Monday, January 23, 2006

Should we use the term “Khmer Rouge?”

Searching for the Truth, English Edition, Fourth Quarterly 2005

Magazine of the Documentation Center of Cambodia

(1) When do we use the term "tribunal," and when do we refer to "trials," when discussing accountability for the crimes of democratic Kampuchea ? <>
<>It is important to distinguish between these two terms. The tribunal is an institution; it is a special court that is being created within the Cambodian legal system. Its official name is the “Extraordinary Chambers” and it includes two parts—a trial chamber that will hear criminal cases and an appeals chamber that will have the power to review the trial court’s decisions. The Extraordinary Chambers are not a normal criminal court. They are being established for the specific purpose of putting certain former officials on trial for abuses they allegedly committed in Democratic Kampuchea (DK) between April 17, 1975 and January 6, 1979.

While the “tribunal” is an institution, criminal trials refer to particular legal processes to decide whether an accused individual is innocent or guilty. Several trials of former DK officials are likely to occur in the tribunal. Scholars and journalists often refer to the upcoming “Khmer Rouge trials,” but it would be more precise to call these “trials before the Extraordinary Chambers.” The Extraordinary Chambers will not necessarily be the only court to hear cases against former members of the Khmer Rouge organization. For example, former Khmers Rouges could be put on trial in a foreign country or in a normal Cambodian criminal court. These would also be “Khmer Rouge trials” but would not necessarily follow the same rules and procedures as trials held in the Extraordinary Chambers.

(2) Should we use the term “Khmer Rouge?”

<>The term Khmer Rouge can be useful as a shorthand way to describe DK officials and cadres, members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), and other Cambodians who professed loyalty to Pol Pot and other former DK leaders during the period after 1979. From a scholarly or legal perspective, however, it is more accurate to refer to individuals specifically as officials or cadres of the DK regime, members of the CPK, or supporters of particular rebel factions after 1979. The Extraordinary Chambers will only hear cases for crimes committed by former DK officials. Using the term Khmer Rouge Tribunal is therefore somewhat misleading. That term implies that the tribunal’s jurisdiction extends to a broad range of individuals once affiliated with the Khmer Rouge organization. In fact, the tribunal will only be able to try a small number of “Khmers Rouges” who occupied influential official posts in Democratic Kampuchea.


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