back the most � not the least � costly parts of the armed forces.

Commune elections

8. Donors should not fund commune elections if the legislation remains as it is and if other practical benchmarks, such as reforming the National Electoral Commission, are not met.

Trials for the Khmer Rouge 9. The UN and other interested parties should be prepared to back the special courts to be set up under Cambodian domestic jurisdiction, but only under the firm condition that all living first-level leaders of the Khmer Rouge are subject to rigorous investigation that conforms to international standards.

10. There should be explicit provision in the legislation for all judges to be able to render public, reasoned dissenting opinions on all matters submitted to them.

11. Agreement should be sought to allow a foreign presence among the investigators apart from the principals identified specifically in the Cambodian bill.

12. International organisations, foreign governments and Cambodian NGOs should be prepared, perhaps through the vehicle of a joint monitoring committee, to document and publicise any weaknesses in the administration of justice under the proposed Cambodian tribunal.

Phnom Penh/Brussels, 11 August 2000

 PDF version of Cambodia: The Elusive Peace Dividend Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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