The Khmer language edition of Getting Away With Genocide? Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal was launched last Wednesday night at the ACE auditorium, to an audience that included two survivors of the Tuol Sleng prison.
Written by Dr Helen Jarvis and Tom Fawthrop, the book was first published in 2004. The Khmer translation took even longer to produce than the original text.
This book covers the history of Cambodia since 1979, focusing on the numerous attempts made by the US, China and the UN to stop Khmer people from bringing the Khmer Rouge to justice.
After Vietnam ousted the Khmer Rouge regime, much of the evidence needed for a full-scale tribunal became available. In 1979 the US and UK governments, rather than working for human rights justice and setting up a special tribunal, opted instead to back the Khmer Rouge at the UN, and approved the re-supply of Pol Pot’s army in Thailand.
Fawthrop and Jarvis reveal why it took decades for the UN to recognise the genocide and crimes against humanity that took place under the regime from 1975-78. They explore in detail the role of the UN and the various countries involved, and they assess what chance still remains of holding a Cambodian trial under international law – especially in light of the development of International Criminal Tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
The first speaker was Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information. He began by reiterating the importance of the issues raised in the book, and highlighted the importance of seeing the trials through to the end in a bid to ensure “national reconciliation, peace and security for all Cambodian people.”
The Minister was unyielding in his conviction that justice will prevail. He assured the audience that in the eyes of the government “those who commit crimes must answer for them”.
As the launch continued Fawthrop and Dr. Jarvis explained how they first came up with the idea of the book in 1999. In the course of their research, they interviewed 44 people with firsthand knowledge of the era.
Fawthrop came to Cambodia in 1981, where he met Khieu Kanharith, who was then a fellow journalist. Dr. Jarvis, an Australian born Cambodian citizen, first arrived in here in 1967.
Fawthrop said that the book “tried to provide some perspective on the tribunal that’s happening now.” This is particularly relevant when one considers that around 70 per cent of today’s Khmer population was born after 1979.