BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA
The regional seminar on the “Role of Parliaments in Promoting Peaceful and Sustainable Societies in Southeast Asia” was held March 9 to 11, 2009, at the InterContinental Hotel in Phnom Penh.
Lawmakers, researchers and policy makers from Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor-Leste, Vietnam, Australia and Switzerland attended the three days seminar.
Samdech Chea Sim, President of the Senate of Cambodia, welcomed the participants to the seminar and stressed the importance of discussing and sharing experiences related to the issues they have faced, especially in regards to reconciliation and peace building in Southeast Asia.
Samdech Chea Sim reminded the seminar’s attendees of Cambodia’s particularly difficult history. Toward the end of the Cambodian civil war in 1987, he said, negotiations to reconcile the processes for peace building among the Khmers started and all political parties signed the Paris Peace Agreement on October 23, 1991. Shortly after, in 1993, the General Election was organized by United Nations to establish official Cambodian government.
“The process of ending conflict and reconstructing Cambodia did not happen without obstacles and challenges. Even though there were obstacles in our path, we have not fallen away from the multi-liberal democratic parties,” Samdech Chea Sim said during his opening remarks.
He said political stability and sustainable development would not have been possible for Cambodia if there was a lack of responsibility, willingness and commitment from the people in the country. These qualities led to peace and national reconciliation and allowed Cambodia to garner support from international communities.
“After the war ended in the country in 1998, the Cambodian government had made an effort to strengthen peace, security, social order and political stability in a bid to stabilize macro-economy and to integrate Cambodia into the regional and international framework,” he said.
The National Assembly of Cambodia and the Senate of Cambodia enacted many laws to protect and promote women and human rights, particularly laws targeting domestic violence and human trafficking. Cambodia’s parliament is actively seeking ways to fulfill the Cambodian Millennium Development Goals, Samdech Chea Sim said.
“Cambodia is in peace, despite these matters we have faced. We cooperate within the Cambodian government to fulfill the obligations of our state in an extensive regional and international cooperation in the age of globalization, especially in the battle against drugs, cross-border crimes and terrorism,” he said. “I believe the mechanisms of tackling the past problems through a judicial system will be a lesson for all the countries in the region and in world.”
Samdech Chea Sim emphasized the government’s strategy to lay out new policies and to arduously enact reforms in major sectors, such as public administration, the armed forces, the judiciary and public finances, in order to boost economic growth and development. The government, he said will uphold the principles of accountability, transparency, and good governance throughout the process.
He continued to say that for these reforms to take place, the legislative body must play an important role in approving the frameworks of laws, plans and national budget as well as in monitoring the actual performances through its three functions of formulating the laws, representing the people and checking the government procedures. In the meantime, the legislative body will actively contribute to the effort of the Cambodian government in the process of the integrating Cambodia into the regional and international frameworks through ratifying treaties, conventions, protocols, and important agreements, especially as a member of ASEAN, WTO, and the United Nations.
Ngo Anh Dzung, member of IPU Executive Committee and Vice President of the Vietnamese IPU Group, said that since the peace agreements were singed in 1993, Cambodia has made numerous strides to carve out a viable and sustainable future for its citizens.
Dzung said that peace negotiations and agreements are only the starting point in a long-term plan to rebuild society. After conflict, the challenges remain formidable. He said that Parliament has enormous potential to bring people closer and, if managed well, can be an important vehicle for potential mediation and action.
He continued to say that in the end, Parliament should maximize its unique points by offering a genuine and effective platform for dialogue and action in a context of respect and trust, with the full participation of men and women from all sectors of society. This would include new generations of political leaders, civil society organizations and private sector leaders.
He emphasized that political parties also need to be part of the equation: they should avoid the paralysis of polarization by working in the interest of the common good, promote a culture of integrity and act responsibility when preparing their candidates for political office. Introspection and reform by political parties is also an important step.
The IPU continues to be the focus point of parliamentary dialogue, working for peace and cooperation among people and for the firm establishment of representative democracy. He said that in its defense of democracy and the values that inspire respect for the rule of law, the IPU has worked to build parliamentary capacity in the aftermath of conflict, said Dzung.
He added that through regional seminars, the IPU has become increasingly involved in helping parliaments to play a more substantial role in promoting inclusive political processes, institutional reform and reconciliation. More and more, the IPU is providing assistance to the individual parliaments to map out a parliamentary blue print for action in these areas.
The seminar was jointly organized by the National Assembly of Cambodia and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) with financial support from IPU, the United Nations for Development Program (UNDP), the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF), the Cambodia-Canada Legislative Support Project (CCLSP) and the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC).