The anniversary of the Paris Peace Accord, which set Cambodia on a course towards democracy 27 years ago, was met with little celebration Tuesday, as both the government and nongovernmental groups reevaluated the meaning of the agreement in the wake of an election widely deemed unfree and unfair.
The Paris Peace Agreements ended war between Vietnam and Cambodia on Oct. 23, 1991 and led to the United Nation’s administration of Cambodia’s government while the country transitioned to a system of democratic elections.
While the government and NGOs have celebrated the anniversary in the past, both sides have questioned the meaning of the accord amid a months-long crackdown initiated by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that led to its dissolution and a resounding win by his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in a July 29 ballot.
NGOs said that the government intentionally discouraged them from publicly celebrating this year’s anniversary of the agreement, which has been invoked by opposition supporters who say Hun Sen derailed democracy in Cambodia to add another five-year term to his more than three decades in office.
Thida Khus, executive director of Silaka, a Phnom Penh-based group that promotes the implementation of democracy in Cambodian society for sustainable development, told RFA’s Khmer Service Tuesday that NGOs “were not in full agreement” to commemorate the agreement as they had in years past.
“I believe NGOs wanted to hold an event, but changed their mind because it was too difficult to seek permission from authorities to organize it,” he said.
“Even if we had submitted a request, we would have not received permission from the authorities. We have celebrated the event two years in a row, but not this year.”
Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union President Ath Thon told RFA that Cambodia’s labor unions also chose to forgo celebrations to mark the 27th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accord due to the challenges involved in obtaining permission from the government.
“We have celebrated the event in past years along with the NGOs … but this year we were too busy dealing with other issues [to go through the process of applying for permission], so we skipped it,” he said.
While NGOs and labor unions said they welcomed a day off, as the anniversary is recognized as a national holiday in Cambodia, they expressed disappointment that the government had chosen not to mark the day with customary banners and posters on official buildings around the country.
‘Misinterpreting’ the accord
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan acknowledged that there had been no official celebration of the anniversary, but said that authorities had been working hard to “explain the legacy and history of the Paris Peace Agreement” to the public.
He said that the government had restricted permission to hold associated events because “there were some groups in the past” that had tried to “intentionally misinterpret the meaning” of the accord, without providing further details.
“It is because those groups always misinterpret the spirit of the Paris Peace Accord and politicize the day to mislead the people and cause social disorder,” he said.
“I don’t need to mention the groups by name, but you know the ones I am referring to.”
According to the terms of the accord, signatory nations are obligated to “undertake appropriate consultations” with members of the Paris Conference “in the event of the agreements being violated,” and NGOs and the CNRP have repeatedly called for the international community to take action since Hun Sen’s crackdown on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media went into effect last year.
Call for reconvening
On Tuesday, members of the Cambodian diaspora in France petitioned French President Emmanuel Macron to urge the 18 other signatories of the Paris Peace Accord to reconvene and review whether Hun Sen’s regime has acted in violation of the agreement.
France-based CNRP Youth leader Lim Kanika told RFA she wants France and other countries to uphold the principles of the Paris Peace Agreement and demand that Hun Sen call another election and drop what she said were politically motivated charges against opposition members in Cambodia.
Political commentator Kim Sok, who recently fled to Finland to avoid a possible arrest for criticizing Hun Sen, echoed Lim Kanika’s call for France to reconvene the signatories of the accord.
“France will at least call for [the signatories] to respect the peace agreement,” he said.
Last year, a group of 55 NGOs said in a letter marking the 26th anniversary of the accord that a “severe deterioration in the state of human rights and democracy” in Cambodia required a reconvening of the Paris Peace Conference, and called on world leaders to take “decisive action” and “ensure that the democratic vision for Cambodia outlined in the Paris Peace Agreements is not completely forsaken.”
They said that the severity of Hun Sen’s crackdown was “unprecedented in the post-1991 era” of Cambodia and “poses an existential threat to Cambodian democracy.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Chrea Vanrith and Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.