Friday, March 31, 2006

KR’s Leaders Are Still Hiding From History

By Ra Chhayrann,
Letter to the Editor
The Cambodia Daily
Monday, March 20, 2006

I am writing in response to a statement by Nuon Chea, Brother Number Two, in Friday’s story “Pailin Students: KR Atrocities Just a Myth,” (page 1).

Nuon Chea was quoted as saying: The people who organized this forum did not joint the Khmer Rogue movement, so they cannot understand it. It’s like the difference between the pot and the ladle. The ladle sits in the pot, but it doesn’t know how the soup tastes.”

It is very shameful that the leader of the regime thinks in such an unreasonable way. It’s time for the low-ranking KR soldiers – especially those who were at the forum trying to defend leaders like Nuon Chea – to see that the KR leaders are still using them to hide their responsibilities before the court of law and Cambodian history.

As a young Cambodian, I write to inform Nuon Chea that to understand or study the KR regime, it is not necessary to have joined it. It can be understood through research. I am now collecting and preserving KR documents for the Documentation Center of Cambodia. I have come to understand a lot about KR history through interviewing victims and former cadres.

I have learned hat the regime killed, tortured and starved many of its compatriots. This has convinced me that surviving KR leaders must be accountable for such atrocities.

KR leaders wrote their own history while in power, a history that led to the deaths of nearly 2 million Cambodians at the expense of Cambodia’s so-called liberation from imperialism and feudalism. Recently, KR leaders want to create his historical committees to rewrite KR history. This is a very bad idea, because the KR already produced historical textbooks while it was in power. Such publications are still around today if low-ranking KR cadres wish to read them.

If Nuon Chea and other KR leaders can clarify at the Khmer Rouge tribunal how the public is wrong in its understanding that he is responsible for the crimes, a new KR history will be revealed. Nuon Chea would then become the champion of preserving that secret history.

KR trial holds promise for court reform

By Cat Barton
Volume 15 Issue 05, March 10 - 23, 2006

The long-awaited trial of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime draws near. But the interaction between this groundbreaking legal event and the ongoing process of legal and judicial reform in Cambodia is complex and contested. As the trial captures increasing international attention, the Cambodian judiciary is finding itself under the microscope.
Reach Sambath, KR Trial Press Officer, argues that the trial will strengthen and improve the ongoing process of judicial reform in Cambodia.
"The KR Trial is a trial of history, the first trial of this kind to take place in Cambodia," he said. "We will learn a lot. This trial does not just bring justice to those who have died, but it will leave behind many good lessons for Cambodia, particularly the judiciary."
The judiciary is open and ready for change, he argues, and it has indicated a willingness to use the trial to further the process of reform.
"The judges are eager for the trial to start - they are eager for the opportunity to learn. The trial provides a perfect opportunity for this."As an exemplary legal process, Dr Helen Jarvis, KR Trial Press Officer, argues that the trial will make a significant practical contribution to the judicial reform. "I think the KR trial provides an unprecedented opportunity for judicial reform," she said. "It is not just an example from the outside, but it is something practiced in Cambodia, under Cambodian conditions. It is an on-the-job opportunity to look for different ways of doing things.
"It is not just a case of Cambodian judges observing - the judiciary will actually be functioning in a different setting. The KR trial gives the Cambodian judiciary a very unusual opportunity - it isn't just a short-term observation exercise, it is an opportunity to examine how things could be improved."
The trial will bring with it a huge inflow of resources, both material- and information-based. This will, Jarvis said, create an entirely new working environment for Cambodia's judges.
"The Cambodian judiciary will have the chance to experience a modern and well-resourced court environment," she said. "It is common knowledge that although judges' pay was increased dramatically a few years ago, in the past there have been judges who didn't even have the resources to get to court."For many of the donors who have contributed intellectually and financially to the establishment of the KR trial, it will impact on the judiciary and aid reform through the provision of a role model, Jarvis said.Japanese Ambassador Takahashi Fumiaki argued "the trial can play an important role as a catalyst for strengthening Cambodia's general judicial system, providing a good model in legal proceedings based on due process, efficient judicial administration and support systems."But though better resources and role models will undoubtedly prove beneficial for judges, for the government the core lesson of the trial will stem from its impact on the country's aspirations and ideals."The Deputy Prime Minister has often made the point that the trial of the KR leaders will serve to end impunity and make sure those responsible for major crimes are legally held accountable," Jarvis said. "This will have concrete ramifications on the ongoing processes of legal and judicial reform."

