Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey emphasized bonds between Cambodia and her landlocked European nation during an interview squeezed in between an audience with King Norodom Sihamoni, visits to Swiss-funded NGOs and meeting Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday.
“The message with the king was a positive message about the solidarity between our two peoples,” she said. “We have different cultures, but we can look at what unites us.”
Switzerland—with about half the population and less than a quarter the land mass of Cambodia—may not have an embassy in Phnom Penh, but it is represented by aid projects and commerce, Calmy-Rey said.
She visited one of Swiss Dr Beat Richner’s Kantha Bopha hospitals in the morning and in the afternoon toured Swiss NGO Hagar, which focuses on education and vocational training for abused and trafficked women and children.
Women’s issues are of particular interest to Calmy-Rey, who is Switzerland’s second female president and a grandmother herself, and she emphasized a “gender priority” in Swiss aid to Cambodia.
“You cannot leave a whole portion of the population—in the case of women, a majority—out of the development process,” Calmy-Rey said, adding that even in her home country, where sexual equality is enshrined in law, women still earn less than their male counterparts.
“You can have wonderful speeches or laws…but the most important thing is to be able to implement [equality],” she said.
She added that Switzerland, like Cambodia, is a small country dependent on foreign trade.
“Our internal market is very little…. It is of importance that we are present everywhere,” she said. “We are importing a lot of textiles [from Cambodia], and you import from Switzerland a lot of pharmaceuticals.”
Calmy-Rey also expressed hope that the Khmer Rouge tribunal—with Swiss help in the form of funding for an outreach program officer and the Documentation Center of Cambodia—would help Cambodians come to terms with their past. The Swiss also have had to come to terms with dark periods in their own history, including World War II, she said.
“It is important to deal with the past…. We have done such work. I know it is not easy,” she said.
“Switzerland is supporting the process and we hope you will have a tribunal that is going to start.”