Friday, April 28, 2006

Judges for Khmer Rouge tribunal to be selected next month

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Long-awaited trials of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders over their brutal 1970s rule will move a crucial step forward next month when Cambodian and U.N. judges are selected for the tribunal, officials said Thursday.

On May 4, the country's highest judicial body, the Supreme Council of Magistracy, will announce its selection of seven Cambodian judges, five U.N.-appointed judges and 2 prosecutors for the tribunal to hear the cases, said Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana.

"From June of this year, after the appointments of the judges and prosecutors, the legal process will start," said Reach Sambath, a spokesman for the tribunal.

Actual trials are not expected to begin until early 2007, he said.

Cambodia and the United Nations agreed in 2003 to jointly convene trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of responsibility 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 still live and move freely in Cambodia.

Peter Foster, another spokesman for the tribunal, said the next few months would mark an important step forward.

"It is wrong to think that the bulk of the work won't start until 2007," Foster said. "It will start when the investigations begin, and they will start when the chief prosecutor arrives."

King Norodom Sihamoni and Cambodia's eight-member Supreme Council of Magistracy will base the selection of judges on a list of 12 candidates submitted by the United Nations in March and 17 Cambodian judges, said Ang Vong Vathana, who is also member of the council.

The final 12 judges selected will be divided between a lower and upper court. Both Cambodia and the U.N. will also one investigating judge each to lead the investigations.

Under the 2003 pact, Cambodia and the United Nations agreed to establish a special court for the Khmer Rouge leaders, but funding problems in Cambodia have delayed the trials. Many fear that remaining Khmer Rouge leaders may die before they can be tried.

An agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations set a US$56.3 million budget for the tribunal, of which the world body would cover US$43 million.

Cambodia agreed to pay $13.3 million of the cost, but has since asked foreign donors to finance US$9.6 million of its share. (AP)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

April 25 Symposium to Explore Victims’ Interests vs. Defendants’ Rights in Upcoming Trial of Khmer Rouge Leader

Rutgers newark

Newark, NJ, April 21, 2006 – International criminal tribunals for human rights violations increasingly grant the desire of victims to participate at some level in the trial process. Balancing the recognized interests of victims with the rights of defendants to a fair trial raises significant practical and legal challenges.

On Tuesday, April 25, at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, specialists in international law, comparative law, evidence and procedure, and international criminal procedure as well as Cambodian experts will examine the extent to which victims will have a role in the upcoming trial of senior Khmer Rouge officials for the death of at least 1.7 million Cambodians. “The Extraordinary Chamber of Cambodia/The Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Balancing Victims’ Needs Against Defendants’ Rights” is co-sponsored by the law school’s Global Legal Studies program, the International Center for Transitional Justice, and the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam). Rutgers-Newark hosts the U.S. office of DC-Cam. In addition to representatives from the co-sponsoring organizations, the program will include the following speakers:

Who: Dr. Widhya Chem, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations

David Hutchinson, Office of Legal Affairs,United Nations

Dr. Kelly Dawn Askin, Open Society Justice Initiative

Professor Jaya Ramji, Georgetown University Law Center and advisor to the Documentation Center of Cambodia

Professor Roger Clark, Rutgers School of Law-Camden

Professor Beth Stephens, Rutgers School of Law-Camden, a Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) cooperating attorney

Socheata Poeuv, journalist and independent filmmaker

What: “The Extraordinary Chamber of Cambodia/The Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Balancing Victims’ Needs Against Defendants’ Rights”

When: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Where: Rutgers School of Law-Newark

Genocide in Rwanda: Could it happen here?

By Lee Bycel

I recently returned from Kigali, where the people of Rwanda observed the 12th commemoration of that nation's haunting genocide. On April 7, 1994, the nightmare began. Eight hundred thousand Rwandans were killed in 100 days. That event seems unfathomable now, but the pain in Kigali is still raw. At various memorial ceremonies, adults and children wailed at the loss of loved ones, devastated families and man's inhumanity to man. The agony of their mourning is palpable.

Kigali has been rebuilt; it is a beautiful city yet haunted by its past. It is beyond my understanding how, just a short while ago, neighbor killed neighbor, relative killed relative, friend killed friend with machetes, guns and knives. The slaughter took place while most of the world stood by as dispassionate observers. I came to Kigali to learn more about the legacy of genocide and grapple with why we have repeated it so frequently in the last century, including Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda and now Darfur. Why is our indifference so profound?

This week, Armenians, Jews and concerned human beings all over the world commemorate the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust that collectively took the lives of nearly 12 million people. For the most part, the world stood by and watched or claimed we were not aware of the situation. I know that we have advanced in so many areas, but have we advanced in human terms - measured by compassion, peace, ability to realize that every one in this world deserves to be treated with dignity and protected by universal rights? I think of the world in which these two horrific and incomprehensible genocidal catastrophes took place. Why were we and why do still fundamentally remain so indifferent? No longer can we claim lack of knowledge. Has the modern world, complete with information overload and escapist technology, led to our collective numbness to the growing storms of trouble around the world? Are we incapable of learning from the past?

Indifference is like an untreated cancer, spreading through our hearts, minds and souls. Indifference seriously affects all of us. As Martin Luther King wrote, "The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die." We must fight indifference and cultivate a society where people act courageously, speak out and pursue justice.

How do we do that? Rwanda offers a timely example. I met with the dynamic president of Rwanda, Paul Kagami. He is fully committed to building a society based on civility and justice - his vision and energy are resolute. He has witnessed the devastating consequences of a society where ethnic conflict and cruelty run rampant. He lives with the pain of genocide, it continues on in the lives that have been torn apart.

