UNTAC United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia
THE THEORY OF MULTICULTURALISM
The aim of this diploma thesis is to discuss and assess the rights of cultural minorities in Cambodia in the light of theories of multiculturalism. More precisely, this thesis compares and contrasts the situation and aspirations of indigenous peoples in Cambodia with Will Kymlicka’s theory of multicultural citizenship. There are a number of reasons to pay attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and to do so in Cambodia specifically. First, indigenous peoples are considered among the world’s most disadvantaged groups and belong to the most vulnerable and impoverished segments of the population in virtually all of the countries in which they are found. This is due to a variety of reasons, among them their exclusion from the decision-making process, their small numbers of members, their great cultural distance to the majority group, their geographical isolation, their fragile ecology, and because their ways of live tend to be greatly at odds with modernity1. Indigenous peoples in Cambodia are no exception in this respect. A second reason to discuss the situation of indigenous peoples is closely related to a dramatic reversal that has been taking place in many countries in the way indigenous peoples are being treated, particularly in the West and in Latin America. Previously, the expectation was that indigenous peoples would cease to exist due to dying out, inter-marriage, or assimilation. Frequently, governments adopted policies to accelerate this process. This approach has changed radically. Today, all Western and most Latin American countries accept the idea that indigenous peoples will exist into the indefinite future as distinct societies alongside the majority culture, and that they should have the land claims, cultural rights, and self-government rights needed to perpetuate themselves as distinct societies. A remarkable process of decolonization is taking place throughout these countries, as indigenous peoples regain their lands, self-government, and customary law2.
This process corresponds to recent developments in international law, which today reflects the most advanced practice of Western countries regarding indigenous rights. Land claims, customary law, and self-government for indigenous peoples are all firmly recognized in recent international documents, such as the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention No. 169 and the United Nations’ (UN) draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Anaya 1996, Anaya 2002). Besides these declarations of indigenous rights, international financial organizations – such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – have adopted policies designed to recognize and respect the distinct rights of indigenous peoples.
These developments in Western and Latin American countries and in international norms stand in stark contrast to the situation in Asia. Only very few states in Asia are moving towards the greater recognition of the distinct needs and rights of indigenous peoples3. An indication of this contrast is that no Asian country has yet ratified ILO Convention No. 169. Cambodia is no exception. Moreover, indigenous groups in Cambodia receive even less attention compared to neighboring countries for a number of reasons: Cambodia is regarded as the most culturally homogenous country in the region and indigenous peoples make up only a very small proportion of the overall population. In addition, indigenous peoples in Cambodia are characterized by a remarkably low level of political organization and mobilization. Given this contrast between Asia and other parts of the world, and between Cambodia and other Asian countries, it will be interesting to analyze and discuss the situation of indigenous peoples in Asia in general and in Cambodia in particular. There is another reason to pay particularly attention to indigenous peoples in Cambodia, which is closely associated with poverty reduction. Even in countries which have successfully reduced poverty, ethnic minorities frequently represent deep pockets of poor people who are being left behind (UNDP 2003: 19). Arguably, this is the case in neighboring Vietnam. At the same time, widening ethnic gaps have proven to have a destructive impact on the overall development in many countries. In part for this reason, the current Human Development Report focuses on the rights of cultural minorities (UNDP 2004a: v). Given the history of civil war and ethnic conflict and the need for reconciliation in Cambodia, a good case can be made that Cambodia in particular cannot afford to neglect the specific rights and needs of its indigenous population.
