Monday, 17 October 2011

The 21st Anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreement: Cambodia and the Road to Stable Peace

Photo: Former King Sihanouk raised hands with Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh in 1991 after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement. I still remember this historic moment when I was a school boy, who was sent, a long with all pupils and students, to greet the two leaders in front of the Ministry of National Defense. Currently, even Cambodia now has enjoyed a stable peace and a rapid economic development, the process of peacebuilding is still ongoing along with the recent functioning of Extraordinary Chamber in Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) or UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia.  The ECCC, so far, has finished the case of 001 (the trial of Duch, head of Tuol Sleng Prison or S21), now continues to Case 002. Recently, the UN and the public are skeptical of Cambodian government's inteference in the office of the co-investigating judges of this court regarding the case of 003 and 004.

I.                   Introduction

On January 7, 1979, Khmer Rouge regime was ousted from Phnom Penh to the jungle by Vietnamese armed forces who accompanied by the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation (KUFNS). Then, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) was established and took control most part of Cambodia.  However, civil wars still continued, especially along the Cambodia-Thailand border, in which the batlles took place among the four factions, the PRK based in Phnom Penh, Khmer Rouge, the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC), and the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF). After the complete withdrawal of Vietnamese force from Cambodia in 1989, peacemaking process was launched in full scale with help of the United States of America, France, Japan, United Nations, and Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN), especially Indonesia. The four Cambodian factions agreed to end civil war and signed the Paris Peace Agreement on October 23, 1991, which invited United Nation Transnational Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC) to come to organize and supervise a national election in 1993.

In general, the peacekeeping operation by UNTAC was so successful with the national election in 1993, which paved the way for national reconciliation, democracy, and international development assistances. Shortly after the 1993 election, a power-sharing deal was made between FUNCINPEC and Cambodian People Party (CPP) to form a coalition government with Prince Ranaridh as the First Prime Minister, and Samdech Hun Sen as the Second Prime Minister. However, instability and violent quest for power still persisted in Cambodia. In early July, 1997, the process of peace-building was disrupted with a factional fighting in Phnom Penh, resulting in the ousting of Prince Ranaridh from power. Fortunately, due to ASEAN’s efforts and international donors’ pressure, national conciliation was achieved again as the prince came back to join the 1998 national election. Then, the general election (2003 and 2008, and so on) is regularly held every five years while the CPP is winning more and more majority seats in the National Assembly. So, the peace-building in Cambodia has been viewed with optimism for the future as now it has finished the transition stage and is reaching the stage of stable peace and economic development. Furthermore, Cambodia has become of a successful model of peacebuilding for other war-torn countries in the region and the world.  

II.                Literature Review

According to Nicole Ball (2001, p. 723), the peace-building stage consists of two phases, namely transition and consolidation. First, the transition phase includes establishing government, seeking legitimacy, making administrative and economic reform, and the revitalization of the economy of the war-torn country. Then, the consolidation phase is started which includes the continuing and deepening reform process, economic and social recovery efforts, and the promotion of social reconciliation. He also cited the importance of donor roles and responsibilities in the supporting the rebuilding of war-torn societies by enhancing the effectiveness of the peacebuilding assistance and the need to have donor coordination.

However, the post-conflict society is highly unstable where peace-building efforts will encounter a bulk of complicated problems in war-torn countries. Neil J. Kritz (2001, p. 818) has pointed out the importance of the rule of law in the post-conflict society in order to maintain peace through democracy which provides check and balance on the government and promote the role of the opposition. From his views, when the rule of law is in place, the likelihood of another civil war is reduced by strictly limiting of the ability of any party which might involve in violent action. From these two views, we can say that Cambodia is right in the middle of peace-building stage by engaging in many tasks such as the strengthening of democracy and administrative and economic reform, military reform, the putting into force of corruption law, and the UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal to bring the top Khmer Rouge leaders to face justice.    

