Twenty-eight years ago today, the United Nations brokered the Comprehensive Cambodian Peace Agreement, otherwise known as the Paris Peace Agreements. The agreements effectively ended decades of armed conflict and paved the way for people to have self-determination through the first election in 1993. Prime Minister Hun Sen recently cut Paris Peace Agreements Day from a list of public holidays in the Kingdom starting next year. Many are criticising him for the move, saying that it is a signal that the agreements are dead and signatory countries should be aware.
During the Cold War in 1987, then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk met with Prime Minister Hun Sen in the northern French village of Fère-en-Tardenois in the hope of ending decades of civil war in Cambodia. Years later, the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements were signed.
A total of 18 countries, along with four Cambodian warring factions, signed the agreements. The parties were the State of Cambodia led by Mr Hun Sen, the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front led by Son Sann, Funcinpec led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh and the Khmer Rouge led by Khieu Samphan.
Under the agreements, national reconciliation was to be promoted and free and fair elections ensured. Additionally, the agreements provided a ceasefire and cessation of outside military assistance and the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country; human rights were to be guaranteed and refugees were to be allowed to return.
In 2017, Mr Hun Sen issued a statement reflecting on the moments leading to the signing of the agreements.
“We always remember and are grateful to His Majesty the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk,” he said. “We are thankful for the sacrifice that he made for independence and peace for Cambodia.”
Paul Chambers, an international affairs lecturer at Naresuan University’s College of Asean Community Studies in Thailand, says the agreements helped end the long-term civil war in the country.
“The 1991 Paris Peace Agreements formally ended the Cambodia-Vietnamese War and established a political settlement for Cambodia’s civil war,” Mr Chambers says. “The legacy: First, relations between Vietnam and Cambodia are amicable but tense; second, the political settlement and laws derived from it were put into the 1993 constitution.”
Noranarridh Ananda Yath, a Minister Attached to Prime Minister, says the Paris Peace Agreements helped Cambodia.
“It has morphed Cambodia to have: peace, prosperity, rights, democracy, stability, and development,” he says. “The constitution that adopted the basics of the agreements stands as a testimony of one country, one sovereign territory actively engaged by the ruling CPP.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan says that after the agreements were signed, the CPP, under the leadership of Mr Hun Sen through his Win-Win policy, was able to get Khmer Rouge supporters to join forces with the government in 1998.
“After 28 years, there have been many legacies under the great leadership of the Cambodian People’s Party,” Mr Eysan says. “Cambodia was able to achieve peace and national unity in 1998, despite the withdrawal of UNTAC and the battles along the border.”
“Because we were able to garner peace and national unity, we were able to achieve implementing democracy for Cambodians,” he adds. “Then we implemented the first, second, third and fourth phases of the Rectangular Strategy, which gives Cambodia development in all sectors.”
The agreement and the CNRP
After former opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested and accused of treason in September 2017, 55 NGOs called on UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and French President Emmanuel Macron to take action to “ensure that the democratic vision for Cambodia outlined in the Paris Peace Agreements is not completely forsaken”.
CNRP members at the time called on all 18 signatory countries, as well as the UN, to “continue to render their assistance and support to Cambodian citizens and those struggling for democracy in Cambodia.”
Mr Hun Sen responded by telling them to stop “dreaming”.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP lawmaker, says the signatory countries should have held a meeting to address the decline of democratic values in the Kingdom.
“We appealed to the 18 signatory nations, Cambodia and the UN to fulfil their duties as mentioned in the Paris Peace Agreements,” Mr Chanrath says, noting that elements of the agreements, which were already included in the constitution, were not fully implemented.
He says the dissolution of the CNRP by the Supreme Court in 2017 was a setback to democracy and that the national election that followed was neither free nor fair.
“The most important thing is that Cambodia did not fully implement its duty and obligations mentioned in the constitution,” Mr Chanrath says. “Instead, it moved away from it, it moved away from reconciliation and respecting democracy and human rights.”
Mr Ananda Yath, the Minister Attached to Prime Minister, says the CNRP failed to participate in the processes laid out by the Paris Peace Agreements.
“The former opposition CNRP had been misusing the process enshrined in the agreement countless times – over and over,” Mr Ananda Yath says. “The CPP rules the country with absolute conviction to respect and bear the agreement’s modalities. The agreement was misused and abused by members of the former opposition CNRP.”
“It was totally ludicrous for the [former] opposition to accuse the ruling [CPP] of violating the agreements,” he adds. “It was they themselves that mistranslated the agreements for their own political convenience and advancement.”
“Any attempt to overthrow the legal government that emerged from the accords…will be met with severe punishment under the law,” he adds.
Dead or Alive?
A few months after Mr Hun Sen praised King Father Sihanouk’s participation in the Paris Peace Agreements, he said the agreements were dead.
“The Paris Peace Agreements are like a ghost,” he said in 2017.
Mr Chambers, the international affairs lecturer in Thailand, agrees.
“It is now completely overshadowed by the power of Hun Sen,” he says. “In this respect, he is correct: it is dead.”
Sok Touch, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, also says the agreements are dead.
“Our constitution states clearly that the agreements were to remain effective if there was no new government,” Mr Touch says. “So if a new government was created, the agreements are dead.”
“The new government was created in 1993, so the agreements are invalid now,” he adds. “There are only those who pretend to understand it through misinterpretation.”
However, political analyst Lao Mong Hay argues that the constitution has not been fully implemented and Paris Peace Agreements can only be considered dead if signatory countries declared so themselves.
“The territorial integrity [of Cambodia] was recognised on October 23, 1991, but it was later violated – meaning that the issue was not integrated,” he says. “Moreover, the Paris Peace Agreements can only be considered dead when all signatory countries, including Cambodia, declare they are no longer bound to the agreements.”
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