Cambodia marks 30 years since Paris Peace Agreements

Peace has brought globalism, comfortable coffee chains and Michael Learns to Rock. This doesn’t necessarily signal democracy and respect for human rights

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October 23, 2021
Cambodia marks 30 years since Paris Peace Agreements

Hello! After visiting remote Ratanakiri I’m back in Phnom Penh, enjoying urban comforts like a good latte. I remember talking with a French-Cambodian entrepreneur a few months ago at Brown’s Coffee, one of the fancy coffee chains to emerge in recent years. The entrepreneur, a child of political exiles, returned in the early ‘90s and said back then it was hard to imagine this present, sipping a beverage under conditions of relative stability and comfort without fear.

That’s largely thanks to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which put an official end to decades of conflict and turmoil by allowing the UN to take over key parts of governance under its Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) peacekeeping operation. The Kingdom enjoyed free and open multiparty elections in 1993, although the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) took power in 1997 using military force to subdue a rival opposition party. While elections have continued since then, it’s become increasingly obvious who really holds power. The CPP won all 125 parliamentary seats in the 2018 national election after a court-ordered dissolution of the leading opposition party.

We have an excellent analysis of the gaps between the democratic potential of the Paris Peace Agreements and the realities in Cambodia today from leading human rights advocate Chak Sopheap. While I’ll let her do the talking, it’s worth noting this week saw an appeal hearing for three environmental activists from NGO Mother Nature, who were convicted of incitement in May and sentenced to 20 months in prison. A judgment is expected within weeks, but it’s likely there will be no leniency. 

As illustrated by the Mother Nature case, incitement has become a strategy to silence free expression in Cambodia even while the Kingdom is a signatory to international agreements guaranteeing its protection. Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code offer a wide range of activities considered incitement. Some Cambodians also may be nervous about voicing opinions online as the National Internet Gateway comes into full effect by February 2022, giving the government greater control and surveillance over online activities.

Yet without dismissing serious and ongoing examples of an erosion of free speech and human rights, the Paris agreements brought untold benefits. For one thing, peace introduced Cambodia to its favorite Danish band, Michael Learns to Rock, through an iconic performance at the Kingdom’s first international concert 16 years ago this week, leaving behind a delightful legacy covered by our new reporter, Anton L. Delgado.

While we can celebrate good lattes and Danish music, many young Cambodians are not satisfied with the status quo and are actively trying to make their country a better place, the topic of our leading feature. Enjoy the articles, perhaps with a cup of Brown’s:

Thirty years ago Cambodia signed the Paris Peace Agreements, bringing an end to decades of conflict. Yet the Royal Government of Cambodia should remember the commitments made to democracy and human rights within the treaties, argues Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. Despite how far the Kingdom has come since 1991, multiparty democracy has eroded and civic space is shrinking, a reminder of the important work still ahead.

Cambodian women and youth are emerging as powerful, influential voices in shaping policies and issues in the Kingdom, reports Nasa Dip. Groups like The Young Analyst and Politikoffee are creating spaces for young and female Cambodians to become thoughtfully engaged in politics even while an older generation and entrenched social norms present barriers for the activists. 

In October 2005, Cambodia hosted its first international concert since the Paris Peace Accords, featuring the Danish band Michael Learns to Rock. The group’s music, especially the romantic ballad “Take Me To Your Heart,” became legendary across the Kingdom and their songs remain favorites among generations of Cambodians who love to sing along, reports Anton L. Delgado.

Bauxite mining brings lucrative profits in Malaysia, but the red dust pollutes the water and air, leading to devastating consequences for communities near mines, reports Kymberly Chu. There is narrow oversight of the industrial projects and few ways to rehabilitate contaminated areas. Left with no choice, locals continue to use the tainted water for their daily consumption.

COVID-19 antibody tests provide a crucial avenue for Southeast Asian countries to address the ongoing pandemic, write infectious disease specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam and Harjit Gill, CEO of Asia Pacific Medical Technology Association. Antibody tests can help nations in the region with vaccination prioritisation and data tracking used to contain the virus.

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