How was Cambodia granted independence?
Covid-19 and Cambodia's politics: state emergency without a head of state announced
The royal government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen has used the Covid-19 crisis in a way that is not unusual for autocratic states: by passing a new state emergency law in April, the regime has given itself additional competencies, which are mainly in restrictions on movement and freedom of assembly lie. The state of emergency can be declared by decree without parliamentary approval and extended as often as desired over the three months provided. The approval of the State Emergency Act, which can de facto result in fundamental self-disempowerment, took place in both chambers of parliament, as is usual for one-party regimes, without dissenting or abstaining.
Basically, a law on the state of emergency did not seem to have really been necessary, since Hun Sen also disregards other laws or even the constitution if it seems opportune to him. Human Rights Watch has sharply criticized the new law, however, because it would allow Prime Minister Hun Sen to override mechanisms that protect fundamental human rights. On May 13th, 65 non-governmental organizations followed suit in a joint statement; In it they demand changes to the law, which otherwise fundamental freedoms could be restricted without limit. Indeed, the regime has been systematically taking action against political opponents and critical expressions of opinion in general since March (see below).
Nonetheless, neither this case nor the Covid 19 crisis should have little political impact on Hun Sen, even if he did not go through the pandemic flawlessly. He appears to be largely powerless in the face of the economic turmoil, which is affecting the country much harder than the virus itself. In this respect, it will hardly be possible that he will be held responsible for it. On the other hand, it will be difficult to maintain the propaganda narrative that Hun Sen is responsible for all positive developments in Cambodia since 1979. Because nobody can claim that they are responsible for everything in the good and for nothing in the bad. In terms of foreign policy, Hun Sen can still be sure of massive support from the People's Republic of China.
King Norodom Sihamoni also drew attention to himself at the beginning of the crisis. On April 1, he said goodbye to Beijing, the reason given was (routine) medical examinations. Initially, the stay was only supposed to last three weeks, but was then extended to six weeks. As a result, Sihamoni not only missed the country's most important holiday, the Cambodian New Year celebrations in mid-April, but also the signing of the State Emergency Act. This had to be countersigned in his absence by Say Chhum, Deputy President of the Senate. In any case, this is how the king escaped the embarrassment of associating his name with a questionable law. Nevertheless, his frequent and prolonged absences can not only lead to constitutional complications, but fundamentally once again raise the question of the future of the monarchy in Cambodia. (As of November 30, 2020)
Another wave of arrests in the wake of the Corona crisis
In order to nip in the bud any protest arising from economic dissatisfaction, several opposition activists, artists and human rights activists, including an ordained monk, have been taken into custody since July. On September 22, the renowned NGO Licadho counted a total of 19 people who were put behind bars without a judicial arrest warrant or charge. The most prominent case so far is Rong Chhun, long-time chairman of the teachers' union and, in this capacity, above all independent and critical of the government. But that was only the overture to a much larger attack on everything that the regime did not consider opportune enough: Since November 130 supporters of the opposition have had to go to court in two separate negotiations for "high treason" without any real reason be responsible. It seems that treason is being committed by anyone who even gives the impression that they do not want to submit to Hun Sen.
The government's crosshairs are also the independent organizations Khmer Thavrak and Mother Nature, from which several activists have been deprived of their freedom. The regime's allegations are mostly constructed through the vague formulations of Sections 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Penal Code (inciting a crime and creating chaos in society). Objectively speaking, the fact that this is not the case, since freedom of expression and political pluralism are guaranteed by the Cambodian constitution, once again proves the highly repressive nature of the Cambodian government.
The recent wave of arrests was also noticed internationally and publicly criticized, albeit in the elegant and reserved language of diplomacy. Flag was mainly shown by the United Nations, the USA, Australia and the European Union. The Federal Republic of Germany, on the other hand, refrained from public criticism of the Cambodian government. As a result, no cutbacks will be made in bilateral development cooperation either: in mid-September it was announced that a program to promote economic development would be continued.