Kagami's vision for his country's future is based not on rebuilding what was, but in shaping something that has not been. His vision will become a reality based on forgiveness, reconciliation, understanding and a deep resolve to creating a viable society out of the ashes of ethnic hatred.

Could genocide happen here? I don't know, but the question keeps me up at night. I have great faith in our democratic processes and the safeguards that mark our society. I have deep confidence in the American people and the reasons we shaped and maintain the principles of this country. Yet I wonder what moved the Rwandan people from living together, often with difficulty and amidst the problems that affect many African countries to murdering one another. I am troubled by our intolerance of others, our inability to respect other viewpoints and our willingness to silently witness the small but important injustices that occur each day. I worry about a society where there are so many social, educational, economic and health disparities. Yet I am certain that we have the resources to resolve these issues.

The connection between indifference and genocide is significant. Perhaps genocide cannot occur without societal or global indifference. Rwanda reminds me of the importance of never taking our rights and privileges for granted - and the need to make a deeper personal commitment to shaping a society where all are protected. This requires actively addressing our social problems and making a commitment to civil and respectful discourse with each other.

I left Kigali wondering how to cure the plague of indifference that has enveloped our world. I remain deeply hopeful about America and our ability to wrestle with difficult issues. Rwanda informs us, troubles us - and, hopefully, stirs us to reevaluate and strengthen the ethical and social framework of our society. We must act: nurturing our own humanity and taking responsibility. Our personal actions and our collective deeds are the antidote to indifference.

Kofi Annan Invited to Visit Cambodia

The Cambodia Daily

Saturday and Sunday, April 22-23, 2006

By Erik Wasson and Prak Chan Thul

UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Gardner has invited UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to visit Cambodia later this year, according to a copy of a letter obtained Friday.

In his April 12 letter, Gardner praised the sending of Cambodian deminers to Sudan – an event Prime Minister Hun Sen marked at a ceremony the same day by accusing UN officials of violating Cambodia’s sovereignty and warning the deminers not to repeat the mistakes of Untac.

“We hope that you might be able to visit Cambodia this year and take the opportunity to congratulate the nation and its people on this step forward as contributors to the global cause of peace,” Gardner wrote.

In the month leading up to the April 12 ceremony, Hun Sen blasted UN human rights envoy Yash Ghai several times for saying too much power has been concentrated in the hands of one person for freedom to flourish.

Hun Sen called on Annan to fire Ghai and said the local UN center for human rights office was staffed by “tourists.”

Asked if Annan would be coming to repair a strained relationship, UNDP spokesman Dain Bolwell wrote in an e-mail: “The relationship between the UN and Cambodia would be further strengthened if his visit occurs.”

Annan is being invited to help mark the 15th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords on Oct 23, he said, adding that he has not yet said whether he can attend.

“As Douglas Gardner said at the sending off ceremony, Cambodia and its peacekeepers are now truly part of the UN family,” Bolweel wrote.

<>Annan would be welcomed if he visited and Hun Sen may meet with him, said senior CPP parliamentarian Cheam Yeap.

“Samdech Prime Minister still considers Cambodia a member of the United Nations,” he said, though he added that Ghai’s criticism remains unacceptable.

<>He just came to criticize and destroy Cambodia,” he said. Om Yentieng., Hun Sen’s adviser and head of the government’s human rights committee, declined to comment on whether Hun Sen would meet with Anna.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Rising visits to Pol Pot's grave sparks debate over making it a tourist site

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP)

More foreign tourists are visiting the site of Pol Pot's cremation, sparking debate over whether the spot should be managed by a private tourism company, officials said Thursday.

Private companies interested in managing the site have approached officials in Anlong Veng, the village near the Thai border where the former leader of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime died in 1998, said Governor Pich Sokhin of Oddar Meanchey province, where the site is located.

"The number of foreign visitors increases daily," Pich Sokhin said. "The government wants to develop the area to become a real tourist destination."

He said the question of how to manage the site rests with the central government.

"We have not given approval to any of the firms yet. Only the Ministry of Tourism and the ministry of land management can approve such requests," he said.

Pol Pot was cremated near the jungle hut where he spent his final days. He died at 73, reportedly from heart failure, before he could be tried for genocide.

At least 1.7 million Cambodians died from starvation, disease, overwork and summary execution when the Khmer Rouge turned the country into a vast agrarian work camp during its 1975-79 rule.

His body was burned on a pyre fed by tires, wood and his own rattan chair. A crude shelter of timber and corrugated tin was later built at the site.

Prime Minister Hun Sen designated Pol Pot's hut and the surrounding area a historic tourist zone in 2001 to safeguard it from uncontrolled development, and to preserve it as a stark reminder of Cambodia's bloody past.

"Historical sites such as Pol Pot's grave ... should not be privatized," said Thong Khon, deputy tourism minister. "Private companies should not be allowed to develop historical sites."

"The government will manage historical sites by itself," he said, adding that the government plans to preserve about 5 hectares (12 acres) of land around the site, to train tourist workers and to build an information center and gate at the area's entrance.

A similar debate was held over the so-called "killing fields" in the village of Choeung Ek outside Phnom Penh, location of the mass graves of thousands of Khmer Rouge victims.

The government firmly opposed privatizing the mass grave site's management, but city officials took the matter into their own hands.