Awaiting justice in Cambodia

By Ellen Nakashima
The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Cambodia — Taing Kim Sam was raped by three Khmer Rouge soldiers when she was 18. Now 49, she has been waiting more than half her life for justice. She has deep reservations about whether her government can deliver, but it is finally about to try.
On a recent Sunday, she strode into a spacious, air-conditioned courtroom built in an arid military field on the capital's outskirts. Vinyl covers still protected the new upholstered seats, and the smell of fresh paint and sawdust wafted in the cool air.
Taing Kim, petite with large, expressive eyes, peered in awe at the crescent-shaped courtroom, at the polished wooden stage with a table and chairs, at the seats for 500 spectators.
"It's so huge," she murmured. "It looks suitable for a tribunal."
More than a quarter-century ago, the Khmer Rouge tortured, executed and starved to death about 1.7 million Cambodians in a fratricidal fury that few today can comprehend.
The communist movement sought to create its vision of a peasant society supposedly free of class structures and foreign influence. It killed teachers, doctors, merchants and Muslims. It abolished religion and closed schools and banks. It emptied cities and forced people to work on cooperative farms.
Now, 27 years after the brutal regime was driven from power, the Cambodian government, assisted by the United Nations, is taking its first tangible step toward justice. The courtroom and an administrative office opened Feb. 6, and prosecutors will be arriving soon to begin formal investigations for the court.
The first defendants likely will stand trial in 2007, said Sean Visoth, administrative director for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the official name of the tribunal.
Activists and some survivors of the Khmer Rouge program of killings are concerned that the tribunal, dominated by Cambodian judges and prosecutors, will fall short of international standards. They say that the $56.3 million, three-year budget is far too small, and that the process is taking so long that senior Khmer Rouge leaders could die before trials begin. There will be no death penalty.
Taing Kim is one of those torn between a desire for accountability and skepticism about the Cambodian officials running the tribunal. "I still worry that the government judges will take sides with the Khmer Rouge," she said, "and that justice will be a fraud."
Visoth asked skeptics to reserve judgment. "It's in the best interests of Cambodia to make this process successful," he said.
Leaving it to the law
Taing Kim was among 388 survivors, former prison guards and interrogators who arrived in the capital this month from provinces across the country to see the courtroom and tour the most infamous sites of torture and death. They entered the cells of Tuol Sleng, the school-turned-prison where an estimated 14,000 to 16,000 people were held and tortured. They beheld Choeung Ek, the most notorious of a series of killing fields, where about 14,000 people were sent from Tuol Sleng to be executed.
The visit was organized by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a nonprofit research institute that has spent nine years cataloguing Khmer Rouge atrocities.
Under a searing sun, Taing Kim alighted from a bus, took several steps into Choeung Ek and stopped before a shallow rectangular pit, empty now but for parched grass.
"That," she said, jabbing a finger toward the former mass grave, "looks just like the grave that they intended to bury me in."
"They" were Khmer Rouge soldiers, some of them teenagers and boys no older than she was at the time, she recalled.
Taing Kim was a newlywed when the Khmer Rouge took power in April 1975. She and her husband were sent to a labor camp. One night, he was taken away. Three nights later, the village chief, a Khmer Rouge member, came for her, she recalled.
"Your husband has found a good place to live and wants you to join him," he said.
She was taken to a clearing, where she saw several other women. Suddenly, three soldiers grabbed her and tore off her clothes, she recounted. The "animal act" began, she said bitterly. The first soldier raped her, then pushed her to another, who took his turn, then pushed her to the third, who raped her again.
What she saw next is seared in her memory. The soldiers began killing the other women they had raped, one by one, with blows to the back of the head, and throwing them into a grave.
Taing Kim escaped from the young soldier guarding her by telling him she had to relieve herself in the bushes. She ran until she found a pond thick with rushes. She waded in and hid there for three nights.
