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Belgian activist zeroes in on Khmer Rouge

Belgian activist zeroes in on Khmer Rouge

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

other countries?

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.


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