As the deputy director in charge of research and publication at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, I am pleased The Phnom Penh Post was able to send reporters to cover the international conference on “R2P [Responsibility to Protect] at 10: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities in Asia Pacific” on February 26 and 27 at the Hotel Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra.
The aim of this important conference was to promote fresh thinking and dialogue about the progress made thus far in translating discussion on genocide prevention to deeds, the challenges that have been confronted, especially in the Asian-Pacific region, and the opportunities that lie ahead to facilitate efforts to make the R2P principle a reality both in the region and globally.
As such, the conference looked to combine dialogue about how far R2P has come with detailed consideration of how the principle’s three pillars can continue to be embedded into state practice and into the work of regional and sub-regional organisations, working in partnership with each other and the United Nations.
After reading your article With friends like these: PM Dresses down former Australian foreign minister at conference in the Post on February 27, I was disappointed that your reporter focused almost solely on the disagreement between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans. This article offered a very limited view of the conference, glossing over the most import social and political implications of the event. The event sought to promote the international norm of “Responsibility to Protect”, in which state sovereignty is understood to include the responsibility of the state or government to provide protection and security for the people. R2P seeks a universal acceptance and implementation of protection of people from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by making the responsibility international in cases where states cannot or will not fulfil their obligations.
Besides a brief episode involving a personal rebuttal of criticisms made by Evans, Hun Sen stressed that Cambodia can take the leading role in the prevention of genocide in ASEAN (the theme of his speech). He stated that Cambodia had made great efforts to bring peace and moved towards the realisation to establish the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders and other perpetrators who are most responsible for committing genocide and crime against humanity. In this context, Cambodia can provide important lessons from this dark episode of its contemporary history in order to ensure peace and national reconciliation. Furthermore, it would be beneficial for the broader public if the record was set straight by including the many positive and constructive points that Prime Minister Hun Sen made during his speech to promote and advance R2P such as:
“First, I believe that Cambodia has an important role to play in promoting responsibility to protect and prevent mass atrocities in Southeast Asia, given our own unique experience and what we have accomplished so far in addressing the past atrocities under the Khmer Rouge regime.
“Second, Cambodia will continue to encourage other members of ASEAN to consider signing and ratifying the Rome Treaty and let this be an important milestone for ASEAN as a community in the medium and longer term.
“Third, the royal government of Cambodia could initiate holding a regional dialogue on mass atrocities prevention in an effort to mainstream the Responsibility to Protect principle in ASEAN, based on the UN High Level Advisory Panel Report on Mainstreaming the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia. On top of that, as the main coordinator for this conference, Cambodia can further facilitate dialogue to find common understandings consistent with principles and values of region.
“Fourth, Cambodia can serve as an important hub in the region for education and training in ASEAN on mass atrocities prevention as part of our collective efforts in building national and regional capacity in dealing with the root cause of internal conflicts and in managing risk factors that could lead to atrocious crimes. In this regard, I believe that our ASEAN dialogue partners such as Australia, the United States, the European Union, among others, could provide assistance in the region in mass atrocities prevention under an accord with the Responsibility to Protect principle”. The Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, the Documentation Center-Cambodia and the Genocide Museum, for example, can be utilised and have capacities to fulfil these tasks.
“Fifth, Cambodia can also be the main coordinator of an ASEAN-UN partnership in promoting the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia. One important project that can be pursued under this framework is developing training courses or programs for governments that would contribute to building national and regional mechanisms, such as early warning systems in order to manage risk factors that could lead to mass atrocities. Cambodia can also be the venue for regular dialogue between ASEAN and the UN to coordinate ideas and policies relevant to the Responsibility to Protect such as peace and conflict prevention, prevention of sexual violence against women and children, and inter-faith dialogue among communities.
“Sixth, Cambodia can also take the lead in proposing a network of Responsibility to Protect focal points in ASEAN. The royal government of Cambodia could seriously consider taking steps within the next few months to appoint a national focal point on the Responsibility to Protect in order to demonstrate our commitment to the region and the rest of the international community and the determination of the royal government of Cambodia in mass atrocities prevention.”
By addressing the positive aspects of prime minister’s keynote speech, readers would have been offered an informed and balanced view and understanding of the historical significance of the event for the national, regional and international communities. The position set out by the prime minister is worthy of earnest applause as it invokes the noble goal of protecting present and future generations from mass atrocities. The responsibility now falls to all members of the community and all stakeholders to assist Cambodia in making the prime minister’s vision a reality.
Pou Sovachana is the deputy director in charge of research and publication at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.