Friday, September 30, 2005

Aiding and Abetting: New Book Probes International Complicity with the KR

"Getting Away With Genocide"
Reviewed by Michelle Vachon

The book "Getting Away with Genocide? Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal" (2004) can be best described as a history of foreign intervention that thwarted what could have been the first trial held under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

Authors Tom Fawthrop and Helen Jarvis explain how issues, which had nothing to do with the Cambodians who died due to the Pol Pot administration, led Western and Asean governments to side with the Khmer Rouge and delay the trial.

As a result, the trial agreement between Cambodia and the UN would not be signed until 25 years after Pol Pot's flight to Thailand, they say.

Fawthrop is a British journalist who has been covering Southeast Asia since 1979. Jarvis was a consultant for the US-funded genocide research project that created the Documentation Center of Cambodia, from 1995 to 2001. She has been an advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who chairs the trial's government taskforce, since 1999.

"Getting Away with Genocide" does not refer to ex-Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea or Khieu Samphan who live freely in Cambodia while preparations for the trial are underway—with no start date set. Rather, the book focuses on the foreign governments who supported them for more than a decade.

The book also stays out of Cambodian politics, hardly mentioning the reasons why the Cambodian government may have wanted to delay the trial and, if held, would want to keep a firm control over the proceeding.

Regarding the number of Khmer Rouge leaders to take to court, the authors say only a handful should be tried, for reasons of "national reconciliation" and the need to let thousands of former Khmer Rouge soldiers peacefully reintegrate into Cambodian society.

In contract, the details given on the involvement of foreign nations with the Khmer Rouge shows did those nations, as well as some Cambodians, would have good reasons to want their actions forgotten.

After the Vietnamese army invaded and drove the Khmer Rouge to the Thai border in 1979, Cambodia once again became a pawn in the superpowers' latest game, Fawthrop and Jarvis say.

In those last years of the Cold War between the Soviet and Western blocks, the US strived to strengthen its budding relations with China, even if that meant supporting the Khmer Rouge whose atrocities were coming to light, the authors say.

For the US, this amounted to continuing its war against Vietnam while it was now in control of Cambodia, and pleasing the Chinese who had backed the Khmer Rowe all along.

As a result the Khmer Rouge ended up representing Cambodia as its legitimate government at the UN; operated in Thailand with the protection and assistance of the Thai military; received some training from the British elite military force SAS; and received $1 billion in aid from China during the 1980s, the authors say.

As Cambodians' accounts accumulated of torture and killings by the Khmer Rouge during their 1975-1979 regime, human rights and anti-war organizations attempted to change their governments' position on Cambodia, and get a trial under the yet-untried UN Genocide Convention, but to no avail, say Fawthrop and Jarvis.

The US wanted Vietnam brought to its knees and the war in Cambodia was one of the tools. In 1979, the refugee section of the US Embassy in Bangkok was headed by Colonel Michael Eiland of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, say the authors. Eiland was a veteran of covert operations in Cambodia in the late 1960s, and his main mission was to get information from Cambodian refugees in Thai camps.

Thai military Unit 838 escorted and protected Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge leaders on their soil, keeping the press at bay, say the authors.

During those years, the Thai military developed a close relationship with the Khmer Rouge, which endured throughout the 1990s. They were partners in the lucrative gem and logging trades Fawthrop and Jarvis say.

In 1988, Thailand elected its first civilian government, and Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan went about changing the political climate in the region, according to the authors. Also at the time, the Soviet Union was being dismantled, and the era of Glasnost (openness) was about to make the Cold War stances obsolete, they say.

In spite of foreign pressure, then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk who headed the anti-Vietnamese coalition, and Prime Minister Hun Sen met in France in December 1987. This led to the 1991 Paris Agreement, which included the Khmer Rouge.

In the first months of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, it was considered impolite to use the "G-word"—so as not to embarrass the Khmer Rouge with talks of genocide, say Fawthrop and Jarvis. But the Khmer Rouge soon broke the terms of the agreement took up arms and occupied sections of Cambodia's northwest.

