More than two decades after the Paris Peace Agreement, which was meant to open the way for peace and multiparty democracy in Cambodia, legal experts and human rights advocates said Tuesday the government has largely abandoned the vision of the accord.
Speaking at a conference on the Peace Agreement at Phnom Penh’s Intercontinental Hotel, civil society leaders laid out the many ways the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has drifted away from the spirit of the accord, which promised universal voter rights, an independent judiciary and a liberal and plural democracy.
Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, told the conference that the Constitution, which came into force in 1993 and reflected the promises laid out in the Peace Agreement, has routinely been flouted by the government.
“The Constitution is good and guarantees freedom and rights, for example, the freedom of expression and assembly, but then rallies and expressions of opinion are barred in implementation,” he said.
“Not only has the government not enhanced, respected and defended [these rights], they have violated them,” he said, citing the recent violence against peaceful demonstrators along with the decision by the ruling CPP to form a government without an opposition.
“We regret that 22 years later, there is still a tendency toward square one,” Mr. Virak added.
The Paris Peace Agreement was signed by 18 foreign countries, Cambodia and the U.N. on October 23, 1991, and was intended to put an end to factional fighting that had plagued the country since the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979, guarantee Cambodia’s sovereignty and democratic liberties for its people.
Ny Chakrya, chief of the human rights and legal assistance program at local rights group Adhoc, said that state institutions related to elections and the judiciary have yet to earn the trust of Cambodia’s citizenry.
“The rights to enter political activity remain narrow, especially with the violations of voter rights,” Mr. Chakrya said.
As for the country’s judiciary, Mr. Chakrya said that his organization has noted a continued decline in the effectiveness of the country’s courts in delivering justice.
“Year to year, impunity cases just keep on rising. This is caused by many things, including political discrimination, corruption and the control of power, which places pressure on the courts,” he said.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that whatever the government’s shortcomings, it continued to work hard to educate the population about rule of law and push for the realization of promises outlined by the Constitution.
“We try to do our best to educate our people and observe human rights,” he added.
Until Cambodia is able to undergo democratic change at the top of government, the promise of the Paris Peace Agreement will not be realized, said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of free legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders Project.
“Democratic transition, from my point of view, means we have changed the prime minister smoothly. But today we still have the same prime minister,” he said.
“When our country reaches real democratic change, [rule of law] will be OK” and signatories to the Peace Agreement can step away having fulfilled their promise to the country, he added.