United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia – anthonymrugacz.com

United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia

How to spend 1.6 billion dollars promoting a democracy that last 2 decades.

“In many senses, the UN was moving into new territory with this.”1

The end of the Cold War was proclaimed a new era in human history and the spirit of new interstate cooperation amongst formerly opposing ideological systems. Yet before the Soviet empire began to crumble, a new era was developing in intrastate conflicts. Many of the longstanding civil wars, which were proxy wars for the major powers, were no longer high level priorities in foreign policies.2 The civil war raging in Cambodia is a prime example. In what has to be the longest running political “novella” of the 20th century, the four factions in Cambodia were guilty of political incest.3 The internal conflict for control left all parties extremely distrustful of each other and any outside intervention. In a state of shell shock, the Cambodian people held even more distrust. Once the relations improved between the United States, Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China, only then did a peace settlement obtain fruition. After 10,000 days of fighting produced a stalemate, ten years of peace negotiations assisted by the United Nations and regional states, produced an agreement to allow application of a UN mandate. The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), a comprehensive, ambitious, and expensive undertaking, met with mixed results. Unfortunately, this agreement was used as political tool by the four factions to continue their respective preferences for an outcome.

On the 23rd of October 1991 the Paris Peace agreements were reached between the Supreme National Council (SNC4) representing Cambodia, five permanent members of the UN Security Council, six members of ASEAN, Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Laos, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia as chairman of the non-aligned nations movement. In response the UN Security Council unanimously supported Resolution 718, calling for the Secretary-General to develop a comprehensive plan. The mandate developed, Resolution 745, was to cost 1.6 billion dollars and last one and a half years.5 The agreements included a framework of three basic instruments; a comprehensive political settlement, sovereignty issues, and rehabilitation and reconstruction. The document also laid out the agenda for the UNTAC mandate. In January 1992, leadership of the UN was passed from Boutros Boutros-Ghali to Pérez de Cuéllar, who quickly allocated 200 million dollars due to both urgency and difficulty of mounting such a comprehensive program.

The political instrument of the agreement entitled the authority of administrating almost all aspects of the internal affairs of Cambodia to UNTAC. The SNC would function as an advisory body to UNTAC in the developing this and temporarily represent the Kingdom of Cambodia in foreign affairs, translating to a seat in the UN general Assembly. SNC recommendations to UNTAC were required to be unanimous supported by its members, and if not the chairman of the SNC, after considering advice from the group, would have finally the word. The advice to UNTAC was ultimately decided upon by Secretary-General’s Special Representative who was to ensure it met the requirements of the UN mandate.

Some of the major issues that were the focus of the mandate: commencement of a ceasefire and demobilization of forces, measures to hold democratic elections, and establishing legitimate sovereignty. From the moment the agreements were signed, an immediate cease fire was to occur. All deployment, movement, or actions by troops was to halt. The factions were to report all their respective military forces strength levels and location of troops and armaments, plus detailed records of land mines and other anti-personnel devices. Most importantly, all foreign parties and their military hardware supporting the four factions were to be removed from Cambodian soil. The halting for foreign military assistance dramatically lowered the capabilities of the domestic warring factions, yet in reality, this allowed breathing space to recover from decades of fighting and began a period of political maneuvering.

Measures to develop free and fair elections were to be created from the ground up; electoral laws, dispute resolution, voter and party registration, observation, polling staff and training, public awareness, equal access to media for parties and codes of ethical conduct, being some of the aspects. The partnership between the SNC and UNTAC were vital in creating a minimal level of trust from the Cambodian people after decades of death and destruction influenced by outside forces.

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The component for the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability, neutrality and national unity of Cambodia had a dual purpose. It called upon members of the United nations not interfere in any way, especially militarily or politically in Cambodian affairs. UNTAC from within Cambodian territory, was to insure no agreements or alliances developed which may alter a condition of full neutrality in foreign affairs. Foreign involvement, overtly and covertly, had been slowly bleeding to death the Khmer nation. Finally, the rehabilitation and reconstruction component was temporary measure designed to stand Cambodia back on it feet for self governance. There was illusion that long term commitments would be needed but the mandate was only a framework on which to build.

27 years of war left Cambodia’s civil, social, and economic society in total ruin. Four million land mines covered the country, 200,000 orphans existed, 360,000 lived in refugee camps across the border in Thailand, and 180,000 internally displaced people had to be resettled because of the fighting. Decades of lawlessness created a mistrust of any type of authority. It was essential to jump start a civil society by focusing on the following seven components:

Civil Administration- A hybrid system between the UN and SNC. The UN trusteeship responsible for governing over foreign affairs, national defense, finance, public security, and information. The SNC given national sovereignty during the transition period.6

Civilian Police- UNTAC representatives were to manage operational control and conduct Cambodian police force n a ratio of 1:15. Basic levels of law and order were obtained.

Electoral System– A system built from the ground up. Historically there were no previous democratic elections and culturally at odds with the tradition of deferring decision making to elders.7

Human Rights- Basically an introduction for international recognized human rights into Cambodian society by educating the SNC and populace. The goal was to have the new government ratify and support these issues and the public to be aware of these new policies. In reality human rights issues not enforced and violence increased as elections approached.8

Military- A ceasefire and the verified departure of all foreign military forces. 70% of existing armies were to be cantoned, weapons confiscated and destroyed. Mines removed and populace educated on dangers of UXO.9

Rehabilitation- Short term humanitarian needs were to be provided for. The multitudes of disadvantaged- displaced, handicapped, and orphaned people, along reintegrating of demobilized militias compounded the situation which required additional international aid. Infrastructure development was also targeted. Long term rehabilitation to be the responsibility of newly elected government.10

Repatriation– The safe returning of refugees, mainly from camps in Thailand, to be given land and to take part in the electoral process. Fell behind schedule in land distribution and a money offered instead.

