UN Country Team should promote ‘Cambodian Model’ and fight ‘political-human-rights-porn’

Chan Kunthiny / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
REUTERS/Joe Penney

The United Nations has a long history of promoting peace and advancing human development in Cambodia. From technical cooperation to border relief operations, repatriation of refugees, peacekeeping and elections after the 30-year civil war, through to post-conflict reconstruction and nation building, right up to the present-day commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For a post-war country like Cambodia, we look to the UN for peace and sustainable development.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has highlighted the importance of recognising the links between sustainable development and sustaining peace amid such intertwined global challenges as rising inequality, protracted conflicts and climate change.

“We must prioritise the prevention of violent conflicts and the perpetuation of peace,” he said.

The preamble of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development said: “We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.”

Sustainable development should be people-centred and should contain dual arrows, one of increased prosperity and poverty reduction, and another one of improved welfare. Putting this into perspective, by international comparison, Cambodia has made a great stride in many human-related development indexes and support and assistance from the UN in this aspect is of high significance.

Economically, Cambodia grew at an average rate of 7.6 percent from 1994-2015 and became a lower middle-income economy in 2016. This growth was driven by exports of goods and services (mainly garments and tourism). About 3.6 million jobs in industry and services were created over the past two decades.

The World Bank has evaluated that “Cambodia’s growth has been pro-poor”.

Cambodia has made significant progress in attaining the Millennium Development Goals. Since 1990, the country has more than halved extreme poverty and maternal mortality, achieved nearly universal primary education enrollment and made significant progress in combating HIV/AIDS.

Across East Asia and the Pacific, Cambodia has shown the highest increase rate of Human Development Index (HDI) in 2015, showing that the country’s health, education and standard of living have improved from 1990. From 1990 to 2015, Cambodia’s annual HDI growth rate of 1.84 percent has outpaced the average in East Asia and the Pacific, now at 1.35 percent, making it among the top seven countries in the world with the fastest HDI growth rate.

Between 1990 and 2015, Cambodia’s life expectancy at birth increased by 15.2 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.0 years and expected years of schooling increased by 4.2 years. Cambodia’s GNI per capita increased by about 277.9 percent between 1990 and 2015.

The Southeast Asian nation is one of only nine countries to have achieved the UN’s Millennium Development Goal to cut maternal death by at least 75 percent by 2015, having lowered its ratio by 84 percent between 1990 and 2015.

Cambodia also received an MDG Award for its outstanding national leadership, commitment and progress towards achievement of Goal 6 and particularly in working towards halting and reversing the spread of HIV. The government’s efforts on HIV have contributed to a decline in HIV prevalence from an estimated 2 percent (among adults aged 15-49) in 1998 to 0.8 percent in 2008. The country has also achieved the universal access target for antiretroviral treatment, with over 90 percent of adults and children in need receiving treatment.

Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) are probably the best example for Cambodia-UN cooperation. Cambodia is the first post-conflict nation in the UN PKO history that could turn itself from a recipient-state of PKO forces into a dispatching-state. Since 2006 Cambodia has sent almost 5,000 troops on UN peacekeeping missions to eight countries – Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Mali.

Every year, Cambodia sends more than 800 soldiers to relieve personnel on peacekeeping duty. This makes Cambodia the third largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in Asean. In 2017, the United Nations ranked Cambodia as the first in Asean and the second in Asia, after South Korea, for sending female officers to UN mission abroad.

In terms of protection and promotion of human rights, consistent commitment from Cambodia in cooperation with the UN is well documented. Cambodia has employed a wide range of mechanisms such as the continued presence of the Special Rapporteur, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Cambodia is a state party to the 8 core UN human rights treaties, which it has ratified without reservation. The core and fundamental principles of human rights have also been enshrined in the Charter III, from Art. 31 to 50 of Cambodia’s Constitution. Cambodia is the only country in Asia to host a field office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Other countries include Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Mauritania, Mexico, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (stand-alone office), Kosovo (Serbia), Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Yemen.

Despite these achievements, the existence of the UN Country Team has been overshadowed by the negative influence of human rights NGOs and institutions.

For such NGOs and institutions, while they advocate so eloquent in Cambodia, they can’t even sneak in those war zones that are badly needed for human rights address. When Cambodia was a war zone, Cambodia did not have those human rights NGOs and organisations either. To look at Cambodia now, one can only think that the human rights NGOs and organisations should move to Syria, Libya and Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where peoples’ rights to life, to peace, to shelter, to food, to jobs, all the basic things that human needs for a decent living with dignity, are being deprived.

There is an expression “poverty porn”, also known as development porn, famine porn or stereotype porn, that has been defined as “any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause”. If this is applied, then human rights NGOs in Cambodia are probably conducting “political-human-rights-porn” to secure their financial sustainability from politically motivated sources.

If investment creates jobs, then human rights NGOs are killing jobs. When Cambodia has become an increasingly attractive destination for foreign direct investment and tourism, which help create jobs and income for Cambodians, by defaming Cambodia, the human rights NGOs are killing Cambodian jobs and undermining their rights to peace, their economic rights and rights to sustainable development. If the definition of fundamental human rights is strictly obeyed, those NGOs should be ashamed of their works’ ethics and their unsolicited contribution to cutting Cambodian jobs.

If peace and sustainable development are the fundamental cores of the UN, the UN Country Team should be more proactive in promoting Cambodia’s successes to the world. After all, how many post-conflict nations in the world that are now peaceful, economically well-performed, democratically in gradual progress and are very cooperative with the UN like Cambodia? No one can give a better answer to this question than the UN Country Team given their global comparative perspective.

The UN Country Team should assist Cambodia to shape the “Cambodian Model”, which includes many good experiences and lessons learned in terms of peace-building, nation-building “from scratch” and sustainable development to share with other post-conflict nations in the world. With available UN tools, the UN Country Team should be in an advantage to promote their own roles and positive and constructive engagement with Cambodia. They should not be submitted to “political-human-rights-porn” and be the underdog of human rights NGOs. For promoting the “Cambodian Model” is equal to promoting one of the UN’s successes in its global mission for peace and sustainable development. The UN should take pride in that and so does Cambodia.

Chan Kunthiny is a Cambodian analyst based in Phnom Penh.

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