Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 1979 trial revisited

1979 trial revisited

1979 trial revisited

The People's Revolutionary Tribunal generally divides Cambodia

experts and activists into three distinct camps: those who dismiss it as propaganda,

those who consider it's evidentiary material important, and those find it's possible

to feel both ways. The Post asked: how history will remember the PRT?

"It won't. It was of a character that only a real Stalinist could think of.

The script was written in Hanoi. The defense lawyer recommended the death penalty!"

- Stephen Morris, author of Why Vietnam invaded Cambodia

"To my mind, the 1979 trial, for its flaws, served a more significant purpose

than trials that may be held now. At that time, the Khmer Rouge were known, but not

widely, and the Khmer Rouge were vying to return to political power. So putting the

spotlight on the atrocities in a way that would explain them to the rest of the world

was quite important."

- John Quigley, expert witness at the PRT, author of "The Genocide Convention:

An International Law Analysis," co-editor of Genocide in Cambodia

"People at the time considered the trial and sentencing of Pol Pot and Ieng

Sary very fair because the pain was so fresh. Some people still had wound marks and

at Toul Sleng you could still smell the blood."

- Chhum Bun, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia

"The PRT was set up by the Communist Party and the people in charge were not

legal experts, just ordinary people with no understanding of the law. The verdict

of this court wasn't fair at all because they listened to higher officials in the


- Kem Sokha, testified at the PRT, now president of the Cambodian Center for Human


"The 1979 trial, to an extent, has served the purpose of 'raising the sights'

of the ECCC, This is beneficial. But once again, I would emphasize the value of the

1979 trial, and not focus on its shortcomings. It's easy for academicians to snipe

at the 1979 trial. But those behind the 1979 proceeding and those today share many

objectives. Moreover, the world today has a vastly greater store of "post-regime

justice" than existed in 1979."

- Howard De Nike, co-editor of Genocide in Cambodia, law professor of University

of San Francisco

"The evidence that came out was stunning. But, overall, it was more negative

than positive. It was an excuse for the Vietnamese to justify their occupation of

Cambodia. It was bungled: it only lasted two days and the judges were fellow travelers

not professional judges."

- Henri Locard, author of Pol Pot's Little Red Book: the sayings of Angkar

"The PRT was a legitimate attempt with meager resources to establishing the

enormity of the Khmer Rouge crimes, and by inference the legitimacy of the new regime.

The 1979 trail was important, but not only was of limited legal value-its presentation

of history was skewered in part to fit the political framework designed by Hanoi."

-Tom Fawthrop, co-author of Getting Away with Genocide

"For the witnesses, we were asked to describe our lives during the Khmer Rouge.

As for the attacks on China, that came from the political people. As witnesses we

didn't know why they tried only two people and the Chinese. It was the regime that

dictated the statements of the trial."

-Thun Saray, witness for the PRT, now executive director of ADHOC.

"I find Quigley's remarks breathtaking. What did the PRT accomplish? With respect,

nothing whatever. It was a dishonest Stalinist show trial mounted by the Vietnamese

government and its satellite in Phnom Penh, both of which were, at the time, Stalinist-type

regimes. Despite a window dressing of western fellow-travellers, there was no recognizable

judicial process and the proceedings discredited everyone, without exception, who

was in any way associated with them."

- Philip Short, author of Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare

"Historically, swift action - a surgical strike-was necessary and nicely taken.

In terms of later history, the fresh evidence of the trial, much of it undisputed

25 years later has an intrinsic value. Culturally, it may at the time have been helpful

(as it's often been since) to blame the PRK on one man or two. But this was the wrong

two. If one were to blame two, Nuon Chea is way ahead of Ieng Sary."

- David Chandler, author of Brother Number One

"On the character of the PRT, it's interesting that even a commentator as sympathetic

to the emerging PRK regime, Margaret Slocum in her The People's Republic of Kampuchea

1979-1989, allows that what took place was a 'show trial'. And it surely was, with

the whole apparatus of delegations from friendly socialist countries and similarly

oriented organizations. I suppose an argument may be made that the exercise was cathartic,

but I'm not sure that this is very convincing, not least since it is clear that the

Pol Pot period remains an unresolved shadow over contemporary Cambodia, a fact that

many hope will change after the ECCC process takes place. It's worth noting, moreover,

that the PRT receives scant mention in any general histories of the PRK, whatever

the particular sympathies of the writer who reviews that period.

- Milton Osborne, author of Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness

"The PRT was set up to try Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot and Ieng Sary because

the public knew them well as Brother No 1 and 2. They were sentenced in absentia

by the court. The trial included a small number of witnesses [who suffered under

the Khmer Rouge] and by foreign legal experts. Some Western countries which supported

the Khmer Rouge rejected the decision, but we had legal experts there to witness.

At that time we still had the Cold War."

- Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information, who assisted in the publication of

PRT documents


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