802 | King Jayavarman II founds Cambodia
14.-15. Century | Cambodia loses most of its territory to Vietnam and Siam
1864 | Establishment of the French protectorate
1953 | King Sihanouk gains independence from France
1954 | Resignation of King Sihanouk in favor of his father
1960 | Election of Prince Sihanouk as head of state
1970 | Coup by Chief of Staff Lon Nol and dismissal of Prince Sihanouk
1975-1978 | Rule of Terror by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot
1979 | Occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam
1989 | Withdrawal of the Vietnamese troops
1991 | Signing of the Paris Peace Accords
1992-93 | UN Interim Administration in Cambodia (UNTAC)
1993 | First formal democratic elections
1997 | Hun Sens coup against First Prime Minister Prince Ranariddh
1998 | Cambodian People's Party (CPP) under Hun Sen wins elections
2002 | First local elections; CPP wins with a large majority and can continue to govern at national level after the parliamentary elections one year later
2007 | Khmer Rouge Tribunal starts work
2008 | Another election victory for Hun Sen; military border conflict with Thailand
2011 | Cambodian and Thai soldiers sometimes engage in heavy border battles
2011 | Beginning of the proceedings against Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, which is increasingly coming under criticism due to political influence
2012 | The Appeals Chamber of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal sentenced Kaing Guek Eav, head of the S-21 Torture Prison, to life imprisonment
2013 | Prime Minister Hun Sen suffered heavy losses in the parliamentary elections at the end of July
2014 | Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are sentenced in the first instance to life imprisonment by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal for the crimes between April 1975 and December 1977
2016 | The Appeals Chamber at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal upholds the judgments against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan
2017 | With the dissolution of the CNRP, the government de facto ends the multi-party system
2018 | The ruling CPP wins all 125 seats in the National Assembly in parliamentary elections
Little is known about prehistoric Cambodia. It is certain that the first settlements in the Tonle Sap and lower Mekong region emerged in the Neolithic Age. Traces of human habitation dating back to the 69th millennium BC have been discovered in the Laang Spean cave (Battambang province). Although the Khmer arrived in what is now Cambodia around 2000 BC, they are considered to be one of the oldest ethnic groups in the entire region.
From the 1st to the 6th century, most of today's territory belonged to the Southeast Asian Kingdom of Funan, which later became part of the strengthened Chenla Empire, which in turn existed until the early 9th century. With the proclamation of Jayavarman II as God-King (Devaraja) in 802 the time began that is known today as the kingdom of Angkor. Except for a short period in which the capital was relocated further east to Koh Ker, the region around today's Siem Reap was always the seat of government, albeit in different places (Mahendraparvata, Hariharalaya, Yasodharapura, Angkor Thom). The empire reached its peak of power in the 12th century under the legendary King Jayavarman VII: It ruled Southeast Asia from Malacca to the Isthmus of Kra as well as Laos and parts of Vietnam. During this time the cultural heyday also fell, the Hindu temple complex Angkor Wat built at that time is still standing today, as are the most important Buddhist sacred buildings Bayon, Ta Prohm and Preah Khan. Around 1200 Angkor had around a million inhabitants, making it the largest city in the world at the time.
In the meantime, many researchers have agreed that climatic changes were the decisive factor behind the demise of high culture. This changed the balance of power in mainland Southeast Asia, especially the neighbors in the west gradually broke away from the dominance of the Khmer. After the armies of the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya had marched through Angkor in 1431, the country's history was shaped for a century and a half by dynastic rivalries and armed conflicts with its powerful neighbor. One also speaks of the "dark age" of Cambodia, in which a number of weak kings ruled and the capital changed several times. In the 16th and early 17th centuries Longvek (today's Kampong Chhnang Province) was ruled before the royal court came to Oudong (1611 to 1866) and then to Phnom Penh under increased foreign policy pressure.
To prevent a complete takeover of the empire by Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia turned to France, which had taken southern Vietnam in 1859. In 1863 the country became a protectorate of France under King Norodom, in 1887 it joined Vietnam and later Laos in the Indochinese Union. The first Indochina War, which was fought in the neighboring states of Vietnam and Laos in the aftermath of the Second World War, drained the strength of the French colonial power. On November 9, 1953, Cambodia was finally given independence.
