In an exclusive interview, the President of the Human Rights League
of Belgium, Georges-Henri Beauthier, talks with Claudia Rizzi about the case
he has filed against Cambodia's Khmer Rouge leadership which mirror his law suits
for international arrest warrants against Chile's Augusto Pinochet and Congo's Laurent
Post: What are the most recent developments in the case you filed against Nuon
Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan?
GHB: Usually, in Belgian [court] procedure, the court names an investigating
judge a few days after a claim is filed. But in our case, since we have requested
that the judge be someone specialized in this kind of matter, we have to wait a little
In fact, there is only one such judge in Belgium. His name is Damien Van der Meersch,
and he is the one who handled the case of the Rwanda genocide and the Pinochet case.
His decision establishing Belgian jurisdiction over crimes committed in Chile set
a legal precedent that was used in the case against the Khmer Rouge. So we have to
wait for the judge to be on duty in order for the court to name him, something which
should happen [soon].
In the meantime, we are building the case and collecting evidence. Every day, I receive
hundreds of pages of testimonies by Cambodians from all over the world.
Post: What is the next step?
GHB: First of all, we wish an investigative commission be sent to Cambodia.
This judge has already done it in Rwanda: he put together four boxes full of testimonies
that the Rwanda government was not collecting because they did not want to, because
there was still a war going on, because it was too dangerous. He did a meticulous
job, and was able to present everything to the International Tribunal in Arusha.
In Belgium there are no Khmer Rouge; so the natural thing for the investigative judge
to do is to go where he can collect evidence.
Post: Given Prime Minister Hun Sen's opposition to an international tribunal,
do you expect the investigative commission to face problems in Cambodia?
GHB: This kind of activity will certainly not go unnoticed. The Cambodian
government has to prepare for it and provide the Belgian investigative judge with
transport, police assistance and an interpreter. Such a commission is an exercise
in good cooperation between two countries: for example, if I asked Milosevic today
to allow an investigative commission, you can imagine he would not give all that.
The most important thing will be to see what kind of access will be given, what kind
of assistance will be offered, how far it will be allowed to go on the ground. If
Cambodia refuses an investigative mission, that will also be important, because that
would show that Cambodia is not able to bring justice.
That would mean having to use other channels, and having to bring into play the international
law game of cat and mouse with the UN which would be hard for Cambodia.
Post: What is the likelihood that an international arrest warrant be issued
as a result?
GBH: I believe that since there should be no problem in collecting enough
evidence to back the genocide charges, an arrest warrant will be issued by the Belgian
court as for the Pinochet case. Then it will be up to the Cambodian government to
enforce it. If they fail to do so, that will constitute an additional element for
those who call for an international tribunal.
Post: Are you aware of any similar legal action brought against the KR in any
GHB: We expect that similar actions will soon be undertaken in other countries
- in France for example. But French laws are different and they are looking
into it. As happened in the Pinochet case, I have also been contacted by several
lawyers in other countries who have expressed interest in mounting similar actions.
Post: From the stand-point of international law, what are the similarities
between the Pinochet and the KR's cases, if any?
GHB: There are many similarities. For the charges against the Khmer Rouge
leaders we have applied the same set of laws and conventions: the 1948 convention
for the crime of genocide, which Cambodia signed in 1950 and Belgium a year later.
We also refer to a Belgian law of 1993 which applies the Geneva Convention of 1949.
Post: On March 24, the Law Lords in London announced their decision on the
Pinochet case, saying that diplomatic immunity would not protect the former Chilean
dictator from extradition. But the Lords have also greatly weakened the charges brought
against him, stating that Pinochet can only be tried for crimes committed after 1988
- the year in which the UK ratified the International Protocol against Torture.
Will this decision affect the Belgian case against the Khmer Rouge?
GHB: While the UK decision will not bear any juridical consequence for
the Cambodian case, it does clearly reveal the interference of politics. There have
certainly been pressures from the US: while it was necessary, for the sake of the
international opinion, that Pinochet not be allowed to go back to Chile, it was also
necessary to find an agreement that would not push Pinochet to denounce the US [involvement
during his dictatorship].
Post: Why was Ta Mok not included with the others?
GHB: We talked about it only afterwards. The idea was that the KR who came
to Phnom Penh were the ones we are going to get. Ta Mok can always be added to the
list. There is nothing that prevents us from adding a place, but before we do so,
I need to examine the evidence against him.
Post: Hun Sen opposes an international tribunal, citing national sovereignty
of the Cambodian courts and the priority of national reconciliation. What is your
GHB: Firstly, when someone fears something one always finds a pretext.
The excuse for Pinochet was the threat of a revolt by the army. When I filed the
case against Kabila, the Belgian foreign ministry told us: 'Are you mad? There are
still Belgian citizens in Kinshasa'.
As for Cambodia, if the situation is such that the Khmer Rouge still control a certain
part of the territory and represent a threat for the government, then Phnom Penh
needs international help to do the kind of justice which they are not in a position
to bring about themselves. And if this is the case, it is not possible to talk about
national reconciliation with the KR.
Secondly, Phnom Penh has repeatedly asked for the help of international justice.
Thirdly, as for sovereignty, every time we've had such trials in Cambodia, they have
been followed by an amnesty. Perhaps an amnesty was needed, but there needs to be
international scrutiny on the way in which these amnesties have come about, and the
reasons why those people have not been questioned longer.
Finally, the government doesn't appear to be sufficiently concerned in dealing with
the Khmer Rouge. When [Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea] came to Phnom Penh, they were
then allowed to leave, a move which is already not good from the standpoint of the
international law; at the least they should have been held for questioning.
Post: At the beginning there were 17 families who filed against the KR, then
23. Has anyone joined since?
GHB: No, but there are no obstacles to more joining up.
Post: What is the unifying principle behind the cases against Kabila, Pinochet
and the Khmer Rouge?
GHB: The fundamental argument is that the world is becoming a global village,
and it is unimaginable that we'll allow certain things to take place and to go unpunished,
not in Cambodia or elsewhere. It is also a new approach to justice; today people
no longer wait for governments to take action.