Published: August 17, 2011
Dear Lok Pu and CAN Community;I do agree with Elizabeth that the AKP is oddly posted the message of anonymous. Just it is anonymous reveals the manipulative agenda on that already.Otherwise, it is the anti-intellectual approach if we have read all the rebuttal messages from the government. Those messages are neither reflecting constructive way nor articulating truth, they have always come along with personal attack/intimidation and manipulative propaganda. I think the messenger and composer of this message understand well on how to embed anti-intellectuals in Cambodian society. The entitlement and the inflation of PhDs in Cambodia is one of the anti-intellectual compositions. Cambodia will actually demise under the policy of anti-intellectuals in Cambodian society since the liberation from French.Of course, the composer of this message must understand the deep mentality of foreigners who have been losing trust in government, and those losing are created by the Cambodian government themselves. Thus, many scholars and researchers have called the current democracy of Cambodia as “pseudo democracy”.
Cheer!Dear All,Cambodia War from 1970 to 1991, one of the longest in World History, had killed at least 1.5 million out of 7 million population of that era. Encouraged and supported by superpowers and ASEAN, all Cambodian factions did play active role in ending the war through a series of negotiations from 1988 to 1991. But the fall of Soviet Union in 1990 contributed more signicantly than other factors to the Paris Peace Agrement in 1991. Mr. Yeltsin simply wanted to leave Cambodia and Afghanistan once an for all.The 1993 Constitution provides Cambodian citizens with full freedom of association and expression. It is politicians that later promulgated sub-decrees and laws that restrict this freedom. For example, the laws require that a peaceful demonstration cannot be conducted without prior approval from authorities.It took the Cambodian Parliament 17 years to pass the Anti-Corruption Law in 2010. Why does the Government has to rush in passing the NGO Law now? Let us wait for another 17 years.Commentary: Elizabeth Becker and the Campaign to Put NGOs above the LawAKP Phnom Penh, August 24, 2011 –Nobody seems entirely sure of the number, but it is generally believed that more than 2000 non-governmental organisations operate in Cambodia. One of the reasons for the uncertainty about the number is that Cambodia is one of the few countries that has not established laws and procedures for the formation and operation of NGOs.The Royal Government has been working for several years to rectify this situation by adopting a law that defines NGOs and sets a few broad parameters for their operation. Under this law, NGOs will have to register with the government and submit annual reports on their activities, income and expenditures.Unfortunately, a minority of NGOs have objected to the very idea that NGOs should be required to register or be subject to any rules established by the elected government. To a certain extent, this is understandable: nobody enjoys being subjected to rules, as you can see by observing the behaviour around traffic lights when no police are present. But most people realise that some rules and regulations are a necessary part of social existence. NGOs that aim to promote democratic principles ought to be particularly aware of this, rather than claiming to be above the law.The minority campaign against NGO registration has partly overlapped with legitimate concerns about the wording of particular provisions of the draft law, which may not have always been completely clear in early drafts. However, there have been numerous consultations between NGOs and the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs, and such legitimate concerns have been or are being addressed in redrafting (the third draft of the law is now being discussed). But that of course does not satisfy those who are opposed to any registration requirement, and they have continued their campaign against the law by denying or dismissing the changes that have been made, and by exaggerating or inventing what the law supposedly says.Recently, this campaign of misinformation appears to have influenced some people who ought to have known better, a notable case in point being the well-known US journalist Elizabeth Becker, who published an attack on the law in the August 17 New York Times.Part of the reason that Becker could be taken in by the we’re-above-the-law campaign is that she seems remarkably uninformed on recent Cambodian history, despite having written a book on the Khmer Rouge period. For example, Becker writes that the 1991 Paris accords “ended the Cambodian war and any further threat from the murderous Khmer Rouge”. The reality is that the Khmer Rouge never implemented any of their obligations under the accords, and continued the war for another seven years, until the Royal Government’s “win-win” policy brought real peace for the first time in three decades.In another clanger, Becker seems to believe that Cambodia’s current constitution was a product of the 1991 Paris negotiations, writing: “the framework for Cambodia’s democracy was a much debated element of the peace accords. That debate led to Cambodia’s Constitution and its guarantee of freedom of association and speech.” She calls NGOs “one of the few groups still enjoying the freedoms created under the peace accords”. The reality, as even the newest journalist ought to know, is that the constitution was adopted by the National Assembly elected in 1993, not dictated by the Paris talks two years earlier.Becker displays equal ignorance about the real content of the draft NGO law. The article makes a number of assertions without attempting to document any of them. They can’t be documented because they aren’t true:• Becker writes that the law would deprive Cambodian NGOs of freedom of association and freedom of speech. Nothing even remotely related to these freedoms is mentioned in the law.