Interview with Ms. Srey Sotheavy, executive director at the Alliance for Conflict Transformation

1. You’ve been involved in peace-building issue in Cambodia for a long time, what are the most confrontational issues in Cambodia with regards to “conflict transformation” process?

The most confrontational issues in Cambodia are related to the privileges granted to the most powerful people in this country at this time. Those issues are: land and forest ownership, development of natural resources, politics, media/journalists, fisheries, drugs, border conflicts, economic policies, treatment of different ethnicities, and other human rights issues. With any conflicts that occur in relation to these issues and powerful people, less powerful people cannot take any further action, or it takes a much longer time, such as 10-20 years. Due to the conflicts, the communities and their people suffer, and most youth end up migrating away from their villages leaving behind the old and the children. Peacebuilding NGOs working in the communities are not much help as the powerful groups use their position and money in unjust ways, and the state system meant to protect the weak is too fragile. Most people in the communities do not trust the intervention of their local government currently as it takes so long to even receive a response and still nothing improves, and they only end up losing their cases. So far the process of conflict transformation has been slow taking longer and longer, and they usually need more time to keep pushing on. They run into many challenges when trying to dig deeper to the root cause of the issues related to the corrupted government officials.

2. We know that the values like justice, human rights and democracy are the base of peace-building. Is your government trying to respect those values and actualize their spirit in the daily life of Cambodian people?

From my perspective, “no”, those values are not actualized in our daily life. Even though the existing regulations and laws in this country acknowledge those values since the government has ratified all the global or UN-related laws and adapted them to the state system, still there must be a fundamental change with regard to the daily reality of implementation of these laws. In addition, the structure and governance of the state need serious reform as they have rarely responded to the need of their citizens.

From 2018 until now the human rights situation has been aggravated, and there is a growing concern for the people who live under the poverty line. Furthermore, since the recent national election the government has detained all opposition party leaders, restricted and even threatened the rights of civil society activists, while the communities suffering from land grabbing are still demonstrating, crying for the right to receive their land or forests back. We hear that some of them have been threatened, killed and arrested. Freedom of expression has been restricted. For example, some youth activists, who had composed songs based on their experience with the people suffering the injustice stemming from corruption, were threatened and arrested. Labor disputes and unemployment have been big concerns that increase the feelings of insecurity and fear in this society. Due to the inability of the Cambodian government and society to secure justice for the women victims, sexual harassment and gender based violence have increased. The government has shown willingness and has tried to find ways to deal with all these issues. But as they seek to implement the law, they run into obstacles with the powerful and wealthy people who abuse their power over these processes. Frankly speaking when dealing with each case, people become hopeless because they see no results. So when we look at some of those responsible in government, it seems they are trying to deal with the issues but it also seems they are not going to the root cause of the problem, since after their intervention, the issues persist and their promises for problem-solving have not been fulfilled. There are many issues that this country needs to work on in cooperation with the international society.

3. What is your thought on the peace sensitiveness of the Cambodian young generation? And what about the reality of peace education for young generation?

It is a long journey and we need time to work on education for the young generation, most of whom are victims of a broken society. Developing the peace sensitivity of the Cambodian young generation is a way of cultivating peace, justice and human rights. Therefore, we must provide as many opportunities and spaces to the young generation as possible. For this purpose, citizens and the government must work together. In this recent month, many of the young people who are working on environmental, land, and labor issues on social media, some of whom are journalists, were detained and arrested because of their action on social issues. Observers are extremely concerned about the use of incitement charges as a weapon to silence civil debate and to strangle civic engagement. Seeing all these issues the peace education and engagement of young people are the most necessary for cultivating the young generation and taking right actions in the future. We should also find creative ways to protect their security and include participation of government sectors in this process from now.

4. Are there any ways in which Korea and Cambodia peace NGOs can work together for peace-building in Asia? Actually, creating the solidarity is the aim of this web-site. 

We can share together our common issues and find ways to take action together in our region to support each other’s countries through solidarity, which may also be an opportunity to create a chance for youth to build experience on their path to future leadership. We should give and provide space for the youth in our Asia region to empower their capacity and skills in peacebuilding with other capacity building training. We might also create opportunities for exchange study opportunities, intensive leadership programs, and community organizing in which the youth can learn how to live in solidarity with the poor. All these study opportunities must be organized with a global-local (glocal) perspective. So far the experiences like the ASEAN People Forum/ASEAN Civil Society Conference have not really been enough to respond to or provide transparency in each country as the voice of the government always overshadows civil society voices, and most Asian countries suffer from powerful people manipulating their government.