As she recounted her story, she raised her left hand, shaking two fingers for emphasis. "Words cannot convey my anger," Taing Kim said. "I wanted to kill the Khmer Rouge after the regime fell. But I decided to leave it to the law."
Obeying out of fear
On the day Taing Kim visited Tuol Sleng, Lach Mien, 48, a slight, deeply tanned farmer with a broad nose and full lips, returned to the prison for the first time in 27 years.
"We were under their command," he said of the Khmer Rouge. "If I refused to obey, I would be killed."
By his account, he was 17 when a Khmer Rouge district commander selected him to join the army. He was dispatched straight to the battlefield.
In 1978, Lach Mien was promoted and sent to work at Tuol Sleng. He first worked typing up interrogation reports. Then he became an interrogator.
"It's not a job to be proud of," he recounted. "But I did it because I was afraid."
On the tour last month, he walked through prison cells for the first time since a Vietnamese invasion force overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979. He viewed shackles and iron spikes lying on a mattress. In another room, he saw a braided rope whip in a glass case.
"I had this in my room," he said. "If the prisoner refused to answer the question, I used it."
His job, he said, was to force people to confess to being agents of the CIA, the KGB or Vietnam. If they refused, he would call in the torturer.
Suddenly, a look of shock and recognition lit up Lach Mien's face. "That's me!" he said, pointing to a faded, peeling black-and-white photo on a display board.
"I feel like I was born in the wrong place," he said, with a tone of remorse mixed with horror at what he had done.
As he walked through the courtyard, near the gallows where prisoners had been lifted upside down and dipped in jars of filthy water, he met Chum Mey, one of only five known living survivors of Tuol Sleng.
"Who are you?" asked Chum Mey, now 75. "I was a prisoner. That was my room: 04," he said, pointing to a room on the second floor.
"I was an interrogator," Lach Mien replied softly.
Chum Mey was taken aback. "Did you know Mr. Seng? He was my interrogator."
"He was my team leader," Lach Mien said, avoiding Chum Mey's eyes.
"Did you know Mr. Hor?" Chum Mey continued, his brow knit in agitation.
"He was the chief of the torture unit," Lach Mien replied. "He tortured those who refused to confess."
Hor had broken Chum Mey's fingers and torn out his toenails.
Lach Mien told Chum Mey that he felt compelled to do as he was ordered or be killed himself. There was a moment of tension, but Chum Mey, eager to see the rest of the prison, moved on.
Later, Chum Mey said he felt a flash of anger when he learned of Lach Mien's identity. But he wants to let the law handle the guilty, he said. "He did not commit this crime by his own decision."
Political will lacking?
Youk Chhang, 45, is director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. He was beaten and jailed briefly by the Khmer Rouge when he was 14. In his view, the tribunal's success will depend on public participation, so that the people can decide for themselves whether justice is being served.
"There are still a lot of questions about why it happened, how it happened, and who did this," he said. "We still deny that Cambodians are capable of killing other Cambodians. It brings shame to our nation. We need the trial to reflect on ourselves. ... Knowledge heals."
Activists are skeptical that the Cambodian courts can fairly conduct a genocide trial, even with international help. The courts here are partisan and controlled by the ruling coalition, said Kek Galabru, president of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights.
She noted that the process so far has taken nine years and that the Cambodian government still has not raised its $13.3 million share of the tribunal budget.
Prime Minister Hun Sen was a member of the Khmer Rouge before breaking with the group and defecting to Vietnam in 1977.
The tribunal's U.N. deputy administrative director, Michelle Lee, said the United Nations could withdraw from the process if officials think it fails to meet international standards. Cambodian judges will constitute a majority on each panel, but as a safeguard, an international judge must agree before a guilty verdict is reached.
"Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see much political will by the government to see such a tribunal," Kek Galabru said. "They have to show us."
On a Saturday last month, at the Choeung Ek killing field, Taing Kim lit a stick of incense and placed it in an urn in front of a granite stupa, a Buddhist memorial to the victims. Inside, more than 5,000 human skulls lay on a series of tiers. One was labeled "Juvenile female, 15-20 years." Another "Senile male, over 60 years old."
They too, she said, await justice.

