If the ruling party remains hesitant to fundamentally reform the way it governs its people, Cambodia could see more of the fatal violence that at times exploded in the wake of last July’s election, UN rights envoy Surya Subedi warned yesterday.
“I reiterate my view that a real reform in the approach to governance is inevitable in Cambodia. But there seems to be some hesitation and lack of sincere will to recognise the message expressed so loudly and clearly by the people,” he said at a press conference marking the end of a 10-day visit to the Kingdom.
“Those who resist change find that one day change has been forced upon them by developments beyond their control. This has happened throughout human civilisation. Having studied Cambodian society and its history carefully, and interacting with people from all walks of life, I see it as my duty to state that if real reforms are not effected soon, the country runs the risk of a return to violence.”
Subedi, an international law professor, was concluding his 11th mission as special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, a position he took up in 2009.
He added that “a deep-rooted frustration among the population” was evident, due to the slow progress made on promised reforms.
But Cheam Yeap, a senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker, rejected the idea that the government was not committed to reform, stating that the recent summoning of ministers to be questioned in parliament about a controversial hydropower project was just one example of a change in attitude this mandate.
A largely peaceful protest movement that began after last year’s contested poll and was largely led by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was quashed in January when at least five people were gunned down by security forces as striking garment workers clashed with authorities.
Two bystanders were killed by authorities during clashes in the months before that, one during a November worker riot in Stung Meanchey and one at police barricades at the Khbal Thnal flyover in September.
Subedi yesterday condemned the continued blockade of Freedom Park – “a symbol of democracy” – with barbed wire and barricades. The park was violently cleared of CNRP supporters during early January’s crackdown.
“It gives the impression that there has been an attempt to put democracy in a cage in Cambodia,” he said.
According to Subedi, government officials have said Freedom Park will only be reopened to the public when authorities believe that people will use the space lawfully.
Yeap of the CPP said yesterday that while he respected Subedi’s right to express his views, the envoy should “check and balance” what the ruling party has done.
“We have made reforms as the government in this mandate such as judicial reform, National Election Committee reform that has been agreed to with the CNRP, lawmakers inviting ministers to explain about the [Lower] Sesan [II] dam, etc,” Yeap said.
“The government ordering civil servants and armed forces to be paid on time at the end of the month is also a kind of reform. All of these are reforms made by the government that you can see, and the government will make more reforms with its rectangular strategy in the third phase.”
Yeap also defended the blockade of Freedom Park, which he said was necessary until the events of January – which he blamed on the CNRP – are fully investigated.
“This is the government measure to prevent such violence, so we are not closing it in the way that he means. He should not listen to only one hand clapping. He should listen to two hands clapping,” he said.
Aside from summoning ministers to parliament and agreeing to some key electoral reform demands, the CPP has also recently agreed to a deal that will see the CNRP take up a slew of top positions in the National Assembly when it ends its parliamentary boycott.