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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Don't blame 'village chiefs' for KR leaders' crimes

Don't blame 'village chiefs' for KR leaders' crimes

Historian Henri Locard responds to Devil's Advocate Philip Short, who has

argued that there should be no trial of the surviving Khmer Rouge leadership

PHILIP SHORT is, I must admit, absolutely right to point out that what happened under

Democratic Kampuchea was not "genocide", in the 1948 Convention's meaning

of the word, and that those responsible for the regime should be tried for "crimes

against humanity". Every single article of the July 17, 1948 Rome convention

that lists the nature of those various crimes against humanity applies to the policies

initiated by Angkar.

Philip Short is also right to point out that the United States committed numerous

war crimes by indiscriminately bombing vast sections of Cambodian territory, thus

creating a climate of violence in which everything became possible. But can he explain

to us why, after Congress banned those bombings in August 1973, almost two years

before the enslavement of Cambodia, why then Cambodian refugees did not return to

the collective paradise of Khmer Rouge controlled territory but persisted in flocking

to the cities in their hundreds of thousands?

Philip Short is also right to point out that historians' main concern today about

that now defunct fateful revolutionary movement and regime is "to understand

what happened to Cambodians".

I am not so sure, however, that the Cambodians themselves would be satisfied only

with intellectual explanations. They want perpetrators of heinous crimes on a massive

scale no longer to benefit from a culture of total impunity. This is why a proper

forum, which meets international standards, is vital and I must voice my utter disagreement

with the suggestion expressed in Philip Short's headline that "there should

be no trial". Indeed, he is "the true Devil's advocate"!

All the more so since his arguments are based on either his ignorance of the real

nature of the Democratic Kampuchea regime or his refusal to look squarely at the

reality of the society established by the Khmer Rouge.

I am sure Philip Short must have talked more with the perpetrators than with the

victims of those crimes, since he is developing the theory dear to the surviving

leadership - ie, "lower-level cadres (above all, village chiefs) ordered or

caused the deaths of upwards of a million people". Everything about this gratuitous

assertion is contrary to the established historical reality.

First of all, there were no longer any traditional "village chiefs". Most

of those had been assassinated by the Communist guerrillas during the civil war.

There were no longer any village communities either, but totally collectivised "sahakor"

ruled by Party cadres encompassing more than one traditional village.

Not "upwards of a million" died from April 17, 1975 to January 7, 1979,

but almost two million, and 41.9 percent of the relocated population of Phnom Penh

- in all, almost 25 percent of the population, a horrendous total for a regime that

survived less than four years. The only published scientific count so far is that

of the demographer Marek Sliwinsky in his Le Génocide khmer rouge:une analyse

démographique. Those figures have never been proven wrong by any other extensive

study since.

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

ordered the immediate evacuation of all the inhabitants of the capital together with

those of every single town in the country (this amounting to some 40 percent of the

total population), thus depriving them of all the property they could not carry on

their backs, making them roofless and unprotected wanderers for the duration of the

regime, forced to be endlessly relocated wherever it pleased Angkar to pack them

off ?

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

ordered the immediate abolition of all laws, leaving every citizen totally unprotected

before the sheer violence and absolute terror exercised by Angkar?

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

wrote and voted for the single law of DK - the January 1976 constitution - which

says, for instance, in its Article 10:

Actions violating the laws of the people's state are as follows:

hostile and destructive activities which threaten the people's state shall be subject

to the severest form of punishment.

Every Cambodian who lived under DK knows what "the severest form of punishment"

meant to the KR leadership. All everyday actions being politicized under DK, like

eating a banana without Angkar's permission, were considered as "threatening

the people's state", since absolutely everything was the property of the state.

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

ordered the immediate assassination of all senior civil servants of the Republican

regime and all officers of the Republican army, often with their entire families,

straight after the violent seizure of power?

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

decided that overnight all hospitals should be closed, the patients sent into the

streets and the whole population (except the nomenklatura, of course) should be totally

deprived of the benefits of modern medicine?

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

decided to abolish money and all markets, together with the introduction in the entire

country of collective eating after the first harvest, thus enabling Angkar to "grasp

hold" (as they said) of every citizen, making them totally dependent on the

good will of Angkar that stole most of the food the people were massively producing,

thus engineering an unprecedented famine?

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

decided to abolish all forms of education and coerced every child to become an unpaid

labourer with no access to play or education except to the propaganda of the regime

in the form of slogans and revolutionary songs?