Japan's JC Royal was given a contract last year to manage the killing fields and collect visitors' entrance fees.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cambodians mourn anniversary of Khmer Rouge victory

Apr 17, 2006, 9:40 GMT

Phnom Penh - Cambodians marked the 31st anniversary of the Khmer Rouge victory which plunged the nation into one of the worst genocides of the last century Monday amidst renewed calls for a long-awaited trial of the regime's former leaders to be held swiftly.

More than 200 people traveled to the Choeung Ek killing fields on the outskirts of the capital for a memorial service hosted by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and led in prayer by 50 Buddhist monks.

Men Yean, 53, was one of the mourners who attended the Choueng Ek ceremony. She wept as she recounted how six of her family had died under the Khmer Rouge's Democratic Kampuchea reign between 1975 and 1979, including one brother whose body was dumped in a mass grave at these very killing fields.

'I can never forget. I lost six of my family. I want to call on the United Nations to hold a trial for the people who killed them soon, before it is too late,' she said.

The Khmer Rouge is held responsible for the deaths of up to two million Cambodians through disease, starvation, torture, overwork and executions during its brief but bloody rule.

The ultra-Maoist movement took Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, and immediately emptied the city, driving residents out into the fields as the first step of a drive to return the country to 'Year Zero' - a classless agrarian utopia where money and markets were abolished and religion was outlawed.

Even the name Choeung Ek is a grisly reminder of the grim intentions of the Khmer Rouge. The name translates as 'champions', and a Buddhist stupa piled high with skulls is surrounded by mass graves filled mainly with the bodies of prisoners from the equally infamous S-21, or Toul Sleng detention and torture center - Pol Pot's secret jail.

Efforts to get a proposed joint UN-Cambodian government trial of former leaders underway continue to grind forward, but survivors and observers have warned that justice must be found soon or not at all if the mainly aging and ailing former leaders are ever to face the court.

Most prime candidates for trial still live freely in their communities. Others are already dead. The movement's supreme leader, Pol Pot, died without ever facing trial on April 15, 1998.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy took the opportunity to urge authorities to hasten trial proceedings, saying that it was ironic that the nation's current phase of relative peace and political stability seemed to have dampened the fervour of some to hold a trial swiftly.

'I hope that the trial will start soon. I hope justice will be brought soon,' Rainsy told reporters after the ceremony.

After 3 Decades, Tribunal Last Chance To Try the Khmer Rouge

<>By Floyd Abrams and Diane Orentlicher

The Cambodia Daily
Monday, April 17, 2006

Thirty-one years ago this week, a peasant army clad in the black of the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh and quickly emptied Cambodia’s capital of human life. This is Year Zero,” Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot declared as Cambodia began one of the darkest chapters in world history.

Over the next three and a half years, as many as two million people – nearly a third of Cambodia’s population – were either executed or died from starvation or disease resulting from Khmer Rouge policies.

In 1984, we visited the Khmer Rouge, by then a guerrilla force opposing the government installed by Vietnam in 1979 and operating from a base near the Thai border. Our main minder, who identified herself as the head of the Khmer Red Cross, giggled when she reminded us that when the last Westerners visited the Khmer Rouge (during its final weeks in power), one of them was murdered.

As night fell on the first day of our visit, a group of Khmer Rouge leaders suddenly materialized out of the jungle. They included Pol Pot’s brother-in-law, Ieng Sary, and his wife, Ieng Thirith. Pol Pot did not come – he was busy, Sary explained, leading his forces in battle.

Thus began the most surreal evening of our lives. Our hosts served up imported shrimp, champagne and other delicacies under a bright lightbulb – the only sign of electricity we could see. Insects crowed into the glasses of champagne.

How do you broach the subject of mass murder when your hosts, responsible for crimes of mind-numbing magnitude, offer a sumptuous feast at the outer edges of the earth?

In response to our questions, Ieng Sary acknowledged that the Khmer Rouge “owe the world an accounting” for what he termed “the unfortunate events of the 1970s.” “But as you know,” he continued, “Pol Pot is very busy right now fighting a war.” The accounting would have to wait.

More than three decades after the fall of Phnom Penh, Cambodians are still waiting. Pol Pot’s death in April 1998 forever deprived Cambodians of the justice of seeing him tried, but it created new impetus to seek some measure of accountability for surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

Negotiations between the Cambodian government and the UN to establish a special tribunal to prosecute Khmer Rouge atrocities, triggered by a Cambodian request in 1997, have been agonizingly slow. At last, however, the court is becoming a reality.

In February, the deputy director of the court’s administrative office, a UN appointee, arrived in Phnom Penh. Later that month, hundreds of Cambodian witnesses visited the courtroom in which surviving Khmer Rouge leaders will be tried. Confronted with the material reality of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, many visitors wept.

Las month, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan submitted a list of international judges to serve on the court – formally the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea.

Every Nuremberg-type tribunal is fraught with challenges and risks, and significant perils are woven into the very fabric of this one. Unlike international courts operating in The Hague, Arusha and Freetown, local judges will constitute a majority in the Cambodian court, which is established within Cambodia’s national court system.

Given well-founded concerns about the susceptibility of Cambodian judges to political interference by Cambodia’s longtime leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen, this has led some international organizations to condemn the tribunal before its work has begun.

While aware of the perils, supporters of the process, including the UN, argue that it is the last chance to deliver some measure of justice to survivors of Cambodia’s killing fields. They say safeguards against abuse have been built into the tribunal’s structure. For example, at least one foreign judge must agree with the Cambodian judges to reach a verdict.

The fact is that Khmer Rouge leaders are aging and dying. Pol Pot and another prime suspect, Kae Pk, are dead, while our dinner host, Ieng Sary, is said to suffer from a serious heart condition. For Cambodian victims, the lesson of the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, which was terminated last month by his death, is clear: Justice further delayed may be justice forever denied.