• She writes that NGOs would have to “win [government] approval to operate under vague criteria”. The law says only that NGOs need to comply with the quite specific registration procedure and obey Cambodian law.• She writes: “… if the government disapproves of a group’s behavior it can dissolve it using equally vague criteria. There would be no right of appeal.” The draft law does not allow the government to dissolve an NGO arbitrarily. Article 17 says that the Ministry of the Interior will examine the registration document, notify the NGO if it is defective in some way (such as lacking the specified information) and allow the NGO to amend the document. If the ministry does not approve the amended registration, the NGO can appeal to the courts. Furthermore, an NGO that fails to file its annual report (Article 53) or that violates its statutes (Article 54) is to be issued a warning, and can then be suspended if it fails to correct its violation.• She claims that the law will “hamstring the country’s lively civil society and NGOs, among the last independent voices in Cambodia”. The draft says nothing at all about civil society outside NGOs, and it is impossible to understand how registering and filing an annual report will “hamstring” NGOs. Most NGOs already prepare detailed annual reports for their donors; photocopying one more for the government would hardly be crippling.On the previous point, it is also laughable to call NGOs Cambodia’s “last independent voices”. Cambodia’s National Assembly has representatives of five parties — more than the US Congress. People who want something changed frequently demonstrate in Phnom Penh or provincial cities. There are more than 500 magazines and newspapers, many of them opposed to the government. There are more than 100 radio stations, which broadcast not only local news and opinions but also major international networks, including VOA, RFA, BBC, RFI and Radio Australia. All the parties in the National Assembly and many others have at least one newspaper of their own, and they also buy air time on radio stations.Becker’s distortions of reality on all these points fit a pattern. They fall into a consistent but totally false scenario that, roughly, goes something like this: After the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia was a disaster until international intervention rescued it in 1991. But evil people (the present government) undid all the good international work, so now the international community needs to intervene again.This happens to be the outlook of a small number of NGOs that are taking out their frustrations on the draft NGO law. And it is only after she has presented her list of totally unsubstantiated accusations that Becker, in passing, mentions that she has a personal interest in all this: she is a member of the board of directors of one of the international NGOs active in Cambodia, Oxfam America. That is, two-thirds of the way through the article, the New York Times allows readers who are still reading to learn that this article is not an “objective” journalistic analysis, but a plea on behalf of an interested party.Becker then has the effrontery to claim that the law will “diminish” the beneficial activities of international NGOs (i.e. her organisation) by requiring them “to work directly with official agencies, essentially becoming an arm of the government”. What the draft law actually says is that foreign NGOs should “collaborate” with the relevant government department. Does Becker think it is preferable, for example, if an NGO has an idea for improving traffic flow in Phnom Penh, for it to install traffic barriers and road signs without consulting the city authorities? Would consulting the authorities about that really make them an “arm” of the city?The other obligation that will supposedly convert international NGOs into an “arm” of the government is the requirement (Article 36) to “notify” the relevant authorities when they implement a project in the provinces. “My God! How can they expect us to dig a well if we have to tell someone?”Most NGOs do not share Becker’s attitude that the government is an enemy, and only a small minority have been sufficiently misled by the campaign of misinformation to sign on to a statement calling the draft law “unacceptable”. NGOs and, indeed, any citizen can continue to call attention to any provisions they regard as inappropriate or unclear. But such discussion needs to deal with the real draft law, not with imagined “threats”. Becker and the people who put her up to it are not helping either democracy or the real interests of NGOs in Cambodia.-end-
RESPONSE TO ANONYMOUS CRITIQUE by Elizabeth Becker
August 27, 2011
I have had numerous requests for my response to an anonymous article published in the Cambodian government’s official press –Agence Kampuchea Press or AKP on August 24, 2011. The article was intended as a critique of my opinion piece that ran in the International Herald Tribune on August 17, 2011.