Cambodia has seen only brief periods of political stability since independence. The recent history of the country is marked by war, civil war and the mass murder of the Khmer Rouge, which was accompanied by numerous regime changes. The development led
- of a formally democratic regime under Sihanouk (1953-1970) interspersed with strong authoritarian elements,
- about the autocratic, US-backed rule of Lon Nol (1970-1975),
- into the totalitarian regime of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot (1975-1979), under which around two million people lost their lives,
- and the internationally isolated authoritarian clientele regime of Vietnam under first Heng Samrin and then Hun Sen (1979-1992) with the parallel government in exile Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) with the participation of the Khmer Rouge and the FUNCINPEC Sihanouks, which also have the UN headquarters Of Cambodia,
- and finally under the mandate of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) (1992-1993)
- to a formally democratic, but actually autocratically ruled regime under Hun Sen (since 1993).
The political system
The 1993 constitution established a parliamentary monarchy with a 125-member parliament (National Assembly) and a 62-member Senate. The government is based on an absolute majority in parliament and controls the state administration down to the provinces and districts. The municipal level begins with the municipalities, whose councils, like the members of parliament, are elected every five years. Between 1993 and 2017 the political system was largely a formal democracy with strong autocratic influences. With the dissolution of the largest opposition party on November 16, 2017 and the parliamentary elections on July 29, 2018, the democratic experiment is considered a lasting failure. The party, which has ruled since 1979, has held all 125 seats in the National Assembly, provides 58 of 62 senators and six of the nine members of the Constitutional Council (three are appointed by the King), controls 1,644 of the 1,645 municipal councils, in which 95% of all members belong to the CPP, and provides almost all district and provincial councils.
The head of state
Cambodia can look back on over 1000 years of monarchical tradition. After the monarchy was abolished on October 9, 1970 under Lon Nol, it was re-established on September 24, 1993 when the current constitution came into force. Today Cambodia is formally an electoral parliamentary monarchy in which the king “rules but does not rule”. The king is elected for life. To be eligible, a candidate must be a member of the Royal Family, be at least 30 years old and descend from one of the former monarchs Ang Duong, Norodom or Sisowath. Similar to the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, the king's political rights are strictly limited. In addition to representative tasks, he primarily appoints the prime minister and the royal government, opens the constituent sessions of the two chambers of parliament and may pardon convicted criminals.
The first king after decades of war, civil war and genocide was Norodom Sihanouk, who abdicated on October 7, 2004 and died on October 15, 2012 after an eventful life. Since October 14, 2004, his then 51-year-old son Norodom Sihamoni (official title: Preah Karona Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath) has been on the throne. Sihamoni was born on May 14, 1955 - his name is composed of the initial syllables of his parents Sihanouk and Monineath. He has a (deceased) brother and 14 half-siblings. From 1962 he lived in Czechoslovakia, where he studied classical dance and music after finishing school. During the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge, Sihamoni returned to his parents in Phnom Penh in 1977. He remained there under house arrest until the Vietnamese invasion in late 1978, while most of his siblings were killed in the Khmer Rouge murder. After teaching ballet for several years in France, Sihamoni was appointed Cambodian UNESCO Ambassador in 1993. Sihamoni is still unmarried and childless to this day.
The royal family still maintains an official website. Among other things, it contains an overview of the social and humanitarian activities and biographies of the royal family. Sihamoni is continuing the tradition of his father, who very actively communicated his activities and points of view via the Internet.
Sihamoni's reign is strongly influenced by his reticent nature, the crisis of the royal family and the dominant position of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The last-mentioned aspect in particular allows the assumption that the king's leeway is extremely limited and is indebted to the powerful prime minister at crucial moments. In addition, he keeps an unmistakable distance from the people and travels abroad more often for private or medical reasons. It is no secret that he did not actively seek to succeed his father. Some observers describe him as a prisoner of his palace - "sad, lonely and abandoned". Others describe him as tired of office - but there is no suitable, undisputed successor. The future of the Cambodian monarchy has therefore been under discussion for years, especially in times of domestic political controversy.
