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20 Years of Democracy in Cambodia

©2013 Jerry Redfern

1998. A man hangs an English-language banner from poles at the Democracy Square protest in Phnom Penh. Thousands of people gathered in front of the National Assembly Building for weeks to protest the outcome of the 1998 national election. The banners were for international observers and news crews, as most Cambodians could not read English.

I’m veering away from food again, to note a quiet anniversary that is slipping past the world, largely unnoticed. Twenty years ago, the international community brought democratic elections to Cambodia under the biggest, boldest peacebuiding mission ever attempted: the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).

As the country braces for its fifth round of national polls in July, what’s become of the UNTAC agenda? Where does democracy stand in Cambodia today? I tried to shed a little light on the issue in my latest story for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab.

In a way, this is a story about food. It’s about land and human rights; the struggle for survival. As the article notes, land disputes are among the country’s most pressing problems and the people’s greatest worry. Land is sustenance, security and hope. It’s access to food and livelihood. “Land is life,” opposition politician Mu Sochua wrote earlier this year.

But I’ll stop there and let you take contemplate these photos, stretching across the years we’ve been watching the country’s democracy. Then, if you want to know more, follow the link to the article and take a look at Jerry’s photo gallery documenting democracy in Cambodia.

All photos by Jerry Redfern.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

2012. Police carry a protester to a waiting police van following her arrest. Buddhist monk Loun Sovath videotapes the proceedings. He was arrested two days later. The woman was one of the “Boeung Kak 13” women arrested for protesting the loss of their homes to a commercial development by Shukaku Corporation, which has since filled in the lake with sand. Many of the protesters were forced out of their homes along the lakefront by the land developer and the municipal government.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

2003. Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy speaks to a crowd of several thousand supporters from atop a truck at a rally, on the first day of the campaign season preceding the 2003 national election. Sam Rainsy showed up two hours late for the event.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

2013. A young boy eats a snack in a shanty town in what used to be the Borei Keila apartment complex in central Phnom Penh. The government sold the land beneath the apartments to a developer who demolished the buildings with little notice. The company had agreed to build 10 new apartments for the displaced, but it built only eight. Many of the homeless now live in squats on the cleared land.

2 replies on “20 Years of Democracy in Cambodia”

agh. these stories and photos are heartbreaking. you are right…. they call that “democracy”? It’s a shame..such a shame, at what they call progress. when i visited a few years ago, i too witnessed the corrupt government at work and the oppression and silence of the people. thanks for posting this.

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