A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The new Cambodia comes to the world's attention

The Nation
October 5, 2011

Thailand's neighbour has transformed from war-ravaged basket case to potential 'tiger' in two decades, but new legislation on NGOs could undo much of the good work

Cambodia has progressed rapidly since the UN-brokered peace deal twenty years ago. It has moved on from being a war-torn country to one that is being described as the next Asian "tiger", with near two-digit economic growth. Prime Minister Hun Sen (pictured), who has been in power for three decades, wants to turn his country into a hub of economic transactions in the region, bringing back the glory days for Cambodia. Today, the streets of Phnom Penh are packed with investors and expensive new cars. Skyscrapers are now beginning to dot the city. Tourists are crowding into the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat. The country is now preparing to be the Asean chair next year. Phnom Penh already has a long list of what it wants to achieve.

Despite all the good things that are happening in Cambodia, Hun Sen is moving quickly to counter the proliferation of non-governmental organisations. Since the 1990s, Cambodian civil society groups have done jobs that the government has not paid enough attention to. They have supplemented the existing government programmes and actions regarding the alleviation of poverty, the promotion of education, and in helping the poor to fight for their land rights. Other active groups are focused on the protection of the environment and human rights - both areas of concern in Cambodia.

The most controversial issue today in Cambodia is the pending draft legislation on non-governmental organisations, which donor organisations and recipients say would limit their ability to do good work. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, says the law should be carefully reviewed and, as it stands, "may hamper the legitimate work of NGOs in the country".

In addition, he has expressed concern about the lack of progress on land rights and freedom of speech in the country. In the past few years, large tracts of land have been allotted to industrial investment companies, causing trouble for poor people who have no land to live on or farm. The government has provided new land for them, but this is either not sufficient or of poor quality.

Just a few days ago, the Cambodian Ministry of Information shut down 16 newspapers, 15 magazines and six bulletins. It was the biggest media gag operation in the history of Cambodia. However, one positive thing is that Cambodia is highly tolerant of the foreign-language newspapers - English, Chinese and French. The Phnom Penh Post, which is 100 per cent foreign-owned, has so far reported straightforward news without any government intervention. Increasingly, local Chinese newspapers are making their voices heard.

After Cambodia's chairmanship of Asean next year, the country will seek to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Asean countries have already backed its bid. There will be more activities both from the government and civil society groups, which want to see more programmes to help the poor and promote human rights. At the moment, Hun Sen is focusing more on the home front because he wants to make sure that he leaves a good legacy for Cambodia. Next year, Cambodia will hold an election, which his Cambodia Party is expected to win. His continued leadership is virtually secured.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good job Mr. Priminister.