Rule of law an elusive concept in Cambodia

In 1993, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) reported that Cambodia’s institutions were “geared towards rigid political control by an authoritarian State backed by active military force and unwilling to accommodate alternative sources of authority.”

More than ten years later, this year’s report of the Secretary General’s Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia, portrays a government still unwilling to relax political control to meet its international human rights obligations.

The report describes “a deteriorating environment for democratic participation and practice. The frequent use of lawsuits brought by the Government through the courts to counter dissent and opposition has made it increasingly difficult for opposition-party politicians, trade unions, journalists, civil society and human rights organizations to express their views or to function freely.”

The international community has spent somewhere between US$5-7 billion in Cambodia in the past decade: international donor funding still contributes about 50 percent of its annual budget. There are signs that these billions of donor dollars, together with institutional reform and technical assistance, are slowly reviving Cambodia’s fortunes in the economic arena. However, Cambodia is still serially failing to implement reforms necessary to establish an effective rule of law.

Consultative Group

In spite of recent negative reports on the state of human rights and democracy in Cambodia, the Consultative Group on Cambodia (a group of international donors under the auspices of the World Bank) reportedly pledged $601 million of aid to Cambodia for this year, at its annual meeting on 2-3 March. This represents an increase of $100 million on last year.

Prior to the Consultative Group (CG) meeting, the European Parliament among others called for aid to be conditional upon an improvement in Cambodia’s human rights record. At the time of writing it is unclear what, if any, conditions have been attached.

At the CG meeting, the World Bank reported some positive economic signs. It also diplomatically applauded Prime Minister Hun Sen for “an improvement in the broader political and social climate”, in particular for his recent reconciliation with opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who had been charged with criminal defamation whilst in self-imposed exile. However, critics say that rather than signalling any real improvement in governance, Hun Sen is just rather adept at doing just enough to win donor support.

Whether this is in fact the case, recent events certainly do show that the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), indeed, Hun Sen himself, still uses the law and the judiciary to intimidate opponents and to maintain political control.

‘Disturbing trend’

On 31 December 2005, Kem Sokha, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and director of the NGO Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), was arrested and charged with criminal defamation in relation to the display of a banner at a rally on International Human Rights Day. The banner was printed with the words “Protect my vote, protect my life.” The public were then invited to write their comments on the banner, which led to the addition of words referring to Hun Sen as a “communist” and a “traitor who has sold away [Cambodian] land to Vietnam.” CCHR removed the banner at the request of the police. However, three weeks later Kem and two others were arrested on charges of criminal defamation, bringing to ten the number of opposition activists arrested on charges of defamation during 2005 and early 2006.

Inevitably, international criticism followed, including from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, who described the arrests as a “disturbing trend” that threatened to undo ten years’ progress towards creating an “open and just society based on the rule of law.”

Within a matter of days, on 17 January 2006, the individuals were released on bail, after Hun Sen sent a letter to the court requesting the releases. The releases also coincided with a meeting between Hun Sen and the United States Assistant Secretary of State, Christopher Hill. Om Yentien, the head of the Cambodian human rights committee, said: “This is a present for Mr. Christopher Hill on the day of the inauguration of the new U.S. embassy”. Shortly after, on 5 February, Sam Rainsy and a member of his party, Cheam Channy, also received royal pardons for politically motivated convictions.

Executive interference

The arrests and later releases appear to have been sanctioned by Hun Sen. But interference with legal due process did not end there.

Immediately after the releases, Hun Sen insisted that the cases would not be dropped. Yet, on 24 January 2004, he backtracked saying he would instruct his lawyers to seek to drop the defamation suits, having spoken to and received letters of apology from those involved.

Then on 30 January 2006, he said that the court had confirmed the charges could not be withdrawn as the court process – which he had activated - was underway. He was reported as proposing that the lawsuits would be deferred instead; Cambodian law would allow for deferral up to three years. He therefore added that the individuals were not yet out of “trouble”: “if you are rude, the court will summon you, so there will be anoth­er problem.”

It is this kind of executive interference and intimidation that is endemic in Cambodia and leads the Special Representative to conclude that there is “a pattern to the current enforcement of the law in Cambodia which suggests that the law is abused for political purposes”.

Dying for land rights

One of the most pressing human rights issue in Cambodia is the issue of land rights and land grabbing, which in many cases is a side effect of the growing economy. A year ago in Kbal Spear, a village near Cambodia’s northwestern border with Thailand, police and soldiers removed 218 families by force and proceeded to destroy their houses with bulldozers. The land was grabbed to meet the demand of casinos that have grown on the border to cater to tourists. Land grabs similar to those experienced in Kbal Spear are being repeated in rural areas all over the country, where more than 80 per cent of Cambodia’s 13 million people live.

This problem like many others stems from the days of the Khmer Rouge, when property ownership was banned and land records destroyed. The RGC has made efforts to deal with this problem. A 2001 law was enacted to allow individuals to register a land interest based on five years’ residence, but the majority of those concerned are unaware of how to assert their rights and, even if they were, they face an ineffective and corrupt legal system. Hun Sen has publicly threatened public officials complicit in land grabs. Such statements are welcome, but Cambodians are waiting for rhetoric to be replaced by sustained and systematic reform of the legal justice system so that they can exercise their rights in practice.