The Prime Minister
Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen is one of the longest serving political leaders in the world and can look back on a long and in many ways unusual political career. Born in 1952 in Kampong Cham province under the name Hun Bonal, he joined the Khmer Rouge at the age of 16. Like his eldest sons years later, Hun Sen began his career as a military officer; Under the Khmer Rouge, at the age of 25, he commanded a regiment with a nominal strength of 2,000 soldiers. In 1977 Hun Sen, who had risen to lieutenant colonel, deserted to Vietnam and from there organized the resistance against the Khmer Rouge in the FUNSK liberation front. When Vietnamese troops overthrew Pol Pot in January 1979, he returned to Cambodia, first became foreign minister and then at the end of 1984, at the age of 32, the youngest head of government in the world.
After the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, Hun Sen was defeated by his royalist adversary Prince Norodom Ranariddh in 1993 in the UNTAC-organized elections for the National Constituent Assembly.In a unique form of power-sharing, Hun Sen then became practically equal second prime minister alongside the prince, whom he ousted from office in a violent coup just four years later. Confirmed in the subsequent elections in 1998, 2003 and 2008, Hun Sen has also enormously expanded his sphere of influence within his own party.
After the parliamentary elections in July 2013, in which the CPP fared significantly worse than five years earlier, a loss of power due to the ballot was no longer considered completely ruled out. Against the background of falling popularity, Hun Sen was forced to crack down on the only relevant opposition party, which was finally dissolved in November 2017. But not only the inevitable landslide victory in the 2018 parliamentary elections is likely to have strengthened his position within the party, but also the installation of his sons in extremely security-relevant positions of the regime. Even if this is a sign that he only trusts a very close circle and thus snubbed his own party, his long political career is unlikely to have come to an end - if his health continues to play along.
Hun Sen was once considered in many political fields as detailed and on record, allegedly he got by with only a few hours of sleep every day. Today, insiders describe him as someone who lets himself be guided by his emotions even when making important decisions and who rarely relies on civil, halfway critical-constructive advisors in his closest environment. He is considered the wealthiest Cambodian and, along with his family, owns numerous Cambodian companies. Most schools in the country are named after him and his wife Bun Rany (birth name Sam Heang). Both have been honored with honorary doctorates many times, although they have no academic training. Hun Sens's rhetoric was never considered particularly cautious, but has become significantly more aggressive and sharp in recent years. And it works, because hardly anyone doubts that his public attacks and threats are to be taken seriously.
The spectrum of parties
After the parliamentary elections in 2013, Cambodia had developed from a multi-party to a two-party system, but is now de facto a one-party system. The Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which has been led by Hun Sen since June 2015 following the death of long-time party president Chea Sim, has ruled the country since 1979 and dominates Cambodia's politics more than ever. The CPP derives its legitimacy primarily from its role in the liberation of the country from the Khmer Rouge, although leading CPP politicians - such as Hun Sen, Chea Sim, Speaker of Parliament Heng Samrin and Interior Minister Sar Kheng - were middle-level officials even in the early years Khmer Rouge were. To date, the power of the CPP is largely based on its access to the country's armed groups: police, military and military police. The entire state administration is also firmly in the grip of the ruling party: civil servant careers have only been open to loyal CPP members for over three decades. The most important party organ is the Politburo, in which the leading Cambodian politicians are represented and formally discuss the most important decisions.
