conflict resolution and rural cambodia n.
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Conflict resolution and rural Cambodia. From utopia to reality. A way of thinking about an ideal, peaceful state A device for exploring how close we are to ‘peace’ A way of appreciating the importance of conflict the poverty of our understanding. Value of utopias. Acknowledgments.

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value of utopias

A way of thinking about an ideal, peaceful state

A device for exploring how close we are to ‘peace’

A way of appreciating

  • the importance of conflict
  • the poverty of our understanding
Value of utopias
cambodia 20 years on

looking back to 1992-3 UN intervention

  • impact of privileging state development
    • a wealthy, exploitative elite
    • culture of impunity
    • suppression of the poor and the weak
  • is this what we planned and paid for?
CAMBODIA 20 years on
rural cambodia basics

poorest country in SE Asia

  • 70% of population in rural
  • 30% of them very poor
  • many marginalised: women, landless, indigenous people
Rural Cambodia - basics
rural cambodia basics1

‘subsistence’ farmers

  • villages remote, autarchic
  • distrust of state
  • ‘between temple and forest’ – cosmological setting
Rural Cambodia - basics
mediation conflict resolution

strong preference for village resolution

  • courts routinely corrupt, expensive, remote
  • culture of impunity
MEDIATION / conflict resolution?
why is mediation important

to address village problems

    • typically (domestic) violence, gangs, local land disputes
  • to manage a long tradition of violence
Why is mediation important?
why is mediation important1

to maintain village harmony

  • to provide venue for change
  • to provide support for changes to structures that maintain inequality
Why is mediation important?
how to move out of poverty

changes needed now well understood

  • access to ways to challenge structural inequalities
How to Move out of poverty
critical backgrounds1

Contexts of conflict in Cambodia

  • cultural / political / econ
  • historical / cosmological
  • geographical: neighbours
  • regional / national
cultural backgrounds

Intensely hierarchical

  • King as cosmological centre
  • Khsae – strings reaching across the kingdom / neo-patrimonialism /

everyone in a hierarchy

  • everyone in relationship
  • importance of patrons in providing safety net
  • patrons provide backing in conflict resolution processes

everyone knows their place

  • reinforcers ubiquitous
  • all but family negotiable
  • political allegiances fit well
  • reciprocation of favours
informal systems

Village level

  • chief / ‘father’ (mother)
  • enforceable / social forces
  • unequals but accepted
  • somroh somruel – to achieve a happy agreement
‘INFORMAL’ systems
formal systems

Beyond the village

  • courts
      • remote
      • expensive
      • dangerous
    • manipulated by the powerful
‘FORMAL’ systems
parallel traditional system

Parallel to courts

  • King and okya (rich courtiers) - closed system
  • appeal direct to the King
Parallel Traditional system

France – mission civilisatrice

  • Sihanouk – independence
  • USA – democratic Vietnam
  • Khmer Rouge – radical communist
  • UN – a peaceful Cambodia

2,756,941 tons of bombs


An undated photograph shows forced laborers digging canals in Kampong Cham province, part of the massive agrarian infrastructure the Khmer Rouge planned for the country.

un aims 1

An incumbent government (SOC) was being asked to surrender power, an armed insurgency…was being asked to disarm itself, and both were being asked to take part in what for most Cambodians were novel democratic processes.

un aims 2

All of this was to be overseen by

16,000 troops and

7,000 civilian personnel from more than

100 countries (34 troop providers)

estimated $3 billion…

un aims 3

Demobilize 200,000 soldiers in 650 locations (with 250,000 militia in almost every village)

  • begin clearing 6 to 10 million landmines
  • repatriate 360,000 refugees
  • supervise the existing administration to ensure `free and fair elections', register 4.7 million voters, oversee elections at 1,400 polling stations,
  • instil civic values and a respect for human rights begin ‘the enormous task of reconstruction and rehabilitation’ (Doyle, 1995, 45).
un aims 31

Many of these were new undertakings for the UN, and all had to be accomplished within an 18-month period.

It is not surprising, then, that, in retrospect, Gareth Evans, Australian Foreign Minister and one of the main initiators of the peace plan, should describe the mandate as `overly ambitious and in some respects clearly not achievable' (1994, 27).

from Miall, H., O. Ramsbotham, et al. (1999). Contemporary conflict resolution : the prevention, management and transformation of deadly conflicts. Malden, Mass., Polity Press. P 192-193

impacts from an l plate un

sought to solve the macro international conflict

  • ignored history / culture / traditions
  • lack of background research
  • primitive awareness of conflict
  • default: rebuild the state
IMPACTS from an L-plate UN

result: another version of traditional extractive elite

  • failed to establish legal protections – despite structures
  • re-opened country to regional and global economic forces
current national realities

one party state – Cambodian Peoples party (CPP

  • longest-serving strongman
  • neo-patrimonialism
  • creating a favour network beyond state structures
Current national realities
how it works

CPP needs largesse to distribute

  • selling the country / ‘rents’
  • legal impunity
  • impacts on poor /development
  • CPP success at elections
How it works
global meets local

meanwhile UNDP long term work on decentralisation of decision-making

  • increased access to dispute resolution / training / education
  • result: increased awareness / satisfaction
national meets local

money from CPP khsae overshadows formal development

  • so focus on visible symbols: temples and schools - but not teacher salaries - corruptions
National meets LOCAL
national meets local1

Land concessions (ELCs)

  • brutal dispossession
  • murder / arrests / threats

Widespread discontent

  • direct approaches to ‘king’
  • direct action / mass action
National meets LOCAL
positive forces

UNDP / World Bank (WB) programs

  • hundreds / thousands of
    • intergovernmental program
    • local / supported NGOs
Positive Forces
role of research and policy

Development theory now

  • extensive local research
  • critical nature of justice (J4P) / poverty traps / migration / importance of health
  • importance of dispute resolution in addressing issues in all of this
Role of research and policy
national realities

stable ‘government’ / CPP

  • contradictions - national processes that derail local progress
  • creating instability / conflict across the country
local realities

UNDP persistent role in local structural development

  • good level of satisfaction with new decision-making power
  • greater awareness of rights
  • appreciation of stability (old)
local national clash

now (again) functional conflict resolution at grass roots

  • dysfunctional conflict resolution at national level despite structures in place
  • problems when they meet
local / national clash
what could have been done

research (but special case)

  • focus on the local
  • assumed long-term
  • greater focus on accountability
WHAT could have been done?
the big picture

interconnected world

  • global and regional inputs
    • constructive
    • destructive
The big picture
learning about conflict

critical role of conflict in social development

  • Westerners and their assumptions of protected conflict
Learning about conflict
learning for donors

Donors (taxpayers / donors)

  • awareness of what is being done with our money
  • awareness of need to strengthen processes to hold people to account
  • failure creates conflict
Learning for donors
conclusions principles for intervention planning

conflict resolution development inevitably creates conflict

  • access to justice systems for poor and marginalized is crucial for overall development
CONCLUSIONS: Principles for intervention planning
conclusions for utopians

need to develop awareness of ‘compassionate donors’ and taxpayers re conflict

  • need to develop and extend formal accountability processes
CONCLUSIONS: for utopians
conclusions for us here

need to increase appreciation of positive aspects of conflict

  • need to develop our understanding of role of conflict in change
Conclusions: for us HERE