Dr. Kek Galabru
Founder and President of LICADHO
(Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights)
Even before a tribunal is established and functioning, some points have already arisen
that deeply concern me. The first is the goal of the tribunal.
Is it to bring justice to the Cambodian people and to fight against the culture of
impunity? Or is it just a show trial for the international community, especially
to appease the donors? If the tribunal is a "gift" to the Cambodian people,
why not ask the Cambodian people if they want a national or international tribunal?
No one has asked the people!
Secondly, the government has contradicted itself since 1997, and even before. In
1997 the government wrote to the UN Secretary General to ask for assistance in setting
up an international tribunal, because they said the Cambodian courts did not have
the competence to deal with this issue. Now, in 1999 they said that the Cambodian
courts can deal with the issue.
At the same time, the government also said that the courts are corrupt, which is
the reason for a recent rearrest campaign.
In contradiction of normal judicial procedure, the executive branch gave an order
to rearrest, without warrant, some recently released acquitted detainees as well
as some accused suspects who had not been tried.
In this context, how can the Cambodian people trust such a tribunal? The people are
now feeling confused, and without trust. It is of great importance that the tribunal
to try Khmer Rouge leaders be seen by the Cambodian people as impartial and fair.
Thirdly, the government has spoken about a national tribunal which meets international
standards. But before this process was even started, a pretrial detention law was
adopted by the National Assembly and the Senate, that did not meet international
standards. International law states that everyone should have a speedy trial. Three
years in pretrial detention is not speedy, nor is there any mechanism to assess the
progress of an investigation and these are violations of international law.
Fourth, the government claims that this tribunal will be held with international
standards, and will be independent of political influences. But again, before the
tribunal was set up, the Cambodian government tried to control the tribunal by declaring
that only three to five former Khmer Rouge leaders would face a trial.
They also tried to choose the day of the trial. These tasks should be the duty of
the tribunal, not of the government. These tasks should be based on the evidence
and the witnesses, not on the government.
I would sincerely like to ask the opinion of the Cambodian people on these issues
and sincerely hope that the government listens to the wishes of the people.
Former Cambodian Ambassador during Democratic Kampuchea Following is partial text
of a speech made in Khmer by Suong Sikoeun at the CSD Public Forum, "Khmer Rouge
and National Reconciliation" in Battambang, January 27, 2000 (unofficial translation).
Mechanisms towards the trial for the leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea are underway.
The point is not whether or not to have a trial, but whether or not the process will
affect national reconciliation. There are at least two people who are responsible
for that regime, and they should be brought to trial.
Everyone knows that the war just ended a year ago, after the second national election.
Despite the end of the war, nobody can affirm that the war will not happen again
in our country, especially the random attacks that disturb development work. So,
the peace we are enjoying today is still fragile.
We all notice that the reconciliation and the healing of Cambodian society in the
framework of the constitutional Royal Kingdom, the multiparty democracy, and the
free-market economy is gradually improving. But the will for national solidarity
and the raising of internal agreement between the Khmer people, have not taken root
deeply in the hearts of the Cambodian people, especially among politicians. This
takes time and requires patience and heartfelt consideration.
After decades of suffering, tragedy, revolutions and the bloodshed of war, the people
are hungry for peace and relieve the tension in their lives. They want to see development
in their country and villages, and they welcome all activities that result in this
purpose. They don't want to lose the present opportunities as they've happened so
rarely during the last 30 years.
The historical experience full of suffering and tragedy faced by the people, reminds
them to choose the middle way and to go forward slowly and carefully. Let time decide
and judge whatever has happened. To assure the justice and accuracy of the trial
for the former leaders of Democratic Kampuchea, one must follow this way.
There is agreement throughout Cambodia as well as the world, that the Democratic
Kampuchea regime was a real tragedy to the Cambodian people. The leaders at every
level, especially the ones that gave the main orders, then, must be responsible for
the actions much more than the others.
Regardless of how good their purposes were, once the actual practice was different
from the purposes, those sensible politicians must accept the truth. They must not
be afraid of being tried for their actions. But the point is whether or not the means
we choose (i.e. the tribunal) satisfies the victims. Are there any more effective
ways for clearly limiting and determining the crimes that were committed against
the common people? But I think that the trial is a "sensitive" issue.
No one can foresee that there will be no troubles. Of course, a big war is impossible,
but what about small attacks and random upheavals? As the situation of peace and
security in Cambodia is still fragile, especially in the former Khmer Rouge areas,
unknown uncertainties remain, and nobody can foresee how they will go. Obviously,
some of the people living in my local area have temporarily stopped building their
houses in this dry season because they are afraid that the situation might turn out
to the same as in the past.
Another thing is that many people have been involved with the issue [of the regime
of Democratic Kampuchea]. Almost no person or no country can claim that they have
no connection to the issue.Therefore, the phenomenon that we commonly call "like
shrimp soup" [to mean a complicated situation which may connect many people],
one finds hard to avoid. How much can we control the situation if the problems continue
to progress and their extent become bigger and bigger? We used to experience such
situations in our recent history.
Once any actions we initiate and encourage or boost become steadily larger, they
can get out of our grasp and they can take control over other actions. Then, it is
the actions that lead us and control us. Another concern is that if we only think
about the Khmer Rouge trial, we will automatically pay less attention to addressing
other urgent problems faced by the nation.
The current situation that our country is facing, has many complicated problems and
inter-linked conflicts, thus the possibility of social chaos cannot be denied. All
these problems surely affect all of our lives.
In such an unstable situation, it can't be avoided that some people will try to muddy
the water in order to catch fish. If there is no social security, there will be no
political stability. It is political instability that we are so afraid of, because
it is hard for us to get rid of and it is an obstacle to development.
So, everything in our country at the present time is fragile and young. Thus it is
easy to lose or to change this budding process of peace, national reconciliation
healing of society.
We Cambodians have the duty to look after and care for these young buds. We must
do what we can. We must allow and assist the government to fulfill fully its political
agenda. We don't have any other better ways. This concept can be explained with "we
must be satisfied with the one thing we have already, rather than two things we might
have in the future."
