Phnom Penh, Cambodia – As a teenager, Prum Chantha was optimistic about Cambodia’s democratic future.
It was 1991 and the Paris Peace Agreement, ending years of conflict following the brutal rule of the Maoist-inspired Khmer Rouge, has just been signed. The Cambodians were eager to elect their own leaders and tear their broken country to pieces, to disintegrate, to dismember, to dismember, to dismember, to dismember, to disintegrate.
“After the 1993 election, I did [thought] Our country is prosperous; Our country is no longer a communist country, ”he said.
Now, 30 years after the historic agreement was signed, Chantha, a businessman and a housewife, finds herself fighting for the release of her husband – once a supporter of the main opposition party – and her 16-year-old son.
Her husband was arrested in 2020 and her son earlier this year. He says proof of their fate did not honor the 1991 agreement.
“I didn’t think then that the country could turn out that way,” Chanatha said.
“They arrested my husband on charges of incitement and sedition because he was ready to welcome Sam Renci on November 9,” the 43-year-old Cambodian’s most prominent exiled opposition leader said. “He has been in prison for more than a year and a half now.”
Her husband, Kak Komfir, 55, is one of more than 100 supporters of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) who was arrested and jailed after its popularity soared after the Cambodian Supreme Court dissolved the party in November 2017.
Victims of violence
Signed in October 1991, the Paris Peace Accords brought together four factions fighting for control of Cambodia after invading Vietnam in 1979 to oust the Khmer Rouge.
In support of Vietnam and the then Soviet Union, Hun Sen’s People’s Republic of Cambodia, which would later form the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), controlled Phnom Penh, but it was caught up in fighting with Khmer Rouge fighters. China; And forces led by the country’s former King Sihanouk, as well as a Republican party led by Sun Sun, which had Western backers.
The agreements laid the foundation for a democratic political system and elections.
The United Nations takes over the administration of the country, deploys 16,000 peacekeepers and conducts elections, so that 90 percent of the population can participate.
The royal FUNCINPEC party won the election but amid threats from some in the CPP, a power-sharing deal was struck with FUNCINPEC leader Norodom Ranariddh as the so-called first prime minister and Hun Sen as the second prime minister.
In July 1997, after months of tensions and grenade attacks on opposition rallies that killed more than a dozen people, Hun Sen campaigned against the monarchy and seized power for himself.
Since then, he’s just grasped her and the process has accelerated in recent years.
“There are a lot of big concerns, but the most important is the way democracy has been destroyed in the name of stability,” said Sarpong Pew, a professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University. “The abolition of the CNRP is against the pillars of the peace agreement, which is more or less an international peace agreement.”
According to a 1997 report compiled by the United Nations Office on Human Rights, Hun Sen’s actions against FUNCINPEC have resulted in at least 41 death sentences for political opponents.
Ten years after taking power, commonly referred to as a “coup,” Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), says Hun Sen’s ability to navigate domestic and international political downfalls “led the country in Hun Sen’s path.” Almost complete domination of power. “
Adams was an official at the United Nations Office for Human Rights in 1997 in Phnom Penh.
“No one believes now [as a few did at the time]”If any opposition party gets more votes than the CPP, Hun Sen will step down,” he wrote.
Like many powerful leaders, Hun Sen sought to equate “stability” with his rule.
“PPA [was] Astrid Naren-Nielsen, a senior lecturer at the center, said the aim was not only to provide an immediate solution to the conflict but also to bring long-term peace by uniting political actors around a common commitment to the democratic and human rights provisions involved. For East and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Lund, Sweden. “Since then, the government has gone beyond concerns about the PPA and liberal democracy and human rights, highlighting its own peace achievements, noting that it has already been integrated into the constitution.
“Peace is part of the daily political discourse in Cambodia at the moment, but the government has redefined it as a result of the dissolution of the opposition CNRP, which has identified it as a traitor.”
The opposition has been removed
The combination of the two smaller parties, led by CNRP, Kim Sokha and Sam Renci, disbanded after the 2017 commune election where it won about 40 percent of the seats, raising hopes that it could also get enough support to oust the CPP in the general election of the year.
