Last week, I wrote about the rise of totalitarianism in Cambodia in the form of Hun Sen Inc. It has silenced opposition, crushed those perceived as threats, and made itself Cambodia’s sole source of employment and sole center for resource distribution. It dictates who gets what, when, where and how.
A Western political philosophy brands any such concentration of powers in the hands of a closed group as tyranny — rule by an oppressive government. In Cambodia, genocidal Pol Pot’s successor, Premier Sen, leads the ruling party by firmly holding power in all institutions.
Either he — the omnipotent chairman — or his privileged trusted associates represent all powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, defying democratic political philosophy and practice.
Yet, Hun Sen, Inc. is given $600 million annually by an international community that hopes to assist the country’s poor and desolate, many of whom rely on rat meat to survive. The world’s nations chose recently to appease Hun Sen when he demanded removal of Yash Ghai as Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, a role created by the 1991 Paris Peace Accords signed by 19 countries and the U.N., because, in Ghai’s words, he stood against Hun Sen’s “systematic violations of political, economic, social rights” in Cambodia.
The disconnect between what the community of nations preaches and its actions is a modern political hypocrisy and appeasement of a dictator at the expense of citizens’ rights as contained in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
That declaration, to which Cambodia is a party, reaffirmed the basic civil and human rights deemed most fundamental by the civilized community of nations. Unfortunately, many countries’ interests in having a foothold in strategically located and resource-rich (forest resources may have been depleted but the six potential oil fields remain something to envy) Cambodia are served better through accommodating Hun Sen Inc. As such, their interests in the rather elusive concepts of freedom and human rights do not carry weight.
This approach conveys a mirage of political and economic stability. But it’s shortsighted. The trouble with dictators is that their desire for power is insatiable. They want more and they want to extend their power anywhere and everywhere.
As it is human nature to want to breathe the air of liberty and to live with dignity, a land governed by oppression cannot expect stability and peace in society. Those who hunger for their basic rights will, over time, foment revolt.
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy and civil societies in Cambodia fear and oppose Hun Sen’s concentration of power. They speak tirelessly of the need for a limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, though many repeat the terms without understanding them. At the risk of sounding like a classroom lecture, maybe what is written below will help.
Theoretically, a power concentration is broken up by dividing and giving specific power to separate government organs. These organs (national assembly, government, the court) function independently of one another: legislators make laws, they do not interpret laws; the prime minister executes laws and does not make them or interpret them; the court interprets what the law is and does not act as a lawmaker or a policeman carrying out the laws). In Cambodia, Sen is a lawmaker, a policeman and a judge.
Separating these functions avoids an abuse of power.
In Cambodia the omnipotent premier has been accused of widespread use of fear and intimidation to achieve his goals. Human rights and integrity in Cambodia are for parroting.
It’s bleak for Cambodians who seek change and want instant gratification. They set themselves up for disappointment: Hun Sen Inc. does not care what others think about its rule; and Cambodians’ long-held culture of blind reverence to established rulers (political winners walk on water) and contempt for those out of power (losers can be worse than dirt) does not help. Internationally, many foreign governments do not seem to care about the July national election fraud that gave Sen power to rule the country for another four years. It’s business as usual.
Yet, there is hope and Cambodians need to learn to believe in hope.
They would do well to review who and what they are, learn to minimize limitation and maximize potential, and conclude if the only constant in life is change, and Lord Buddha says everything changes, then Hun Sen Inc.’s permanency will end. The Cambodian saying, “bent wood can make a wheel, straight wood can make a spoke, twisted and crooked wood can make fire,” can be put into practice.
I wrote about water that boils at 212 degrees, and if the heat is increased to 213 then steam is produced to run a locomotive. That’s one way hope is turned into reality — through action.
As the Chinese say, one generation plants trees, the next generation gets the shade.
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at email@example.com.