We must reconcile and strengthen solidarity between us, in one house, under one roof.
This was the meaning and purpose of our reintegration into society and into the government
that was done in August 1996, and of the National Reconciliation Movement which was
led by H.E. Ieng Sary. The Kingdom of Cambodia is the home and shelter for all of
us. The Government is our guardian and the one is who responsible.
All Cambodian people regardless of class or the position they are in, should be together
in brotherhood. Thus, we shall help, care and like each other, as we are in one family.
Any mistakes and shortages concern all of us.
We should not see only mistakes. We should help, encourage and be proud of our Khmer
people. We are neither better nor worse than other nationalities. We should be proud
of being born Khmer, we Khmer who have such a civilization, and great culture. There
are very few nations that can be compared to the Khmer nation.
My conclusion, and also my request, is: first, those who are responsible for the
Democratic Kampuchea regime, and who are already in detention, should be subject
to the competence of the Royal Government and the court.
Secondly, the other leaders who already integrated into society should remain in
their present situation because they themselves, their families and friends are happy
with that and no one affects the others.
However, if any Khmers who lost their family members during Democratic Kampuchea
regime need justice and truth, they can complain to the court and the national court
can exercise its duties. We have to finish everything in a fixed time period.
We cannot postpone because we have many challenges to be addressed. We should mobilize
all our resources to address those urgent concerns.
Thirdly, for the case of H.E. Ieng Sary, President of the National Reconciliation
Movement, our nation and people should express gratitude to him, because he and other
colleagues like Y Chhien, and Sok Pheap were the ones who brought peace to the country
in August 1996.
But the one with strong political will for establishing peace and national reconciliation
is Prime Minister Hun Sen. He employed the "win-win strategy" - no one
wins and no one loses. He respects the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation with
the ex-forces of Democratic Kampuchea that were led by H.E Ieng Sary. On December
21, 1998 the Prime Minister said "Without the National Reconciliation Movement,
the war would exist up until now."
Another point is that when he was in the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea, H.E.
Ieng Sary did not take part in the important decision-making, such as the evacuation
of the people from the city, managing the local communities [sahak' gkaw] and so
Because at that time he was outside the country. Moreover, he helped rescue some
intellectuals such as H.E Keat Chhon, Chuon Praseth, Chan Yuran, Long Norin, In Sopheap,
Mak Ben, Ok Sakun and Pech Bunreth, and so on.
My last words at this public forum are "forgive and forget the past."
President, Center for Social Development and organizer of the public forum in Battambang
Concerning justice and reconciliation after the many years of war, we Cambodians
have to think of the best solution for Cambodian society. We must think of all the
alternatives, and think what is best to lead to a long-term solution. We must also
ask the people their opinions, which is why CSD is organizing the series of Public
Forums in Battambang, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.
Everybody who talks about the Khmer Rouge says they want justice, truth and reconciliation.
The former Khmer Rouge leaders themselves said in our Public Forum in Battambang
that they want the same thing, justice, truth and reconciliation.
If we have different parties concerned and they all say the same thing, the truth
of each party must be reconciled. There is not one ultimate truth, each party has
their own view of the truth. The truth is related to each party - what they are doing
and where they are. In this situation there is the truth of the government, the international
community, the Khmer Rouge and the truth of the Cambodian people.
These four truths need to be reconciled, up to the level of satisfaction of each
party. The government and the international community have so far been discussing
their own phases of the process, but another side is missing - the side of the Cambodian
I went to South Africa in 1999. In the case of South Africa it was possible to have
a truth commission, because the leaders were trusted.
The Chair of the Truth Commission, Bishop Desmond Tutu, is such a religious person,
a person of such high stature, that people from all sides of the conflict accepted
him. Nelson Mandela is also a man of great morality and principle, and the whole
process was supported by the political will of the top leaders.
The parties that come before a truth and reconciliation process must reach a level
of satisfaction with trust that the process will achieve truth, then the process
can push forward.
Unfortunately, here in Cambodia, there is a lack of trust in society. There is no
religious person, who has the stature of a Desmond Tutu.
We do have the monarchy, which I believe is the best possibility we can do to help
unify society. The role of the monarchy is very important in any justice or truth
telling process for Cambodia.
A trial is the final objective of a justice process. Before we get to that objective,
many smaller processes need to occur. The CSD Public Forum is one of those processes:
a public process to allow people to voice their concerns, interests, and views.
This was the first public occasion for the Khmer Rouge to do so since 1979. It was
the first time we could hear openly from the Khmer Rouge side on this issue; before
it has mainly been only one side of the story. Thus the Forum was an opportunity
for both sides to hear about a common issue of national reconciliation, and together
begin to achieve a common level of satisfaction.
In spite of the great effort of the leaders in South Africa, the Truth Commission
did not achieve complete reconciliation in society. Some people I spoke to said they
felt that justice had not been done. Thus to make sure people feel satisfied, we
must think carefully and plan carefully for a process in Cambodia.
For true reconciliation to be successful, we must make sure that all the ingredients
of the processes are present, to the level of satisfaction and trust of each party.
I feel we have a long way to go before we are able to achieve reconciliation in Cambodia.
It took years in South Africa, two years alone for the Truth Commission, and that
was not yet the end point. The end point is national reconciliation, you can't just
achieve it suddenly when you want it, you must go through all the steps of the various
processes. Each of the processes has an end product, and only once you achieve that
end product (truth, justice, reconciliation) can you continue to the next level.
But we Cambodians, must know the truth, know who is the cause of the events that
happened during the Khmer Rouge period. It is important for our grandchildren to
know their history. Why, how and what happened are very important. We are all just
human beings and we want to know for the sake of humanity. Also, the purpose of knowing
the truth is to prevent history from repeating itself.
We can say the war was caused by the interrelations between superpowers, but how
did this come into play? The truth would be a very good lesson for the rest of the
world. Finding the truth is the main goal for the Cambodian people. But after that,
what do they want? Some people want to punish the leaders, some want to hear an apology,
and some want to know the causes.
These opinions would vary widely and all the opinions must be considered.
However, we have to be careful about opening a Pandora's box in Cambodia. If we go
further and further we can see who is involved, but we also have to set some limits
to the process. This is the concern of the Khmer Rouge leaders, which they brought
up at the Forum.
They said that first they were asked to give an apology, which they did (last year)
- but afterwards others weren't satisfied with this and the journalists made a joke
of it. Now at the Forum they said that they were afraid that requests would just
continue on. If they push and push, where will the end be?
I think that perhaps the process of making the apology was not complete. Yes, the
leaders made an apology, but one word of 'sorry' does not end the process, does not
end the suspicion.
Concerning the mental health care needed to heal Cambodian society, this is a long,
long process, and so far there is just one drop of water in the ocean. Maybe we need
1000 more counseling programs like the existing ones now. I can't be helpful myself
in this work. I use meditation for myself - this is my way of life. How can I be
angry with a machine (the machine of the Khmer Rouge). But I still want to know why,
where, when and how.
In conclusion, it is important for us to determine what process can bring reconciliation.
What process can heal society? What are the wounds left by the Khmer Rouge regime?
What do Cambodian people want in, and in addition to a Khmer Rouge trial?
Director, Buddhism for Development, Battambang
I want to find out what are the standards to be Buddhist - what is necessary to
truly apply Buddhism in the daily life? This is a big question in my mind.
What happened during the Khmer Rouge is a contradiction - why did you kill and not
follow Buddha's teachings?
Confession is very important in Buddhism. The first step is to look at yourself -
self discovery. Confession is not the same as confession in Christianity; it is not
just confess your sins and be forgiven. In Buddhism it is different, you must promise
not to do the mistake again. You agree to open your heart and acknowledge the mistake.
The apologies given by Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were just spoken as a politician
speaks. They didn't really want to say "I was wrong."
When they said "Please people forgive me," perhaps in politics people can
say yes, they will forgive. But this is not the word of the people - it doesn't mean
that people forgive them. If the former Khmer Rouge leaders make a real apology it
must be a complete phrase to show they really recall the mistake. "Yes I was
wrong and I apologize and I accept what ever condition falls upon me." To ask
for an apology doesn't mean to ask for freedom, but it means to accept any result.
The problem is, the leaders don't think they were wrong. They made the apology because
they wanted to buy time before they die. Pol Pot said "Ma conscience est très
claire"(My conscience is very clear). He believed in the principles and the
expected results; he did not focus on the means or the strategy. They believed whatever
strategy brought them to these ideal principles was good.
They didn't think of the results of the strategy. They thought their heart was clear
because they loved the people. They would sacrifice everything to keep the principle
alive. But many people do bad things in the name of good.
Cambodians say that Cambodians didn't kill Cambodians, others said they did. Why?
In the communist system, they said "I am a hammer, you are the nail, the village
is the wood" - this was their system of killing. Others say it was the US or
China that caused the killing. The victims say they want to know.
Should we establish friendships with the former Khmer Rouge? Yes, because they are
not Khmer Rouge but are Khmer. These people, like all Khmer people are worried about
their livelihood. We need to talk to each other and to build trust between us. Then
they will tell us what happened.
Sok Sam Oeun, Esq.
Executive Director of the Cambodian Defenders Project
I remember well my experiences living under the Khmer Rouge, how often I felt
terrified as they cheated and killed us one by one. After we lost two members of
our family, we were told to keep our background secret, and because we were starving,
only food was important and other things including parents or relatives became less
Many people were killed because they told the truth about jobs and background, therefore
each of us learned we should not tell others the truth. We rarely dared to speak
to even our close friends, because we were afraid if they were arrested, they would
be tortured to confess.
Thus at first I was very happy to hear that both Co-Prime Ministers sent a letter
to the UN General Secretary to assist to set up an International Tribunal for Khmer
Rouge leaders. However, I was later shocked when I heard that the Government changed
its position and stated they did not need assistance from the UN anymore. Now, I
am hopeful again, because recently the Royal Government drafted a law for an Extraordinary
Tribunal to try senior Khmer Rouge leaders.
If this tribunal is conducted well, in accordance with international standards and
principles of fair trials, it can have at least four following good results: first,
to provide justice to Cambodian people who are victims of this regime; second, to
heal Cambodian society and end nightmares of Cambodian victims; third, to find the
truth, so that Cambodians and the rest of the world can know why 1.7 million people
died; and finally, I hope that this tribunal can serve as a model to show Cambodian
people what the principles of a fair trial are.
Although there have been concerns that this tribunal could cause a new civil war,
I believe that now all Cambodian people want peace and we are tired of war.
I believe that at least, all top Khmer Rouge leaders who are found to be responsible
for the regime, should be punished and that this will deter future dictatorship.
The tribunal, which should be organized by the government and the UN together, should
try the senior Khmer Rouge leaders (at least all members of the Central Committee)
and should give amnesty to others who confess in advance.
At present, the people have no confidence in the Cambodian court system, so they
do not trust Cambodian judges and prosecutors. The order for rearrests which was
made recently by the executive branch of the government shows the lack of confidence
in the current court system. Thus I think that the UN should play a greater role
in establishing this tribunal. The UN should be the guarantor for the independence
of the judiciary.
The independence of judiciary is a very important factor in a fair trial. The concept
of the independence of the judiciary is interpreted by Cambodian legal professionals
in different ways. It is often interpreted to mean that the courts should be located
separately from other institutions.
But this meaning is not enough. Independence of the judiciary means independence
of the mind. The judges should be free to make decisions without fear, without interference
from other branches of the government, or from others with power, without misleading,
irrelevant or illegally obtained evidence, and without fear of job security.
Dr. Lao Mong Hay
Executive Director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy
Ann and John Tusa wrote in the conclusion of their book The Nuremberg Trial: "Should
they decide to submit themselves to law and judicial proceedings, nations would start
with an advantage denied to those who set the Tribunal at Nuremberg. They would have
a precedent." The authors acknowledged at the same time that "all law is
ultimately a political affair."
