Peacebuilding in Cambodia : transforming public dialogue about human rights


University of British Columbia

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Master of Laws - LLM




This explorative thesis asks how theories and practices regarding conflict processes might be applicable to peacebuilding, particularly the development of human rights law, policy, institutions, mechanisms and practices, in and for Cambodia. Current legal development and human rights approaches do not seem adequate to address key features of human rights conflicts in Cambodia, including the ethical nature of human rights conflict, the polarized nature of Cambodian public conflicts and the deep mistrust among stakeholders as a result of the turmoil of the past, including the Pol Pot regime and its aftermath. Also, current efforts have not been very effective in addressing the well-identified lack of respected, impartial decision making and dispute resolution bodies in Cambodia. Further, there has been insufficient attention by foreign human rights, legal development and peacebuilding specialists on building local knowledge in participatory fashion with Cambodian partners. Dominant foreign approaches to human rights and legal development have also tended to overlook Cambodian historic and cultural preferences, including preferences for conciliation. Conflict resolution approaches as articulated in Canadian projects in Cambodia in 1995 and 1996 are examined with the conclusion that some features of the actor-oriented, interest-based approaches currently dominant in the North American field of dispute resolution are not suited to the key challenges presented by Cambodian public conflicts. Possibilities for addressing human rights conflict in Cambodia are addressed, including consideration of several newer currents in the field of conflict studies. Included are some poststructuralist and post-modernist perspectives that aim to address public "moral conflict,"and which try to address inadequacies in current conflict resolution myths and theories about "neutrality." These point to the possibility of constructing dialogical processes that may lead to sustained and transformative talk among the many human rights stakeholders in Cambodia. Offered as examples are several Cambodian-initiated projects which have emphasized public participation and multi-stakeholder dialogical processes. There are suggestions for further research and support of these Cambodian experiments to further articulate, draw and utilize local understandings that may move toward national reconciliation and justice within the international human rights framework formally supported in Cambodia.

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