In 1979, Cambodia hit the headlines as the horrors perpetrated during the Khmer Rouge regime were revealed. But that was a generation ago. Today the world has largely forgotten Cambodia as fresh tragedies have unfolded elsewhere. So has Cambodia recovered from its traumatic past?
- After nearly three decades of civil war, the Khmer Rouge are no more. Pol Pot is dead, other ageing leaders were arrested or pardoned, and the remaining Khmer Rouge soldiers defected to the Government side. Trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders may help close this chapter in Cambodia's history, or they may yet open fresh wounds.
- Though war may have come to end, violent crime, including banditry, armed robbery and kidnapping, is rife. A culture of impunity and corruption denies justice to the poor and oppressed.
- Millions of landmines remained in the ground at the end of the war. Since 1979 nearly 20,000 people have lost their lives to landmines, but there are signs that the casualty rate may now be dropping. At the current rate of progress it may take another 25 years to complete the demining of Cambodia.
- The ruling Cambodian People’s Party are firmly entrenched at every level of national and local government but Prime Minister Hun Sen has faced criticism over the bringing of law suits against opposition politicians. Following disputed general election results in 2013, the principal opposition party mounted large-scale protest rallies, securing additional support from garment factory workers demanding higher wages.
Slow economic growth
- Although Cambodia is a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations, it lags far behind some of its more prosperous neighbours.
- The garment industry has been one of Cambodia's success stories. The International Labour Organisation has commended working conditions, though trade unions have complained of oppression of workers by some employers. The industry's future prosperity depends on Cambodia's ability to compete with manufacturers in other Asian countries such as China and Vietnam and to survive the drop in demand for its products resulting from the worldwide economic downturn.
- The number of tourist arrivals continues to rise, but many tourists arrive in Siem Reap (a provincial town) by air, spend two or three days wisiting the Angkor temples, and then fly out again, seeing nothing of the rest of the country and contributing little to the economy.
- Cambodia remains one of the poorest, least developed countries in Asia. Our Facts and Figures page reveals the degree to which Cambodia's standard of health, level of education, care for the environment and other indicators of quality of life need to be improved.
- Slum dwellers and squatters have been forcibly evicted or relocated to sites without electricity and sewage disposal facilities and remote from employment opportunities when the land they lived on has been required for development. More than 2 million ha of land has been transferred mostly from subsistence farmers to agribusiness and an estimated 400,000 people have been affected by land disputes since 2003.
Challenges faced by Cambodia today include:
- achieving a measure of political consensus with a viable opposition;
- reducing corruption and creating a competent and impartial judiciary;
- establishing a fair way of resolving land disputes;
- achieving millennium development goals;
- stimulating foreign investment and economic growth;
- conducting trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders and achieving some kind of closure to the tragic events of 1975-1979.
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