Monday, April 6, 2009

Editor's Introduction - April 2009

Annotation of
“Cambodia's Curse” by Joel Brinkley. Foreign Affairs. March/April 2009.

“Cambodia's Curse” by Joel Brinkley. Foreign Affairs. March/April 2009.

Given the complex nature of conflict—intense violence, a myriad of foreign and domestic actors, and victimized populations—the task of rebuilding a post-conflict society is one of the most difficult facing the international community today. Specifically, in examining the process of post-war reconstruction, observers and practitioners hope to learn important lessons and implement best practices to prevent further violence, and most importantly, to create lasting peace and stable governance. As detailed by Joel Brinkley, Cambodia provides a compelling case study of these points that demand examination.

“One word comes up over and over again in conversations with Cambodians: impunity.”

Regardless of repeated international pressure to create a viable and just government in Cambodia, government and politics within the country remain controlled by violent and harsh authoritarian leaders. Notably, government officials in Cambodia so dominate society that they are rarely held accountable for actions and policies that have far-reaching, detrimental effects on the impoverished Cambodian population. Furthermore, rampant corruption plagues the country and has infiltrated all aspects of society including the education system, elections and court rulings, and much-needed aid assistance. The historical legacy of violence and extreme political and social repression that has plagued Cambodians warrants an even greater need to re-establish trust in government and leaders, in addition to upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“Donors rationalize giving money even though they know a share of it will be stolen…International donors, are effectively bankrolling the Cambodian state.”

According to Brinkley, up to half of Cambodia’s annual budget of $1 billion, much of which comes from international donors and other sources of aid assistance, is pocketed by government officials and leaders. To further complicate matters, international donors continue to give despite the fact that uncontrolled corruption is pervasive throughout Cambodia.

For Cambodians, the involvement of the international community, particularly in regard to aid assistance, has not resulted in lasting peace and stable government, and consequently points to the pressing need to reconsider how best to rebuild societies after conflict. As illustrated in the case of Cambodia, and with growing numbers of conflicts throughout the world, post-conflict reconstruction, and particularly issues of impunity, rule of law, and widespread human rights violations must be addressed in reconstructing societies and governments.

These issues and others are considered in this month’s Roundtable.

1 comment:

Courtney Banayad ( said...

I found each of the responses to Brinkley's article very interesting as they all take on a different tone, but together, paint a more clear picture of what is currently happening in Cambodia and what could (if anything) be done about it.

One point that I'd like more clarification on is the donors. Who are the donors who seem to be knowingly funding a corrupt government? I understand that they may be in a difficult position because revoking their financial support can easily translate into more human rights violations and removal of the few support programs in place to help the Cambodian people. Yet, aren't these donors responsible for seeing that their contributions are stewarded properly? Aren't these donors accountable for their actions?

Many of the participants offered up solutions to fill that gap in Brinkley's article since he doesn't really suggest what the remedy is (or if one exists). Regarding the proposed question, "Could education play a role in changing the culture?" offered by Rhona Smith - I agree that education can plant seeds of change, especially for future generations of Cambodians. However, who has the authority or willpower to overhaul Cambodia's education system? Clearly not the teachers, as they take bribes from children and may not even have an education beyond the 3rd grade themselves. Though I think taking steps to build a better education system that takes human rights into consideration could help create a better Cambodia, I really don't know how feasible this is.

From where I sit, perhaps the most likely or practical solution is the one offered by Tyler Moselle. We do have the option to do nothing but read and comment on blogs. Though we may be sympathetic and recognize that gross human rights violations occurring, we also have to acknowledge that we do have the luxury of closing the browser and forgetting about the past and present horrors of Cambodia. We are able to just picture Cambodia as a faraway possible vacation destination with nice beaches because frankly, Cambodia isn't the only place where corruption, poverty and denial of basic human rights are a daily way of life. But, all that being said, is it right to be excused from taking action when it is so obvious that something needs to change?