Officials and experts gathered at a recent forum in Washington agreed that policy towards Cambodia should focus on renewing the goals of the Paris peace settlement of 1991 that ended the civil war and committed the country to democratic elections.
At a meeting of the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, experts from Cambodia and the United States met to discuss the future of the country ahead of elections scheduled for 2017 and 2018.
Mark Storella, deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said the peace accords had a start date when they went into force. “There was no ending date,” he said.
“The Paris Accords are still in force, and the commitments of the different parties in those accords still apply including the Cambodian, but also for the international community.”
Storella, who was involved in the negotiations, said it was the obligation of the international community to “not take their eyes away from Cambodia”.
“We should continue to work on this issue because the job is not done,” he said.
The Paris Peace Agreement was signed on October 23, 1991, by 18 parties, including four warring Cambodian armed factions.
It committed the country to U.N.-administered elections, which were held in 1993, and to upholding the tenets of democracy and political freedoms.
However, many now think that the goals of Paris have been lost along the way.
Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, a local human rights organization, said 2016 had been “the worst year of all” for the group, which has seen several members arrested on charges widely believed to be politically motivated.
“This year four of my present colleagues and one former colleague was put in jail until now. That means almost 7 months already.”
He said that the move was unprecedented in the organization’s 25-year history.
While the peace agreement makes specific mention of the link between democracy, human rights and development, many have been hurt by the rapid pace of unequal development since 1993, Saray said.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, urged the signatories to recommit to the values of the agreement.
“It would be great to have a compact among the donor community and Cambodia’s friends about what is expected in 2018 and be very explicit about it,” he said.
Despite losing the 1993 election, Hun Sen refused to accept the result and forced the United Nations to accept him as co-prime minister.
Ahead of the next general election, in 2018, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was recently sentenced to five years in jail by a court in Phnom Penh, said the international community must be ready to act if the election was not conducted fairly.
“If it happens again, the international community should not recognize any government formed as the result of the violation of the election. If the CPP still does not give up power, there should not be any recognition,” he said.