The problem was: Who do I send it to? Normally if an official takes issue with an article, he or she writes a signed letter to the news organization that ran the piece. Instead, the Cambodian government chose to publish a mean-spirited attack written by an anonymous writer who cannot be held accountable for the articles’ many inaccuracies and distortions. Here is my answer:
The Paris Peace Accords made peace possible in large part by depriving the Cambodian factions of their foreign sponsors. Critical was China dropping the Khmer Rouge. Without the Chinese, Pol Pot and his army were incapable of returning to power. Indeed the only major battles in Phnom Penh after the peace accords were between the forces of Prince Ranariddh and those loyal to Hun Sen. (These were the two ‘co-prime ministers’ at the head of the government following the elections held under the auspices of the U.N.)
The governments that negotiated the Paris Accords would be surprised to learn that all of their hard work was for naught and that the peace talks, which included all of the Cambodian parties, had nothing to do with how the Cambodian Constitution was shaped. At a minimum the Cambodian government news agency’s anonymous article reflects a singular refusal to acknowledge the role of the Paris Accords in bringing peace to Cambodia, a strange position on the eve of the accords’ 20th anniversary.
As far as the proposed NGO law is concerned, I believe the Cambodian and foreign NGOs are right in asking for serious modifications. Otherwise, the governments and the United Nations that spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars to bring peace and democracy to Cambodia will be unlikely to vote in favor of Cambodia being given a seat at the U.N. Security Council.
Elizabeth Becker’s evasive response
By Allen Myers
August 29, 2011
First, to clarify: my earlier article appeared to be “anonymous” only because of a misunderstanding. I had contacted Agence Kampuchea Presse to seek some information on the number of publications in Cambodia. As a courtesy, I emailed my draft to AKP so it could see what kind of information I needed. I had not put my name on it yet because it was not finished, which I must not have made clear to AKP, and I did not realise that AKP would post it. This misunderstanding has unfortunately given Elizabeth Becker the false impression that the article was prepared by “the Cambodian government”. (Anyone who wants to read the final version can find it on my blog, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
As to the substance of the disagreement: I criticised Becker’s article for misrepresenting the content of the draft NGO law. A subsidiary criticism was that she also misrepresented how the civil war with the Khmer Rouge ended and the adoption of Cambodia’s constitution. Curiously, Becker’s reply all but ignores the draft NGO law and focuses instead on the Paris Peace Accords. To recall, my article pointed out:
· Becker was wrong to assert that the draft law restricted the freedoms of speech and association.
· She was wrong to claim that the law forced NGOs to comply with “vague criteria” in order to win “approval” to operate; the registration procedures are quite specific and not at all onerous.
· Contrary to Becker’s assertion, “[t]he draft law does not allow the government to dissolve an NGO arbitrarily”.
· She was wrong to claim that the law would “hamstring” NGOs, since it mandates nothing more difficult than registering and filing an annual report (which most NGOs do already), and obeying Cambodian law.
· Her description of NGOs as Cambodia’s “last independent voices” was “laughable”, given the country’s large number of newspapers, magazines, radio stations, rebroadcasts of international radio networks and political parties.
· Becker was wrong to say that the law requires international NGOs “to work directly with official agencies, essentially becoming an arm of the government”; all it requires is “collaboration” with the relevant government department and “notification” of local authorities when implementing projects.