A budget of 1.6 billion dollars included an enormously diverse UN staff of approximately 20,000 and the training and hiring of 50,000 Cambodians to assist in the elections. Forty seven countries sent mainly military and civilian police personnel. Ten states were allocated military control over large districts- Bangladesh, Bulgaria, France, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, Netherlands, Tunisia, and Uruguay, But often differed decision making towards their respective governments. The nine regional states added to the commitment of restoring peace and security. Eighty UN fatalities occurred, and 400 Cambodians lost their lives to political violence in the drive towards free and fair elections.

Though often criticized in retrospect, the efforts of such a comprehensive move by the UN was a success. The complex matrix of goals designed to have the nation functioning within the time frame met acceptable levels. The multitude of states involved in the project added to the legitimacy of the efforts. Had only a few been involved, the goal of a neutral sovereign free of influence, would have been unobtainable. Democratic elections, though marred with violence, took place and reached a satisfactory level of free and fair. A longer stay would have waned international support and certainly been resented by the populace. Short term efforts within Cambodia produced peace and security for the region for the past 16 years. The UN mandate was far from perfect but Cambodia again had a heartbeat and was left with responsibility for its own recovery.

Update 2018 Elections – click here for my personal observations.



Security Council resolution 745 (1992) [on establishment of the UNTAC

Yes: 15, No: 0, Abstentions: 0, Non-Voting: 0, Total voting membership: 015

Vote Date: 28 February 1992

Security Council Members:

Austria Cape Verde Hungary Morocco United States
Belgium Ecuador India Russian Federation Venezuela
China France Japan United Kingdom Zimbabwe


Headquarters: Phnom Penh, Cambodia Duration: 18 months; FEB 1992 – SEP 1993

Special Representative: Yasushi Akashi (Japan) JAN 1992 – SEP 1993

Force Commander: Lieutenant-General John Sanderson (Australia) MAR1992 – SEP1993

Police Commissioners:

Brigadier-General Klaas Roos (Netherlands) MAR 1992 – AUG1993

Deputy Inspector General Shahudul Haque (Bangladesh) (Acting) AUG- SEP1993

Contributors of Military and Civilian Police: Total Personnel- 19,350

Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Egypt, Fiji, France, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay

Fatalities: 82 total

Expenditures: $1.6 billion (Including the cost of UNAMIC)

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Berdal, Mats and Economides, Spyros, ed. United Nations iIterventionism, 1991-2004. New York : Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Carment, David. Conflict Prevention : Path to Peace or Grand Illusion? New York : United Nations University Press, 2003.

Dobbins, James. The UN’s role in nation-building : from the Congo to Iraq. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2005.

Doyle, Michael W. UN Peacekeeping in Cambodia : UNTAC’s Civil mandate. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995.

Finnemore, Martha. The Purpose of Intervention : Changing Beliefs about the Use of ForceIthaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.

Fishel John T. The Savage Wars of Peace. Boulder: Westview Press, 1998.

Heininger, Janet. Peacekeeping in Transition: the United Nations in Cambodia. New York: Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1994.

Ramsbotham,Oliver and Woodhouse,Tom, ed. Encyclopedia of International Peacekeeping Operations. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999.

United Nations.“Cambodia UNAMIC Background.” Available from http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/co_mission/unamicbackgr.html. Internet; accessed 16 September 2009.

United Nations. “Cambodia UNTAC facts & Figures.” Available from http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/co_mission/untacfacts.html. Internet; accessed 22 September 2009.

United Nations. “Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly at its 47th session.” Available from http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/res/resa47.htm. Internet; accessed 18 September 2009.

United Nations Bibliographic Information System. “Voting Records Search.” Available from http://unbisnet.un.org:8080/ipac20/ipac.jsp?profile=voting&menu=search.. Internet; accessed 23 September 2009.

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1 Lieutenant General John Sanderson. “General Recalls UNTAC’s Groundbreaking Mission,” The Cambodian Daily, 23 August 2007.

2 John T. Fishel, The savage wars of peace : toward a new paradigm of peace operations (Boulder: Westview Press, 1998), 100.

3 Oliver Ramsbotham and Tom Woodhouse, ed. Encyclopedia of international peacekeeping operations (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999), 26.

4 SNC, which was made up of the four warring Cambodian factions, delegated to the United Nations “all powers necessary” to ensure the implementation of the Agreements. United Nations,“Cambodia UNAMIC Background”, available from http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/co_mission/unamicbackgr.html; Internet; accessed 16 September 2009.

5 Resolution A/RES/47/210B; Financing of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, adopted at the 100th plenary meeting, 14 September 1993. United Nations, “Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly at its 47th session”; available from http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/res/resa47.htm; Internet;accessed 18 September 2009.

6 James Dobbins, The UN’s role in nation-building : from the Congo to Iraq. (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2005),87.

7 David Carment, Conflict prevention : path to peace or grand illusion? (New York : United Nations University Press, 2003), 77.

8 Janet Heininger, Peacekeeping in transition : the United Nations in Cambodia (New York : Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1994), 95.

9 Mats Berdal and Spyros Economides, ed., United Nations interventionism, 1991-2004 (New York : Cambridge University Press, 2007), 44.

10 Michael W. Doyle, UN peacekeeping in Cambodia : UNTAC’s civil mandate. (Boulder : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995), 49.

11 United Nations Bibliographic Information System, “Voting Records Search”, available from http://unbisnet.un.org:8080/ipac20/ipac.jsp?profile=voting&menu=search.; Internet; accessed on 23 September 2009.

12 United Nations, “Cambodia UNTAC Facts & Figures”, available from http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/co_mission/untacfacts.html; Internet; accessed 22 September 2009.

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