The experiences of other recent war crimes courts offer other lessons as well. They have shown that the way survivors perceive the proceedings is powerfully affected by their treatment as witnesses. Donors should ensure that adequate funds are devoted to supporting and protecting witnesses. The judges, prosecutors and defense counsel should receive intensive training in both international and Cambodian law and procedure to ensure effective trial proceedings. The tribunal should also ensure that the public is informed about their work, and should be aware of how Cambodians perceive the tribunal.

While these concerns are common to all such tribunals, the Cambodia court presents extra risks of political interference. Hun Sen has repeatedly delayed the creation of the tribunal and tightly controls all political life in the country.

Foreign donors who support the tribunal must carefully monitor the proceedings and should establish an institutionalized process for doing so.

The donors should also provide significant support for empowering Cambodian civic groups to monitor and engage with the tribunal.

Even if the process is flawed – sadly a virtual certainty – it can serve as a vehicle for further enhancing the skills and influence of Cambodia’s vibrant and sophisticated civil society, which has faced particularly severe repression this past year.

This itself would be an invaluable legacy of trials that are long past due for the aging survivors of Cambodia’s killing fields.

(Floyd Abrams, author of “Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment,” and Diane Orentlicher, a director of the Opens Society Justice Initiative, visited Cambodia on behalf of the Lawyers Committee for Human Right, now Human Rights First, in 1984. This article originally appeared in the International Herald Tribune.)

Can Cambodia get justice?

By Bronwyn Sloan

breaking news

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Former Khmer Rouge officer Him Huy says he has never heard of Serbia or Bosnia, much less Slobodan Milosevic. The 50-year-old Cambodian has no idea of the international consternation the death of Milosevic caused last month.

Former Serbian nationalist Milosevic, the first head of state to be tried as a war criminal, was just 64 when he died in prison in March - much younger than those blamed for the Khmer Rouge's deadly regime. Its infamous leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

After four years of legal wrangling in Milosevic's expensive war-crimes trial at The Hague, also delayed by his ill health, some claimed his death proved it had all been for nothing. Some even said Cambodia should see it as an omen for any trial of the mostly older and frailer former Khmer Rouge leaders.

But Cambodians such as Huy would disagree, even as the nation prepares to mourn the 31st anniversary of the ultra-Maoist regime's April 17, 1975 victory. By the time it was overthrown in 1979, as many as two million Cambodians were dead from starvation, disease, torture, executions and overwork.

Huy says he dreams of a trial of surviving former leaders.

He regularly makes the 70-kilometre journey from his small farm in Koh Thom district to Toul Sleng and the killing fields. He says they haunt him still, mainly because he has no answers for them yet.

"The smell of the blood and the death come back to me as strong as if it was yesterday," he says in an interview in his wooden house.

To dream of a trial may seem a strange dream for a man who once commanded 100 guards at the Toul Sleng torture centre and personally ferried prisoners between there and the Choeung Ek killing fields.

But Huy says that is precisely why a trial is vital: for people like himself to face former masters and let other victims hear the truth.

"I want people to understand why I had no choice. I myself want to understand better why I had no choice. I want justice," Huy says.

Huy says he was forcibly recruited by the Khmer Rouge as a 17-year-old boy in 1972. By 21, he was a guard at Toul Sleng, where thousands were tortured or starved to death. He says he begged the regime's leaders to let him leave S-21, but once inside Pol Pot's secret prison, the only way out was death.

"I asked to be transferred to the front. If I was going to die, I wanted to die for fighting, not just killing. They said I knew too much. In Toul Sleng, no one could help," he says. "The guards and the prisoners both lived in fear each day would be their last."

Both his and his wife's relatives were murdered by the regime, and Huy suffers health problems he blames on what he saw and says he was forced to do in those years.

"My head is broken," he says.

For men like Huy, as well as those who suffered at the hands of men like him, a verdict in a Khmer Rouge tribunal is not the issue. They say all they want from the proposed 56-million-dollar, joint U.N.-Cambodian government "Extraordinary Chambers" is the chance to tell their stories. They want to do so before it is too late.

Helen Jarvis, an advisor to the government ministry preparing the trials, says the process will go forward, and soon. She said that although there are concerns the accused may use the kind of legal delaying tactics employed by Milosevic, the pursuit of justice is paramount.

"The money is one thing. Putting the cases of the people is more important," she says.

There are doubters. Former Khmer Rouge intellectual Suong Sikoeun, once a senior policy maker at the regime's Foreign Affairs Ministry but who is not expected to stand trial, said in his last public interview in September that he doubted a trial would solve anything. He said the same factors which had once convinced people such as himself to support the Khmer Rouge still existed in Cambodia today.

"I support a trial," Sikoeun said at his home in Malai, a remote former Khmer Rouge stronghold on the Thai border.

"However, for myself, I think the trial should not be the first priority for Cambodia now. The first priority should be to solve the problems of the people not having enough food to eat, of droughts and floods, of land-grabbing, etcetera."

But many others support the dreams of people such as Huy.

"(A trial) is what most Cambodians would like to see happen. Bearing witness, and having the leaders in custody for the duration of the trial, is more important than actually putting the last few leaders in jail any longer," said David Chandler, an Australian history professor emeritus and author of the harrowing book "Voices from S-21."

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia - which has collected thousands of testimonies and documents relating to the Khmer Rouge - is also adamant about the need for a trial of the former regime's leaders.