· Becker and her publisher were less than frank by presenting her article as “objective” journalistic analysis and only in passing, two-thirds of the way through the article, acknowledging that Becker is an interested party in discussions of the law, as a member of the board of Oxfam America.
On all of these specific questions of fact, Becker has absolutely nothing to say. All she can come up with is: “As far as the proposed NGO law is concerned, I believe the Cambodian and foreign NGOs are right in asking for serious modifications”. But the issue raised was not whether Becker believed what she wrote; the issue was whether her belief was well founded. As my article showed, and Becker’s silence confirms, her belief is not well founded.
As mentioned above, the role of the “international community” and the Paris Peace Accords was a subsidiary point. Still Becker’s defence of these points is illuminating in its own way. Some of her “defence” is in fact a retreat from her original assertions. She writes now: “The Paris Peace Accords made peace possible in large part by depriving the Cambodian factions of their foreign sponsors.” In her original article she claimed that the 1991 Paris accords “ended the Cambodian war and any further threat from the murderous Khmer Rouge”. Any rational person would read that as meaning that the civil war ended in 1991, which is obviously untrue. So Becker defends her original inaccuracy by changing it: the Paris accords “made peace possible” (seven years later!).
This is certainly a more defensible statement, but it is still an exaggeration, particularly when Becker goes on to claim that well, really, almost, the war wasn’t much of a war after 1991: “Critical was China dropping the Khmer Rouge. Without the Chinese, Pol Pot and his army were incapable of returning to power. Indeed the only major battles in Phnom Penh after the peace accords were between the forces of Prince Ranariddh and those loyal to Hun Sen.”
It is certainly true that there were no major battles with the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh after the Paris accords. But it is also true that there were no such battles in Phnom Penh after January 7, 1979. In fact, the last major battle of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh occurred when they seized the city on April 17, 1975. So it is hardly accurate to present the Paris accords as bringing a change in this regard.
Furthermore, Phnom Penh does not constitute the whole of Cambodia. Has Becker forgotten the ability of the Khmer Rouge to deny access to significant parts of the country to UNTAC forces? I would recommend that Becker turn to the maps on pages 324 and 325 of Raoul M. Jennar’s book Les clés du Cambodge. These show the KR confined to a few border regions at the time of the Paris accords — and active in more than half the country by March 1993. It was in March 1993, shortly before the elections, that the Khmer Rouge attacked an ethnically Vietnamese fishing village in Siem Reap province, killing 34 people, including eight children, and wounding 29. If Becker was in Phnom Penh in the mid-90s, she should be able to remember hearing the shelling in the mountains of Kompong Speu. In July 1994 the KR attacked a train en route from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, killing three foreigners and at least 13 Cambodians; this was, according to Becker, nearly three years after the Paris accords “ended the Cambodian war and any further threat from the murderous Khmer Rouge”. I can remember the panic that swept through tourists in the Siem Reap airport in late 1995, when a rumour circulated that the KR were about to attack the city; the rumour was false but it was not inherently impossible.
It is also misleading for Becker to write as though China was the only outside power that backed the Khmer Rouge after 1989, without mentioning the political and material backing from the United States, Britain, France, Australia and their friends, many of them participants in the Paris conference. Furthermore, long after the Paris accords, the Thai military, if not always the Thai government, continued its support for and collaboration with the Khmer Rouge.
Becker also backtracks on her original claim that the “debate” at the Paris conference “led to Cambodia’s Constitution and its guarantee of freedom of association and speech”. The Paris conference was not a parliamentary debate; it involved world powers and the Cambodian parties negotiating for the best they could get given the circumstances. Her new claim is a weak sarcasm, saying that the governments involved in the conference “would be surprised to learn” that the conference “had nothing to do with how the Cambodian Constitution was shaped” — a claim that has been advanced by no one.