Actually politics has decided and dictated the process to try the Khmer Rouge right
from the beginning, and the Nuremberg precedent is nowhere to be found. At first
the Prime Minister requested the UN to organize the trial but later has insisted
upon Cambodia conducting that trial.
The UN has spurned the advice of its experts and has now agreed with the idea of
a Cambodian trial. Other concerned parties have joined in and settled for a compromise,
regardless of whether their compromise could compromise the process altogether.
Politics has further dominated the preparations of the trial from the drafting of
the law to the choice of judges, prosecutors and to the number of Khmer Rouge to
be tried. It is unlikely that politics would end just at this part of the process.
The coming trial, as it is currently prepared, is a political trial. The trial cannot
find the truth and justice for the victims of the Khmer Rouge and cannot therefore
address Cambodia's past. It could instead create new problems.
One alternative would be the South African modeled truth commission. This commission
sounds attractive but due to the lack of similar leadership, personalities and culture
it is likely to encounter so many practical problems that it could soon become farce.
Another alternative would be a mass confession of guilt and request for pardon by
the Khmer Rouge themselves to the entire Cambodian nation at a special ceremony held
at Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh. The ceremony would be presided over by the King
with the presence of the Queen, the Prime Minister and other members of the ruling
elite and of people from all over the country which the stadium can accommodate.
The Khmer Rouge would come forth to confess their crimes, plead guilty, ask the nation
to forgive them and pledge to remain humble in their respective station in life.
The population present would forgive them and support an amnesty for them and request
the King to exercise his constitutional powers to grant such amnesty to them. Further
such ceremonies could be organized in the provinces.
This alternative would be a short event and would cost virtually nothing. It would
however have no less impact than the truth commission or the political trial that
is currently being organized.
His Excellency Son Soubert
Member of the Constitutional Council
When the United States Government Office of Cambodian Genocide Investigation was
created, I met with the Director of the Office, Mr. De La Porta and with the American
Ambassador, Charles Twining. I told these American officials, in my capacity as the
Second Vice-President of the National Assembly, that I agreed with the plan to investigate
the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.
I told them that we, Cambodians, wanted to know the truth, for the sake of those
million victims presumably assassinated by them.
I also told the American officials that at this juncture, it would be counterproductive
to talk about an international tribunal, because of the ongoing but fragile process
of national reconciliation. This process had been initiated by His Majesty King Norodom
Sihanouk, with roundtable discussions in Pyongyang and in Phnom Penh in 1993, to
bring the Khmer Rouge back into the legal framework of the Royal Government. Unfortunately
the efforts to bring the Khmer Rouge into the process were unsuccessful, because
of opposition from the Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
In fact the CPP later introduced a draft law outlawing the Khmer Rouge, to the National
Assembly, which Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party President Son Sann opposed for
the sake of national reconciliation.
Any move towards an international tribunal at that time would have involved many
Cambodian personalities among the CPP, who were in the Royal Government.
Cambodians, even if it is not our normal social behavior to cry for justice, still
wish to know the truth and once and for all to delete this atrocious past, in the
name of their relatives assassinated during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, between
April 17, 1975 and December 25, 1978. It is not in the Cambodian tradition to be
revengeful, because we believe that those who have committed sins of this dimension
will receive in this life or in another life, consequences of their acts. But besides
this moral and spiritual or divine justice, we also need human justice, because justice
should also be an exercise of democracy.
Sooner or later the truth will be known, but what is important is that we need to
heal the past, and exorcise our past demons.
President of ADHOC (Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association)
Although I am pleased there is now increased political stability we must be aware
that it is still fragile and could change anytime. But we do have hope.
At this time of cautious hopefulness, we must look at the whole process of justice
for the Khmer Rouge, and must keep our position: I support a mixed tribunal to try
the Khmer Rouge leaders. In 1979, it was not a fair trial. This does not need to
If there is a local trial, I believe it will be unacceptable to the people, the NGOs
and the international community.
We could always try later (we've already waited 20 years, we can wait five more years!),
but it would be much better if there is a fair trial now. A fair trial is not just
for victims, but also for perpetrators.
We must also consider that if only the lower level leaders are punished and the big
ones go free, how can this be free and fair? We need to publicly release investigation
results. I believe there is no problem finding enough proof, and the trial must be
based on this of course.
I believe a mixed tribunal does not mean only having foreign judges - having foreign
prosecutors is even more important. Providing adequate witness protection is another
We must also examine, what is the purpose of a trial? I believe it is firstly to
give justice to the Cambodian people and to society and secondly to prevent future
genocide. Who will guarantee that genocide does not happen again in Cambodia if we
don't prosecute now? We must all act to prevent the attitude: "If I am the big
boss I can do whatever I want because if Pol Pot killed two million people, and I
just kill 5,000, why punish me?"
The search for justice must be based on principles, and the results should have a
dissuasive effect so that these horrific crimes do not occur again in Cambodia.
Some say for ordinary crimes people must be punished, but for political crimes, people
cannot be punished because those crimes were committed in the national interest.
Those people use the excuse that they killed in the interest of others, not for themselves.
But I don't agree with this. If political leaders commit crimes, they must be responsible
for their actions, especially if they kill. I believe we should combat this idea;
it is very dangerous for humanity.
Thus, I support 100 percent a permanent tribunal (International Criminal Court).
We must try to change society. If the strong can kill others indiscriminately, it
is like an animal state, the big fish can eat the small fish. Even if society is
like this, we must change society. Humanity must progress.
A fair trial now, can improve society now. Even though the former Khmer Rouge leaders
still hold power, they can be punished. And even though these events happened 20
years ago, they can still be punished.
Punishment now can't stop the killing that happened in the past, but at least it
will affect the level of impunity in society.
And I believe that we also need to prevent pardons.
If we pardon, the whole process is meaningless. From trial to judgment to pardon
- the process is useless. There was a lot of criticism when Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan
came and toured the country publicly, and they said just a few words of apology.
It was easy to just say those few words, but the people didn't accept this. Many
families lost members to the Khmer Rouge and that apology was insufficient for them.