Founded in 2012, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has risen to a strong challenger to the CPP within a very short time and was therefore banned on November 16, 2017. Since many of its top executives have dual citizenships and have since fled abroad, the party has not yet completely disappeared from the scene. In terms of content, the CNRP stood for the fight against endemic corruption, higher wages for civil servants and textile workers and an end to the award of agro-industrial land concessions. At the same time, however, the party attracted attention with its nationalistic tones, especially towards the Vietnamese minority in the country. The CNRP was an amalgamation of the social-liberal Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the national-liberal Human Rights Party (HRP) and was therefore able to fall back on established structures from the start. After the unexpectedly good performance in the parliamentary elections in 2013 and its fundamentally high popularity with the younger electorate, the CNRP came into the crosshairs of the government. The forced resignation and resignation of party president Sam Rainsy in February 2017 and the election of his previous deputy Kem Sokha as his successor on March 2, 2017 could only delay the end of the CNRP in Cambodia. On September 3, 2017, Kem Sokha was arrested for alleged high treason; The pre-trial detention was converted into house arrest on September 10, 2018, which lasted until November 2019, also under international pressure. However, he still faces no less than 30 years in prison. Kem Sokha can either be seen as a bargaining chip or Hun Sens hostage, because after the overwhelming majority of CNRP politicians had fled, the opposition is still active in western countries. Nevertheless, the party is now considered hopelessly divided.
Other parties currently play no role in political competition. The royalist FUNCINPEC (Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif), which formed a government coalition with the CPP from 1993 to 2008, has now lost all popular support. While in 1993 it still won 45.5 percent of the vote, in the 2013 parliamentary elections it was only 3.7 percent. With this result, after the dissolution of the CNRP at the end of 2017, she inherited 41 of the 55 parliamentary seats that had become free. Previously, FUNCINPEC had actively supported the dissolution of the CNRP, many of whom had started their political careers with the royalists.
In addition to the ruling CPP, 19 small parties including FUNCINPEC competed in the 2018 parliamentary elections, which were supposed to at least maintain the appearance of a democratic election, but were instead mocked by the population as Ampil Ampik (fireflies). Afterwards, they were even rewarded for their participation in the elections: with the establishment of a so-called consultation forum, the domestic political dialogue is to be officially maintained, but actually only serves to support the 16 party leaders appointed to the forum (three refused), all of whom were ranked and received the salary of a minister or senior minister.
Since 1993 there has been re-election in Cambodia. Since then, there have been six elections to the National Assembly (1993, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018), three indirect Senate elections (2006, 2012 and 2018) and four local elections (2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017).
The 2018 parliamentary elections marked the end of the political transformation of Cambodia into a one-party state, although five years earlier the conditions of the parliamentary elections were anything but fair and massive electoral fraud in favor of the ruling CPP of Prime Minister Hun Sen became apparent. In the 2017 municipal council elections, the CPP won 50.8 percent and a majority in 1,156 municipalities, while the CNRP won 43.8 percent of the vote and won 489 municipalities. But the opposition could not enjoy this success for long.
Elections will also take place in Cambodia in the future in order to be able to show proof of the support of the people - regardless of the conditions under which it is issued. The fact that the CPP now holds all 125 mandates of the National Assembly in the sixth legislative period should not even suit Hun Sen - a small formal opposition that actually fully complies with his claim to power would certainly have been in his interest. But the intimidation in the pseudo-election campaign was probably too massive for a better result for the other parties.
This marked the demolition of the democratic facade, which, however, does not come as a surprise given the considerable loss of popularity of the head of government among Cambodians. Hun Sen apparently does not even dare to run in at least halfway free and fair elections against an opposition with charismatic challengers, which amounts to a political oath of disclosure. But since he is still willing to throw everything into the balance to maintain his political power, it is currently impossible to foresee when his rule could end. In any case, there is no trace of a loss of authority. But even in a political system freed from the last democratic remnants, the regime will not be able to avoid answering a few fundamental questions. Above all, the partial elimination of trade preferences in the European internal market from August 12, 2020, which harbors the potential for a significant loss of prosperity, is likely to prove problematic.
Nonetheless, it seems as if the country has largely come to terms with Hun Sen's bit of restructuring into a one-party state. Corresponding filmic impressions of the video report "Cambodia’s descent into dictatorship under the Hun Sen regime" from July 2018 indicate that:
Headwind for the regime
While all domestic political resistance to the regime's centralized claim to power has been broken, for a long time it looked as if the West would also watch the upheavals more or less inactive. But this assumption turned out to be a fallacy: on February 12, 2020, after a one-year review phase, the European Commission announced that it would partially suspend trade facilities granted to Cambodia under “Everything But Arms”.