Concrete steps

A resolution on Cambodia adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2005 expressed concern at continuing human rights violations especially relating to the rule of law, including the judiciary and violence against political and civil activists, impunity and corruption. The resolution urged the RGC to “continue to strengthen its efforts to establish the rule of law”. Similar sentiments have been expressed by members of the CG. Yet there has been no progress worth noting.

The Special Representative’s report highlights a number of key areas where the RGC can take immediate and concrete steps.

First, the RGC should repeal those provisions of the UNTAC law that permit the use of criminal defamation charges.

Second, the RGC should submit “the eight key laws” to the National Assembly, which at the 2004 CG meeting it agreed to do so before the end of 2005; the Special Representative reports that “little progress has been made” in site of “very considerable external technical and financial assistance for this task”.

Third, the RGC should strengthen the capacity and integrity of the Constitutional Council and the Supreme Council of Magistracy, as the two institutions most central to upholding and implementing the Constitution.”

Fourth, the RGC should give high priority to adopting the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, and to other associated technical improvements. A corollary of this should be continued support for the education of the judiciary and support for the Bar Association’s Centre for Training Lawyers.

Fifthly, a constructive dialogue is required between relevant RGC actors, its donor partners and local NGOs to seek to overcome the “pervasive practice of impunity” for the political and economic elite.

Sixthly, the RGC should promptly implement the Land Law and ensure “fair and just procedures to resolve disputes over land in accordance with domestic and international law.”

The continued scrutiny of the Special Representative and the close supervision of the international community remain crucial. The 62nd session of the Commission on Human Rights should build on last year’s resolution and endorse the recommendations in the report of the Special Representative.

Damaged SML texts are restored

Valuable Cambodian newspapers remain intact
BY ROSS GOLDBERG; Staff Reporter
Published Monday, March 27, 2006

Collections damaged in a January steam pipe burst that flooded Sterling Memorial Library appear to have been restored successfully, library staff said Friday.
Following a two-month freeze-drying process at an off-campus facility, preservationists began to examine the collections last week, and said it is likely that none of them suffered serious permanent damage. In particular, the staff examined a valuable collection of Cambodian newspapers Friday afternoon and confirmed that all of the information in the papers remains intact.
Head Preservationist Roberta Pilette said that in most cases students will not even notice that the books, which number more than 3,000, suffered water damage. The status of the Cambodian newspapers was particularly relieving, she said.
"I was a little concerned, because when newspaper gets wet it's extremely fragile," Pilette said. "We're not going to have any loss of information, which is the key thing.
"Rich Richie, curator of the library's Southeast Asian collection, said he is planning to digitize the Cambodian newspapers as quickly as possible. Though University librarians initially said the newspapers are survivors of the Khmer Rouge's censorship campaign, Richie said the collection actually dates to the period in 1992 and 1993 after the Khmer Rouge signed a peace agreement brokered by the United Nations. The collection, which consists of 58 publication titles, appears to be the largest of its kind, Richie said. The materials include some of the last known copies in existence -- especially in the United States -- which is of interest to scholars, he said.
"It was a time period when journalism was re-emerging in Cambodia after a long period of government repression of free speech," Richie said.
Though some scholars in Cambodia were initially alarmed by inaccurate reports that Yale had damaged Khmer Rouge-era media not known to exist, Richie said, they are now expressing interest in helping the University to build on the collection.
During the freeze-drying process, the materials -- some of which were completely soaked -- are treated with machines that freeze the water and then convert it to vapor. Some of the newspapers and book pages were slightly warped but readable, and roughly 3 percent were set aside for re-binding. Though the library staff has examined less than a quarter of all the collections, the results so far indicate that none of materials suffered irreversible damage.
Since the steam leak, which flooded the SML basement and damaged Machine City, library and facilities staff have taken steps to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future. Because most of the collections were dampened when the heat activated fire sprinklers, the Fire Marshal's office recalibrated the sprinklers to go off at higher temperatures. The sprinkler heads will still respond to fire but are now largely impervious to steam, Library Building Operations Manager John Vincenti said.
"The likelihood of those going off again in a steam leak is very small, unless the steam is blowing directly on them," he said. "There's already enough water in the area.
"Preservationists are also streamlining emergency protocols and training library staff to prepare them for future crises, Preservation Field Services Librarian Tara Kennedy said. In January, librarians credited the materials' survival to a rushed rescue operation in the flooded areas.
"We're making cheat sheets, quick and dirty things so people know who to call and what to do," Kennedy said.
The library as a whole is also preparing for a 16-month renovation of Cross Campus Library beginning this summer. The formidable task of moving the Cross-Campus volumes to SML is proceeding on schedule, University Librarian Alice Prochaska said. The library has also begun removing card cabinets from the knave and selling them, though the cards themselves will be permanently relocated to the basement or an off-campus storage facility.