However in looking at the future of Cambodia we need to combine justice and peace,
especially for the many lower-level former Khmer Rouge. We need to tolerate them,
because those of us who lived through the regime understand that they received orders
from the top, that the majority didn't want to kill. I worry that if we condemn all
the former Khmer Rouge, we will have problems; they will fight back.
We must look at the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. But I think we should limit the leadership
to the Central Committee. They are the ones who are responsible because they allowed
the others to kill.
Under the Khmer Rouge, it was the chief of the village who in many cases did the
killing, but it was the top leaders that created the conditions that allowed them
to kill. Of course those leaders didn't order directly to kill us as individuals,
but when the lower levels did kill, no one was punished afterwards. Thus because
they created an environment that allowed the lower ranking people to kill others,
it is the leaders who should be responsible for the killing. It was the leaders'
fault that they hadn't created a system to control themselves, thus it is they who
They put everyone in an animal-like situation, they made us live and fight for food
like animals. At that time we even feared small children because they had the right
to kill us - at that time I didn't dare to even look at those child spies (kong chlop).
Justice is not perfect, but we must try to approach perfection. This is a tendency
of humanity as a whole. Even those who commit injustice - they should think - what
if these injustices happen to them? We, Cambodian society, need to explore this chain
of logic. We need to debate about these issues, to think about the big issues, and
to deepen our ideas and our thinking.
H.E. Son Chhay
Member of the National Assembly for the Sam Rainsy Party, Chair of the NA Committee
for Public Works, Transportation, Telecommunications, Industry, Energy, Post and
Violence and atrocities have had a very strong effect on us. We try to forget,
but it is impossible, and we cannot live in peace. We cannot achieve serenity in
our hearts. Cambodians still have nightmares that people in black uniforms are chasing
them to kill them.
These are the consequences left by those atrocities. There is a lack of support to
heal the wounds in society. It is true to say that we have to talk to our enemy to
achieve peace. As Nelson Mandela has put it in his speech to an audience of Northern
Irish politicians, "To gain peace in our minds, we need to see that justice
In our continuing war with continuing atrocities, we look at each other like enemies
with so much hatred. Also, the culture of impunity, which is the heritage of the
Khmer Rouge, is continuing to play an important role in our day-to-day lives. The
fear of this kind of culture causes a great deal of pain when we see criminals, old
and new, walk free from their crimes.
We want peace in our hearts and souls, so we can sleep without nightmares. This can
only happen when there are strong measures in place to ensure that crimes against
humanity, or genocide will be prevented from happening again. If we don't dig up
the Khmer past, we won't be able to find justice. But the justice must be genuine,
otherwise it will only reignite our trauma.
The two most notorious Khmer Rouge leaders were already tried by the PRK in 1979.
One has been allowed to join the government and has been elevated to the status of
general now and called His Excellency. He is now free. More than that, he has never
admitted his bad actions. When Mr. Chhang Youk, the Director of the Documentation
Center of Cambodia wrote about Ieng Tirith's background (the wife of Ieng Sary),
Tirith replied proudly that it was not the Khmer Rouge who did the killing, but instead
they saved the country from being swallowed by the Vietnamese.
They do not admit the truth about what they did. In fact they seem to be proud of
their acts. Is this justice? Can we live with our hearts in peace? There are many
such disturbances that we have been meeting in our day-to-day lives over the past
few years concerning how the former Khmer Rouge leaders defected.
I believe that suffering does not belong only to the National Assembly members, but
belongs to all the Cambodian people. So the decision on how to try the Khmer Rouge
should be left to every citizen who has suffered through this horrific past.
H. E. Kem Sokha
Senate Member for FUNCINPEC, Chairman of Commission for Human Rights, Protection
and Reception of Complaints of the Senate
Acourt that can provide justice in a trial must be an independent and competent
court. Independence of the judges doesn't mean independence from the laws. Justice
requires independence of the court from fear, and free from intimidation from individuals,
groups or parties. The court must also avoid being influenced by money, power and
materialism (corruption). The court must also be separate from relationships of family
and relatives. The court must be free from confusion, ignorance and incompetence.
The word justice, of course, can be used for Cambodia but the justice that Cambodians
want is much more than that.
The Cambodian people have been standing up to complain for justice. They are hungry
for justice like they were hungry for rice during the Pol Pot regime.
In Cambodia, if there is not a government that can ensure justice, the conflicts
between Khmer and Khmer will never end and civil war will be likely to reoccur once
groups or parties are influenced by neighboring countries. We have had this experience
before in Khmer history.
Sustainable national reconciliation cannot happen in Cambodia if the justice for
its people is not ensured.
No rights no democracy, no democracy no justice, no justice no national reconciliation.
Dr. Kao Kim Hourn
Executive Director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace
(The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect
stance of CICP)
The CICP held a conference from 12 - 14 January on "The New Millennium - Managing
the Past and Building the Future." The conference was very timely, and it was
a start. But we only did a two-hour session on the legacy of the Khmer Rouge, and
it was not enough. The process of discussion is now open ended.
This is our hope to contribute as much as possible to the process. If we don't do
so, we will be responsible. Everyone should merge their contributions. Based on this
input we can have a better law which can lead to a better trial. A good trial can
contribute to healing and ultimately to national reconciliation. Time has been lost
Many Cambodians still have nightmares about the past. We have to deal with the past
in a constructive way.
It is important that we not seek justice for the sake of revenge. Truth is more important
than justice. The Khmer Rouge dilemma is every Cambodian's problem. If we start to
talk about it, everyone will have to face their pasts. We have to be sensitive, but
at the same time should not let it go. History cannot be subtracted, added or divided.
History must be written - why and how it happened. This is important for Cambodia
and should be done in a constructive and non-confrontational way. The purpose is
to learn more and to think of how we would deal with such situations in the future.
We have to find those who are responsible, and by doing so we will go through a healing
process. National reconciliation is important, but not at the expense of truth or
My view is clear. It is imperative that Cambodians come to terms with the past. We
have a moral responsibility for the people who died during the Khmer Rouge period.
We should not conduct a trial for the international community, but to satisfy the
needs of the people of Cambodia.
