C AMBODIAN Genocide Program (CGP) manager Craig Etcheson is upbeat about the
progress of investigations into Khmer Rouge mass killings, just days before a
Yale University-hosted "Striving For Justice" conference in Phnom
The conference to be held on Aug 21 and 22 will be chaired by CGP
director Ben Kiernan. About 50 people have been invited from overseas.
study, or discussion paper later to be published as a book, will be presented to
"help the debate among Cambodians and international observers to achieve justice
and national reconciliation..." according to a local human rights worker invited
to the conference.
The conference will recommend several different
approaches, and analysis on the advantages and disadvantages of each.
conference is likely to discuss a key provision in the US Congress Cambodian
Genocide Justice Act: "to submit... data to a national or international penal
tribunal that may be convened to formally hear and judge the genocidal acts
committed by the Khmer Rouge."
This provision does not form part of the
Etcheson said that two of the CGP's three project areas
into the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) era atrocities - that of documentation and
training - were well ahead of schedule.
The third area, that of research,
was "about on schedule," Etcheson said.
"The database we are assembling
will be much more sophisticated and useful than we had originally envisaged," he
"We think the database has the potential to revolutionize the field
of Cambodian study of the DK era... It will be a very powerful research tool,"
he said. The database will include not only interviews, but photos, maps and
"We have achieved in six weeks what we had hoped to
accomplish after 12 months," he said.
Etcheson was hesitant about
disclosing new evidence. He said "we have discovered a wide variety of data from
sources we didn't know about when we started", which had not been seen by
As an example, he said his team had discovered a couple of
large collections of KR photographs from a period "where we didn't know [any]
Cambodians were volunteering materials and help. "It
happens all the time," he said. "Government officials, National Assembly
members, human rights workers and ordinary citizens all come and offer us
When asked about any single, crucial piece of evidence that
his team was working toward, Etcheson said: "Ah yes, the smoking
"We do have preconceptions about that. One thing we would like to
find are officials documents from Party Center, transmitting directives to field
commands to implement Party policies on treatment of Buddhists. That might be an
example of a smoking gun."
"There must have been something like that, and
we would like to find it."
Etcheson said his team was a "large,
multi-national" one working in Australia, Europe, the United States and
He said "we are continuing to encourage a variety of
governments to participate in the work of the CGP".
One Khmer was
attending a two-year masters course at Yale University, another had been
recently accepted, "and we are looking for more," he said.
were being trained locally in investigative and methodological techiniques "and
that's proceeding well," he said.
Cambodian government officials and
human rights workers were being trained in international human rights and
Etcheson said of the research work "we are beginning to
see a draft production from our researchers, but bear in mind that we still have
nearly 18 months before we expect to have the final draft."
the goal was to produce detailed studies of each DK zone in the country during
the 1975-79 period. "We want to look at the chain of command in each of these
zones, to see if there is any correlation between changes in the command and the
treatment of various segments of the population."
"In many places its a
challenging undertaking because of the huge swathes of cadre killed or
"In general, outlines of what happened to various groups of
Cambodians have been fairly well examined by previous research.
objective is to confirm that and obtain more detail and hard, documented
evidence" about KR atrocities, he said.
Etcheson said his biggest
surprise was how much information had never been examined by
"Perhaps, in the case of some information, various people and
organizations who had that data were just waiting for the time to release
"They decided that the time was now," Etcheson
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher took a 20
minute tour of Tuol Sleng last Friday.
Christopher paused briefly in the
rooms where photographs of torture victims line the walls.
In front of a
wall sized map of Cambodia constructed of human skulls, he stopped to make a
"It's horrible. It's beyond belief, man's inhumanity to
man. It's hard to believe that the whole country turned on itself." What the
Khmer Rouge did, he said was terrible.
Later, asked at a press conference
whether the CGP could ever bring the victims of Pol Pot to justice, Christopher
responded that the project was "realistic enough to justify the money we are
putting into it. Obviously there was genocide here. The question is whether or
not evidence can be assembled" to bring the perpetrators to justice, he said.