III.          Paris Peace Agreement and UNTAC Intervention

The issue of peace-building in Cambodia is a complex process which involves the transition from war to peace, the outbreak of violence in 1997 after the end of peace-keeping mission by UNTAC in 1993, and the return to the consolidation of the peace-building, democracy, and economic development from 1998 after the complete dismantling of the Khmer Rouge organization and its military, which brought total peace and national unity in the Kingdom. According to Neil J. Kritz’s argument that democracy and rule of law is important in the post-conflict society to maintain peace, Cambodia's peacebuilding process strongly needs democracy and its democratic consolidation. Democracy in Cambodia has been established since 1993 with general election supervised by UNTAC. The presence of UNTAC and its huge expenditure (approximately 1.5 billion USD) have also helped boosting the new economy, especially in local areas of all provinces. Unlike successful political transition in other countries which the incumbent regime collapsed or dismantled, the PRK in Cambodia was survived and regained its strength during transitional period. Evan Gottesman (2003) argued that “no Berlin Wall ever fell in Cambodia….the regime [PRK] did not collapse; it negotiated the terms of its survival.” In this sense, Evan means that power structure of the old regime (PRK) still continues in Cambodia, but it is adapting itself to the new environment, democratization and peacebuilding (the national election in 1993, challenge of power with FUNCINPEC, dismantling of the Khmer Rouge structure in 1998 and integration to the government, and the signing of agreement with the United Nations in 2003 to establish UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh).
In legal framework, Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 gave legitimacy of UNTAC intervention in Cambodia (Article 2.1: the Signatories invite the United Nations Security Council to establish a United Nations Transition Authority in Cambodia…..). According to this agreement, the transitional period was started from the date of signing the agreement by all parties and lasted until the proclamation of the new National Assembly formed by 1993 election and the new Royal Government of Cambodia. After the official launch of peacekeeping operation, United Nations Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC) was sent to Cambodia in the late 1991 to make advanced assessment and preparation in term of logistics and administration. In 1992, UNAMIC was transformed into United Nations Transnational Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) headed by Mr. Yasushi Akashi, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative, and began full operations with a total staff of more than 20,000 international personnel, including the military and civilian police. Through the transitional period, Supreme National Council (SNC), headed by former King Sihanouk, and consisted of representatives from the four factions, was internationally recognized as the unique legitimate body and source of authority to oversee the sovereignty, independence and unity of Cambodia as stated in the Article 3 of Paris Peace Agreement. Although UNTAC was the legitimate peace enforcer in Cambodia, SNC had the right to advise UNTAC and the latter had to follow this advice as long as SNC's advice is within the framework of Paris Peace Agreement. 
However, national unity and stability had not been fully achieved until 1998 due to Khmer Rouge’s resistance. The issue of consolidation of democracy in Cambodia had been so problematic from 1993 to 1997. Violent power struggle between the two Prime Ministers erupted on 5-6 July 1997 with a factional fighting and a short period of civil war in O’smach area along Cambodia-Thailand border. There are many problems which resulted in the breakdown of democracy in 1997 and the return to armed conflict between CPP and FUNCINPEC in that year.
According to Grant Curtis (1998, p.57), this event indicated the failure of the UNTAC-led peace process and democratic process in Cambodia. However, UNTAC did a good job in Cambodia despite this later crisis. There are two reasons in supporting this argument. First, again based on Paris Peace Agreement, when UNTAC left Cambodia in late 1993, the political situation in Cambodia was stable enough with a new constitution and the establishment of a legitimate power-sharing government between Prince Ranaridh and Samdech Hun Sen. Furthermore, the two had been so cooperative with each other until early 1997. So, one could not say that the event of 5-6 July fighting was due to the premature departure of UNTAC. Second, according to Evan Gottesman, it was because of continuation of the old power structure (CPP-controlled government) that led to the clash with new power structure (FUNCINPEC leadership in the new government). Doubtlessly, conflict escalation began and armed clash between the two Prime Ministers finally occurred in 5-6 July 1997.     

IV.             Challenges to Democracy in Cambodia

Although there is modest progress of democracy in Cambodia since the start of the 21st century with local democracy such as the nationnal elections, and the commune council elections and city-district council elections since 2002, democracy in Cambodia remain unconsolidated due to many complicated problems in the post-conflict Cambodian society. In general, democracy and rule of law in Cambodia faces many obstacles as follows:  
First, political culture in Cambodia may not be in harmony with democracy, and, sometimes, is against democracy, since most parties tended to use violence in dispute settlement in the past. There are a lot of arguments by some Cambodian and foreign scholars stating that politics in Cambodia is “politics of violence” (Heder and Ledgerwood, 1996, p3-43). However, democratic culture can be nurtured in Cambodia, but it takes times and requires a favourable environment, an active civil society, and the most important one, peace and unity in Cambodia itself.  
Second, there is the domination of the executive over the legislative and the judiciary, resulting in no check and balance for the state. Combined with weak rule of law, democratic consolidation in Cambodia is getting slow. Furthermore, weak institutions and low capacity building of government officials make democratization ineffective at the local level although the local election of the commune council is held regularly.
Third, patronage and clientelism is common among government officials, parliamentarians and senators, court judges, the military, and civil officials. Actually, it is the central and chronic problem in Cambodian society where kinship and partisanism are commonly valued and accepted. This problem makes corruption so rampant at all level of governments. However, corruption law has been adopted and enforced recently to prevent this problem. The public has cheered for some arrests and prosecutions of several corrupt senior officials and military personnel. 

Angkor Sentinel Exercise 2010 in Cambodia, a joint military drill between Cambodia and UN peace-keepers. Now Cambodia is actively participating in the UN peackeeping operations in various African nations and the Middle East.

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