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First step towards KR justice

First step towards KR justice

THE international community's belated attempts to bring

to justice key players in the murderous Khmer Rouge

regime continues this weekend with the arrival of three

UN-sponsored international legal experts.

Australian Sir Ninian Stephen, Mauritian Rajsoomer

Lallah, and American Steven Ratner will spend a week

talking to witnesses, government officials and examining


From there they will then consider what further action to


However their mandate only covers 1975 to 1979 and is

restricted to looking at the chances of putting on trial

the KR leadership of the time.

Aside from show trials under the Vietnamese in 1980, KR

cadres have largely gone unpunished, though many were

imprisoned under SOC in the 1980s without trial.

UN human rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg has been an

enthusiastic supporter of the concept of a Khmer Rouge

tribunal to try the leaders.

Hammarberg said the government had shown

"considerable openness" to the experts'

mission, adding: "There's no interest on any one's

side to reject [the process]."

However, some are suggesting that Hammarberg's are

curious comments, given that one human rights worker

pointed out to the Post that they could provide several

witnesses to atrocities committed by at least one of Hun

Sen's closest CPP advisors.

Further suggestions are being privately put about that

Hun Sen has been advised that it is in his interests to

lead the charge toward bringing the KR leaders to trial

to deflect on-going concerns as to why no one has been

arrested for more recent human rights violations. For

similar reasons, it has been suggested, Hammarberg is

also pushing the concept of a KR trial very strongly.

In addition, one of the major reasons no trial has been

attempted till now has been a reluctance on the part of a

number of nations, principally America, Great Britain,

China and Thailand to have exposed the extent of their

support of the KR during the 1980s.

Cambodia historian Stephen Heder called an international

judicial initiative "scandalously long

overdue", noting that political considerations had

outweighed justice for the KR's victims.

"The only reason why [an international trial] has

not happened is political: reluctance on the part of

China and, until recently, the US and its western allies,

to see the Khmer Rouge brought to book," he said.

Meanwhile questions over jurisdiction and the mechanics

of a trial have never really been solved, and this is

partially what the visiting experts hope to resolve.

Some international law experts have noted that an

international tribunal faces likely obstruction from

China, which supported the Khmer Rouge until 1991 and has

a veto on the UN Security Council.

But Hammarberg said that a trial would not necessarily

have to be set up by the Council. The option could

possibly, if so recommended, be authorizecd by the

General Assembly, thus bypassing the Council altogether.

There is also a question whether or not it is appropriate

for the UN to be even involved and there are some

suggestions that rather than an ad hoc war crimes

tribunal the KR should be dealt with under existing laws

in Cambodian courts.

Political scientist and KR researcher Craig Etcheson is

familiar with the evidence against the regime. "We

know who did it, how they did it, who they did it to, and

for the most part, why they did it," he said by

email. "It is up to legal authorities to determine

whether this very clear picture constitutes adequate

evidence to prosecute the perpetrators under

international law."

However there are doubts as to whether surviving members

of the KR leadership could be linked to specific crimes

such as the Tuol Sleng (S-21) torture and interrogation


There is also the practical question of actually

detaining the leaders to put them on trial.

Ieng Sary is in the autonomous zone of Pailin, Ta Mok,

Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are in the jungle on the Thai

border and possibly cannot be detained without Thai

assistance unlikely scenario. But for the victims any

form of trial or attempt at a trial is a good beginning.

"As a survivor of the genocide regime, it's a dream

come true," said Youk Chhang, director of the

Documentation Center of Cambodia an archive of KR

materials which the experts will examine.

"I want all the KR leaders to be prosecuted because

all the victims from this period still are alive and they

still mentally or physically suffer from that

crime," said a moto-taxi driver, 39, who said he had

read of the team's visit in newspapers.

"On the other hand, by prosecuting the KR leaders,

we will [also] see clearly who gave the order to the KR

to kill people and who carried out the order, and we will

also know the reasons why they issued such order,"

he added. "The victims want to see how those

perpetrators will be punished."


Even those who were part of the killing process want to

see the leaders brought to justice.

Him Huy was a security guard at Tuol Sleng prison during

the KR time. He said he knew what happened and there

should be a trial for those who ordered the atrocities.

"I saw that there was killing with my own

eyes," he said.

However he said his own involvement in any judicial

process will end with the information he gives to the UN


"I am not going to be a witness in the KR trial

because what I tell (the investigators) is enough."

Meanwhile some victims have said that their own

experiences should be evidence enough for any trial.

"I did not know the UN is going to send its people

to investigate [but] I support that all the KR cadre

should be tried because they persecuted their own people,

and killed many Cambodian people including my

parents," said a cigarette seller.

"The victims still remember what happened to them

during the KR and they are still angry," she added.

"It is not too late to try them, and if we fail to

prosecute them by raising the excuse that it is too late,

it will set an example for other criminals that after

they committed a crime, they will be free from

punishment," said a drinks seller.

"Even though Pol Pot died, we have to take his body

or his name to the trial to make the feelings of the

people who suffered under his rule calm down and to find

justice for those who died during that time."

It is a sentiment Etcheson agrees with: "no-one

suggested that Nuremberg lacked meaning simply because

Hitler was dead."

Most survivors interviewed specifically named Sary as the

person they most wanted to see on trial.

"Many people who joined with Pol Pot to kill people

still happily live in the jungle, especially Ieng

Sary," said a 32-year-old garment factory worker.

"He must be arrested and tried like other criminals

because he was the man who persuaded Cambodian

intellectuals abroad to come back to be killed under

their hand."

The drinks seller agreed that Sary's amnesty should not

protect him from an international legal proceeding; she

also thought the UN should be able to ferret out the last


"To show its ability as the strongest body in the

world, the U.N has to find the criminals such as

[hard-line leaders] Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan

and others and take them to justice even if they are

hiding themselves beyond horizon," she added.

Cambodians seem hopeful that a trial can happen, to bring

closure to their troubled past. "I want all the KR

leaders to be prosecuted because by so doing... we can

put an end to the life of the KR, and then the war in

Cambodia will be over," said a hotel worker, 30.

"The Khmer society has been in trouble since the

presence of the KR."


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