Small Arms Control and Management in Cambodia
Author: Virak Thun
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 10/08/2009
Category: Special Report
For the last several years, much research and study has been conducted on small arms manufacturing, availability, and effects. For instance, Shah (2006) reveals that: “[a]t least 1,134 companies in 98 countries worldwide are involved in some aspect of the production of small arms and/or ammunition.” Shah (2006) further estimates that: “[t]here are around half a billion military small arms around the world; … 300,000 to half a million people around the world are killed by them each year…” Even though much of the small arms production (supply or transfer and acquisition) is legal according to national and international laws, conventions, and protocols; an increase in illicit circulation and trade (import and export) as well as the black market of small arms capture great attention. With the ready availability of and growing accessibility to illegal small arms, global security and peace are put at high risk. Like many other post-conflict countries around the world, Cambodia also witnesses or experiences threats to its national order, stability, and social, political, and economic development; as proliferation and unlawful use of small arms continue unabated. Anders (2002) indicates that: “[e]merging from decades of brutal violent conflict, Cambodia is now facing the challenge of transforming itself into a stable and secure state… A particular challenge… is the excessive accumulation and easy availability of small arms such as assault rifles, grenades and pistols.”
II. Reviews on Impacts of Small Arms Misuse
What are the negative effects of small arms misuse, especially in the case of a post-conflict society like Cambodia?
This simple, but interactive, question invites a lot of answers from many schools of thoughts. Godnick, Laurance, Stohl, and Small Arms Survey (2005) classify the effects of small arms misuse into two main categories—direct and indirect. While the direct effects are perceived as “deaths, injuries, and disabilities; terror, intimidation, and other psychological effects; … increased potential for violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws; threats to humanitarian intervention; and outbreak of intergroup violence”, the indirect impacts are heavily placed on such four major aspects as “development, tourism, post-conflict reconstruction, and governance” (Godnick, Laurance, Stohl, and Small Arms Survey, 2005). Accordingly, both kinds of the effects embrace human, social, and economic costs.
Apart from the two abovementioned divisions, Stohl (2005) acknowledges the impact of small arms that cause “the majority of today’s conflict deaths and thousands more injuries each year… the spread and misuse of small arms cause, prolong, and exacerbate humanitarian crises and violent conflicts around the world and are the weapons of choice of terrorists.” Krause (2000) also gives us a thoughtful explanation that:
…the small arms and light weapons issues has been framed not just as an inter-state problem, or one that concerns traditional arms control and security actors, but as a problem with concrete societal consequences in terms of levels of violence and crime, increased medical and public health costs, the destruction of the social and communal fabric, and the creation and perpetuation of a ‘culture of violence.’
In addition, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2009) shows its standpoint on the harmful effects of small arms and light weapons (SALW) that “create serious problems in today’s world because they are widely available and used as tools of violence exacerbating regional and internal conflicts, and also escalating criminal activities in post-conflict societies.” Shah (2006) further advocates the idea that: “[t]he growing availability of small arms has been a major factor in the increase in the number of conflicts, and in hindering smoother rebuilding and development after a conflict has ended.” From all the well-explained perspectives above, it can be summarized that the negative effects of small arms misuse are: (1) threatening or jeopardizing national security and social order; (2) creating a “culture of violence”; (3) fueling and lengthening conflicts; (4) violating human rights and national and international laws; and (5) inhibiting the development or post-conflict reconstruction in all domains. These five key unconstructive effects of small arms can also be applied to the Cambodian context; however, more impacts of small arms are addressed in the country as well. Anders (2002) asserts a detailed description of the impacts that:
“[t]hey[small arms] fuel armed banditry, crime and social violence, and they representa risk of future destabilisation. In addition, a lack of accountability and aculture of impunity among the security forces and other state institutions implythe persistent misuse of small arms in political violence and human rightsviolations. This hinders the consolidation of the rule of law, and of a neutralstate apparatus that serves the interests of its citizens. The excessiveaccumulation and misuse of small arms is therefore undoubtedly a significantobstacle to the post-conflict transformation of Cambodia, and hence to itssustainable development.”
As the harmful effects of small arms misuse have been outlined and discussed above, the challenging priority of confronting the Cambodian government today lies at the heart of identifying its efforts to control illegal small arms. These efforts should be improved, so as to reduce or eliminate their negative effects and to strengthen the social variables of human security effectively.
III. Small Arms Control Efforts of the Cambodian Government
Amazingly, the government of Cambodia has been making significant progress in controlling and managing the production, circulation, and use of illicit small arms. Impressive progress has been accredited by Cambodian citizens as well as the regional and international community.
3.1. Establishment of the National Commission on Weapons Management and Reform (NCWMR)
The NCWMR was founded in June 2000, under the firm initiative and commitment of the Cambodian government. The main components of the Commission have encompassed the related government ministries and departments, and it has been chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister (Minister of Interior) of the nation. It has served as a backbone to contribute a positive influence to the formation of an integrated national SALW Control strategy. What is more, it has been “charged with establishing control over small arms possession and with the confiscation and collection of illegally held weapons” (Anders, 2002).
3.2. Enactment of Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition
Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition was adopted and came into force in 2005. The Cambodian government has implemented the Law to strengthen national security and order; to provide the principles for regulatory and effective control and management of weapons, explosives, and ammunition; to crack down illicit production, circulation, and procurement of weapons; and to bring down the crime rate in the entire country. The Law has also stipulated “regulations for the ownership of weapons for government officials, personnel in the security forces and other state employees” (Anders, 2002). Furthermore, these legalities have been aimed at offering small arms control measures to strictly ban the use of illicit small arms by civilians and penalizing them for misuse and illegal ownership of weapons. For example, Article 2 of the Law explicitly states that: “[t]his law governs the equipping, possession, carrying, utilization, purchase, sale, trading, loan, transfer, hiring, production, fabrication, repair, transportation, transit, importation, exportation, and stockpiling of weapons, explosives and ammunition of any and all types” (National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 2005).
