Author Benny Widyono on the UN's long denial of the Khmer Rouge's true nature and how that delayed a war crimes court.
The former UN special representative and author of Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, the KR and UN in Cambodia on Sunday.
Why has it taken so long to try the Khmer Rouge?
This is something that has not been addressed properly except by Noam Chomsky, but he talks more about the US bombing. I think the bombing is a crime, but I think UN recognition of the Khmer Rouge for 11 years is not a crime - it is an outrage. They killed 2 million people, and they [had a seat at the UN]. For me ... they should have been tried in court then.
Has the UN admitted it made a mistake?
No. The trouble is that [giving the Khmer Rouge Cambodia's seat at the UN] was adopted by the majority. So the UN never admits a mistake if it is adopted by a majority. The UN is not one person. The UN is 193 people. I am the one who says this is a travesty of justice.
But the Khmer Rouge was part of a broader coalition government that held the UN seat.
That's a farce. Since 1979, the KR was recognised as the government of Cambodia. And precisely because the West was embarrassed in 1982, three years later, they established these - I call them Nicaragua contra groups: One is Funcinpec and one is Sichan Siv [the Khmer People's National Liberation Front], so that was a cloak, a fig leaf for the Khmer Rouge. So there were three ambassadors in the 1980s - The first was Khmer Rouge, Sim Prasidt, who goes and hobnobs with everybody - champagne and so on - while his regime has killed 2 million people. The second was Prince Sisowath Sirirath, and the third was Sichan Siv. The last two were the fig leaves for the KR. [So] they are KR, but they are still seated next to China. Now that, to me, is a travesty of justice, and that went on for 11 years because during that time, [Cambodia's] government here was a pariah, and the KR was elevated so no one thought of trying them. In 1986, Hun Sen asked the UN to help with trials for KR, but they never did.
What could they have done, realistically?
Not realistically, but an alternative could have been to leave the seat open. That is what India proposed. Why not leave the seat vacant? India was speaking for the nonaligned countries, which was a majority at the UN. But they ignored it because they were powerless countries during the Cold War. The motion passed and we have the Khmer Rouge, thanks to the brilliance of [Prince Sisowath] Thomico [who out-negotiated the Indians]. So, to me that is a travesty of justice. This went on for 11 years and this is the real reason why the Khmer Rouge tribunal was delayed.
What do you think of the 1979 tribunal?
It was not as well done, and nobody accepted it for political reasons. The tribunal of the People's Republic of Kampuchea was not international. No one paid any attention, as we were officially supporting the KR. But in 1986, they [Hun Sen and the Vietnamese government] did ask the UN for a tribunal. But of course, they were not even a government then in the eyes of the UN.
When the UN came in 1991, why was there still no tribunal?
The Paris agreements were flawed because they recognised the genocidal Khmer Rouge as a legitimate party. So it was a continuation of the farce, of the lies of the 1980s, putting the KR as one of the four legitimate factions. This is another thing people gloss over, saying UNTAC is a brilliant solution because UNTAC got rid of the KR problem. But it didn't because UNTAC recognised the Khmer Rouge as one of the factions. I mean, this is a criminal genocidal regime recognised as one of the factions. This is a continuation of the farce. All lies they told us - they are not the enemy, they are one of your friends.
Should they have excluded the KR from the peace process?
In the end, they were excluded. They excluded themselves. They committed suicide. The [international community] told everyone the Khmer Rouge is no longer insane. Let's release them, and then they continued to be insane, killing people, so that's what happened. But in a way, I call it a blessing in disguise. I want to put that in big letters because what happened is the Khmer Rouge was considered sane and a player. They were insane. They almost killed me [when I was UNTAC's governor of Siem Reap]. They attacked us. They refused to let us into their territory.
Why a blessing in disguise?
Because if you have the KR in the elections, then you have genocidal people in the government. In 1991, [Cambodia] was definitely not ready for the trial because they were still supporting the Khmer Rouge.
Could they practically have gone for a trial in 1991?
You say practically. I say ideally, but it's not practical because the Cold War was just over at that time, which means the Russians also agreed to this farce. During those 11 years, the Russian bloc refused to recognise the Khmer Rouge, which is why, if you notice, they have the best real estate for their embassy because they were here during the Hun Sen regime. So this is it: Unless you delve into the history, it is very difficult to say five [defendents] is enough. Is 10 enough, you know? But that's what everyone is worried about.
INTERVIEW BY CAT BARTON