"Whether justice is achieved is difficult to predict," he said in an April 7 address in Canada. "But even the act of holding the trials will help Cambodians put what happened into perspective and let the world know of their suffering.

"We need to make sense of our history before we can move heal and on, and documenting and understanding our shared experiences is a small step in that direction," he said.
Recently, Huy visited the courtrooms at a military headquarters just outside Phnom Penh, along with hundreds of other potential witnesses. He asked authorities one question.

"I asked them if I could also see Duch," he said, referring to the former head of S-21, also known as Kang Khek leu. Duch was arrested in May 1999 and is one of the few former leaders in jail.

"I just wanted to ask him why he gave me the orders that made me do what I did," Huy said. "But they said I'd have to wait until the trial. I hope a trial comes soon. Do you think it will be soon? All I want is to see his face one more time and ask him why."

The making of a Khmer Rouge ideologue

ON APRIL 17, 1975

General news Tuesday April 18, 2006

Nuon Chea talks about his time as a student at Thammasat University, a civil servant of two ministries in Bangkok and a member of the Communist Party of Thailand; and what inspired him to join the Khmer Rouge

By NUSARA THAITAWAT "Thammasat taught me to serve the people. Thammasat also taught me to sacrifice personal interest for the public good. I was deeply touched by the principles of justice, equality and democracy that Thammasat stood for," said Nuon Chea, with his wife close by, at his modest wooden house close to the Thai border in Pailin, western Cambodia.

The old man expressed fond memories of his youthful days at the university, just like many of his Thai contemporaries who attended class there in the 1940s. His Thai had the eloquence and tone of a learned man, and as he spoke, he often quoted from Thailand's most respectable political thinkers.

"Cambodia gave me my natural life; Thammasat gave me my political life. I will always be grateful to Thammasat," he said.

While Nuon Chea cherishes his memories of Thammasat, the university doesn't seem to recall having had him as a student. His academic record is nowhere to be found and there is minimal effort to assist genocide researchers from Cambodia who have asked for cooperation to complete his profile ahead of the opening of the United Nations-sponsored tribunal in Cambodia later this year.

If there is any reassurance for Thammasat, which may or may not have its own reasons for not being able to find the academic records of its most infamous alumni, Nuon Chea explained that what set him on the path to a political life was French colonial rule of Cambodia, widespread poverty and huge social disparities in his home province of Battambang inwestern Cambodia.

"The beginning was in my hometown in Battambang. As a teenager I didn't know what nation meant. Thailand inspired me because it was an independent nation while Cambodia was a colony of the French. I really wanted to go to Thailand to study but when I actually got there, I saw many foreigners living and working there, I thought maybe Thailand too was not an independent nation after all. I saw many poor people in Thailand too (while I thought Thailand was rich).

"I asked myself what were my options; I was really fed up with society, why should I continue to study, to serve whom? At that time, I considered two options: either to ordain and live a Buddhist monk's life, or to struggle to free the people from poverty and oppression.

"My politicisation was a step-by-step process, driven by the events surrounding my life. At night when I slept I thought about the true meaning of nationhood, I was determined to make a choice for myself."

At age 16 and not knowing a word of Thai, having studied at the local French school in Battambang for seven years, Nuon Chea took the advice of a Buddhist monk in Battambang to further his studies in Bangkok.

Technically _ and some genocide researchers believe, emotionally he was Thai, as Battambang, Siem Reap and Sisophon were under Thai control (1941-46) under a deal between Bangkok and Tokyo during World War II.

Nuon Chea was given the Thai name Runglert Laodi by the monk and joined dozens of other Thai and Cambodian boys at Wat Benjamaborpit in Bangkok.

One of his contemporaries was none other than the late
right-wing monk, Phra Kittiwuttho, who was well-known for preaching during
the 70s that killing communists was not a sin.

"In 1944, I enrolled at Thammasat's preparatory school," recalled Nuon Chea. "I was in Class 7, Room 9. I was head of my class. I remember that World War II had intensified and Thammasat had to close for safety reasons. All the students took refuge in the provinces. The university had to mail the material and homework to students. I only saw my classmates during exams. When the situation improved, Thammasat re-opened and I went back to study," he said.

Nuon Chea said he took seven or eight subjects, mostly law, but didn't finish his freshman's year as he worked while studying. He worked briefly with the Irrigation Department and then moved to the Comptroller Department at the Finance Ministry, where he worked for three years before taking a three-month leave to enter the monkhood in Chachoengsao province.

Upon his return to Bangkok, Nuon Chea took another civil service exam, this time to join the Foreign Ministry. He was assigned to the Indochina Desk but was denied a professional position. Instead, he was given the same level of clerical position he had held at the Finance Ministry with the same amount of salary of 24 baht per month.

After less than three months, he quit to join the pro-democracy movement, without any explanation to his boss.

That year, Field Marshal Pin Choonhavan successfully staged a coup and arrested four prominent ministers from the previous government. The four were former lecturers at Thammasat and Noun Chea joined the student movement to demand their release.

"At that time there was a movement against France's second colonisation of Cambodia, operating from the Thai-Cambodian border. When I worked at the Foreign Ministry, I saw a report from Laos that the French had shot at innocent villagers who were fetching water from a river in Pak Se. I thought at that time: I study law to serve whom? To serve the ruling class?
There was so much injustice. When I was in the monkhood, many farmers came to me for advice. They told me they were poor and had mortgaged their land to the district chief and lost it. I could only listen to them, I was really tired of social injustice."
During the interview, Nuon Chea clearly tried to paint the so-called conventional route to anti-establishment sentiment similar to that expressed by other well-known communist leaders: poverty, social injustice and the like. But perhaps the denial of a professional position by the Foreign Ministry which granted it to real Thais, sealed his political fate. In his mind, Nuon Chea was Thai but was not really Thai; he was not really equal, and didn't have the same rights as other Thais. This perhaps decided him on returning to Cambodia.