There should be more interest in determining what do the people want and the draft
law should be based on those needs. Of course there will have to be some compromises
because the needs of all people are not exactly the same.
I think it is important to have a mixed trial including Cambodians and international
participants. We have to make our standards as good as anyone else's. Why should
Cambodians have inferior standards? We should have excellent standards. This is vital
because if it is only a Cambodian trial, people won't trust the outcome. Because
the people have been living under so many different regimes, they now don't trust
the system, especially the courts. It is important for the government to gain the
confidence of the people. A well-conducted trial would be the best opportunity to
regain the lost confidence of the people. It is a golden opportunity. If we are not
serious about this, it would be a terrible thing. We need to include national judges
who are doing a good job in drafting.
Another reason it is important to have a trial, is that this is the only way to build
a culture of justice in society. It is essential to establish the rule of law and
to reverse the process of the culture of impunity.
Another purpose of a trial is to make the Cambodian leadership more accountable.
The trial can make the leaders be more responsible and accountable for their own
Another key consideration is that we should look at the spirit of the law. This is
more important than procedure. If we get bogged down with procedures, we will lose
the focus in determining where we need to go. We all want to have a credible, free
and fair trial. In this context, we have to build a consensus and national spirit.
The prime minister has more to gain from a credible trial than a trial that is not
credible. This is a key political issue. If he can deal with this trial in a credible
way, then he can be included in history with other great leaders of Cambodia. I still
have a great hope in this government to deal with the trial.
I am sure that my view is not different from many other Cambodians. This is my own
view. But we need to look at the views of all Cambodians. We need to understand views
of the silent majority, because it is vital to be inclusive and participatory.
We must however realize that we can't put everyone on trial. This would be impossible
and costly, with other serious implications. We should also have a fairly speedy
process because this affects the whole country: a trial of the KR leaders will be
like a trial of the whole country.
Concerning how many will go to trial, this is not just a question of number, but
we have to ascertain who were mainly responsible for the policy and implementing
that policy at the highest level. Those who are found guilty have to be dealt with
according to the rule of law.
At the next level, we must help them come out perhaps at some kind of a truth commission.
We need to find out what they did and why. Then they should be forgiven and let them
go. The lower level Khmer Rouge we should forget, as they were basically also victims.
They should be given courses on human rights, democracy, and morality, to improve
their integration into society. They should not be kept together in one place. They
should be scattered through the country and return to their native villages. This
is the only way to become integrated into society. But this cannot be done by coercion.
They must be offered support. This is the only way to socialize people, so they can
work on their own.
Another important issue is this question of witnesses and also suspects. We have
to be clear about this. If we call witnesses to the stand, and turn them into suspects,
this will have very adverse consequences. The trial must keep the numbers in mind,
and there must be enough evidence. The evidence must be researched carefully. There
must be realistic ideas about who to prosecute. The trial should not raise false
expectations. Because if the trial does not meet the expectations of people both
inside and outside the country, the trial will be condemned.
Timing is of key importance. We can't wait until all the KR leaders die. But let
me emphasize, this should not be a witch hunt. It is not a way of getting even. It
is very important for the national psychology. We have to manage the challenge of
the Khmer Rouge legacy and we have to deal with it in our society.
At the same time, we should not rush the trial. If we don't do this properly we can
fumble the issue and this can have negative consequences. When morality has declined
in Cambodia, a proper trial on the Khmer Rouge issue can help strengthen and rearm
morality in society.
But we must understand that peace is still fragile in Cambodia. Political stability
is at its early stages. Therefore we must think of the conduct of the trial to ensure
that we don't go back to square one. We can ensure this by now beginning a process
of discussion and trying to increase the confidence of the general public. This of
course includes the people living in the former Khmer Rouge zones.
Amnesty is the King's prerogative. We should not tell the King what to do, because
he is fully responsible for any amnesty.
In my view if he thinks there are grounds for amnesty then he has the right to do
that - it is in our constitution. In order to induce the former KR to come to the
trial, it may have been necessary to offer them amnesty.
But of course they should admit their wrong doing if they are given amnesty.
Amnesty can be thought of in different ways, as it can range from a reduction of
a sentence to a complete amnesty.
The King however in any case would be morally responsible as well as politically
responsible for any amnesty decision.
This should not be done for political convenience either. Justice should not be defined
by the victors only. Justice should be kind and generous. At the same time, it doesn't
mean justice should condone those crimes. He who grants amnesty is wholly morally
In the case of an ax murderer who committed heinous crimes an amnesty would be impossible.
However, the number of years of the sentence could be reduced for various reasons
as long as the reasons are in the national interest of Cambodia, such as for the
maintenance of peace and stability.
Amnesty for the low level people must be given. Not at the high level of decision
making however, only for those who were taking orders. The names of those high level
persons are known already.
It is also important that when the National Assembly debates this draft law that
it is broadcast on television. The National Assembly should welcome comments from
the people throughout the country. This should be an open, transparent process. It
is the most important national issue facing us today.
The government should initiate the process and the National Assembly should debate.
The Senate will also have its turn. Civil society organizations and other interested
parties outside should also discuss.
We must use all channels and we should not get bogged down pursuing one particular
route. There are so many ways to approach this issue.
It is important that we don't have prejudgment. We must let all views be heard. There
should be meetings to send ideas to the government and the National Assembly about
what is best to do on this issue.
The government should continue to tolerate the contending views on the Khmer Rouge
issue. They should let the people talk and let their voices be heard. I commend the
government so far as it has been able to do this already. This is a strength of the
government. It has shown already that it has been accepting of dissenting views.
This is an important step forward. Hopefully this process will lead to even more
vigorous, open debate in the future.
Civil society should be more proactive on this issue. We all have a role to play.
Those who want to express new ideas, let them be heard. Some people focus only on
the positive and some focus only on the negative.
The civil society debate could be done in parallel. We should not think that the
government and National Assembly have absolute monopoly or ultimate wisdom. The people
should have the right to participate as well.
