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
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
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."