Nuon Chea joined the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) with the aim of learning how to liberate a country. He had, shortly after enrolling at Thammasat, become a member of the Youth for Democracy of Thailand, under the CPT. He and thousands of Thai students at that time were branded communists by the government for demanding democracy and social justice.

In 1950, Nuon Chea left Thailand to join the struggle against the French in Cambodia. The move was facilitated by a transfer of membership from the CPT to the Vietnamese-dominated Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), which was trying to coordinate struggles in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand as well.

According to records at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), an independent non-profit research institution working on truth, justice, accountability and national reconciliation, in 1951 Nuon Chea was appointed Minister of the Economy in the anti-French Issarak Front.

In 1954, he attended a training course in Vietnam and returned to focus on ideological training in various parts of the country.

In 1960, with the establishment of the Cambodian Communist Party (CPK), Nuon Chea became deputy secretary of its Central Committee and a member of its Standing Committee, the most senior bodies responsible for party policy, and held those posts continuously.

Shortly after the CPK took power in April 1975 and launched its policies to purify the country and re-create past Khmer glory, Nuon Chea was appointed prime minister.That was in 1976 but he remained in the position for only a few months before Pol Pot took the post.

According to researchers, there is substantial and compelling evidence that Nuon Chea played a leading role in devising the CPK's execution policies, as well as substantial evidence that he played a central role in implementing those policies. For example, he is alleged to have known of and approved the torture and execution of 14,000 Khmer Rouge cadres, men, women and children at Security Office 21 (S-21), also known as Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh.

These researchers have also pointed to the influence of Thai political thought throughout Nuon Chea's life. Research is being conducted on the use of Thai language in Khmer Rouge terminology. The researchers believe that Nuon Chea picked only those terms in the Thai language which were Khmer in origin, a sort of revenge against the Thais whom he both admired and despised at the same time.

At the age of 76 (at the time of the interview), living with his wife in a small wooden house, unlike some of his colleagues who enjoyed a comfortable life in luxurious mansions, Nuon Chea said his greatest fear was not to have to face a UN-sponsored genocide and crimes against humanity tribunal, but to lose his eyesight to old age and be unable to read.

He said he was an old man and that his thoughts no longer mattered, though he had a few worries left:

"I still believe in the principle of serving the people, that's what's missing in Cambodia. I'm worried about the young generation. Cambodia has been deeply hurt. I realise that we can't demand that the healing process be quick. We have to face the reality of things in the country. What I hope for is that the peoples of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam could overcome their prejudice against each other and live together as good neighbours. The Vietnamese look down upon the whole region; the Thais look down upon the Khmers, and the Khmers look down on the Laotians. Let us not live by the old perceptions of each other, this is the time of globalisation.

"Globalisation is not a matter of borderless technology, but borderless heart," he said.

"I'm an old man now. I hardly need any sleep any more so I wake up very early in the morning, some times as early as 3.30am and turn on the radio to listen to Buddhist preaching. I also keep in touch with news from Thailand and the world through newspapers, radio and other sources," he said.

This April 17 has a different feel than the previous thirty April 17's. DC-Cam and other victims' organisations have been actively preparing people for the forthcoming tribunal by bringing hundreds, both victims and their families, and Khmer Rouge cadres and families, to see the tribunal building and sites such as Tuol Sleng prison. Educational and awareness campaigns are also being conducted to prepare people as best as possible for the tribunal.

Nuon Chea, or Runglert Laodi, took the same path to Bangkok as countless young men from the countryside in Thailand and Cambodia, with dreams of a better life for themselves, their families and their countries. It was impossible to know that path would lead to unspeakable crimes. With the tribunal well on its way and Nuon Chea having told reporters that he is ready to appear in court and tell his story, we will finally have some answers, perhaps, for the millions of lives shattered by Nuon Chea's and his colleagues' youthful dreams. They can finally find closure from the darkest chapter of Cambodian history.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Psychosocial Support Needed for KR Tribunal

By Dr Sotheara Chhim,
Managing Director,Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Cambodia,Phnom Penh
Letter to the Editor

The Cambodia Daily
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

With the tribunal for ex-Khmer Rouge leaders likely to start in the near future, there has been much attention from NGOs and donors in providing legal and human right services, but there has been very little attention paid to mental health and psychosocial support.

While acknowledging that mental health and psychosocial support during the Khmer Rouge tribunal is crucial, neither the UN nor the Cambodian government has any budget to support this activity.

Therefore, this activity will depend on contributions from other donors.

The tribunal may bring social justice and may promote social healing in Cambodia, but as a mental health professional, I am not sure if it can promote psychological healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. A small survey done by Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Cambodia, in a joint project with the Documentation Center of Cambodia, found that after receiving psychosocial intervention, victims become more able to forgive and less likely to seek revenge against perpetrators.

In that sense, I think that mental health and psychosocial support during the Khmer Rouge tribunal are crucial for those who will testify in court and are involved in the tribunal’s work. Such activates are provided in other international tribunals. Moving forward with a tribunal without having these types of services available is dangerous; I strongly urge the donor community to consider this need and help ensure that the tribunal is truly the healing process it is meant to be.

Monday, April 10, 2006

China boosts Cambodian relations with $600m pledge

By Amy Kazmin in Bangkok

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao offered Cambodia $600m in loans and grant aid during a weekend visit intended to enhance Beijing’s strategic influence as a major patron of the impoverished south-east Asian country.