There are a number of reasons to use Kymlicka’s theoretical framework for the discussion of indigenous rights in Cambodia. Kymlicka was among the first authors to systematically theorize the rights of cultural minorities and his theory is widely regarded the most influential in its field. This is reflected in the fact that the most prominent critics of multiculturalism use his concepts to formulate their objections to minority rights. In addition, political problems stemming from cultural diversity are becoming an increasingly important theme in the development literature. This is mirrored particularly in the United Nation Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Report 2004 (UNDP 2004a), which is titled Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World and “makes the case for respecting diversity and building more inclusive societies by adopting policies that explicitly recognize cultural differences – multicultural policies” (UNDP 2004a: 2). This report implicitly and explicitly draws heavily on Kymlicka’s theory. Moreover, Kymlicka provided a background paper and served as the Report’s peer reviewer and principal consultant. The Human Development Report is among the most influential and most widely read publications in the development literature and indicates the general direction of the development discourse. The development literature in general and this report in particular are relevant in the Cambodian context, because Cambodia is considered among the least developed countries and is ranked low on the UNDP’s Human Development Index. Applying Kymlicka’s theory to Cambodia helps to identify and exemplify the concepts and principles which underlie this report and the international norms of indigenous rights it reflects. Another reason to apply this theory to Cambodia is to test the author’s assumption that important elements of his theory are valid in many Asian countries (Kymlicka 2003). Furthermore, Kymlicka’s theory presents a distinctively liberal conception of minority rights. Although Cambodia is not a liberal state, many people in Cambodia aspire to liberal institutions and practice. This is reflected in the frequent use of the term in public discourse as well as in Cambodia’s Constitution4. Given these aspirations, discussing the challenges of cultural pluralism in the light of liberal principles seems a particularly worthwhile exercise in Cambodia, and Kymlicka’s theory offers a suitable framework to do so. Moreover, this theory is capable of explaining and justifying the dramatic changes regarding the recognition of indigenous rights in Western and Latin American countries mentioned above. Applying it to Cambodia can help to capitalize on the experience of these countries in accommodating their indigenous populations. Furthermore, the discussion will show that Kymlicka’s theory is consistent with the aforementioned declarations of indigenous rights in international law and capable of justifying their objectives. Increasingly, Cambodia is being expected to comply with these international norms of indigenous rights, not least due to a growing rights-consciousness among members of the affected groups and increasing relationships between local organizations and international networks advocating for indigenous rights. This trend is being reinforced by the considerable involvement of international organizations in Cambodia. For example, the World Bank and ADB have already determined that their policies on indigenous peoples apply to hill tribes in Cambodia5. There is widespread agreement that an appropriate policy for Cambodia’s indigenous peoples is needed. However, there is little consensus about what such a policy might look like. Given the increasing importance of international norms for indigenous rights in Cambodia, applying Kymlicka’s theory and evaluating its limitations can contribute to a well-informed debate about whether or not the associated models can and should be applied in Cambodia. The aim of this thesis is to contribute to this debate and ultimately to the development of a viable and justifiable policy for Cambodia’s indigenous peoples.
The first part of this thesis discusses political theories of multiculturalism which will then be applied to cultural diversity in Cambodia. A brief discussion of the course of the minority rights debate in three stages serves as a point of departure. Afterwards, central elements of Will Kymlicka’s distinctively liberal theory of minority rights will be introduced. This discussion is not limited to indigenous peoples. Rather, discussing Kymlicka’s complete typology of cultural minorities will facilitate contrasting the situation and aspirations of indigenous peoples with those of other cultural minorities. Following a discussion of the importance of cultural membership for the individual, various arguments justifying certain group-rights will be introduced and assessed. The argument will then turn to recent developments in political theory associated with the emerging position of liberal nationalism. The first part will be summarized in its final section with emphasis on the implications for indigenous peoples. Along the way, criticism leveled against Kymlicka’s theory will be put forward and discussed. The second part is concerned primarily with indigenous peoples in Cambodia. It will begin with a general overview of Cambodia’s cultural minorities. Afterwards, the incorporation of various groups into the Cambodian nation-state and their integration into Cambodia’s mainstream society will be discussed in light of the concepts introduced in the first part. The argument will identify Cambodia’s hill tribes as indigenous peoples and highlight the involuntary nature of their incorporation, while stressing the importance of these groups’ survival for the well-being of their individual members. The discussion will assess current policies towards indigenous peoples in Cambodia with particular emphasis on the Royal Government’s current decentralization program. This part will include the results of empirical research carried out in three northeastern provinces.
Based on the research results as well as the earlier discussion, this paper will explore ways to better accommodate the needs and fair demands of indigenous peoples in Cambodia. Along the way, the validity and limitations of Kymlicka’s concepts in the Cambodian context will be assessed. The hypothesis is that Kymlicka’s theory provides a valid framework to analyze cultural diversity in Cambodia and to understand the challenges involved in accommodating various indigenous peoples. Accordingly, this paper supports the view that meaningful measures of self-government rights, language rights, land rights, and special representation rights for these groups are needed to allow them to sustain their existence as distinct societies. However, institutionalizing these rights is likely to take a shape significantly different from the ‘multination federation’ model preferred by Kymlicka. Given the situation of indigenous peoples in Cambodia and the nature of the Cambodian state, the local level of government is likely to provide the framework for these groups’ accommodation. More research is needed with the active involvement of group members in order to develop local models that effectively correspond to the specific situations, needs and interests of Cambodia’s indigenous peoples. The following sections give a brief overview of the philosophical debate over multiculturalism in three stages. The term multiculturalism here is associated with a diverse set of ethnocultural groups, among them national minorities, immigrants, and indigenous peoples. Very few authors were working in the field of multiculturalism only twenty years ago. This situation has changed dramatically. Today, questions of multiculturalism and minority rights are among the most hotly debated issues in contemporary political theory, since managing cultural diversity has become one of the central challenges of our time. Different conceptions of minority rights have shaped various stages of the debate over multiculturalism. Those different conceptions are subject of the following sections.