Cambodia - human rights on UN terms?

Before the seminar Cambodia - human rights exceptions I did not know much about the country, except that Cambodia had a history of colonialism and civil war, and that human rights were not respected.

One of the speakers at the seminar is Thomas Hammarberg, who has been the UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia. He gives a brief description of Cambodia's political history, and talks about Cambodia's special connection to the UN.

Through an agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, UNTAC, was established in 1992. UNTAC was responsible for promoting and protecting human rights, and for holding free and fair elections in the country. It was the first time that the UN took over the administration of an independent state and organized an election, instead of just monitoring.

The UN and the Cambodian state are also jointly holding trials against the leaders of the Communist Party and the Khmer Rouge guerrilla group, which, among other things, have violated human rights and committed genocide. Despite the UN's presence in Cambodia, the country has not become a democracy, and human rights are not yet respected.

A visitor to the seminar asks about China's role; how much influence China has and what their plan is in Cambodia. She suggests that China's influence in other countries leads to a kind of neo-colonialism.

Astrid Norén-Nilsson, who researches Cambodia's democracy, addresses the issue and says that there are negative opinions about China's influence globally. Hammarberg says that China owns many companies in Cambodia and thus has influence in the country, and points out that China was negative about the UN getting involved in the legal proceedings. Like the UN, China has provided Cambodia with financial support, which has enabled political change.

It makes me wonder more about the role of the UN in Cambodia. What does the UN's influence mean for the country and what exactly is the UN's plan? If China's influence through entrepreneurship in other countries is seen as neo-colonialism, can the UN's influence do the same? I get the feeling that there are few, both in the seminar hall and in the Western world, who would reflect on the UN's involvement.

The UN has and has had a major influence in Cambodia and the rest of the world, despite this, it seems that only China's influence is being questioned. The negative attitude towards China can be seen in the relationship with Cambodia, but also globally. Norén-Nilsson says that the people of Cambodia are also criticizing China. This is because they are not allowed to criticize their own government. I therefore wonder if the population is allowed to be critical of the UN as well, since UNTAC was an agreement between Cambodia and the UN.

Whether we are negative or positive about the work of the UN and China's investments in Cambodia, feelwe can problematize and analyze both actors. We can not choose to problematize only from the outsideån UN conditions.

The seminar

The chronicle is written after the seminar "Cambodia - human rights with exceptions" which was arranged on November 13 by ABF Stockholm, Initiative Cambodia, Forum for Asian Studies, the Swedish Committee for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and Stockholm University.

This is a chronicle. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

Is there something in the article that is not true? Contact us at

Share this: