A Chinese casino lit up by night in Cambodia's Sihanoukville. Photo: Facebook
A Chinese casino lit up by night in Cambodia's Sihanoukville. Photo: Facebook

China’s media recently reported that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) would conduct a study into Cambodia’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). If it had been just China conducting this study, there would be little interest in the topic. It is a foregone conclusion that Cambodia’s ruthless oligarchic regime is already a subsidiary of China. As testimony, the country’s seaside province of Sihanoukville now resembles China’s Macau.

១៥ វិច្ឆិកា ២០១៨ / 15 November 2018 – Cambodia has become a Sino-Vietnamese condominium. The Hun Sen regime has…

Posted by Sam Rainsy on Thursday, 15 November 2018

The UNDP like other international agencies planted the seeds for what were supposedly “Sustainable Development Goals,” but the Cambodian regime has outmaneuvered the United Nations, reaping the benefits of “the goals” while simultaneously shredding every infrastructure developed, rendering all efforts as nothing more than legitimizing human-rights violators, dictatorship and corruption.

For the term “Sustainable Development Goals,” like “human rights” and “democracy,” is merely an international language adopted invariably to legitimize international partnerships for funding or aid to sustain and boost Cambodia’s political princelings whose privileges are passed down from father to son.

It is shameful for the UNDP to prioritize a study labeled as being on SDGs instead of taking action to pressure the Cambodian regime to implement basic yet critical areas of human rights, good governance, and democratic political infrastructure, pursuant to international covenants such as those protecting civil and political rights and the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.

Can the UNDP point to a single project in Cambodia being sustained and benefiting Cambodians inclusively at a national level, free of the Hun Sen regime’s interference? His regime will only implement the so-called “national” outcomes that benefit its elite supporters. As such it is not a regime promoting “inclusive growth” – the UNDP’s failed mission.

How can the UNDP justify its authority when it is a bystander to the Hun Sen regime’s commission of crimes against the very people to whom the UNDP is supposed to deliver sustainable growth? The UNDP, for example, took no action against the regime for banning Cambodians from exercising their basic rights to march on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Legitimizing dictatorship and corruption

The aims of the UNDP in Cambodia are referred to on its website as “to enhance the government’s ability to deliver … in an efficient, effective, equitable and accountable manner, to consolidate a participatory democracy with a responsible civil society and to create an enabling environment for inclusive growth, private sector development and sustainable use of natural resources.”

But the proposed study would see the UNDP deliberately allow itself to be in partnership with dictatorship and eventually outsmarted by Hun Sen’s regime, in the same manner as the UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Like the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) and other organizations, the UNDP has seen its programs in Cambodia totally collapse and become unsustainable at the national level, in the wake of the regime successfully implemented its own neo-patrimonial system, endemic corruption, and rule by one ruthless human being, Hun Sen – the “obsessed assassin.”

The UNDP is aware that the aims highlighted on its website are riddled with flawed results that failed to sustain at a national level. Like the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, the aim stated on the website is merely a vision that failed to materialize for Cambodians. For example, “the private sector,” with the exception of “moms and dads” operating small businesses,  is controlled and “owned” by Hun Sen’s family.

For Cambodia under this regime is a nation without nationalism, in the sense that sustainable economic growth is exclusively for individuals serving the regime as supposed to inclusive benefits for all citizens regardless of their political allegiance. That is how Hun Sen’s regime operates, and the United Nations and the international community should declare the creation of Cambodia’s authoritarianism illegal.

Contributing to perpetuity of foreign aid

It is totally absurd for the UNDP to waste its resources on producing such a report on Cambodia’s involvement in the BRI. Under this regime, the benefits of foreign aid feed its ruling elite, for the majority of Cambodians are impoverished while the minority enjoys criminal impunity, economic exclusivity, power and political privileges for their allegiance of the ruling party.

The more Cambodia is seen as an impoverished nation, the more the international community engages with Hun Sen to “improve Cambodia” – so long as conditions are improved and are “better than under the Khmer Rouge.”

The cycle of Cambodia’s dependency on foreign aid will be permanently sustained such that Cambodians become more inert, waiting for foreign handouts to sustain their households’ prosperity to sustain supposed economic empowerment. But so long as Cambodia’s core governmental pillars are identified as heavily corrupted with little regard for the rule of law, this proposed study by the UNDP, and indeed any project at all, lends absolutely no practical use for everyday Cambodians.

It makes no sense for the UNDP as an authoritative body partnering with the Hun Sen regime to develop the so-called Cambodia SDGs. Take for example the UNDP’s stated objective “to consolidate a participatory democracy.” Is there such a thing as “democracy,” let alone the “participatory” concept, in Cambodia with the European Parliament declaring it an authoritarian state and its political structure undemocratic?

One foreseeable outcome from the proposed study by the UNDP, like most efforts by other agencies, is employment opportunities for local and international staff – all of whom will rise to claim as “experienced experts” credited with working to develop “sustainable development projects in Cambodia.” In reality, those efforts produced no sustainable outcomes.

Ending dictatorship and corruption

The UNDP should spearhead all efforts and launch a coordinated action plan with other agencies, demanding Cambodia’s authoritarians accountable for past goals developed, all of which have been obliterated since November 2017 with the dissolution of a democratic opposition party, by a regime described as “utterly merciless and ruthless, without humane feelings.”

If the UNDP is sincere about Cambodia’s future and the implementation of “Sustainable Development Goals,” the agency should look no further than the recent European Parliament motion demanding that the regime “put an end to all forms of harassment, abuse and politically motivated criminal charges against members of the political opposition, human-rights defenders, trade unions and labor-rights advocates, [and] land-rights and other civil-society activists.…”

The UNDP can help end dictatorship and corruption by revising its operation and mission, as it is no longer relevant in addressing the “aims” listed on its website. Instead of exploring Cambodia’s involvement in the BRI, the UNDP can help sustain its past efforts by demanding that Hun Sen implement the basic rule of law.

For example, there is still no sign the regime is going to bow to the early condemnation by UN human-rights experts into the killing of the activist Kem Ley. Two years on, these human-rights experts have failed to follow through with this condemnation, leaving only rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists to demand accountability and an impartial investigation.

Unless the United Nations takes drastic measures to make this regime accountable, further efforts by UNDP will only form part of the initiative for a very “long and sustainable” dictatorial and corrupt regime. Until that happens, once again Cambodians are being taken advantage of by the so-called “experts,” including the UNDP, as its actions are sure to sustain the regime’s authoritarian princelings well into the next generation.

Sawathey Ek

Sawathey Ek is a lawyer based in Sydney.

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