China’s financial contribution to the cash-strapped Phnom Penh government is roughly equivalent to what other international donors, including European governments and Japan, together recently pledged to give Cambodia in the coming year.

Nearly half the Chinese money will go towards financing a new hydropower plant. China’s state-owned Sinohydro Corp won a contract to build a $280m hydropower plant in south-western Cambodia last year.

Another $200m will go towards building two major new bridges across the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, while the rest will go towards other projects, including the construction of a grand new council of ministers building to replace the dilapidated structure now housing the main government offices.

Hor Namhong, Cambodia’s foreign minister said Mr Wen’s visit, which ended on Saturday, had opened “a new chapter in the Cambodian-Chinese relationship”.

Beijing’s pledge of assistance came as China is said to be keen to negotiate access to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s strategically located deep-sea port, as part of its widening efforts to secure sea lanes in south-east Asia, the main gateway for China’s fuel imports.

Sihanoukville is within reach of the eastern end of the Straits of Malacca.

In September, Beijing gave Cambodia six naval patrol boats, ostensibly to help Phnom Penh crack down on drug smuggling and human trafficking. However, analysts saw the donation as a sign of Beijing’s desire to broaden its relationship beyond economic and political co-operation towards potential military collaboration.

Hun Sen, Cambodia’s long-time prime minister,previously described China as Cambodia’s “most trustworthy friend”, despite Beijing’s past support for the Khmer Rouge, the ultra-radical Maoist revolutionaries responsible for Cambodia’s 1970s genocide, during which an estimated 1.7m people – a quarter of the population – died.

A United Nations-supported trial of the Khmer Rouge’s surviving top leaders, many of whom are now living in quiet retirement, is due to get underway this year. Trial backers, including Japan, hope this process will help in the battle against the “culture of impunity” that now permeates Cambodia.

But the trial could be a major embarrassment for Beijing if the extent of its support for Pol Pot, the late Khmer Rouge leader, and his comrades is brought out in detail during the proceedings.

Human rights groups say China’s unstinting support for Phnom Penh today allows Hun Sen to rebuff criticism from western donors about human rights abuses, corruption and other problems.

Potential KR trial witnesses visit courtroom

[Michelle Lee, left, at a blessing on March 31 outside the KRT's Extraordinary Chambers in Kambol, Kandal Province.]

By Sam Rith

At least 6,000 people from the provinces who suffered during the Pol Pot regime will have visited Phnom Penh by the end of the year to learn about the proceedings of the Khmer Rouge Trial, said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam).

He said it was very important that those invited to Phnom Penh should spread information about the trial to their neighbors in villages and communes so that others could also prepare to participate.

Since February 26, DC-Cam has been inviting 400 to 450 people each month to visit Toul Sleng museum and Choeung Ek, and to meet members of the National Assembly who passed the Khmer Rouge Trial law. The guests also meet government and UN officials in the Khmer Rouge Trial courtroom - known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts - and the US ambassador.

Chhang said the center invited people to visit Toul Sleng and Choeung Ek to present a broader view of history and help them find a path to reconciliation between Khmer Rouge victims and lower-level officers of the KR regime, many of whom were themselves victims. The center took the visitors to meet the US ambassador because the United States supported the participation of the people and wanted them to know that the court could bring them justice.
"They [surviving victims] are living documents to give information to the court," Chhang said. "Most of those victims who participated in the visit will become the witnesses for the trial."

Mom Phoun, 68, from Tang Krasay village, Brasat Sambo district in Kampong Thom, who participated in a trip from March 26 to 28, said he was very happy to be a witness for the Khmer Rouge trial.

"I would like to tell the court about the truth of the Khmer Rouge regime," he said. "We worked too much but got little food to eat."

Chhang said the people invited to visit Phnom Penh were those DC-Cam interviewed nine years ago - and also their neighbors, such as village and commune chiefs, who often told his center they would like to see the court but could not afford travel and accommodation.

The visitors have come from Kampong Cham, Kandal, Kampot, Takeo, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang, Rattanakkiri, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Koh Kong, Kampong Som, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey.

Chhang said each group visit costs the center between US$4,000 and $5,000 -to cover the cost of travel to Phnom Penh, food and accommodation. USAID helped with the funding.

Michelle Lee, deputy director of the UN Khmer Rouge Trial delegation, on March 28 told 412 villagers in the courtroom, "Today, you come from villages, you come from far to visit us, so that you can see this is where the trial will take place.

"When you go back to your villages, please tell your friends and your families [that] we are here, we are serious and we want to help."
Kim Sim, 56, from O'Kavann village, Chamkar Leu district in Kampong Cham, who also participated in the March 26-28 visit, said it was the first time she had come to Phnom Penh to visit Toul Sleng museum and other places that could help to remind her about the Khmer Rouge regime that killed her three brothers and one sister.

"Yesterday, I felt dizzy and was not hungry at all after I saw the pictures at Toul Sleng museum," she said on March 28. "It made me remember what happened in the regime. I would like the trial to start soon. And I am very happy to be a witness."

Sean Visoth, administrative director of the Extraordinary Chambers, told the villagers, "Now we do not have problems with the budget for the Khmer Rouge trial any more. [It is like the] train that starts going and the plane that starts taking off."

But at least one of the visitors was dismissive of the trial process. Cheng Eam, 53, from Chhouk district in Kampot, said the trial was worthless and the money being spent on it would be better spent on things like building houses for people.

