The exchange of rhetoric over the membership of Cambodia at the United Nations (UN) emerged recently between the ruling party and the defunct opposition party. To answer the question on whether Cambodia’s seat has ever been suspended, I wish to invite our readers to have a walk-through to the 60 years of historical background of Cambodia’s membership at the United Nations.
Cambodia under the wise leadership of the then Prince Norodom Sihanouk applied for membership at the UN in 1952, a year before gaining independence from France in 1953. This indicates that Cambodia attaches great importance to the multilateral global institution.
The UN Charter protects the interest of all countries regardless of size and power. Every UN member has equal sovereignty and equal voting power. The non-interference principle is the core principle of international relations, as stipulated in the UN Charter.
Cambodia became a member of the UN in 1955. To become a member of the UN requires a recommendation from the UN Security Council and an endorsement from the UN General Assembly, in which a two-thirds majority is needed.
Cambodia became a member of the UN on December 14, 1955, under the UNSC’s resolution (S/RES/109(1955), and later by UN General Assembly Resolution (A/RES/995(X) on the same day.
If there is any attempt to suspend Cambodian membership at the UN, it requires at least nine out of 15 votes at the UN Security Council. Any veto from one of the five permanent members of the council will obstruct the draft resolution. And for the General Assembly, it needs at least two-thirds of the 193 member states to endorse.
So far there has been no UN member state expelled from the UN. Article 6 of the UN Charter provides: “A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”
Concerning the suspension of membership from the UN, South Africa experienced it in 1974. It was suspended due to the international opposition to the apartheid policy conducted by the South African government at the time. Twelve years later South Africa was readmitted to the UN.
As far as Cambodia is concerned, throughout its history of 62 years, Cambodia has never experienced the case of membership suspension. Cambodia’s seat at the UN was left vacant in 1990 following the creation of the Supreme National Council (SNC). The SNC, with Prince Norodom Sihanouk at the helm, was granted Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations in September 1991.
Notably from 1979 to 1989, the Khmer Rouge legally represented Cambodia at the UN. Mr Son Sann was the last speaker to address the UN General Assembly in 1989. In September 1991, the then Prince Norodom Sihanouk addressed the General Assembly in his name as President of the SNC.
In the aftermath of the July 1997 armed conflict, Cambodia’s seat at the UN was in limbo when the first and second Prime Ministers of Cambodia dispatched separate official delegations to attend the General Assembly in September 1997.
As a result, Cambodia’s seat was left vacant under the resolution A/52/19 of the UN’s Credence Committee. There was no Cambodian delegate addressing the UN General Assembly in 1997 and 1998.
After the new coalition was formed after the 1998 general election, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia was invited to address the General Assembly in 1999.
Cambodia has received three UN Secretary Generals, Dag Hammarskjold in 1959, Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993 and Ban Ki-moon in 2010.
Cambodia’s contribution to the UN Peacekeeping Operations and other UN organs has strengthened Cambodia’s global role and image. Cambodia will take a more responsible leadership role in the UN in order to promote peace and human security.
Cambodia’s commitment to the UN and other international organisations remain firm. Non-interference principle and equal sovereignty are the core principles of the UN, which Cambodia strictly adheres to.
To further understand the United Nations system, please further read a recently published book written in Khmer: “What are they doing at the United Nations?”
Yaung Chan Sophea is a former diplomat of Cambodia to the United Nations.