3.3. National Gathering of SALW
Due to the changing security situation in the neighboring countries and around the world, Cambodia has been doing its best to improve its national security and social order and to transform itself into a safe and stable nation with no illegal small arms proliferation and availability. To ensure the high achievement of these goals, the government has been actively enforcing the nationwide collection of SALW by motivating its armed citizens and ex-combatants or ex-soldiers to surrender their illegal and unsafe weapons or ammunition to the state authority. For instance, in 1998, the City Hall of Cambodia started its weapons collection program. This initiative encouraged civilians and other former soldiers to stop possessing and using their weapons secretly and illegally and to voluntarily hand them in to the government. This collection program, accompanied by sporadic house check and searches at roadblocks for SALW, was deemed very successful and was expanded across Cambodia to implement the nationwide collection of SALW from all the entire population. “By June 2000 these efforts had led to the collection of some 66,000 weapons. More than half of these have been destroyed in public ceremonies” (Anders, 2002).
In addition to this collection program, the Cambodian Ministry of National Defense has also come to play an operational role in presenting its “nationwide programme for record-keeping and storage security of army stockpiles.” The Ministry further reports that: “[p]ilot projects in this programme have resulted in computerised registration of arms, the construction of safe storage facilities, appropriate training of staff at stockpile sites, and the destruction of surplus military weapons” (Anders, 2002).
3.4. Public Awareness Campaigns
The Cambodian government, with the support of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the international community, has launched several national campaigns in the country to raise significant public awareness about the collected weapons destruction and of a secure society with no SALW. Such public awareness campaigns include: workshops and conferences on small arms control and management; information leaflets and posters on the negative effects of SALW; weapon-made statues about non-violence or a healthy environment without SALW; and weapons destruction ceremonies held in the capital city and a few other provinces in the country. Anders (2002) claims that: “… between May 1999 and January 2003, a total of 105,000 small arms have been either crushed or burned in Flames of Peace.”
One of the best examples of public awareness campaigns is the “Control Arms” campaign launched in 2003 in Cambodia and in nearly 70 other countries around the world. This campaign, which was attended by thousands of Cambodian people, was run by a joint group of such three international organizations as Amnesty International, IANSA, and Oxfam. The campaign “has been active in highlighting the situation in Cambodia and lobbying for stricter arms controls” (Oxfam, 2009). Another viable alternative or approach to promote public awareness of small arms impacts in Cambodia is related to the use of media. Financially and technically assisted by international organizations and governments, Cambodia has been effectively utilizing media, national televisions and radios in particular. The use of the media is to disseminate the information about the damaging consequences of SALW on the welfare of people and the country at large; and about the legal punishment applied to those whose actions are against the Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition.
IV. Analysis of the Small Arms Control Efforts
Although the government of Cambodia has invested its aforesaid efforts to control and manage small arms in the nation, there are still a few main weaknesses and limitations involving efforts that have been unaddressed or neglected. First of all, the formation of the NCWMR includes only the relevant government institutions, but the civil society representation and participation in the Commission do not exist; so constructive contributions of the civil society to the effective performance of the NCWMR are absent. Moreover, the chairman of the Commission is the Deputy Prime Minister (Minister of Interior) and its members are all high-ranking government officials (e.g. the Commander in Chief of the RCAF and Director General of the Police), so “it is unlikely that it can ever meet to discuss operational issues. It is too high level to be effective, and responsibility should be devolved to a more practical level to improve effectiveness and efficiency of the commission” (Wilkinson, 2006, p. 17).
In addition, although the Cambodian Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition has been put in place since 2005, the implementation or enforcement of the Law remains questionable and challenging. For instance, the illegal in-country production and circulation of small arms or weapons continues to be unabated, and violent crime rates in the nation are still relatively high (compared to that in the neighboring states). Further, in reality, some government officials or personnel in the security forces can carry and use guns or weapons even though they are not on their duties, and rich and powerful individuals can also possess guns or have their bodyguards armed. Sadly enough, these people or groups can own and use weapons illicitly without being prosecuted and punished before the Law. As a result, it shows a clear sign of ineffective governmental control over their illegal possession and use of SALW though the Law has been enacted.
It is also worth emphasizing that there are other weaknesses in small arms control and management in Cambodia. The weaknesses are greatly focused on: (1) limited governmental control of SALW, coupled with “no central oversight of the number of weapons held in the dispersed stockpiles of the national and provincial army units and other security forces”; (2) inadequate security and management of stockpiles; (3) poor storage facilities, stemming from limited financial resources; (4) presence of ongoing illegal trafficking of SALW across the borders, resulting from weak border control and customs authorities; and (5) lack of regional and sub-regional coordination and cooperation in sharing information and monitoring the circulation and supply of weapons (Anders, 2002).
To a large extent, the aforementioned efforts or initiatives made by the Cambodian government are important contributing factors in the reduction of small arms proliferation, availability, and misuse. To address the main weaknesses in the efforts and to ensure a higher level of success of all initiatives, the government of Cambodia should enhance the practical implementation of the Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition. Further, the government should intensify joint efforts with NGOs and international donors that can provide financial and technical assistance when needed. Finally, broader changes should be produces in governance reforms and practices, government institutions and agencies as well as the private sector. It seems like there are lots of tasks for the Cambodian government to do in both short-term and long-term periods. However, it does not necessarily mean that the government is not able to accomplish them. Starting to act now is a fundamental step that the government should not overlook.
Bio: Virak Thun is currently a dual-campus MA student at the United Nations-mandated University for Peace in the major of International Peace Studies.