Ok Serei Sopheak
Director of the Cambodian Center for Conflict Resolution (of the Cambodian Development
I am pleased that the topic of reconciliation and the trial of the Khmer Rouge
is beginning to open up. Now that the protracted war in Cambodia has ended, we can
begin to discuss this 'hot' topic. In order to build a good future we must deal with
the past. If we still have old questions, we need to deal with them thoroughly, in
order to face current events.
In November, I visited the Northwest provinces to assess reconciliation and development
projects in the former Khmer Rouge areas. We could see that the development programs
bring development, and with development comes reconciliation, peace and long term
stability. The groundwork for reconciliation is laid in many areas, because of development
However, we still need to strengthen the groundwork of development, to further enhance
reconciliation. Development is key to reconciliation. The four keys to this are roads,
clean water, schools and health projects. Roads are important to link the distant
areas so that reconciliation can occur. Without roads, there is no access to markets.
Putting resources into development is an important means to integrate society so
that people can live together again. This can help to reconcile the hearts.
Are the defectors integrated? In some areas they are physically integrated, but hard
feelings and sentiments are not yet reconciled. For example when social events like
marriages or religious ceremonies occur, the people don't come together. In some
meetings at village and commune levels, people sit separately. But we must remember,
that after such a long war, the wounds in the heart are not yet cured. It was apparent
that the reconciliation process will take a long time, it can't happen overnight.
I have also invited some of the former Khmer Rouge leaders to dinner along with government
officials and NGO leaders and we have begun informal discussions.
Even though there were some accusations, I believe the former Khmer Rouge leaders
accepted that and were sincere. They said that they want to rebuild the country all
together. These were meetings of hope.
I knew some of these former Khmer Rouge from my time in the resistance. I asked them
why they needed to kill people. Why did Ieng Sary call people from abroad and kill
so many of them? We had lots of discussions. They said they didn't know. They couldn't
explain why. They said that it was the job of the security department directly controlled
by Pol Pot. How can we build a future with such suspicion?
I believe that the former Khmer Rouge leaders should explain to us what happened,
and they should apologize. They need to accept that they caused great suffering.
I said to them, "You should explain why Cambodians killed Cambodians. And if
you cannot answer why, you should explain the circumstances." In every country,
the past must be cleansed, you can't escape from the past. The bad past must be cleaned
up or the next generation will put the blame on us and the building of our society
will not be good.
The next generation of Cambodians must know what happened to us. I think if we can
come up with positive ways to build a new future for our children together, that
would be very positive. We need a truth-telling process - that will help society
to deal with the past.
It is not the place of others to tell us our history. For 13 days I listened to these
former Khmer Rouge leaders, and my head became bigger and bigger.
I had only read books by foreigners, had never listened to the words of those who
were directly involved. I think they must tell the truth about what happened. If
they don't dare to tell, this would not be good for the nation.
The judicial system, must be acceptable to everyone. It is very important that a
trial for the Khmer Rouge should be done properly without manipulation, we must avoid
a sham trial.
Venerable Yos Huot Khemacaro
Fondations Bouddhique Khmere, Phnom Penh
At the NGO Forum Conference in March 1999, and during discussion and interviews
in Cambodia and overseas, I have talked about Buddhism and justice.
Following Buddha's teaching we have to avoid being influenced by four things - the
motives of evil action: partiality (desire, attachment, self interest), enmity (hatred,
anger, vengeance, retribution), stupidity (ignorance - don't know the law, regulations
or procedures, ie. incompetence) and fear (ie. independence - we all know about fear).
Buddhism is in the Constitution as the state religion. Almost all Cambodian people
say they are Buddhist, even the leaders. So they must follow these principles. If
all the Cambodian leaders including those in the executive, legislative and judiciary
respect these four ideas, they will have good results. For example, in assessing
the judges, they should have the following characteristics: neutrality, honesty,
competence and independence. All decisions and judgments should depend on these principles.
We need to finish the story of the Khmer Rouge, but we need to leave a lesson for
history. We must not think just about justice for the Khmer Rouge, but justice for
everyone. The lesson is for the Cambodian people, especially the survivors but also
for all of humanity. We need to clarify everything for the sake of history.
A trial should be good for reconciliation, to put an end to our bad memories and
to start anew. The purpose is not to think always about accusing each other. Instead
we should think about how we can achieve stability and lasting peace. We need to
start reconstruction and even to increase investment, this what the people need.
A tribunal needs to be acceptable to public opinion, in Cambodia as well as outside.
If many people are not satisfied with a tribunal, it is possible that they may demand
a new judgment later. This would mean that we haven't finished the story, and then
there is no peace, no reconciliation and no reconstruction.
Forgiveness is needed to put an end to discussion and accusation. In Buddhism, when
something is done, we say the past is past, the future we don't know. What is important
is here, now and this: present verbal, corporeal and mental actions. Even when bad
things happened, the past is still the past. After the problem is recognized, from
then on, one must avoid repeating the bad actions.
Being without enmity means there is no hatred, no anger and no vengeance. Punishment
is not so important for me. The main thing is we must prevent them from doing bad
things again. Perhaps we could put the convicted leaders somewhere in exile.
Every two weeks one monk must recite the rules from memory to an assembly of all
the monks in the temple. It is like a confession. After each chapter, this monk asks
if there is anybody who has violated the rules and they should tell the community.
The monk then says to the assembly of monks - by your silence, I assume you are pure.
They are asked three times. If they do confess, they should recognize the mistake
and agree not to do it again. Acknowledgment is very important in the community.
When someone commits a special offense and many people know about it, it is still
very important to tell by oneself.
When we think about people who commit mistakes we should not have hatred or anger
in them, because we understand they were under the effect of three things: greed,
hatred and delusion. We must show compassion for these wrongdoers, help them abandon
the bad actions, and find a right path. The Venerable Maha Ghosananda says in his
book "Step by Step" loving kindness and compassion must be given without
concession, peace without appeasement. This means that compassion and peace are given
without limits, to everyone, everywhere, at all times.
Even among monks there are rules. If there is a problem, the community of monks must
decide what to do about the monk who broke the rules. They can choose to advise or
admonish, depending upon the degree of the offense.
