For nearly a year, Sam Rainsy has been claiming that he “really” won last July’s general election. But instead of trying to persuade Cambodians of this by presenting documented figures on where he thinks the National Election Committee got things wrong, he mostly spends his time trying to convince various foreign parliaments and governments – as if they were Cambodia’s highest judicial authority.*
In what may be a sign that his usual foreign supporters are getting tired of listening to his complaints, the CNRP is branching out in its search for patrons. Sam Rainsy’s latest appeal to foreign bodies to straighten out Cambodia is addressed, not to parliaments or aid donors, but to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Yes, really.
In a letter to the president of the IRC on 3 June, Rainsy complains (in French) of “the plight of hundreds of thousands of Cambodian victims of land confiscations and brutal evictions currently taking
place daily in Cambodia”, which the Cambodian Red Cross is supposedly ignoring.
I know there are a lot of land disputes in Cambodia. But “daily” evictions? And “hundreds of thousands” of evicted persons, even over some extended period? Where are they? It sounds like the letter’s author was misled by watching a film about the evacuations forced by the Khmer Rouge 40 years ago.
Rainsy’s complaints are usually too sweeping to make it possible to judge whether they have a basis in reality, but in this case, real or not, they have nothing to do with the ICRC. As anyone can discover from a quick look on Wikipedia, the “core tasks” of the ICRC involve mitigating the effects of armed conflicts:
“to monitor compliance of warring parties with the Geneva Conventions
“to organize nursing and care for those who are wounded on the battlefield
“to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war and make confidential interventions with detaining authorities
“to help with the search for missing persons in an armed conflict (tracing service)
“to organize protection and care for civil populations
“to act as a neutral intermediary between warring parties.”
Wikipedia adds, “The ICRC also undertakes tasks that are not specifically mandated by law, such as visiting political prisoners outside of conflict and providing relief in natural disasters.”
But there is nothing in the ICRC’s mission statement about settling land disputes or providing support for people who go to the capital to petition or complain about their government. People forced off their land by a government exercising its powers of eminent domain may have a valid complaint if they think they have been given insufficient compensation, but they are not “refugees” from war or natural disasters, and the Red Cross has nothing to do with obtaining justice for them.
Not for the first time, Sam Rainsy seems to be grabbing ahold of any complaint he can find, not to help people in difficulty, but to advance his political fortunes. This could damage the Cambodian Red Cross and its work.
Did Sam Rainsy really think that the president of the ICRC was unaware of the identity of the president of the CRC, and that was why his letter pointed out that she is Bun Rany Hun Sen? In fact, even if the ICRC president were so ignorant, the fact that CRC president is the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen is irrelevant to Rainsy’s complaint that the CRC isn’t doing things that it was never intended to do. He mentioned it only to suggest to the reading public that there is something illegitimate about Bun Rany having that position.
For the record, Norodom Marie Ranariddh, the wife of the then first prime minister, was the president of the Cambodian Red Cross from 1994 to 1998. Bun Rany Hun Sen has been president since 1998. The fact that the spouse of the prime minister is president of the Cambodian Red Cross is intended to indicate support for the CRC and its work, not to politicise it.
In the same vein, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk has been the CRC’s honorary president since 1994; that doesn’t mean that villagers affected by a natural disaster would be denied assistance if they are republicans.
If Sam Rainsy were to be elected prime minister (by the Cambodian National Assembly after a general election, not by the European Parliament or the Philippines Senate), his wife would be expected to take the position of president of the CRC, unless she continued to be a member of the National Assembly.
Sam Rainsy discourages donors to the CRC by suggesting it is only a branch of the CPP and not doing its job. He must calculate that it’s a small price to pay for assisting his political career, especially since it will be poor Cambodians, not Sam Rainsy, who pays.
*Sam Rainsy and the Cambodian National Rescue Party often seem to think that little or nothing in Cambodian politics is legitimate unless it has been ratified by foreigners. It’s mainly because of their continual appeals for foreign intervention that I feel it’s okay for me, as a non-citizen (although a longtime resident), to comment on such matters.