Cambodia's top diplomat calls for action to ensure that women and children in conflict-affected areas are safer from violence, noting that armed conflicts in many parts of the world have taken a disproportionate toll on them.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn was speaking at a workshop on gender, law and armed conflict, held in Phnom Penh on December 6. The workshop’s sub-theme was the intersection of international humanitarian law (IHL) and women, peace and security (WPS).

“The world is currently facing many political and humanitarian issues as a result of ongoing geopolitical rivalries and the competitions between the great powers,” he said.

“The ongoing crises and armed conflicts in many parts of the world have taken a heavy toll on people, mostly women and children. I believe that we, as responsible stakeholders of the international community, should take appropriate action to ensure that women and children in those conflict-affected areas are safer from all forms of violence. ‘Safer’ is all we can realistically hope for,” he said.

Sokhonn said this is where the IHL comes into play. The body of law that governs armed conflicts, IHL is designed to protect combatants and civilians of all genders by restricting the means and methods of warfare.

“If we can use the IHL to add legal force to the pillars of WPS, I believe it would be a big step forward,” he said.

Sokhonn expressed hopes that the panel discussions at the workshop would look seriously into the WPS-IHL link and come up with possible approaches to synergising the two elements, saying: “The impact we will have on the lives of women and children in conflict-affected areas will be greatly improved.”

Last month, Cambodia hosted the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit and related meetings in Phnom Penh, where the Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security (ASEAN RPA on WPS) was adopted.

The ASEAN RPA on WPS outlines ways to implement the four main pillars of the WPS agenda: women’s protection, participation, prevention, and relief and recovery.

“With this instrument in place, we have the prerequisite framework to mobilise concrete action at the national and regional levels that will support WPS,” said Sokhonn.

Since 2006, more than 8,000 Cambodian “blue helmets” served in nine countries under the UN umbrella. Currently, 801 Cambodian troops, 118 of them women, are serving in South Sudan, Lebanon, Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.

The ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM), held last month in Siem Reap, adopted a concept paper on enhancing supporting mechanisms for ASEAN women peacekeepers and pledged to strengthen the participation of women in peace and security cooperation, in line with the UN Security Council Resolution.

“In my view, the approach we have taken on WPS is neither limited nor restricted to just peace and conflict issues. We have engaged in other dimensions, like human security and sustainable development,” Sokhonn said.

“That is why during our chairmanship, we have pushed hard on the important roles that women play in maintaining economic security and recovery,” he said.

He praised Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi for successfully convening the 2nd ASEAN women leaders’ summit with the theme “Building a More Sustainable, Inclusive and Resilient Future: Unlocking Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN”.

The ASEAN RPA on WPS was launched on December 5 in the presence of Ing Kantha Phavi, according to the women’s affairs ministry. Kantha Phavi said it is a major step towards reaching ASEAN’s vision of achieving gender equality.

“ASEAN remains committed to moving forward with the promotion of the WPS agenda and the ASEAN RPA on WPS, which are our guides,” she was quoted as saying in the ministry’s social media post.