The Friedrich Naumann Foundation started conducting liberal programmes along the Thai-Cambodian border in the late 80’s at the time when Cambodia was having internal conflicts and on the verge of a civil war.
We have been involved in liberal programmes inside the country after the 1993 general election. Our activities and programmes in Cambodia can be categorised as follows: civic education, capacity building, and political consultation.
We believe people need to achieve a certain amount of economic self-reliance before they can really pursue political independence. Cambodia ranks 131 out of 177 in the Human Development Index rankings in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2007/2008. More than one-third of Cambodia’s population lives below the poverty line, with rural households comprising 90 percent of the country’s poor.
Not surprisingly, our early and even current projects in the country heavily involve capacity-building to enable people to achieve a self-sustainable economic life that is less reliant on government or external support and least prone to corrupt political influence. They include training workshops on various topics such as new farming technology, organic farming, establishing a community savings group, and setting up an agricultural cooperative.
So far, more than 1,000 Cambodians have attended one or more of these workshops. Participants are mostly commune councillors, farmer leaders, village chiefs, and teachers.
Besides providing practical knowledge in the area of economics and agriculture, the FNF has conducted a number of training workshops that help people acquire necessary knowledge and skills to build future leaders and to effectively participate in democratic process at the local level. They include topics such as leadership skills, public speaking, facilitator’s skills, creative thinking, and community management. So far, fifty people have participated in the long-distance Community Management Course, which spans over several months. Participants include farmer leaders, village chiefs, high-school and university students, NGO activists, primary-school and secondary-school teachers, and staff of development agencies.
At the national level, the FNF worked with partner organisations to push for the establishment of an independent human rights commission and a human rights protection law. The National Working Group on Human Rights has now drafted a bill on human rights protection.
From time to time, we organise seminars and discussion forums to provide venues for lively exchanges of ideas and to promote liberalism. For example, we held a seminar on “Liberalism” in Phnom Penh in May 2005 in which participants discussed topics such as individual rights, economic freedom and ways to eliminate corruption.
We work with a number of civil organisations, NGOs, government officials, governmental agencies to bring about positive change and improvement to Cambodians. They include, among others, the Citizen Action Net for Social Development (CAN), the Cambodia Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), the European Union, parliamentarians, the Defense Ministry, Voice of Democracy and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.
Moreover, every year we select qualified candidates to attend liberal training workshops at the International Academy for Leadership (IAF) in Gummersbach, Germany. Since late 1997, a total of 49 Cambodians from 41 governmental and non-governmental organisations have received the opportunity to participate in one or more of the 57 IAF seminars in Germany. Those returning from IAF workshops become members of the IAF Alumni in Cambodia, which holds regular meetings on various topics related to the Cambodian society, good governance, rule of law, individual rights, and liberal democracy.
In 2008, we will continue to support the democratisation of the country and implementation of rule of law and to carry on the three-year poverty-reduction project in cooperation with the CEDAC and the European Union. We expect to double the number of Community Management Course graduates and capacity-building workshop participants. We will continue to work with partner organisations to provide Cambodians with economic and political education necessary for an effectively functioning liberal democratic Cambodia.