Search form

Login - Register | FOLLOW US ON

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodians talk about the Khmer Rouge trial

Cambodians talk about the Khmer Rouge trial

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.

Suong Sikoeun

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."


Chea Vannath

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?

Heng Monychenda

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.

Thun Saray

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

be repeated.

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

key issue.

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

are responsible.

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

was done."

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

the official

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

Research Institute)

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

in 1998.

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.



Please, login or register to post a comment

Latest Video

Turkish Embassy calls for closure of Zaman schools

With an attempted coup against the government of President Recep Erdogan quashed only days ago and more than 7,000 alleged conspirators now under arrest, the Turkish ambassador to Cambodia yesterday pressed the govern

CNRP lawmakers beaten

Two opposition lawmakers, Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sakphea were beaten unconscious during protests in Phnom Penh, as over a thousand protesters descended upon the National Assembly.

Student authors discuss "The Cambodian Economy"

Student authors discuss "The Cambodian Economy"

Students at Phnom Penh's Liger Learning Center have written and published a new book, "The Cambodian Economy".