Sopheap Chak

Riding the wave of change in Cambodia

Unsettled peace in Cambodia

By Chak Sopheap

Published on UPI Asia Online, September 17, 2009

Niigata, Japan — The world will soon once again celebrate the United Nations International Day of Peace, marked every year on Sept. 21. Yet the world is far from peace as civil wars, religious conflicts, growing insurgencies and the economic downturn bring more hardship than joy and smiles to people. Cambodia is no exception.

Cambodia claims to be a peaceful state, having recovered from a series of civil wars that included horrendous acts of genocide. However, there must be a clear consensus on how the country defines peace.

Peace should not be described as merely the absence of war or violence, which is “negative peace.” It should also include communal harmony, socioeconomic cooperation and equal political representation in government for all citizens. These, along with good governance, which respects the rights of the people, constitute the positive side of peace, or rather peace building.

Even when we say “absence of violence,” we must first examine what violence is. While war is direct visible violence, there is also a kind of “structural violence,” the result of bad and harmful state policies that have long-term negative effects on people, such as hunger and poverty, which harm and put peoples’ lives at risk.

If we look at the current trend in Cambodia, negative peace has been obtained but is jeopardizing positive peace. While parts of the economy are making considerable progress, more than 30 percent of the population is still living in extreme poverty. In addition, with corruption and continuous human rights violations – especially forced evictions and land grabbing under so-called development claims – there is little hope that Cambodia can move out of poverty.

In its current pursuit of development, the government of Cambodia has abused and violated people’s rights to housing and development. The judicial system is corrupt and the state is the main violator of the law. This state of affairs has rendered poor communities voiceless and powerless.

At the same time, freedom of expression – a fundamental right – has also been abused by the government, which applies various ill-defined laws with the help of the judiciary it controls as a political tool to silence critics. It is not surprising that the government recently filed many lawsuits against political activists, journalists and human rights defenders.

Systematic structural violence has not yet affected peace in Cambodia, but it will soon if the government does not undertake and implement reforms immediately. For example, there is fear that the ongoing land grabbing and evictions by the government could lead to a peasant revolution. This would then revive the cycle of bitter agrarian revolution that brought past political regimes, like Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, to power.

The government therefore must commit to not only maintaining negative peace, but also to building positive peace in order to attain social harmony.

(Chak Sopheap is a graduate student of peace studies at the International University of Japan. She runs a blog, www.sopheapfocus.com, in which she shares her impressions of both Japan and her homeland, Cambodia. She was previously advocacy officer of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.)

7 Comments

  1. Sopheap: I had time to read this blog today. It’s interesting to read. You correctly stated that defining peace is important.

    From scientific point of views, the story would be convinced if you provided “comparison” based on the same criteria but for other developing countries as well. Are problems everywhere in developing countries and why, and why can’t/can other countries solve those problems ….?

    The last sentence about reviving the civil war does not convince me either UNLESS there is another COLD WAR.

    I look at a long-term average achievements in Cambodia. We need more time to develop capable (CAN-DO, not I-KNOW) human resources so that the gradual REFORMS could go well without causing another unrest.

  2. i believe you will be more respected if you can try to point out the SOLUTIONS to the problems(corruption, injustice, state is violator of laws…) in this article and previous articles. leaders are problem solvers not problem loudspeakers.

  3. cambodia doesnt need another SRP, another licadho, another mam sodando….. we need people with vision and the ways to solve problems

  4. You need to be more positive in your reviews. A dark night can have a bright moon or a dark cloud can have a silver lining. I read few of the things u wrote and I did not come across any that has a positive story to tell… I am sure there is something positive Cambodia or Japan has to offer. Even in West lots of ugly things happen, rape, murder, discrimination, clergy scandal, etc but every story is not dark and gloomy. Offer hope, solutions, and be more positive in writing. Being critical is easy and so we expect more constructive reporting from you. You are a bright and fortunate few from Cambodia and so you hold much responsibility. Japan is mainly a buddhist country and it is rich, safe, clean, less corrupt and have beautiful people with great tradition. The education system and life u have in Japan is of top quality. Dont always be too critical of the Cambodia government, sometimes focus on the positive things they do. Dont limit your reach of influence. I wish you and this great country of Combodia the very best. May its wonderful people and thier peaceful buddhist religion always prosper.

  5. Dear Frank and all readers,

    Thanks for all valuable comment and following up my blog.

    I really appreciate your feedback and totally agreed that most of my articles are lack of solutions. For one reason, i want all of us to see what are the critical issues happened in Cambodia or elsewhere. Once we agree that this problem is important then it is true that we need solutions. That is when i would like to hear from all of you too of how we can solve it. I may act as loudspeaker but with no purpose other than to share my concern and hope we all can think together. Secondly, i still look at how effective solutions can heal Cambodian problems.

  6. Dear Frank,

    I really appreciate your comment and feedback.
    You may right about my critical writing which readers may feel that I am too criticle and always be negatvie.
    In fact, regardless it appear that i am too critical, i still hope that Cambodia have much chance of improving than other neigboring countries like Burma, Lao or other conflicting states. I could see some progress and expectation of emerging young generation.

    With this expectation, i am also too concerned about the buraucratic system of government. I tried to see the positive sights but it was shadowed by current misguided development policies which caused eviction, land grabbling, human rights viloation, and ongoing corruption and impunity. These issues are hardly heard by national media or discussed widely at school or academic institution with the fear of security and intimidation. Once there are no dicussion or awareness, i am afraid that these problem will just happen for granted and the young will just learn that this problem is normal. If you have ever involved with the victime of evition where their home were removed and they are relocated to far remote area where basic facillitations (school, hospital, water, electricity and empolyment opportunity) are not yet installed, what should you say about it? It is just one examples when i have experienced to visit their community and fights for their rights. Yet we, as civil society, are powerless while the states ignored to see it as a problem for citizen. I would not even go further of current event where my home was also cut by half due to road expansion project without any compensation. People just have no mean of how to address their problem while police and court are influenced by states. The government keep claiming that all their activities are for state development, but whom development for if poor citizens are the one to sacrify.

    Well, you keep looking at the trend, the evitions still take place regardless the victims’ appeal! those who spoke up are jailed or intimidated, so what does it imply? You may also raised that other countries also face all the problems Cambodia faced now for the economic development to be possible. But why can’t economic development improved without suffer citizens? That is my main theme and i would like all government to review their policy so that the vulnerability can be reduced.

    Well, i know the positive things are covered and promoted by the government everyday if you would read the national news (radio, TV or national programs), so i am trying to give another side of view where some Cambodians or foreigners would not expose to.
    Though, it does not mean i am always give a bad sight of Cambodia, but i try to raise this for us to think of solutions.

    Well, anyway, i appreciate your comment so much. You may also look at some of article which you would not find it positive too:

    -Understanding Japanese Spirits of Success

    -Civic Responsibility and Education: Hirokami higashi school Case
    -and some other community events which i mobilized youth to join for community development.

  7. First, I truly appreciate your causes for Khmer Society in Cambodia, I haven’t read much about your articles,but having a sense of direction as to where you’re heading.

    Second, I’m a Social Worker myself here in the US, having common interest as you appear..

    Thank you much for now, will read more of your article later..

    Saratte Lim

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