A VIRULENT anti-Hun Sen campaign reached the floor of the
US Congress last week, charging the Prime Minister-elect
with "genocide" and other crimes under Pol
Pot's Democratic Kampuchea regime.
Congressman Dana Rohra-bacher's House Resolution 553 has
polarized opinion in Cambodia.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition has thrown its weight
behind the resolution. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is
due in Washington today (Oct 1) to testify in favor of
But the government and many Cambodian scholars have
criticized the paper one scholar calling it
"dangerous" and two others describing it as
"baseless in fact or law".
Rohrabacher, a close supporter of Rainsy, is seeking
"the indictment of Hun Sen for genocide and crimes
against humanity before an international tribunal."
While the UN is preparing to organize an international
tribunal to hold the Khmer Rouge leadership accountable
for the deaths of about 1.7 million Cambodians under the
Pol Pot regime, Rohra-bacher has continued to gun for
Cambodia's second prime minister, who was a junior Khmer
Rouge commander at the time.
It is understood that there is no official US government
support for Rohrabacher.
But the resolution has delighted many of Hun Sen's
opposition, both here and abroad.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh's Cabinet chief, Kong Vibol,
said: "We support [the resolution] because Hun Sen
is a second Pol Pot."
He clarified it: "We think he should stand trial. He
kills monks, he was a Khmer Rouge commander, he killed so
many people... the grenade attack, and the recent
crackdown on peaceful demonstrations."
Human rights lawyer Brad Adams, however, condemned
Rohrabacher's resolution as "extremely irresponsible
and dangerous to the interests of establishing a tribunal
[for the trial of the Khmer Rouge leadership limited to
the period of 1975-79]."
Cambodian scholars, investigators and journalists have so
far failed to uncover any evidence to implicate Hun Sen
for crimes committed under the DK regime, or to justify
bringing him to an international tribunal.
Historical records shows that Hun Sen was one of the
first to defy orders of the Pol Pot regime. Instead he
fled to Vietnam and organized resistance from there in
In an "Open Letter to the US Congress" two
academics specializing in Cambodia, Steve Heder and Craig
Etcheson, responded to Rohrabacher's accusations:
"Calls to indict Hun Sen for genocide and war crimes
have no basis in fact or law.
"No credible documentation or oral testimony has
ever been uncovered to substantiate such charges,"
they said, "and the specific allegations that have
been made public to support them have proved
Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok seemed to be the first
who canvassed the possibility of putting Hun Sen on trial
together with Pol Pot, when the former "Brother No.
1" was still alive.
After Pol Pot's ouster and show-trial in July 1997 there
was talk of handing Pol Pot over to the international
community. Ta Mok, however, insisted that such a deal was
contingent on the "arrest of Hun Sen, the yuon
puppet" and his arraignment with Pol Pot at an
Pol Pot has died but Mok's proposal to put Hun Sen on
trial has not. The post-election protests resulted in a
chorus of opposition outrage against Hun Sen, alternately
demanding that he resign or be arrested. Rainsy,
Funcinpec spokesmen, "Democracy Square"
orators, and leaders of student demonstrations called for
the either "the US or the UN to arrest Hun
While Heder and Etcheson agree that a "prima facie
case may exist to implicate Hun Sen" in serious
human rights violations between 1985 until now, they also
argue that "as egregious as these human rights
crimes may be, they do not cross the threshold into
genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes as
defined in international law".
"It is a disservice to the rule of law and truth to
make baseless or grossly exaggerated allegations to
achieve a political end," they said.
Heder, who lectures in politics at the London School of
African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), has previously
worked for Amnesty International and in UNTAC's
peacekeeping mission in Cambodia, is a known critic of
the Hun Sen government's human rights abuses.
Two US radio stations VOA (Khmer language service) and
Radio Free Asia have devoted much air-time to
Rohrabacher's small coterie of fellow congressmen, and
many Cambodian listeners assume that they speak for the
Their frequent statements calling for the arrest of Hun
Sen has convinced thousands in Phnom Penh and in the
provinces that Washington is about to send troops and
arrest the Cambodian prime minister.
Both the UN and the US embassy in Phnom Penh have issued
denials that they are somehow supporting the
Kenneth Quinn, the US ambassador in Phnom Penh, is
reported to have engaged in heated exchanges with Sam
Rainsy and his wife Samaura over their claims which they
later watered down as being made in the heat of the
moment that Washington was ready to send missiles or the
US marines to topple Hun Sen.
According to one source who overheard a telephone
conversation between the US ambassador and Samaura, a
newly-elected member of the National Assembly, questions
were asked about why would Washington "not arrest
Hun Sen for terrorism" when it had intervened
elsewhere, as with President Noriega in Pan-ama?
The source said that Quinn's irate response did not
endear him to Rainsy faithful.
Quinn declined to comment on recent events, although the
embassy had previously issued a statement strongly
denying any intention to send missiles to attack
Cambodia, a suggestion Rainsy had made in one earlier
speech to protesters.
Adams is concerned that "attempts to bring Hun Sen
to an International Tribunal will undermine [the
tribunal's] credibility [and] discourage Cambodian
Hun Sen's CPP largely shares the same misconceptions
about American foreign policy, along with many RFA and
Twenty-six National Assembly members from the CPP have
recently sent their own joint letter of protest to the US
Congress about the Rohrabacher resolution, pointing out
that many Cambodians are grateful to Hun Sen and other
leaders who cooperated with Vietnam in 1979 "to save
them from the genocide regime".
An opinion poll survey conducted after the July election
on CPP voters established that most of their support (as
opposed to votes garnered from inducements, bribes or
intimidation) was anchored around this sense of
historical debt to the party linked to the 1979
liberation from Pol Pot.
Rohrabacher's moves "could make Hun Sen nervous
about a US plot to get him," some human rights
advocates argue, given a long record of US hostility
toward Cambodia during the 1980s, when the West
recognized the DK's Ieng Sary rather than Hun Sen and his
Hun Sen has often said to his critics that he has no
objection to any investigation looking into his own
activities while he was with the Khmer Rouge.
Three judicial experts appointed by the UN
Secretary-General were due to arrive in Cambodia on Sept
1 to review the evidence of Khmer Rouge genocide and
discuss the feasibility for a trial, including its format
However, the post-election street protests and disorder
forced them to postpone until Nov14th.
Rosemary McCreery, the head of the UN human rights
office, said that "Hun Sen and senior members of his
government have confirmed their commitment to a tribunal
several times in the last few months.
"As far as I know nothing has changed but we have to
reschedule the appointments with the three judges."
An International Trubunal covering the period of the Pol
Pot regims from 1975-79 is seen by many observers
performing not only a landmark role in jurisprudence and
judgment of one of the world's most evil regime, but also
an educational function in uncovering the true history of
When the history comes to be written, Adams told the Post
that "in any book Pol Pot would be in the same
league as Hitler and Stalin, but Hun Sen is just a
footnote among world dictators".