Acting Prime Minister Neth Savoeun addressed the closing ceremony of the “Third Global Conference on Assistance to the Victims of Anti-Personnel Mines and Other Explosive Ordnance in a Disability Rights Context” on October 19, hosted by Cambodia in Phnom Penh.

Prime Minister Hun Manet was en route to the GCC-ASEAN summit, held on October 20 in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

Sovoeun called on all state institutions to implement the National Disability Strategic Plan, along with all relevant national and international legal documents related to persons with disabilities.

During his speech, he reminded the attendees of the Kingdom’s tragic past, noting that it was once torn apart by civil war, killing fields and minefields, but also drawing attention to its recovery.

He described the scars of those difficult times as showing the strength and power of national unity.

The former National Police chief believes that Cambodia has shown to the world that no matter how much it had suffered, the Kingdom had rehabilitated itself and developed into a nation where persons with disabilities could play a part in the country’s socio-economic development.

“Cambodia must remain firmly committed to achieving the vision set out in the National Mine Action Strategy 2018-25. This Strategy aims to achieve the vision of Cambodia as a land free of mines where the threat of explosive remnants of war (ERW) is minimised, and human and socio-economic development can take place in safety,” he said.

To achieve this goal, he added, the government has committed to efforts to expand the social support programmes to the fullest, ensuring that no one will be left behind.

“We are making active efforts to support ERW victims and persons with disabilities, through the implementation of policies set out in the national strategic plan. We aim to improve people’s livelihoods, employment opportunities, access to education and promote the rights of the disabled, as well as introducing physical infrastructure which is convenient for them,” he said.

He called on all relevant state institutions to implement all national and international legal documents and agreements as efficiently as possible, and to adhere to the spirit of the national strategic plan.

He also urged close attention to be paid to the law on the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, the convention on persons with disabilities and the National Mine Action Standards (NMAS) on mine victim assistance, in order to benefit the survivors and their families to the highest possible level.

Savoeun encouraged the recruitment of people living with disabilities in both the public and private sectors, and also instructed widespread dissemination of their rights in order to prevent discrimination or the stigmatisation of persons with disabilities or ERW survivors.

Speaking at the conference, Ly Thuch, first vice-president of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), described it as “exciting” to see the commitment and dedication of all stakeholders.

“During the three-day meeting, we engaged in wide-ranging discussions on victim assistance, with a focus on key topics such as mental health and support for healthcare, socio-economic inclusion, and the importance of data collection,” he said.

He added that the attendees hoped to build a world where survivors can receive care, support and the opportunities they deserve.

Since 1992, mine action in Cambodia has made significant progress, with 2,795sq km of land cleared of mines and ERWs. The number of victims decreased from 4,320 in 1996 to just 41 in 2022, with less than 100 people encountering ERWs in each of the past 10 years, he added.

According to Savoeun, the government launched the National disability plan 2018-23 with careful consideration to addressing economic and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The government also issued a sub-decree which set quotas and guidelines for the recruitment of the disabled, setting it at two per cent for the public sector and one per cent for the private. At present, 3,748 disabled persons (23 per cent of them women) work in 37 state institutions and 5,839 persons (66 per cent of them women) are employed in 291 private sector enterprises.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the CMAA also co-hosted a side event to the conference.

“The side event will be an opportunity to share with representatives of states and civil society the hard-earned experience of Cambodia – the cradle of mine action, where the term was first coined. We hope it will catalyse knowledge sharing, networking, and partnerships on victim assistance in mine action,” said UNDP resident representative Alissar Chaker in an October 18 press release.

“The UNDP is committed to continuing its support to integrate victim assistance in broader national policies and legal frameworks relating to disability, health, education, employment, development and poverty reduction in line with the Oslo Action Plan and the Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities in partnership with other local and international partners,” she added.