T HE leaders of the four Cambodian warring factions made the 23rd of October 1991
an historic moment when they decided in front of the world to drop their violent,
armed struggles for the non-violent, peaceful and civilized way of gaining the exclusive
powers to rule from the Cambodian people through the ballot boxes, and together with
their respective backers and a number of countries concerned over the plight of the
Cambodian people, signed in Paris the Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement
of the Cambodia Conflict. There was then a drastic change of mind and attitude, and
all those leaders deserved much praise for this change which humankind has ceaselessly
been working toward for so long.
However, as this author noted then and wrote later on: "The atmosphere surrounding
the signing of those agreements was hardly one of joy, peace and national reconciliation
as one might have expected at the end of the arduous endeavors for peace. The SNC
[Supreme National Council] members and their respective assistants, especially from
SOC [State of Cambodia] and from the Khmer Rouge, did not reach out to one another
to signal their rapprochement. There was no joint celebration. Perhaps the signing
marked another stage of their war in Cambodia and that they needed to carry on fighting
until their final victory as had been done in the past. A comment in Beijing Review
after the signing of the peace agreements aptly pointed to the efforts required to
ensure their smooth and effective implementation: 'Although the signing of the
Paris peace treaty indicates the ultimate resolution of the Cambodian problem, it
is no easy job to turn the agreements on paper into realities. Continued efforts
by all parties concerned are required to ensure its full implementation.'"
The Khmer Rouge backed down and did not take part in the electoral process under
the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), and have continued
their war ever since. The UNTAC-organized elections were held regardless in May 1993.
A Constituent Assembly transformed later on into the National Assembly, a Constitution
and a new and legitimate government were born amid an impaired peace. Après
l'orage c'est le beau temps, so it was then expected. Pluralist liberal democracy,
and respect and observance of human rights provided for in the Paris Agreements were
confirmed and enshrined in the country's Constitution of 24 September 1993: Cambodia
was to have the rule of law and be known as a free country.
Indeed freedom and respect for human rights were emerging with vigor in almost all
sections of the Cambodian population, but some remained wary and skeptical and would
rather wait and see before coming to any conclusion either way. In the second year
of the Constitution in 1994, disturbing developments began to emerge. Journalists
were receiving threats and intimidations; several newspapers were suspended; the
government brought several journalists to court; and several journalists were killed
in mysterious circumstances while the press law was being drafted. The journalists
brought to court received severe sentences while the enacted press law curtailed
the Constitutional right to free speech.
In 1995 Sam Rainsy, MP for Siem Reap and the Minister of Finance, was sacked from
the Government. Later on he was expelled from his party, FUNCINPEC, and, in June,
from the National Assembly altogether. In September a grenade was thrown at the Son
Sann faction's office of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) and another
at its followers resting at a nearby Buddhist monastery while that faction was organizing
its party's congress in defiance of warnings from some government quarters that there
might be grenade attacks at the gathering.
Hardly a month later, a group of peasants from the Kraingyov region whose development
is personally sponsored by the Second Prime Minister came to attack the office of
an "opposition": New Liberty Newspaper. Koh Santipheap newspaper and later
on the Second Prime Minister himself justified such a attack while little voice was
raised to condemn such violence.
In the middle of November Prince Norodom Sirivudh was reported by a local newspaper
that he was scheming an assassination plot against the Second Prime Minister. A few
days later troops and tanks were sent to surround his house in order to "protect"
him. Two days later the National Assembly unanimously lifted his immunity. Soon after
a arrest warrant based on the charges that he was plotting to overthrow the government
was issued and he was arrested and remanded in custody.
Prince Norodom Sirivudh is the Secretary-General of FUNCINPEC, the victorious party
at the last elections; he is an MP; he is former Foreign Minister who had resigned
his ministerial post in a very noble way; he is a member of the royal family; and
he is half brother of the King of Cambodia. He is also known as a strong supporter
of democracy and human rights. Now he is detained and is awaiting trial.
Nothing should be done to interfere with the court proceedings and influence that
trial. No one including the King can be above the law. Dura lex set lex, the law
is harsh but it is the law; it has been made for or against no one in particular.
All are equal before it. However, Prince Sirivudh is entitled to full rights while
in detention, and to a fair, public trial.
Because of his position, of his arrest and detention reportedly not in conformity
with the legal procedures in force, of the reported threat used for the lifting of
his immunity, of the National Assembly's questionable way of lifting that immunity,
Sirivudh's case has attracted a lot of attention, concern and criticisms all over
the world, and Cambodia has now become once again a spotlight of the world, for a
different reason this time. The international community will be following closely
the attitude and the workings of the judiciary and the courts of law in Cambodia.
Their handling or mishandling of the case will engage their own stature and reputation,
whether they can be seen and trusted as having competence, independence and impartiality.
More importantly, they will engage the reputation of the Cambodian nation as a whole
and influence the perception of this nation by the international community, whether
this nation can be trusted to keep its promises and honor its obligations under the
various international agreements, including the Paris Peace Agreements and the international
human rights instruments, it has signed; and whether it can live in peace with itself
as an independent and sovereign nation on the road to civilization paved by the Paris
Peace Agreements, and worthy of past and continued international assistance and of
a place in the international community.
The judiciary and the courts now have a good opportunity to prove themselves. They
should not miss it. They should show to the world that they are indeed competent,
independent and impartial, and ensure that Prince Norodom Sirivudh will have a fair,
Prince Norodom Sirivudh indeed will be in the dock, but Cambodia itself will be on
trial for the world to judge. The truth that will come out of that trial will reveal
a lot of truth about the Cambodian nation.