Copyright © 1995-2006 Yale Daily News Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Judges Told Defamation Is Still a Criminal Offense

By Phann Ana and Whitney Kvasager
The Cambodia Daily
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of Magistracy have directed all judges to continue treating defamation as a serious criminal offense, slightly more than a month after Prime Minister Hun Sen called for defamation to be defamation to be decriminalized.

In a letter received Friday, Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana and President of the Supreme Court Dith Monty told judges to continue operating under Article 63 of the Untac law, and instructed them to continue to issue fines and jail time to those convicted of defamation.
Article 63 states that those convicted of defamation may be jailed from eight days to one year and fined between $250 and $2,500, or both.

“It anyone has committed defamation by insults, without seriously damaging the reputation or dignity of an individual, the court should hand down only a fine,” the March 21 letter stated.

“Defamation that causes instability to the public and social order, or causing turmoil in political stability or national security, the court must follow Article 63 of the Untac law,” the letter contiuned.

Ang Vong Vathana and Justice Ministry Secretary of State Tuot Lux could not be reached for comment.

Hun Sen surprised many on Feb 14 when he called for the decriminalization of defamation and opposed a draft of the country’s new penal code written with French assistance, which contained articles on defamation.

At that time, the prime minister had recently won a criminal defamation lawsuit against Sam Rainsy, leader of the party that bears his name, and several activities jailed on defamation charges had recently been released from prison.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith were unavailable to comment on Monday.

“We are very, very concerned. I think essentially it shows we are going back to squared one,” said Ou Virak, spokesman for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, whose director, Kem Sokha, was among those accused of defamation and then jailed.

Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said Hun Sen’s statements had obviously been little more than lip service for international donors.

Thun Saray added that the situation is just as tenuous for critics of the government now as it as before.

“I think it is the same, no difference. People will be put in jail again,” he said.

He said that unless Article 63 is immediately repealed, it looked as if Hun Sen had been “putting oh a show” for the Consultative Group members, who met at the beginning of March.

Thun Saray also said that the draft penal law must be rewritten.

Sok Sam Oeun, president of Cambodian Defenders Project, agreed. He said the current situation creates uncertainty not only for Hun Sen’s critics and for journalists, but for government and court officials as well.

“They are still confused, too,” he said.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Khmer Rouge crimes to be tried in a year

1 March, 2006

Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot killed two million people. Some Cambodians are for their trial. A well known psychiatrist counter1s: “I am worried the trials will reopen the wounds of torture victims.”

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Around 400 Cambodians have gone to Phnom Penh to be among the first to see the new court which next year will try crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge nearly 30 years ago. “I came because I want justice for my wife and the other two million Cambodians who died,” said 64-year old Bou Meng. “If this tribunal fails and they don't put the Khmer Rouge leaders in jail, then the hope of the Cambodian people, who have been waiting for this for years, will dissolve.

Soam Peou, a 60-year-old woman, also said she was happy to see the court, in which officials from the United Nations-Cambodia tribunal have explained how the trials will take place. She said: “This is important for the souls of the people who died so that they know it was not in vain.”

Between 1975 and 1979, during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, nearly every single family in Cambodia lost someone. The head of the Communist regime was Pol Pot, who died in 1998. Pol Pot had seized power to drive foreign influence away from his country, but his revolution soon turned into a paranoid government that saw enemies everywhere, leading to the deaths of many Cambodians. No important Khmer Rouge leader has ever been prosecuted, except two commanders, Tak Mok, nicknamed "The Butcher", and Duch, who ran Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng interrogation and torture centre. They were charged last year with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Now, 10 surviving commanders are set to be tried, but there are fears that some may die before the trials start or may use their influential contacts to avoid arrest.

