Hundreds of people gathered at Freedom Park yesterday to highlight the importance of the Paris Peace Agreements and their continued relevance for the Kingdom as they celebrated the 28th anniversary of their signing.
The Paris Peace Agreements ended years of civil war in Cambodia on October 23, 1991, when the country’s warring factions signed the treaty along with 18 foreign countries and the United Nations.
The peace treaty paved the way for political settlement and guaranteed Cambodia sovereignty and territorial integrity. It also kickstarted the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country after decades of conflict.
About 400 farmers, students, workers, teachers, unionists, NGO staffers, political analysts and foreign diplomats gathered yesterday to mark the 28th anniversary of the signing of the treaty and voiced their concerns regarding its relevance today.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, said the Paris Peace Agreements are still relevant today.
“If there was no peace accords, Khmers would have continued to fight each other and there would have been no assistance in rebuilding our country,” Mr Tola said. “I think it cannot be forgotten.”
Mr Tola argued that elements of the agreements have not been fully implemented, and even if some have been included in the constitution, they are not enforced.
“Our constitution said the Kingdom shall rule according to the principles of liberal democracy and pluralism…but because of the latest political developments, I have noted that we are walking far away from these principles,” he said. “We have a one-party state. The main opposition party was dissolved by the courts.”
Mr Tola said the principles of respecting human rights and democracy were mentioned in the Paris Peace Agreements and these principles are conditions for the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms trade status with the European Union.
“These negative developments caused the European Union to consider that the Kingdom has not implemented [pro-rights] international treaties or conventions that we signed before,” he said. “Because we are not fully implementing principles of the peace accords, we are neglecting our national interests.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen during a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh on Tuesday said the Paris Peace Agreements were no longer relevant as the principles of the agreements were already included in the current constitution.
He said in a statement on Facebook yesterday that despite the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991, civil war continued until 1998.
“We had the Paris Peace Agreements on October 23, 1991, but the civil war continued because of Democratic Kampuchea led by Pol Pot,” Mr Hun Sen said. “Under the win-win policy and the leadership of Hun Sen, we completely ended the civil war in 1998. The whole country now has peace and prosperity.”
Pa Chanroeun, director of the Cambodian Centre for Applied Philosophy and Ethics, who attended yesterday’s rally at Freedom Park, said even though the Paris Peace Agreements helped the country, not every principle was equally applied.
“This agreement was successful in repatriating refugees, withdrawing foreign military forces, organising a free and fair election in 1993, creating a new constitution and forming a new government,” Mr Chanroeun said, noting that the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia spent $2 billion to organise the election and deploy peacekeepers.
He also said the agreement ushered in economic growth and poverty reduction.
“Before , one village had one black and white TV. Now, most of you have TVs, some have two. We have infrastructure and tall buildings in the capital,” he said.
Mr Chanroeun noted the Kingdom began moving away from the principles of the Paris Peace Agreements during the 2013 national election when society was split between CPP and CNRP supporters.
“I have noted that our society has been divided – there is discrimination over political tendencies,” he said.
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, yesterday agreed that the Paris Peace Agreements led to political and economic development, but disagreed with critics who said the treaty has not been fully implemented.
“Over the last 28 years, all sectors in Cambodia have been developed, especially in terms of politics and socio-economics,” Mr Phea said. “Cambodia has complete peace and is on the road of democracy.”
“Cambodia has paid attention to the promotion of human rights as a priority, especially in terms of political rights through regularly held elections,” he added. “The Kingdom has welcomed political parties, NGOs and unions. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press have been guaranteed by laws.”
The rally at Freedom Park yesterday was also the last time that Paris Peace Agreements Day is marked as a public holiday.
In August, Mr Hun Sen decided to cut it from a list of national holidays, a move that created a sense of uncertainty among those who attended yesterday’s rally.
Nov Khli, a 65-year-old farmer who travelled from Kampong Speu province to rally at Freedom Park, yesterday said he is concerned younger generations may forget what the Paris Peace Agreements ushered in.
“I am really concerned about this important agreement – it may be forgotten by the next generation,” Mr Khli said. “As you can see, Paris Peace Agreements Day is no longer a public holiday next year.”