P RINCE Norodom Ranariddh's defense of the 'food-first-democracy-later' concept
signaled a dangerous departure from the government 's commitment to uphold
democratic values, according to the Khmer Institute of Democracy
"This statement has departed from what our leaders agreed upon in
1991, 1992 and 1993 in the forms of the Paris Peace Agreements, the
International Covenant and Convention on Human Rights and our Constitution," KID
president Dr Lao Mong Hay told the Post.
"I may say that this is a
dangerous departure, and for Funcinpec, it's quite a departure from what its
founder-leader [then Prince Norodom Sihanouk] stated in 1982."
was responding to an eight-page statement issued by the First Prime Minister on
Aug 3 addressing a wide range of criticisms made of the Royal
Ranariddh, strongly denying that the government was becoming
undemocratic, urged its critics to understand what was most important to the
"Democracy means food for the people's stomachs, shelter,
education, medical facilities and basic amenities and the freedom to express and
move freely. This is democracy in the Cambodian sense."
He said that to
millions of poor rural people "democracy is just a phrase to be talked about in
idle gossip. It does not ensure food for their stomach nor an end to their
"... When the rural poor people have sufficient food, shelter,
education and basic amenities, then democracy can be preached and installed in
On the press, Ranariddh supported the idea of a free,
self-regulated press but said that the "western brand of democracy and freedom
of the press is not applicable to Cambodia."
It is not the first time
that Ranariddh has made such comments. As recently as July 3 he had compared
democracy and a free press to a suit which "we have to redo or trim in order to
fit ourselves", but his written statement marked the most comprehensive
declaration of his views to date.
What prompted the statement is unclear,
though it referred to "critical and unfair" articles by local and foreign
journalists. It was dated on the eve of United States Secretary of State Warren
Christopher's one-day visit to Cambodia, but did not become public until after
he had left.
Lao Mong Hay acknowledged that Ranariddh's comments were
part of a democratic debate about Cambodia, but said it sounded like a broken
"It's a departure from what has been promised - there's the
question of promise and delivery. It is very dangerous when the delivery is not
the same as the promise," said Mong Hay.
"Democracy is democracy, human
rights are human rights. To KID, there is no Western democracy or Eastern
democracy. It's democracy."
Thun Saray, president of Cambodian Human
Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), said the issue of having enough food
to eat had to be considered along with the other rights such as to be protected
"It does not lead anywhere [to consider] the right to eat
alone... We cannot stay alive just by having enough to eat while being short of
civil and political rights and being physically abused without
Australian judge Michael Kirby, the UN Secretary-General's
Special Representative on Human Rights in Cambodia, would not be drawn on his
view of Ranariddh's statements.
Speaking at a press conference on Aug 15,
at the end of a 12-day Cambodian visit, Kirby said he had been unable to meet
with Ranariddh to discuss democracy and human rights issues.
Prime Minister expressed his views [in the statement] in a typically
wide-ranging, forthright and bold manner.
"Unfortunately his busy
commitments have not allowed him to see me on this visit and I therefore haven't
had the opportunity of exploring with him in more detail the thoughts that he
"....but the issues he dealt with - the... expulsions from the
National Assembly, logging, freedom of the press, democracy - won't go
"They'll still be here when I come again and I will take the
occasion then to explore whether the First Prime Minister still holds to all of
the views he expressed and I will be happy to discuss with him the way in which
those views are reconciled with the universal obligations that exist within the
UN conventions and which have been adopted in the constitution of the Kingdom of
Kirby said the UN had determined that there was "no cultural
or ethnic exception" from international obligations to protect human
But individual rights - such as that of freedom of expression and
that of the right to privacy - often had to compete with each
Kirby was quizzed over whether he believed Cambodia was following
a Malaysian-style of democracy, with Ranariddh expounding views similar to those
of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
He replied: "There is a
tendency in Western countries to think that human rights are about policemen,
courts, prisons and matters of that kind.
"But human rights as seen by
the UN, and often articulated from Asia, is a much broader mosaic. It includes
the right to health, the right to work, the right to housing and the right to
food. If the dichotomy suggested is between those Westerners who think the only
human rights are the right to free expression and the right not to get arrested,
then I'm with Dr Mahathir and the First Prime Minister of this
"Because there is no doubt that having food in your stomach and
clean water to drink are more important to more people than the other
"But... all of these human rights are vital, important and have
to given weight. In terms of government priorities, no doubt the government here
will set its own agenda."