Heads of the Electoral and Legal components of the U.N. Transitional Authority for
Cambodia (UNTAC) convened a three-day seminar in Phnom Penh from Feb. 2-4 aimed at
presenting information and stimulating discussion on constitutional issues.
The seminar was held in response to a request from the Supreme National Council (SNC)
for UNTAC to help facilitate debate and exchange of ideas in the lead up to a new
Cambodian government drafting a constitution of its own.
One of the seminar's objectives was to make Cambodians aware of other countries'
constitutions, thereby giving them a frame of reference to analyze their own problems,
UN seminar organizer Luke Mhlaba stated.
But he insisted that although comparative studies could be useful, it was the task
of a new Constituent Assembly to draw up a constitution to meet the particular challenges
Three academics presented papers to more than 40 Cambodian participants consisting
of representatives of three of the major factions and from many of the smaller political
Although invited, no representatives from Democratic Kampuchea turned up, Mhlaba
The first paper, which Mhlaba described as "highly theoretical," was presented
by Thai Professor Chai-anan Samudayanija.
Dr. Chai-anan contrasted Asian societies with Western or industrialized societies,
noting that industrialization had been characterized by the replacement of tradition
Asian countries, however, "allowed the possibility of the co-existence of these
otherwise opposing phenomena."
A new Cambodian constitution, Chai-anan argued, should take this into account and
should allow measures for extra-judicial modes of resolving conflicts and give a
place to traditional methods of dispute resolution, such as recourse to the village
Noting that the majority of Cambodia's population lived in rural areas, Chai-anan
warned of the risk of the new state catering only to the interests of the urban commercial
Belgian author of the "Cambodian Chronicles," Raoul Jennar, presented a
paper on executive power.
"He defined it and then presented a categorization of the various model regimes;
parliamentarian, presidential or semi-presidential, the idea being to put forward
the models that exist and to use what suits," Mhlaba said.
The paper aroused great interest as it brought up the pertinent issues of whether
there would be a monarchy or a presidential system and how presidential powers would
be defined. Singaporean Ambassador to Hungary and former Chief Justice Tan Boon Teik
gave the final speech on the importance of the separation of executive and judicial
powers and the independence of the judiciary.
Speaking after the seminar, Raoul Jennar emphasized the importance of this last issue,
seeing it as the key link for both development and democracy.
"A strong government is essential for development," Jennar stated. "Development
needs a capacity to decide. But a strong government can destroy development through
corruption. An independent judiciary is the only way to fight corruption," he
Mhlaba stated that having brought the various issues out into open debate, it was
now up to Cambodians as to whether or not they required UNTAC to hold further seminars.
He stated that UNTAC hoped to present a fairly detailed report on the seminar for
all attendants. Mhlaba presumed that this would generate further interest as he felt
there was a need for more study.
"The papers were very pertinent but were general and broad. There's a need to
break down various elements in the papers and look at them closely," he said.
"The separation of executive and judicial powers was not exhaustively discussed.
Greater debate [is] yet to come," he said.
UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi expressed his support for the idea of a further seminar.
The U.N. is also looking into the possibility of setting up a resource center to
provide information and materials to assist constitutional studies.