The reason she cited was "serious and systematic violations of the human rights principles enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights". The withdrawal of tariff preferences affects clothing and shoes, travel items - such as suitcases, bags and rucksacks - and sugar. The volume is expected to be 1 billion euros, which corresponds to around 19% of the imports imported via EBA in 2018. Unless the European Parliament and the relevant Council of Ministers object to the decision, the partial suspension will take effect on August 12, 2020.
During the review phase, Prime Minister Hun Sen made it clear several times that he did not want to give in to pressure from the EU in order to save the EBA. “We cannot accept what they demand”, the Khmer Times quoted him from a speech in November 2019. Even if the worst-case scenario was averted by the partial suspension, the decision made as a regulation means a veritable loss of face for the autocratic ruler. Domestic politics are unlikely to change this symbolic step, because it will hardly trigger an economic crisis that Hun Sen could further delegitimize. Above all, this should take the hoped-for wind out of the sails of internal party opponents and further cement Cambodia's path into a one-party state.
While the country will still be able to import the majority of its exports to the European internal market duty-free and quota-free, the Americans are also scrutinizing trade relations with Cambodia. As early as January 2019, efforts from the USA became known to suspend trade preferences granted to Cambodia in accordance with the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) under the "Cambodia Trade Act". The proceedings are still ongoing.
Difficult times for the (former) opposition
Opposition politician Sam Rainsy has fallen deeply: at the beginning of September 2019, he once again full-bodied announced a return to Cambodia, where he is threatened with several decades of imprisonment. It was supposed to be on November 9th, Cambodia's Independence Day, almost exactly four years after he was last there. With his return, Rainsy wanted to initiate a popular uprising (“People's Power”) that should sweep Hun Sen away. On October 31st he announced theatrically: "This may be the last time that you see me alive, or as a free man (...). I am prepared to sacrifice my freedom - and even my life - to give democracy a chance , to help ensure freedom for my unfortunate people. "
Well, he's not even got anywhere near the Cambodian border, despite the fact that the government in Phnom Penh had largely given up its opposition to return. The regime had previously used the intimidation method and arrested more than 70 opposition supporters, most of whom have since been released (but could still be convicted and imprisoned). Despite his hard-to-explain behavior, it could be that Sam Rainsy's political career is still not over.
On the other hand, with its partner Kem Sokha, the regime first carried out a roll forwards and then backwards again. After his house arrest ended on November 9th and the investigations into high treason were largely discontinued a few days later, the Phnom Penh City Court announced in early December that criminal proceedings would now follow. Since January 2020 he has had to answer in court - a fair trial could neither be expected nor will it take place.
Other important political issues
In addition to the disappointment with the latest political developments, other issues have contributed to the general dissatisfaction of many Cambodians for years:
- The status of civil society, including informal associations at the local level, particularly the crackdown on human rights defenders;
- The enormously high level of corruption in all public spheres such as in the education system and in the courts;
- Conflicts of interest between unions, on the one hand, and employers plus government, on the other, over the level of the minimum wage in the apparel industry (a total of $ 182 as of January 1, 2019 - plus $ 12 - per month for full-time employees);
- Lack of rule of law and legal certainty: although essential legal bases have been created in recent years, they are often - if at all - applied only inadequately and interpreted very variably; Criminal law is mostly used when it appears politically opportune and therefore does not have a deterrent effect; judicial independence is and remains an illusion, even the Khmer Rouge tribunal is believed to be government controlled;
- Restrictions on freedom of expression and association;
- The extensive politicization of the armed forces and their close relationships with business leaders;
- Forced evictions and land conflicts, in which wealthy entrepreneurs in particular are involved, and the associated marginalization of socially disadvantaged population groups as a result of abuse of power, corruption and the arbitrariness of local and central authorities;
- The expansion of the infrastructure, especially for energy generation;
- Cambodia's foreign policy stance and dependence on China, which encourages anti-Chinese resentment.
