On the sixteenth anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreement on Tuesday, dismay was expressed at the lack of any official commemoration for the UN-backed international treaty, which laid down the framework for peace in Cambodia after decades of bloodshed.
“This [anniversary] used to be a national holiday, but now nothing,” said Kek Galabru, director of local rights group Licadho.
Describing the lack of official commemoration as a “negative signal,” she added: “It seems to be the will of the government that we forget this date.”
The international community, who helped engineer the agreements, seems to value having a good relationship with the government more than “pushing them to do the right thing,” she said.
The 1991 peace agreements authorized the UN Transitional Authority to oversee national elections in 1993, and started Cambodia’s transition from being a communist state in the 1980s to an emerging democracy.
Costing an estimated $2 billion, UNTAC was at the time the most expensive reconstruction effort ever ventured by the international community.
But it never succeeded in its goal of vanquishing the Khmer Rouge, who remained active until 1998, and the CPP has long said that the ruling party alone was responsible for ending Cambodia’s years of civil war.
Lao Mong Hay, currently a researcher with the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, wrote in an e-mail that Cambodia must mark the anniversary of the peace agreement by acknowledging its failure to honor its obligations of bringing democracy, human rights, rule of law and an independent judiciary.
Countries that were signatories to the agreement also needed to look at their own obligations, Lao Mong Hay said.
“Some have not honored them, they have instead exploited and depleted Cambodia’s meager resources,” he said, adding that many donors are condoning “oriental despotism—some, for their own economic and strategic interests.”
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap insisted that while Oct 23 was “a very important day,” it was not necessary to celebrate the anniversary, which was dropped from the official calendar of national holidays in 2004.
“We all know about it in our mind. No one will ever seize our country again,” he said, adding that “National Liberation Day on January 7,” which marks the ousting of the Khmer Rouge by Vietnamese and Cambodian forces in 1979, was more important.
“It is more important than October 23,” he said, adding that January 7th stopped the killing by the Khmer Rouge.
Implementation of the Paris agreement has fallen well short of what was intended in 1991, said Chea Vannath, former director for the Center for Social Development.
“The balance of power between legislative and judicial areas of government is wrong,” Chea Vannath said.
Marking the 15th anniversary of the agreement last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the intentions of the Paris Peace Agreements were not realized during UNTAC.
“It has now become reality because Cambodian factions have agreed with each other without any orders and influence from outside,” he said at the time.
Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Channtha said that without the Paris agreement and UNTAC, Cambodia would not have become a democracy.
“It is a CPP idea to ignore this day,” he added.