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Contributors: Ou Ritthy
Op-Ed: Human Rights Asia
Many opposition politicians, NGO personnel, students, researchers, taxi drivers, vendors and city dwellers expected US president Barack Obama, who attended the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, to push the Cambodian government to better respect human rights and democratic principles, especially free and fair elections in the Kingdom. They hoped for a US pressure to release political prisoners, notably Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando, land-dispute protestors, and to allow opposition leader Sam Rainsy in self-exiled in Paris, to return to Cambodia to participate in the 2013 election.
Sadly, even before President Obama’s visit, indications were clear that Phnom Penh had no genuine intention to stop its rights violations, embrace the rule of law, or combat rampant corruption.
Cambodia’s minister of information and government spokesman declared publicly that Obama is not Premier Hun Sen’s boss or Cambodian government’s guru. Such unwelcome and fighting words stand opposite of the Cambodian people’s culture of warmth and generosity toward all.
In Burma, thousands of Burmese wearing T-shirts with Obama’s portraits lined up the streets, and democracy icon Aug Sann Suu Kyi and reform-minded dictator president Thein Sein, welcomed the US president. Hundreds of students listened to Obama’s speech at Rangoon University. In Cambodia, eight citizens were arrested for displaying Obama’s portrait and an SOS message on the roofs of their homes. The citizens were facing eviction from their homes at Thmar Kaul village. Worse, people weren’t allowed to line up along the Russian Boulevard to welcome Obama. The government said this was due to security reason and traffic congestion.
For more than a decade, Cambodia has sustained impressive economic growth.
The World Bank expects real gross domestic product to increase by 6.6 per cent this year – a figure to be envied in today’s fragile global economy.
At this pace, Cambodia can rapidly become the industrialised and productive economy it aspires to be.
Is this the future that Cambodians can rightfully look forward to?
The answer is yes, but only if Cambodia invests in its most precious resource – its people – to enable each individual to realise his or her potential and productively contribute to the nation’s economy.
Until now, much of Cambodia’s investment has focused on infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing – priority areas during the early stages of the country’s economic development.
But with economic progress, it has become increasingly clear that these efforts are not enough to help the country achieve equitable, sustainable growth and, most important, reduce poverty.
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