In Cambodia, respect for human rights is unfortunately still subordinate to power politics. Repressions usually come in waves, the last major one being the government's violent repression against workers and opposition supporters at the beginning of January 2014. Several politically motivated murders and judicial arbitrariness are evidence of which reservoir of violence could be activated at any time. The killings of the regime critic Kem Ley (2016), the environmental activist Chut Wutty (2012) and the union leader Chea Vichea (2004) were rated by some observers as extrajudicial executions and also caused a sensation across national borders. The murders of the trade unionists Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy were also seen as politically motivated and exemplify the difficult situation of the labor movement in Cambodia. To this day, however, the events of 1997, in which not only the coup in Hun Sen took place, but also the attack on protesters of the Sam Rainsy Party, are considered the most serious (and lasting) human rights violation since the first free elections in 1993.
Arrests of opposition politicians and intimidation of dissidents have returned as a key feature of Cambodian domestic politics since 2015. Beyond these politically motivated acts, everyday human rights violations are ignited by the unresolved issue of land ownership - and even if this seems clear, expropriations for little or no compensation are the order of the day. The reason for this is the award of agro-industrial land concessions and mining licenses, which now cover around a quarter of the total area of the state. The sale of nature reserves is also no longer a specialty. The assumption that just under 1.7% of the population (i.e. more than 260,000 people) should exist in slave-like conditions continues to be particularly problematic - allegedly, the situation is only worse in eight other countries in the world.
In January 2017, against the background of the murder of Kem Ley, Al Jazeera produced a remarkable report on the connections between the exercise of political power, corruption and human rights:
Dealing with refugees and asylum seekers
Along with the Philippines and East Timor, Cambodia is only one of three countries in Southeast Asia that has ratified the Convention on the Status of Refugees. However, the kingdom, which in the course of the civil war and genocide in the 1970s was itself the home country of hundreds of thousands of refugees, sometimes finds it difficult to adhere to its self-imposed obligations and has therefore made the headlines more often in recent years. In 2009, 20 Uighur refugees were deported back to China; this decision is said to be closely related to a billion dollar aid package that the government in Beijing granted Cambodia just two days later. It is not unlikely that most of the deported refugees - denounced as separatists by the communist regime - were subsequently sentenced to long prison terms. Last but not least, this incident is said to be the decisive factor in the fact that the number of asylum seekers in Cambodia has fallen from 250 in 2008 to just two four years later.
An exception are the Montagnards from Vietnam, the most frequent group of people who flee to Cambodia. The term refers to several mountain peoples of predominantly Christian faith who stood on the side of the United States during the Second Indochina War. Today they are often prevented from practicing their religion, which is reason enough for some of them to flee to Cambodia via the northeastern province of Ratankiri. There is a great effort to send these “illegal immigrants” back to their homeland, also out of the interests of Vietnam's close ally.
Cambodia received particular attention in 2014 for a deal with Australia in which the kingdom undertook to take in refugees who actually wanted to go Down Under for around 40 million US dollars. By the time it expired in November 2018, however, this agreement only affected four of up to 600 eligible people who were relocated from Nauru to Cambodia. How absurd the whole agreement really was is also shown by the fact that Cambodians are fleeing to Australia, most recently in February 2018 Bou Rachana, the widow of the murdered regime critic Kem Ley, with her five sons as the most prominent example.
Khmer Rouge Tribunal
The question of coming to terms with the past is one of the most important issues in both Cambodia's domestic politics and the state's international relations. On October 4, 2004, the Cambodian National Assembly unanimously approved the establishment of a tribunal before which the leadership of the Khmer Rouge should answer. The tyranny of the Khmer Rouge lasted just under four years, but the number of victims is alarming: 1.7 million people lost their lives in the most brutal way, and according to other sources it was even two million dead. After the invasion of the Vietnamese army in January 1979, the Khmer Rouge continued to fight as guerrilla warriors from the Thai border area in the west and northwest until 1998. The Khmer Rouge Tribunal (officially Extraordinary Chambers at the Courts of Cambodia) is supposed to investigate the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979 and to try the top officials responsible.
After long delays, the court started its work in July 2007. However, the first trial did not begin until February 2009 - against Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his fighting name Duch, director of the torture prison S-21
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