Sometimes they decide the monk must stay alone and can't participate in the community
life and other monks won't talk to him. For major offenses, the monk must leave the
community. But there is no excommunication in Buddhism. If you are told to leave
the community of monks, you just become a lay person, but you can still be Buddhist.
In Buddhism you can be a monk freely anytime. But you have to respect the rules.
In Buddhism all volitional action has consequences. If you commit a violation of
the five precepts that means you have committed a bad action or bad karma. Bad actions
will produce bad effects (bad Phala) here (now or later) or in the hereafter.
There are two bad consequences from bad actions: suffering of oneself and others
in this very life, and bad destinations (hell for example in the hereafter). Another
punishment is that you can receive punishment from the authorities. This could even
include jail. Jail existed even during Buddha's time for thieves or murderers.
Karma is related to personal responsibility - You can't lie because actions are accomplished
voluntarily - volitional action or conscious action. If someone commits an action
consciously, bad or good, the person knows by himself if it is good or bad. In the
concept of Karma, you don't need others to know. You complete the action and it exists
in your memory and in your consciousness. Every volitional action will automatically
produce effects sooner or later (Karma and Phala).
Because we live in society we need something to regulate our interactions. If we
live alone, there is no need for regulations. But in society there is a need to preserve
unity, accord and harmony, for the interests of everyone, for the benefit of everyone,
for progress and for a way to find freedom and deliverance. We have morality or ethics,
and concentration or meditation (to regulate or to purify the mind). This is the
Middle Path. Wisdom is indispensable. Two things represent wisdom: right understanding
or right view; and right thoughts. Buddhism advocates that wisdom and compassion
must be cultivated and practiced equally.
Buddhism doesn't recommend repentance or regret. You must have a good spirit now
to accomplish good things here and now. If you live with remorse you cannot focus
on the present actions. You shouldn't continue to suffer, even if you commit a crime.
You should just try to understand that if you have done this bad thing, you will
have bad consequences. You should consider the past crime as a mistake or error,
and you should try to learn and gain advice for your present actions. If you live
in the past it is not good. There is no need for remorse, just understand the cause
and effect and try to learn from your mistakes.
We all experience both good and bad in our lives. We can change our destiny by doing
good things in the here and now, as we can't change the past. The real reality is
the present and we must try to be masters of our actions and our destiny.
Christian NGO worker
I do not know much about the current situation of Cambodia because I have just
returned from my studies. I am also afraid to talk about these issues. Therefore,
I am not much interested in them. Does talking about justice, national reconciliation
and Khmer Rouge trial have any impact on politics?
I think that the trial for the Khmer Rouge is a difficult issue because there have
been rumors that some high-ranking people in the government were also involved with
the Khmer Rouge. I want to ask them back, "Who are the people who will be brought
to trial? And to what level will the Khmer Rouge leadership be tried?"
When one remembers the Pol Pot time, everyone knows well about the difficulties and
the separation of families. My parents and many of my relatives were killed during
that time. I suffered also, and was filled with doubts as to why Pol Pot did that?
I have forgiven the former Khmer Rouge already, and told my family to forgive them,
too, because after 1979 we have met the people who killed our parents. The reason
we forgave them is because we realize that they are ignorant people. If we had mistreated
them after 1979, our parents and relatives wouldn't be born again. I also did not
understand why, during that time, in some parts of the country people had enough
to eat and people were treated better, while in many other places people were badly
mistreated and didn't have enough to eat?
For me, as a Christian, I have to forgive and give them amnesty, as God has taught
us to do so. However, in Cambodian society Christians account for approximately 5%
of the population, while followers of other religions including Buddhism account
for about 95%. We don't know what they think. They can't probably control their anger.
In addition, we know that a robber is jailed for killing one person. What about Pol
Pot who killed millions of people, should they be given amnesty?
I don't know much about the laws for trying Khmer Rouge. I have only heard that the
trial will be held in 6 months. I believe that there will be no accuracy and no justice
despite the participation of foreign judges and prosecutors if it is done in Cambodia.
If it is conducted outside Cambodia, justice can be ensured. The reason is that there
is not full justice in Cambodia at the present time. Just take a look at the election
There was participation of foreigners at that time, but fraud still occurred. In
1993, there was not so much fraud, because the UN participated. In Cambodian society,
justice exists only among international organizations.
There is no true justice within the government. In the government, justice exists
only on paper, laws are only for the small people. The big people violate the laws
and commit corruption. Corruption exists even in the court system. For instance,
justice has never been ensured for the prosecutions of many people in 1997, the beating
and scolding of monks in 1998, the killing of journalists, grenade attacks on demonstrators
in front of the National Assembly etc.
Personally, being a staff of an NGO and Christian, I pay more attention to the present
and future than to the past, and I can forgive. But I am doubtful whether or not
the Khmer Rouge will come for the trial if they are overseas? Why do Khmer leaders,
who already know the cruelty of Pol Pot, still follow the same track?
I believe that Cambodian people can live peacefully only if all political parties
get along well with each other, and they eliminate partisanship and exercise real
democracy. Once real democracy exists, the people will have full rights. But these
rights must not be only given in the front, while then killing in the back.
Lastly, I would request all leaders of the political parties to have love, pity and
consideration (metta karona) and give amnesty to each other. If we continue the rancor,
we will never end the bloodshed. As a result, there will be no real peace for us.
Her Excellency Mu Sochua
Minister of Women's and Veterans Affairs and a member of FUNCINPEC.
On the issue of justice, I believe it is of great importance that all persons living
in Cambodia are provided with access to equal and equitable justice. However, we
must all realize the difficulties in grasping a concept that is very valuable for
Cambodia, but which remains somewhat elusive. Local and international organizations
and the Royal Government must work together to grasp the key challenges that confront
us in promoting access to justice in Cambodia.
Access to justice is one of the fundamental rights of all citizens. For Cambodia,
access to justice is key to a culture of peace and changing the public perception
of the role of the state. Peace and national reconciliation can be sustained when
the whole nation is engaged in the process of rebuilding a justice system that is
based on human rights.
Many other Cambodians, including members of the Government, were invited to
participate in this project, however for a variety of reasons they refused.