Prime Minister Hun Sen has had a good week on the international award circuit, having been announced a finalist for a “peace” prize and the recipient of a global “tourism” award – though in both cases the awarding institutions seem to exclusively lavish praise on autocratic leaders.
In a lively ceremony and banquet event at the Peace Palace on Saturday, Hun Sen accepted the title of “Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism and Sustainable Development Goals” from Anton Caragea, president of the little-known Romania-based European Council of Tourism and Trade (ECTT), whose selfdescribed goal is to “market and promote tourism and investment opportunities outside of the European Union”.
After accepting a framed certificate, accompanied by a light blue sash, from Caragea, Hun Sen described Cambodia as a peaceful country where democracy, human rights and development can thrive, as opposed to countries at war like Iraq, Libya and Syria.
“Do not forget that the election, democratisation process and human rights happen only in the peaceful country only,” Hun Sen said. “When war breaks out, not only the democracy and democratisation process, but even also the right to life is also absent.”
Political analyst Meas Nee said he was proud to see praise for Cambodia’s booming tourism industry, but he thought it was problematic for the nation’s tourism to be praised during a crackdown on oppositional voices.
“If they do not consider the current political situation, it could make them unable to attract as many tourists as before,” he said.
This was not the first honour for Cambodia given by the ECTT. It named Phnom Penh its “World Capital of Culture and Tourism” earlier this year and in July last year it found Cambodia to be the “World’s Best Tourism Destination”.
A month later, King Norodom Sihamoni awarded Caragea in turn, naming him “Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism of the Kingdom of Cambodia” in a royal decree dated July 13, 2016.
Eurocham Cambodia advocacy manager Blaise Kilian said the organisation had never worked with ECTT before, and Cambodian Tourism Federation President Thourn Sinan said he had never heard of the organisation before last year’s recognition, though the award, he said, would provide a “good reputation” for the country.
Caragea is listed as the head of several international think tanks, each focusing on tourism and foreign relations, and has exchanged awards with leaders from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Shortly before Caragea visited Phnom Penh last week, he met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro through the Institute of International Relations and Economic Cooperation (IRICE), another organisation he chairs. According to the IRICE website, Caragea hopes to strengthen the relationship between Romania and Venezuela, as each country believes in “respect for national sovereignty”. The increasingly dictatorial Maduro has been cracking down on dissent as he tries to cling to power amid an economic crisis.
Other recipients of ECTT’s tourism awards include Zimbabwe, for 2014’s “World’s Best Tourism Destination”, with Caragea having handed a framed certificate to now-deposed President Robert Mugabe, infamous for human rights offences throughout his 37-year reign.
Neither Caragea nor any representatives of his associated organisations could be reached for comment yesterday.
Elsewhere on the awards circuit, the premier was named a finalist alongside Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte for another scrutinised honour, the Confucius Peace Prize. Known as China’s alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, it has been previously given to leaders accused of human rights abuses, including Mugabe, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Analyst Meas Nee noted that the Confucius prize formerly recognised promoters of peace, but has morphed into an opportunity to applaud autocrats.
“Before, they recognised someone who tried their best to promote peace, but now they provide the award to individuals who use violence [to rule].”