The point is that Cambodia’s constitution was written and adopted in 1993 by the newly elected National Assembly. Obviously, the parliamentarians did not live in a vacuum. They were aware that most people consider a democratic constitution preferable to an authoritarian one; I am sure nearly all of them would have been aware of this even before the Paris conference. But it would hardly have been “democratic” for the Paris conference to prescribe the constitutional decisions of the National Assembly a year and a half before it was elected.
What is the relevance of this disagreement? I think it has to do with the view visible in Becker’s reply, when she states that the governments involved in Paris and the UN “ spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars to bring peace and democracy to Cambodia”. What this says is that Cambodians, left to their own devices without outside interference, wouldn’t be capable of finding a formula for peace and democracy. They have to be “helped” through outside intervention that brings these things, rather like Father Christmas delivering presents to children.
This same patronising attitude towards Cambodians and their government is not general among NGOs, but it is more common than it should be. It feeds the idea that government regulations or laws are not really legitimate unless they are approved by NGOs. And of course, if you think that NGOs are the ultimate judges of freedom and democracy, then any attempt to regulate them, no matter how mild, appears to be an attack on democracy. Elizabeth Becker has been listening to people who are out of touch with reality.
I wish to state that I am in complete agreement with the criticism against Elizabeth Becker for her remarks on the NGO law.
As I wrote in 1996, “Cambodia Three Years After”, which was published in translation in the Swedish political magazine Kommentar as “Kambodja en rättvis betraktelse”, Kommentar(Stockholm) Nr 2/96 (1996), pp. 15-24, although UNTAC left soon after the 1993 election, a large number of the new foreign community remained to work with the dozens of NGOs established during 1993, most of them explicitly as activist groups against the Cambodian government. A large new American contingent settled in with USAID and the Asia Foundation, famous for their partisan, even CIA, activities in the 1960s, and they brought generous funding for a number of the new NGOs.Michael Vickery
I am stunt by the two rebuttals regarding article by Elizabeth Becker. I am a young Cambodian and not taking side any of mentioned non-Cambodian writers. They all have given me such outstanding idea. My observation ran following:
– While Elizabeth gave us the overview of the significance of Paris Peace Agreement toward building democracy, peace and reconciliation of Cambodia by the consent of major plays like the US, UK, China, Australia and Soviet Union, Allen and Jennar splashed on Becker by articulating that the Cambodia peace didn’t happen during the UNTAC intervention or 3/5 years after that. Allen linked this situation happened in the same period of aftermath of January 1979. This is very impressive!
– While observing the oddly produced of corruption law and anti-corruption unit, as well as the creation of democratic zone (which is not used in democratic countries in this world) including the major trials on opposition members including its president, Becker foresaw the irregularities of NGOs law proposed by the government which possibly hamstrings the NGOs that are critical to the government. One of Khmer scholars observed that while corruption laws has used almost 15 years to produce, why NGOs law is just few years but almost given a birth?
– The Cambodian constitution has been absolutely by-product of the Paris Peace Accord. I don’t understand why two authors above has tried to spend their time by articulating that Cambodian constitution is not a product of Paris Peace Accord, the constitution is created by the elected parliamentarians. If I continue to ask the two authors that between egg and hen which one is born first, they might tread around and kick my ass.
As a younger Cambodian, the Paris Peace Agreement is very significant for Cambodia:
- 1. Stop all kinds of foreign invasions mentally, militarily and dominantly (though it might be not totally withdrawn).
- 2. Compromise all conflicting factions inside Cambodia and rivaling blocs outside Cambodia
- 3. Building a long term peace in Cambodia by creating national constitution, democracy through election and NGOs involvements, provide aids/funding and empowering civil societies etc.
- 4. Give an legal outline of Khmer Rouge tribunal though this hybrid trial is sometime in the coma of political meddling.
- 5. Many more etc.
I don’t think the two authors have narrated the truth from their profession to the Cambodian younger generation yet, but it is just a rationals used by many hypocritical philosophers.