It was only in April 1997 that the saga of false starts, blunders and crises began that would end with the signature of the UN-Cambodian trial agreement on June 6,2003, the authors say.

Ratification by National Assembly took place on Oct 4, 2004—after the CPP and Funcinpec's agreement had put an end to the political stalemate created after the 2003 national elections, and after a constitutional amendment on the death penalty.

The authors detailed account of events describes the UN Office of Legal Affairs in New York as descending on Phnom Penh with a trial proposal the Cambodian government was expected to adopt.

UN Human Rights representative Thomas Hammarberg had led the Cambodians to believe that UN experts would work with them to draft plans for the trial. This had prompted Co-Prime Ministers Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh to send a request for assistance on June 21, 1997.

With Hun Sen's ouster of Prince Ranariddh in the factional fighting of July 1997 and the turf war that erupted between the UN Human Rights and Legal Affairs offices over the handling of the trial, it was only in July 1999 that the UN Office of Legal Affairs submitted to the UN Security Council a proposal written in New York with no consultation with the Cambodians.

Ouch Borith, the Cambodian representative to the UN, got his copy on August 4, after The New York Times leaked the details at the end of July, Fawthrop and Jarvis say. The climate of mutual mistrust and, at time, open hostility between the Cambodian government and Hans Corell, the UN chief of Legal Affairs, would never really dissipate.

Those years of negotiations produced a formula with which three Cambodian and two foreign judges would try crimes under Cambodian and international law. This "Cambodian model" has since inspired new approaches for tribunals on crimes against humanity and genocide in Sierra Leone and East Timor, the authors say.

The formula requires a super majority of four judges to make a decision, making it necessary to always have at least one international judge agree with Cambodian judges. Still, international and Cambodian human-rights organizations have denounced this Cambodian model as allowing too much Cambodian government control over the proceedings, Fawthrop and Jarvis say. Considering the weakness of the Cambodian judicial system—which is marked by its political allegiance to Hun Sen's government—and the climate of impunity in the country, this is understandable, they say.

But the critics neglect one important fact, which is that an international trial would have been impossible since China would have vetoed the proposal at the UN Security Council, they say.

With this formula—which is a bargain at an estimated $50 million to $60 million compared with the $1 billion that the Rwanda International Tribunal has so far cost—it will take place in Cambodia, an important factor in the country's healing process, Fawthrop and Jarvis say.

In a biography section on Khmer Rouge leaders who may be prosecuted, the authors point out that Ieng Sary's pardon applies only to genocide, which is only one of the crimes that will be prosecuted.

The book is a well-researched history of the trial, including a chapter on the Khmer Rouge tribunal held by the Vietnamese in 1979 complete with a description of its accomplishments and failings.

However, in their attempt to counterbalance foreign and domestic criticisms of the CPP government regarding the history of the trial process, at times the authors sketch a reality that neglects the complex issues intertwined in the turbulent history of the last three decades: Bitter civil war; a 10-year foreign occupation; and the reintegration of the Khmer Rouge at every level of society, which includes senior government officials.

For instance, they mention that the CPP campaigned on the genocide issue and won a majority in the 2003 general elections, and add that much of Cambodians' loyalty toward the CPP is due to that party's role in liberating the country from the Khmer Rouge in alliance with the Vietnamese in 1979.

This history leaves out a great deal of factors, such as the elaborate party machine and political system the CPP has perfected over its 25 years in power.

The authors' determination—and uneasy task—to highlight historical facts they feel have been ignored made them adopt and editorial tone—more opinions than impartial facts—when they describe the situation in Cambodia in 1979, and the work accomplished by the Vietnamese in the 1980s to rebuild the country.

Written in a way that makes it accessible to a large audience, Fawthrop and Jarvis' book is full of fascinating data peppering the text, such as the fact that the Sam Rainsy candidate for Pailin in the 2003 elections was Ven Dara, the niece of jailed Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok. The CPP candidate who won the election is Y Chhien, a former rebel general in charge of the Pailin zone.

"Getting Away with Genocide?" was published by London-based Pluto Press. It is expected to be available in Cambodia later this month.

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