"Every war terrorizes and kills people," Eam said. "War kills people and genocide kills people. One is the same as the other. Now they have a trial of the Khmer Rouge. Why don't they have a trial of America? America made more serious war than the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. America dropped millions of bombs on Cambodia. Does that make you frightened or not?"
The law establishing the Khmer Rouge Trial process confines the courts to trying only crimes committed by individuals in Cambodia between April 17, 1975 (the day the Khmer Rouge took power in Phnom Penh) and January 6, 1979 (their last day in power before Phnom Penh fell to the Vietnamese Army). The court cannot try countries or organizations that supported the Khmer Rouge regime, nor countries or individuals for crimes committed before or after those dates.

KR Tribunal Shouldn’t Rely On Spirit House for Honesty

By Sokhet Ros, Phnom Penh

Letter to the Editor
The Cambodia Daily
Monday, April 10, 2006

I was really surprised by “Spirit House Blessed to Keep Tribunal Honest” (April 1-2, pages 3), which stated that judges will ask all witnesses and suspects at the trial whether they have sworn to tell the truth in front of the spirit house.

Judges and prosecutors assigned to the tribunal should work hard to find the reality and proof of the crimes of the KR regime. If they depend on the spirit house or a spiritualist, the trial won’t meet international standards.<>

Judges, Prosecutors Discuss System’s Problems

By Phann Ana
The Cambodia Daily
Monday, April 10, 2006

A two-and-a-half-day conference attended by judges and prosecutors from across Cambodia concluded on Friday, though several participants said they felt little had been achieved, as any power to bring change to the judiciary lay outside their control.

Speaking to the conference held at the Council for the Development of Cambodia building, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana told participants he recognized the problems that they faced. “I believed judges and prosecutors are having difficulty fulfilling this duty,” he said. “I am trying to find a solution to help you all.”

<>Six main difficulties faced by the courts were identified at the meeting, and solutions proposed.

Problems included the holding of suspects for longer than the legal six-month pre-trial detention period. “The workshop decided to allow judges and prosecutors to try their best to reduce the cases over the permitted [pre-trial] limit,” conference organizers said in a statement.

<>Other problems included the handling of human trafficking cases, as well as courts failing to hold misdemeanor appeals within a permitted 3-year period, and criminal appeals within 10 years. Court officials were told to inform people of the verdicts in cases, including cases where sentences were given out in absentia.

The conference criticized officials for imprisoning people who were unable to pay compensation to their victims in civil and penal cases, and also called on prosecutors not to imprison victims of crime and acquit the perpetrators.

<>Hanrot Raken, Appeals Court prosecutor general, said the Justice Ministry will cooperate with that court and the Supreme Court to prepare a list of cases that have not been dealt with in a timely manner. <>
<>“We will order the court to prepare a list because we need to consider it seriously,” he said.

One deputy prosecutor said on condition of anonymity that he felt the conference had been largely futile. “This is a conference of court officials but we cannot make any decision because we are not independent. We just repackaged the old issues,” he said.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Genocide survivors to spotlight Darfur horror

Thursday, April 6, 2006

A monthlong effort to focus attention on the atrocities being committed in Sudan will begin tonight with a gathering of survivors of the Holocaust and genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia, Nanking and Bosnia at a San Francisco synagogue.

Eltayeb Ibrahim, whose family has lost more than 200 relatives in Sudan's genocide since early 2003, will be one of several speakers at Temple Emanu-El.

The event marks the beginning of an effort called "National Days of Conscience," a grassroots campaign that will culminate on April 30 with a silent vigil on the Golden Gate Bridge, a rally at Crissy Field, and similar demonstrations in Washington and other U.S. cities.

Ibrahim, whose family is of the tribe of Tunjur Sultanates that ruled Darfur since the 12th century, lives in Oakland. He said the whereabouts of many of his family members are unknown, as the genocide, by the Arab-dominated Sudanese troops and militias against non-Arab Darfurians goes on.

"My home village of Korma and the villages surrounding it were burned last year, and 132 people were killed," said Ibrahim, who left Sudan 15 years ago to study economics in India. "All of them were related to me. These are people from my tribe."

Violence is escalating in Sudan's provinces of Darfur, according to the United Nations. Earlier this week, the Sudanese government refused to allow a U.N. representative to enter Sudan.

"Four months ago, the Janjaweed (militia) came and burned all the homes in my cousin's village. ... They killed him in front of his wife and five kids," Ibrahim said. "He was like my brother. We grew up in the same house. He was a very simple man. He didn't even understand politics.

"A week ago, I called home and got the news that two of my cousins were killed. It's painful to hear that a relative got killed. But it's even more painful to have a relative and not know whether they are alive or dead."

Six other survivors of genocides will also share their memories of atrocities committed and light candles in honor of lives lost, including Elvir Camdzic, a survivor of the genocide in Bosnia.

Salih Booker, executive director of the Africa Action humanitarian group, plans to speak about the systemic use of rape against Darfurian women by Sudanese troops and militias.

The rallies scheduled for later this month are part of the "Million Voices for Darfur" campaign to collect signatures for tens of thousands of postcards for delivery to the White House -- cards urging President Bush to redouble his efforts to stop the genocide in Sudan. The rallies are being organized by the Save Darfur Coalition (, an alliance of more than 150 religious and humanitarian organizations.

"How can we as a civilized nation sit around for three years while it happens again?" said Gayle Donsky, a coordinator of tonight's event for the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition, which includes dozens of nonprofit organizations, religious denominations and human rights groups.

Tonight's free program is at 7 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El, 2 Lake St. It also includes the short film "Witnessing Darfur."