The chief Cambodian administrator for the trials, Sean Visoth, promised justice would be delivered. He said the court would not tolerate claims, as a line of defence, by senior cadres that they were only following orders. "It is not an excuse the court will find acceptable," he said.

But not all Cambodians are happy about the trials: many want to forget the persecutions perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, who tortured millions of innocent people apart from killing two million. Ka Sunbaunat, a well-known Cambodian psychiatrist who lost many relatives thanks to the Khmer Rouge, said the trials could reopen the wounds of those traumatized by torture. "I am worried,” said the doctor, who has treated many people for psychiatric illness in recent decades. “Talking again about the past can re-traumatise those who are suffering from many kinds of mental health problems related to the genocide. Only a few of my patients say they want to prove who has committed these mistakes.” The doctor added that the question of why Cambodians killed Cambodians may well remain unanswered.

For Some KR Victims, Time has Run Out

<>Letter to the Editor
<>The Cambodia Daily
<> Thursday, March 02, 2006

By Dara P Vanthan, Deputy director in charge of outreach, Documentation Center of Cambodia

We were in shock when we reached Khset village in Prey Veng province’s Kampong Ro district and learned that Bong Seang and Thoang Diek, who we invited to visit the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which is the official name for the Khmer Rogue tribunal, had passed away.

We also learned that two others invited to visit the chambers, Khun Mot from Prey Veng district and Thoang Kaing from Prey Kabbas district, in Takeo province, had also passed away before the visit. The four were among some 400 people who were invited to the court last weekend. One of the visitors to the courtroom asked trial coordinator Sean Visoth on what date the trial will begin. Sean Visoth, as director of the office of Administration and Executive Secretary of the Royal Government Task Force, could not answer this question clearly. It left participants feeling frustrated.

I understood the complexity of the court’s proceeding, but the visiting villagers need more explanation. Many in the courtroom voiced their concerns that aging Khmer Rouge leaders might die before the trial happens, as befell Pol Pot in 1998 and Ke Pauk in 2002. It is a real concern. It is also important that we should not forget the deaths of the four Khmer Rouge victims who were invited to take part in the weekend visit to the court but passed away without seeing the court and witnessing justice being done. Bong Seang, Thoang Diek, Khun Mot and Thoang Kaing will never know that their country and the international community are working to find justice for them.

Cambodian genocide survivors tour courtroom for Khmer Rouge trials

Associated Press Writer

KANDAL, Cambodia (AP) _ Survivors of Cambodia's genocidal Khmer Rouge on Sunday toured a courtroom set up to try surviving leaders, as an official assured them the perpetrators would still face justice almost three decades after the regime collapsed.

Funding problems have prevented authorities from setting a date for the trials - to be convened by Cambodia and the United Nations - raising concerns that the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders may die before they can be tried.

However, trial administrator Sean Visoth told about 400 survivors who toured the courtroom that, "this court is sending a message to the perpetrators that they cannot escape from justice and that they will be brought to face it."

One frustrated survivor demanded to know an exact date for the first trial, but Sean Visoth was unable to provide an answer.

"I think people have been quite frustrated and want to get it over with," Youk Chhang, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group compiling evidence of Khmer Rogue crimes and which organized the tour.

"People have developed doubt about the upcoming tribunal," he said.

Cambodia and the United Nations agreed in 2003 to jointly convene trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders, who are blamed in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution during the group's 1975-79 rule.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998. The ultra-communist movement collapsed a year later, but none of its top leaders has been brought to justice. Many, aging and infirm, still live and move freely in Cambodia.

While funding problems in Cambodia have delayed the trials, some victims say that with the building of the courtroom they are hopeful justice will prevail.

"I wish I will live long enough to find myself sitting here again and watching the actual trials," said 67-year-old Sa Ly, a Cambodian Muslim man who lost his mother and brother during the Khmer Rouge rule.

"I'd like to know to what extent they (Khmer Rouge leaders) will be punished," he said.

Sa Ly was joined by Buddhist nuns, members of Cambodian Muslim community and former Khmer Rouge soldiers who visited the 500-seat amphitheater on the grounds of the court located 16 kilometers (10 miles) west of the capital Phnom Penh.

Survivors of KR Era Get First Look at Trial Process

The Cambodia Daily
Monday, February 27, 2006

By Douglas Gillison and Pin Sisovann

Meach Rem could hardly breathe. The horror of her four children’s fate was beyond doubt.

