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The Role of the International Community
The international response to developments in Cambodia was characterized by donor weariness with Cambodia’s seemingly never-ending problems, eagerness to sign off on a flawed electoral process, and acquiescence in Hun Sen’s consolidation of power. The U.N. seat that had been left vacant after the 1997 coup was not restored to Cambodia during the 1998 U.N.General Assembly meeting.

United Nations
The U.N. was actively involved in Cambodia, most importantly through the Office of the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative in Cambodia, headed by Lakhan Mehrotra, and the Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (COHCHR). The mandate of the first, directed more at peace-building than human rights, was due to be extended for six months in October, subject to approval by the new government and the Secretary-General. At the beginning of the year, its primary concern was ensuring the safety of opposition politicians returning from exile; fifteen people were brought in as monitors to help in this regard. COHCHR augmented its staff for the election, bringing in four mobile monitors, two political analysts and one election analyst. Its mandate ran until March 1999.

The U.N. did not deploy its own electoral observers but set up a secretariat to coordinate the deployment of and logistical support for international observers. The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) administered a trust fund through which foreign aid for the elections was channeled. In an April 2 memorandum to Cambodia’s two prime ministers, the U.N. reserved the right to suspend its coordination of observers if there was not equitable access to the media or if observers were restricted in their movements, parties were blocked from campaigning, a general climate of intimidation thwarted fundamental freedoms to speech and assembly, or the Constitutional Council was unable to exercise its authority. While conditions were flawed in most of these respects, the U.N. did not suspend its activities.

European Union
As the largest donor to the electoral process, the European Union (E.U.) contributed U.S. $11.6 million for voter registration, journalist training, and international observers. In mid-May with the commencement of voter registration, the E.U. sent more than a dozen long-term observers. E.U. member states bilaterally provided more than eighty short-term observers during the actual polling.

The E.U.’s stance was generally to downplay problems and highlight instead the stability that elections would bring. Within the E.U., Austria and the Netherlands appeared more critical of the violent pre-campaign environment and proposed in April that the elections be postponed for several months.

For the first time a high ranking member of the European Parliament, Glenys Kinnock, was appointed to observe a foreign election as E.U. special envoy. In a post-election statement, Kinnock assessed polling and counting as credible but cautioned the international community from taking any final position until the entire electoral process had been completed. In addition she called for an end to harassment of and violence against opposition members.

Following the polling, some E.U. member states, including France, put pressure on Ranariddh to form a coalition with the CPP. On September 4, the E.U. issued a statement from Vienna calling on the contending parties to cooperate in forming a new government.

The European Parliament (EP) passed resolutions on Cambodia in 1998, on March 11, June 18 and September 17. The pre-election resolutions deplored the E.U.’s announcement of election aid despite little evidence that the elections would be free and fair and raised issues of security for returning opposition politicians, equal access to the media, bias in the composition of the Constitutional Council, political violence and intimidation, and repatriation of Cambodian refugees. The September 17 resolution noted the rapidly deteriorating human rights climate, called on all parties to work together to halt the violence, and linked the continuation of European aid to the democratization process.

Establishing conditions for the July elections in Cambodia was a high priority for Japan. Tokyo took the lead in proposing the “Four Pillar” political solution that was ultimately supported by Phnom Penh’s other donors. Japan also provided key funding for the elections via the U.N. and sent thirty-two short-term observers to participate in the U.N.-coordinated election monitoring team. Japanese officials downplayed the pre-election violence and ongoing rights abuses, however, undermining pressure from other governments for an end to official impunity. After the July elections, Japan endorsed the results. On September 3, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that the elections were “conducted in a sufficiently free and fair manner,” urged the opposition parties to join a coalition government, and pledged to “strengthen its support for the economic development of Cambodia” by providing bilateral aid to the new government. Japan’s contribution to Cambodia of U.S. $9.12 million included the costs of ballot boxes and vehicles and office equipment for the election commission. Japan also provided U.S. $605,000 to the United Nations to support the Electoral Assistance Secretariat and the U.N.’s monitoring of the safe return of returning politicians.

Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sent election observers. On September 4 ASEAN affirmed the JIOG’s assessment of the elections as free and fair and urged that all parties resolve their differences. On September 9, after violence erupted in Phnom Penh, ASEAN issued a statement from Singapore calling for the parties to exercise restraint and avoid violence. As of late October, Cambodia’s ASEAN membership continued to be on hold.

United States
The U.S.—which suspended all non-humanitarian aid to Cambodia after the 1997 coup—took a firmer line on the Cambodian electoral proces than ASEAN or the E.U. It withheld direct election aid and waited until May before coming forward with U.S.$2.3 million to fund local and international observers. The funding also covered some of the costs of the U.N. Electoral Assistance Secretariat and U.N. monitoring of safe return of politicians and election-related rights violations. Secretary of State Albright noted after the election that voters had turned out in “inspiring numbers” despite clear intimidation. On September 16 the U.S. called on the Cambodian government to lift the travel ban on opposition leaders.

Members of the U.S. Congress expressed concern about rights violations throughout the year. The Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on Cambodia in June and October. In March, Senators Kerry and McCain wrote to Hun Sen urging him to address problems of political violence, intimidation, and media access. In a June 11 letter to Secretary Albright, five members of Congress proposed a two-month delay of the elections in order to improve conditions for free and fair elections. In September, various members of Congress expressed strong concerns about the post-election violence and the travel restrictions on opposition politicians. In October, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Stanley Roth said that the United States would withhold aid and oppose Cambodia’s U.N. seat until a new government was formed that included a “meaningful role” for the opposition. The U.S. sent twenty-five long-term observers and fifty short-term observers to Cambodia.

Relevant Human Rights Watch report:
Cambodia: Fair Elections Not Possible , 6/98





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