Kim Sokha was charged with sedition and more than 100 senior leaders of the party were banned from politics for five years. Dozens of other opposition leaders, including Sam Renci, have fled the country for fear of arrest.
Authorities have since turned a blind eye to the group’s members and supporters, with more than a hundred arrested and jailed. Sokha, who is now under house arrest, could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of sedition.
Meanwhile, the CPP has every seat in parliament.
“The PPA has given birth to democracy in Cambodia. But Cambodian politicians and citizens are responsible for building a democratic society with the support of the international community, ”said Yang Sang Koma, a small member of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), founded in 2015 and maintaining a low profile.
“However, our old politicians are fighting to strengthen their own power instead of building democratic institutions.”
The international community has called on the Cambodian government to return to the framework of the PPA and multi-party democracy.
“The international community needs to be engaged and put pressure on the ruling party without threatening to weaken it. The international community needs to persuade the government to join other parties, “Sarpong Pew added.
But the influence of the world’s liberal democracies in Phnom Penh has faded in recent decades, and Cambodia has moved closer to China, Cambodia’s largest source of aid and investment.
According to a recent World Bank economic update, nearly half of last year’s $ 3.6 billion in foreign direct investment came from China. China is also Cambodia’s largest government lender.
“I am concerned that the ‘system of liberal democracy based on pluralism’ envisioned in Cambodia under the 1991 Paris Peace Accords has not yet been implemented,” Vitit Muntervern, the UN special rapporteur in Cambodia, told Al Jazeera. “Cambodians are still waiting for real and real power sharing in the country.”
“Importantly, commune elections will be held in 2022 and national elections in 2023, and they need full transparency and related guarantees.”
After all, the strong electoral performance of the CNRP is the beginning of the government’s repression.
“Their worst nightmare is to lose power, so they decided to weaken democracy by fabricating the so-called ‘color revolution’ narrative as an excuse to arrest CNRP leaders and eventually use the CPP’s political control over the courts to abolish the CNRP,” said Phil Robertson, HRW. Deputy Asia Director.
Robertson said the breach violated the PPA and the Cambodian constitution.
‘The mentality of the scorched earth’
Faye Sifan, a government spokesman, denied that Cambodia had violated the agreement, insisting that the CNRP was abolished because the party – which the government claims planned – was in conflict with the “color revolution” law.
He asserted that the government could not allow the party to function.
“Our constitution is the fundamental law that we must apply,” he said. “We have integrated the spirit of the Paris Peace Accords into our constitution.”
Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s daughter, Monovithya Kem, said the international community needed to do more.
“The PPA and our constitution guarantee multi-party democracy where people can choose their party and leader,” he said.
“Since 2017, this fundamental right to vote has been taken away from almost half of the country. There is no real multi-party democracy without CNRP as the preferred party for half of the country’s constituencies. ”
In a series of crackdowns, Chantha’s son, who is 16 years old and has autism, has been accused of inciting and insulting government officials online.
In September, the United Nations expressed concern over his arrest.
“This is particularly disturbing because the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – of which Cambodia is a party – requires authorities to consider the best interests of children with disabilities and provide appropriate assistance,” the experts said in a statement.
“We are extremely concerned that the child was interrogated without a lawyer or his guardian, in violation of Cambodian juvenile justice and international human rights standards.”
Robertson of HRW said the arrest of Chanter’s son highlighted a “scorched earth mentality” towards any criticism of the Cambodian authorities.
“This is a clear disregard for the rights of a person with a mental disability,” he said. “Father’s persecution as part of the arrests and trials of many CNRP supporters across the country shows that the government has decided that it does not care about the provisions of the Paris Peace Accords, which require the protection and support of human rights.” Multiparty democracy. “
Chantha has appealed to the government to release her husband, her son and many more who have been arrested for expressing their views or concerns.
And he is calling on the international community, which came together 30 years ago to move forward democratically for Cambodia, to intervene again.
“I was not a worker. I was a housewife, ”she said. “But since they arrested my husband, I have protested with other women and mothers whose husbands or fathers are in prison for their release. They are not guilty. ”