Jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha, exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy and more than 50 human rights NGOs called on France and Indonesia to reconvene the signatories to the Paris Peace Accords yesterday amid fears that the historic treaty is in danger of being “completely forsaken”.
Yesterday’s call to action – delivered on the 26th anniversary of the signing of the agreement, which is credited with instituting democracy in the Kingdom – follows the government’s recent closure of NGOs and media outlets, its jailing of dissenters, threatening rhetoric from security services and, perhaps most significantly, its moves to dissolve the opposition and arrest its leader.
Warning of an “unprecedented” crackdown on human rights, a letter signed by 56 advocacy groups yesterday called for decisive action to ensure fair elections next year – even as analysts expressed scepticism that signatories would heed the call.
“Your obligation to take concrete action under the Paris Peace Agreements has now been triggered as a result of the severe deterioration in the state of human rights and democracy in Cambodia in recent weeks and months,” read the letter, which was signed by the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, among others.
The 1991 Paris Peace Accords sought to end decades of violence in Cambodia and opened the door to the United Nations’ first post-Cold War peacekeeping mission – the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia. The agreements also established a set of guiding principles, including a commitment to liberal democracy, an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
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But in his own letter, released through his lawyers, Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha – arrested in September on widely condemned charges of “treason” – said Cambodia has not adhered to the values of the agreement.
“If the international community and all Khmers do not find a solution in time, Cambodia will go backwards,” Sokha said.
Part of the 1991 agreement obliges the conference’s co-chairs, France and Indonesia, to initiate discussions if the agreement is violated, at the request of the UN secretary-general.
However, speaking at the opening of a bridge in Phnom Penh yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen rejected the Paris Peace Accords as “out of date” and said it is “impossible” to reconvene the signatories unless people wanted to call the Khmer Rouge back.
He also noted that the agreement’s principles had already been incorporated into the Constitution.
“I think some people who do not know the Paris Peace agreement pretend to know the truth, but I suggest you understand it clearly first,” the premier said.
But political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the prime minister’s words showed his own “misunderstanding of international law”.
“Regardless of the inclusion or incorporation of the Paris Peace agreements in our Constitution, he cannot shirk his responsibility to implement those provisions,” Mong Hay said. “He has to implement the Constitution.”
The United Nations and signatory states remained tight-lipped yesterday about what plans, if any, they had to take action under the accords.
Mathilde Teruya, spokeswoman for the French Embassy in Cambodia, said only that France “follows closely the current political situation in Cambodia”, and declined to comment further. The other signatory states either declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries.
Simon Walker, representative for the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia (OHCHR), did not answer questions about whether the organisation would call for a meeting of signatories. In a statement, Walker would only note that Cambodia “has taken important steps to ratify human rights treaties, taking on responsibilities before other States to protect human rights in Cambodia”.
However, at a panel discussion about the accords organised by local students yesterday, OHCHR Cambodia’s head of civil society and fundamental freedoms Cybele Haupert acknowledged that some parts of the accords “need to be reinforced”.
“One of the main issues is what we can call the democratic state . . . mainly the exercise of the constitutionally recognised rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” Haupert said.
She stopped short of urging member states to reconvene, calling only for “dialogue” between the government and stakeholders.
Analysts, meanwhile, said the chances of a meeting are low. Renowned historian David Chandler, who was in Paris when the agreements were signed 26 years ago, contrasted the hopeful atmosphere then with the gloomy outlook now.
“Some of the thinking turned out to be unrealistic,” Chandler said. “Multi-party democracy was rare in [Southeast] Asia in 1992 and it’s even rarer today.”
“Cambodia is now alongside all of its undemocratic neighbours, with powerful undemocratic patrons and a proud, undemocratic ruling group,” he added.
Duncan McCargo, a University of Leeds political scientist who researches Southeast Asia, agreed that the chances of a meeting are “pretty slim”.
“Cambodians need to . . . stop imagining that the international community is going to take action to rescue things,” McCargo said.
Despite pessimism about the accords, Cambodian opposition leaders delivered urgent appeals to the international community yesterday.
At a press conference in Paris, ex-Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy blamed Hun Sen for “destroying” the agreement and called for a reconvening of signatories.
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua, also currently in self-imposed exile, echoed his comments and blamed signatory states for crippling the agreement by rewarding the government’s failures over the past 25 years with increased development aid.
“Convening a roundtable on Cambodia to take stock of the implementation so far and reassess the accords is a must,” she said.