Small Arms Control in Post-Conflict Cambodia:
The Effectiveness of Policy Interventions?
Cambodia has been on its peace building effort for the sake of peace and prosperity right after emerging from the brutal violent conflict in 1991 when Paris Peace Accord was signed to end the conflict in the country. However, many challenges have been impairing this effort; not to mention the others, the proliferation of small arms such as assault rifles, grenades and pistols, has been threatening the security of the people. These small arms have been proliferating in postconflict Cambodia as a consequence of conflict erupted in the late 1960s when the Vietnam War spilled over Cambodia. They have been instigating crime, violence and social disorder, which are the signal of future destabilization. Realizing these consequences, the government of Cambodia together with civil society, donor countries, and other stakeholders undertook a series of activities to control small arms proliferation, particularly the passing and putting into practice of the Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition in 2005. Even though many efforts have been carried out, there seems no positive impact on the society as crimes, political violence, and other human rights violations still exist.
This paper argues that small arms control efforts undertook so far, while helping eliminate crimes and violence in the short term, has no positive impact in the long term since there are a lot of small arms misuse and accumulation in the country. This paper will first briefly document the general situation of small arms in post-conflict Cambodia, then explain in brief the measures and policy interventions carried out to control small arms proliferation, and last but not least analyze the effectiveness of policy interventions regarding the control of small arms proliferation.
Small Arms Situation in Post-Conflict Cambodia
The origin of small arms proliferation in post-conflict Cambodia is believed to date back to the late 1960s. It is the legacy of internal armed conflict in the country from the late 1960s when Cambodia was affected by the Vietnam War till the Paris Peace Agreement was signed in 1991. While there is no exact numbers of weapon legally and illegally proliferated in Cambodia, the Small Arms Survey estimated that there are about 155,000 to 236,000 small arms in government stockpiles, while 22,000 to 85,000 are outside of government control and illegally circulated throughout the country (Wille, 2006). Due to pervasive corruption in the country, and some of the crime cases committed by the security forces themselves toward civilians, there is no trust from the civilians at all. Most of them acquire to possess gun for self-defense, so gun black markets have been operating in the country. It is believed that weapons black markets are operating in Phnom Penh, through which, the military style weapons can be purchased through informal networks. For example, there is a weapons black market operating in Tek Thla region in the capital city of Phnom Pen (Working Group for Weapons Reduction, n.d.).
As many small arms are illegally circulated out of the control of government, they are unlawfully used mainly to commit crimes, political violence, and other human rights violence, particularly towards innocent people. A research conducted by the Working Group for Weapons Reduction in Cambodia reports that of all gun accidents, 45.5% had to do with criminal activities (Sourn, Long & Vijghen, 2003). The same report claims that among all the incidents, 3.7% had to do with political violence. For instance, recently, the renowned journalist, who always report on bad issues in Cambodia such as land crabbing, corruption and so on, was shot dead by a gunman while he was riding his motorcycle along the street in Phnom Penh (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2008, July 14). Moreover, guns were used to commit other human rights violations such as during land dispute, fishery dispute, personal dispute, and other cases.
Small Arms Control Efforts and Policy Interventions
The small arms control efforts have been initiatively implemented by the Cambodian government initially since the end of 1997. Those are the weapon collection program launched by the Municipality of Phnom Penh in late 1998, the Sub-Decree 38 on management and control of all means associated with weapons and explosives, the Decisions no. 27 and 28 on prohibiting of illegal gun carrying, and the public destruction of weapons in 1999, the creation of National Commission for the Reform and Management of Weapons and Explosives in Cambodia in 2000, and significantly the Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition in 2005. When the first ever Sub-Decree 38 was issued, searches took place and check point were set up to monitor and search for the illegal use of gun among the civilians. This also led to the creation of the National Commission on Weapons Management and Reform responsible for controlling over small arms possession and collection of illegally held weapons (UN Department for Disarmament Affairs, 2002). The small arms collection campaigns were launched in every province to encourage people to hand in their weapons voluntarily. With this effort, in 2000, a total of 66,309 small arms had been collected, and 36, 505 had been destroyed in seven public weapons destruction ceremonies in both Phnom Penh and other provinces (Faltas, McDonald & Waszink, 2001).
It is certain that due to the lack of both human and financial resources, the Cambodian government cannot carry out this project alone without the assistance from the international communities. In 2000, the European Union Assistance for Curbing Small Arms and light weapons in Cambodia (EUASAC) began its operation in helping Cambodia to achieve its goal of a free- weapons society. With the assistance from EUASAC, the Ministry of National Defence was able to register all the weapons under its control in a centralized computer-database and store the reserve weapons in an internationally acceptable way (Beer, 2006). In 2003, vis-a-vis the peace-building project in Cambodia, Japan provided grant aid to manage small arms and light weapons proliferation.
As the aforementioned, many attempts have been done to bring Cambodia to be a free- weapons society; however, the effectiveness of those efforts is the major concern should be taken into account. How effective are those efforts in reducing small arms proliferation in Cambodia?
The Effectiveness of Small Arms Control: An Analysis
Addressing small arms proliferation in Cambodia is a complex task as in other post-conflict countries. Although many efforts to control small arms proliferation in the country have been done by both the Cambodian government and the international donor communities, their impact on the society reveal in the short-term only because still many weapons are illegally used in the country. It is believed that only a part of the collected weapons were destroyed, while leaving many of the others re-circulated (Faltas, McDonald & Waszink, 2001). The concern is that the Cambodian government lacks human and financial resources, capacities and adequate mechanisms necessary for effective stockpile management though there were technical and financial supports from the EUASAC.
With the support from EUASAC and the initiative of the Cambodian government, the Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition was passed to replace the SubDecree No. 38 to prohibit all kinds of illegal weapons use, significantly the ownership of weapons among civilians. Although the law is expected to close the current loopholes in the existing weapons-related legislations, its effectiveness is questionably uncertain. This is partly due to the low capacity of the security forces in maintaining law and order, and low salary, which leads to low commitment and to a lesser extent low morality as security forces, who believed to hold responsibility for the safety of the people, rather than the availability of small arms in the country itself. If the security forces were highly capable, enough paid, committed, and responsible to secure the safety of the civilian population, the problems of illegal small arms proliferation would be reduced dramatically. Unfortunately, this is far from the expectation.
- Quote paper
- Sopheada Phy (Author), 2009, Small Arms Control in Post-Conflict Cambodia: The Effectiveness of Policy Interventions?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/149617