<>After seeing their faces in photographs at Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge-era torture center in Phnom Penh that only 14 people are believed to have survived, the 65-year-old woman from Kandal province was overcome Saturday morning.

For Meach Rem, who stood weeping outside the prison, “it was too emotional,” Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said later that day. He and others from the organization held Meach Rem as she suffered an apparent panic attack, fanning her in the morning heat.

<>Of all those DC Cam had invited this weekend on the first of a series of monthly field trips to the prison, the Choeung Ek killing fields and the chambers of the planned Khmer Rouge tribunal, Meach Rem was the only on to find family among the photos.

She refused to go home. Youk Chhang said, and continued with the tour instead.

<>Four-hundred and eighty people from across Cambodia, including Buddhist nuns, Cham Muslims, students and researchers – some of whom could be called on to testify at the trials – spent two days revisiting the scenes of Khmer Rouge atrocities and asking questions about the body established to bring victims justice.

“If I know the date, and if I have the money, I will come to the hearing even if I am not invited to testify,” said Sen Kob, a 60-year-old Muslim rice farmer who had traveled three days form Kroch Chhmar district in Kompong Cham province to take part in the field trip.

“I feel deep sorrow that my siblings and other Islamic people were killed during the Khmer Rouge,” he said.

His siblings’ families were killed as well. “Peace be upon you,” he said in Arabic, before parting.

“Foreigners cannot understand the profound suffering under the Khmer Rouge,” Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Sophan said to the group later that morning at the National Institute of Education.

“Those who have only heard about it have different feelings and ... don’t understand the way Cambodians do.” Muslims are Cambodians, too, he told the gathering. “Religion is the only difference.”

After a brief description of the court’s procedures, Monh Sophan, who has been involved in the preparations for the tribunal, warned that the UN could withhold support for it if it felt the proceedings did not meet international standards.

“So it depends on you all who have lived through the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. Please testify accurately so the UN has no pretext to withdraw. I place my hope and trust in your testimony.” he said.

The first question from the audience rang out. “Why are we waiting until 2007 to start the trial?” asked Sum Rithy, 52, who said he had waited 27 years for justice.

“If you continue to delay, the Khmer Rouge leaders and witnesses will die one by one,” he said, to the obvious satisfaction of the audience.

Who will guarantee safety for witnesses, he demanded to know. And why had death toll estimates been revised downward? “I want to find out who is Angkar. Who is behind it?” he said, referring to the Khmer Rouge name for its faceless organization. “I heart this tribunal will be a farce... just to cover the situation,” he said.

Cambodia had long lacked money and human resources, replied Monh Sophan, adding that earlier death tolls had been revised after investigation by DC Cam.

“The UN will spend $56 million,” he said. “Now is still too early to say whether it will be a farce. They haven’t started yet. We have to wait and see. I don’t believe it will be a farce.”

Standing that aftenoon by a pile of smashed human bones at the Choeung Ek killing fields, Sum Rithy said he had not previously told his story to a reporter.

Of those evacuated from Cambodian towns and cities after the Khmer Rouge victory, he said he was the only man to survive at a Khmer Rouge prison in Siem Reap province, which held prisoners from three other provinces.

His jailers falsely accused him of having been a Lon Nol solidier and a US spy, he said. He was bound and showered with boiling rice gruel that left splotches of molten skin on his arm and hands. “Please... tell the whole world that no place should ever repeat this,” Sum Rithy said.

Nuns surrounded the bones and led a prayer as one nun poured water over them. “They chant for the souls of those who died,”said 68-year-old unu Lor Lan.

In the chamber where the trials are to be held in Kandal Province’s Ang Snuol district, Sean Visoth, the tribunal’s director of administration, told participants on Sunday that the court’s structure assured fairness by requiring international jurists to approve its verdicts.

“We cannot walk through the door,” he said. “We need the UN appointed judges to turn the key.”

“Three million died,” Chum Mey, 75, a survivor of Tuol Sleng, told the audience. “I do not believe that only two million or 1.5 million died.” Would Pol Pot be tried posthumously, he asked.

Sean Visoth doubted this, though the trial should bring relief to every Cambodian, he said.

When asked, he refused to say whether former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary could be tried despite his royal pardon in 1996, “The individual, let me call him Mr A, was pardoned... but the decision whether or not to charge him is for the panel of judges,” Sean Visoth said.