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

decided to turn every citizen into an unpaid slave working longer hours than the

miserable labourers of the British Industrial Revolution in the early days of the

19th Century?

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

decided to introduce a caste system that divided sharply the population into New

and Old People, the former, according to all evidence, being destined to slow extermination

once their free labour force had been fully spent?

Does Philip Short suggest that "lower-level cadres (above all village chiefs)"

decided to shoot all escapees who were caught in the forests, desperately trying

to leave that hellish inferno?

Does Philip Short know that "lower-level cadres" had two main tasks: one,

make sure everyone toiled like an ox; two, hunt down all potential "enemies"

of the regime. If they did not produce for Angkar a sufficient number of them, they

in their turn, would become suspect. Everyone will tell Philip Short that local cadres

who were perceived by the leadership as too lenient were purged and replaced by more

ignorant and cruel kamaphibals. In most sahakor more humane cadres were replaced

by the hated Niredeys from the Southeast. They would meet the required quotas of

"enemies", khmang.

Philip Short claims - and this is probably his most preposterous assertion - that

"half the governments in the world have, or had formerly, establishments similar

to S-21".

He adds "what makes S-21 different is that a large part of the archives were

preserved and are now available to scholars". Here Philip Short is lumping together

institutions and non-democratic regimes which have nothing in common. This only serves

to minimize and trivialise the grossest affront to human rights as practised in the

dens of torture, terror and dehumanisation that were the Khmer Rouge prisons. Their

equivalents are only to be found in other Communist regimes, with which Philip Short

must be much more familiar than myself since he is an expert on Maoist China.

Yes, I did write "prisons" in the plural. Is Philip Short naive enough

to believe there was just ONE prison - S-21 - in DK? Has he ever heard of a Communist

country with just a SINGLE political prison? I am sorry to inform him that S-21 was

neither the largest prison nor the one where the highest number of inmates were "processed".

It was, after initially dealing with some prominent personalities of the previous

regimes, meant for "heavy" prisoners from the Khmer Rouge bureaucracy.

Does he not know we have also a fair proportion of the archives of Krang Ta Chan,

in the commune of Kus, the district prison of Tramkak, Ta Mok's original district

- an ordinary provincial prison, one among hundreds? Does he not know that Tuol Sleng

is just the tip of the pyramid and that throughout so-called Democratic Kampuchea

there were secret institutions where prisoners were taken, their hands tied behind

their backs, to be put in chains (the infamous collective "khnohs") interrogated,

tortured, starved, most of them till they died amid the most horrendous suffering?

Has he not cared to read Van Nath's testimony (A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year

in the Khmer Rouge's S-21)? Has he not seen that, before being brought to the capital

and S-21, he was first processed through the "district prison" at "Kandal

pagoda" in Battambang where he was "locked in wooden stocks" and asked

"What did you do wrong?", exactly as François Bizot had been asked

by his interrogator in the Cardamons six years earlier? Has Philip Short not noticed

that Van Nath's arrest was "the order of the district chief"?

Has he not read Moeung Sonn's testimony Prisonnier de l'Angkar in which is recorded

the story of these infernal dens in the Kampong Som region from the beginning to

the end of the regime.? The prisons were set up everywhere and existed throughout

the entire period the Kampuchean Communist Party controlled any section of Cambodian

territory. Would Philip Short suggest the entire network of institutions that operated

along strictly identical lines were set up by "lower-level cadres (above all

village chiefs)"?

Does Philip short believe the large number of mass graves scattered throughout the

country and discovered after 1979 were relics of the criminal activities of "lower-level

cadres (above all village chiefs)"? No, just as Choeung Ek was connected to

S-21, almost all mass graves were annexes of one of those prisons -extermination

centres, of which there was at least a major one in almost all of the approximately

150 districts of the country. Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians - a majority men

- were clubbed to death after they had forcefully confessed they had been "plotting"

against the loathed Angkar.

All those dire decisions have no equivalent in the modern world, and even the most

rabid revolutionaries like Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Kim Il-sung did not dare to make

them, only tentatively showing the way to the Cambodian Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries.

They had come last in the string of Communist revolutions, but they were planning

to leap ahead of earlier models and become the envy of the entire world. Absolutely

indifferent to human suffering, they then took their country light years from our

planet earth.

Thank God, Mr Philip Short, this DID NOT happen "in half the goverments in the

world"!

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