By Theary C. SENG
"Cambodia, as a democracy, is a teenager in terms of years, and an infant in terms of maturity. Democracy in Cambodia is so fragile and now this attack on democracy poses serious concerns on the health and existence of democracy."In a democracy, you need democrats. Cambodia purports to be a democracy. However, within recent months, the government has been going after democrats and human rights defenders in a more concentrated manner in the crackdown on political opposition, civil society and media which greatly undermines democracy.
Theary Seng with Mr. Phin Malay (center) in Toulouse, prior to a 2-hour call-in radio program on Canal Sud 92.5 FM (in Khmer and English) on democracy and human rights in Cambodia, 7 July 2009.
Cambodia, as a democracy, is a teenager in terms of years, and an infant in terms of maturity. Democracy in Cambodia is so fragile and now this attack on democracy poses serious concerns on the health and existence of democracy. Since 1993, Cambodia has made important strides in democratic development, but now all of that is at risk in light of the concentrated crackdown on expression, opinions and assembly.
How then does the Cambodian government expect Cambodia to have a democracy?
Theary Seng, relaxing at dinner, after 2nd day of Fifth Ministerial Community of Democracies in Lisbon, 10 July 2009.
Lisbon 5th Ministerial of Community of Democracies, Portugal Foreign Minister getting up to give welcoming remarks, 10 July 2009. During this session, Theary Seng informed the participants of the crackdown in Cambodia and her removal from the Center for Social Development via a politically-motivated court injunction.
Fmr. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who initiated the Community of Democracies ten years ago, attending the Lisbon Fifth Ministerial, 9 July 2009.
Theary Seng with democrats from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Peru at the Lisbon Ministerial of Community of Democracies, 9 July 2009.
The situation is insidious in that the ruling party uses the semblance of democracy to combat democracy; that is to say, it uses "mock legality" of the court carry out its fiat. It criminalizes democracy and human rights activism; it weaponizes the law. A genuine democracy is rooted in the “rule of law”. An authoritarian regime bases its authority in the "rule by law" that it alone legislates, interprets and executes. Cambodia now follows the adage of other dictators: For my friends, whatever they want; for my enemies, the law.
AlJazeera TV interview with Theary Seng (reading Undermining Democracy) in Phnom Penh re her removal from the Center for Social Development via a politically-motivated court injunction, before her departure for meetings/conferences in Portland and Berlin, Aug. 2009.
Theary Seng as keynote speaker and panelist with Fmr. US Ambassador Sichan Siv at the KRT international conference in Portland, OR, requesting for action by Cambodian-American against authoritarian backlash against democrats and human rights defenders in Cambodia. 16 Aug. 2009.
Theary Seng speaking with German Federal Minister of Economic Development Mrs. Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul after Press Conference to celebrate 10th Anniversary of Civil Peace Service, Berlin, 19 Aug. 2009.
Another invidious trend which is undermining democracy in Cambodia and elsewhere is the use of legislation to curtail the work of civil society, ie, in the form of an NGO Law. Two recently, highly recommended publications address the authoritarian backlash against democrats worldwide, both specifically mentioned Cambodia: Defending Civil Society and Undermining Democracy.
Theary Seng meeting with Vice-President of German Parliament (Bundestag) to discuss culture of memorial and crackdown on democracy and human rights in Cambodia. Berlin, 28 Aug. 2009.
The Center for Social Development (CSD) case is really a simple case of simple people bent on destruction by taking their private grievances to the court, exploiting the political context of repression and crackdown on civil society, media and political opposition. Politics, in turn, took advantage of this opening to silence an outspoken civil society voice (mine) by giving the green light to the court to enforce this baseless injunctive order. In sum, the CSD issue started out as a private dispute which turned political.
I am no longer at the CSD as of August 27, the Municipal Court ruled on the substantive case striking down the recognition of me and the 11-member Board of Directors as accepted by the Ministry of Interior. To continue the work of CSD, we have established The Center for Justice & Reconciliation and The Parliamentary Center of Cambodia.
Theary Seng with German parliamentarian Hellmut Konigshaus after one-hour meeting with him to inform of the crackdown on democracy and human rights in Cambodia (very generous of his time in light of election campaign season!) and Friedrich Naumann Stiftung’s Asia director Christian and SEA program manager Moritz. German Bundestag Office, Berlin, 2 Sept. 2009.
Information communication technology (ICT) is without a doubt a powerful, fearful weapon against authoritarianism and the best friend of democracy and democrats. Movements and campaigns require the effective dissemination of information to rally up the support and ICT proves an effective tool in getting the message out to the larger audience which knows no boundary. During my 3 1/2 years at CSD, we emphasized the use of ICT in our work, particularly we did research through the iREACH pilot project in Kep on the use of ICT in empowering rural communities.
Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Success or Scandal. International conference for invited heads of institutions, parliamentarians and policy-makers, Berlin. Theary Seng with panelists Hon. Jurgen Koppelin (German parliamentarian who opposed the KRT) and German prosecutor Jurgen Assmann, organized by and moderated by Friedrich Naumann Stiftung’s Moritz Kleine-Brockoff, Berlin, 3 Sept. 2009.
Authoritarian regimes, which characterizes the Cambodian People’s Party, are afraid of truth and ideas; they function on fear, control and paranoia, in keeping the population ignorant to better manipulate them. They function best in secrecy and in the dark. Information and knowledge is light, it is power, hence a challenge to the authority and power of the CPP.
Hon. Tioulong Saumura (MP, SRP), second from left, on a special panel of Women in Political Leadership.
Theary Seng with democrats from India and Mongolia at WFDA Biennial Conference (Seoul, 16-18 Sept. 2009) where she addressed Democracy in Cambodia on a panel of Asian democrats from transitional countries.
For me, I have found that as a public figure, visibility is one layer of protection. We cannot vacillate back and forth and mourn the loss of privacy. I believe this awareness is important for human rights activists for visibility is a protective tool. With regards to CSD, I have been speaking out at the various conferences (ie, Community of Democracies, World Forum for Democratization in Asia, my meetings with the Vice President of the German Bundestag etc.) and in interviews for radio and TV, including an AlJazeera half-hour program on this crackdown... and will continue to speak out very strongly against any and all forms of authoritarianism, despots, for human lives and well-being are at stake here when democracy is under attack.