A new book that examines why no surviving Khmer Rouge leaders have yet been held
to account and punished for their crimes against humanity will be published in October
by two Phnom Penh residents, journalist Tom Fawthrop and researcher Dr Helen Jarvis.
"After 25 years we are still waiting," said Fawthrop, a long-standing writer
on Southeast Asian affairs and co-author with Jarvis, of Getting away with genocide?
Elusive justice and the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
"Cambodia's culture of impunity can in large part be traced back to Pol Pot's
Democratic Kampuchea regime which practiced killing and murder as an instrument of
policy in a society where law and accountability had ceased to exist," Fawthrop
said. "But after 1979 it was the UN member states, including most Western governments,
who compounded this impunity by voting for the Pol Pot regime."
Fawthrop said the Khmer Rouge army was routed by the small Cambodian rebel force
alongside the Vietnamese but at the United Nations General Assembly in September
1979 the ousted Pol Pot regime retained the Cambodia seat (by 71 votes to 35, with
"If there had been the slightest interest by the international community after
1979 there would have been a Khmer Rouge international genocide trial within a few
years and it could have laid the foundations for the numerous other tribunals that
have been convened in the past decade on the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone
and East Timor.
"But in 1979 Western governments were more committed to the Cold War than to
pursuing international law, human rights and justice in Cambodia," Fawthrop
said. "Appeals for a tribunal from NGOs and Cambodians both inside and
outside Cambodia in the 1980s went unheeded by the non-communist world."
Helen Jarvis has been working in Cambodia for much of the past 15 years and hails
from Australia where she was Associate Professor and Head of the School of Information,
Library and Archive Studies at the University of New South Wales.
She is now a key member of the Cambodian government's Khmer Rouge Trial Task Force
Secretariat, and an advisor to its chairman, Sok An.
From 1995 to 2001 she was the documentation consultant on Yale University's Cambodian
Genocide Program, which established the Documentation Center of Cambodia. She developed
databases for handling documents and biographies and for mapping the genocide sites.
Personally identifying the mass graves and prisons, meeting victims and even handling
bones in the field, were experiences she described as extremely traumatic.
"These were not random, or undirected killings; there is not a single province
or district which does not have its own graves," she said.
In 1992 she came across the record of the 1979 Peoples' Revolutionary Tribunal, which
convicted Pol Pot and Ieng Sary of genocide. The documents, wrapped in brown paper,
had lain for 10 years on a shelf in the National Archives, and she assisted in making
them available in full in an English-language publication.
In 1997 Jarvis published a substantial reference book, a bibliography on Cambodia.
Tom Fawthrop has been reporting Southeast Asian affairs since the late 1970s and
his articles regularly appear in The Economist and on the BBC World website. He started
covering Cambodia in 1979 as a correspondent based in Bangkok and made several trips
to the Thai-Cambodian border, where refugees were streaming across in their thousands.
"In October 1979 we found on the Thai side someone who spoke Khmer and who agreed
to go with us and we just walked across the border," he said.
"It was our first encounter with the KR. We met a small unit comprising frighteningly
young men, as young as 12, bristling with firearms. They had glassy-eyed expressions
which made any kind of confrontation probably dangerous and it seemed sensible to
keep the questions short and leave quickly.
"As we walked back into Thailand we encountered a number of decomposing corpses.
That was my first contact with the killing fields and the KR and it left a powerful
impression on me.
"I met Helen Jarvis when she came here to do research and documentation of the
DK period, and we've remained friends and colleagues ever since.
"When we first met there was still the real threat of the KR trying to come
back to power, given that they had international backing from China, Singapore, Thailand
and from the US.
"The great unanswered question was: they used the KR to put pressure on Vietnam,
but what would they do if Vietnam suddenly withdrew and the KR regained power?"
Fawthrop explains the title of the book as being about the past 25 years, since the
crimes against humanity were committed by the KR regime.
"They've been getting away with it - and we are asking: for how much longer?
"The whole concept of murder, in any civilized society, is that the person who
committed that murder should be apprehended as soon as possible, and as soon as the
identity becomes known it is the responsibility firstly of the police of that country
to arrest them, and if in another country the identity of the suspects is circulated
to international authorities through Interpol and international arrest warrants are
"The singular striking thing concerning the perpetrators of genocide in Cambodia
is that for 25 years the main identities of the top seven to ten KR leaders were
widely known, particularly the name Pol Pot.
"Not only that, but the Western intelligence agencies - not to mention Thai
and Chinese - knew exactly where the KR leaders were. They were hanging out in parts
of Thailand close to the Cambodian border.
"They were more or less available and accessible, should anyone have had the
political will in the international community to implement the UN Genocide Convention.
They could have been apprehended at any point between 1979 and the end of the century.
"The first half of the book is about why there was no attempt to arrest
and charge them, and the development of a culture of impunity which is often referred
to as a specific Cambodian phenomenon.
"We can trace this culture to the impunity bestowed on the KR, not by the
Cambodian authorities, or the Royal Government of Cambodia, but in the first place
to the UN and member states that supported Pol Pot in the UN seat.
"When the very governments that urge good governance set an example like that
it is hardly surprising that a culture of impunity is rampant in Cambodia today.
"The second part of the book deals with the end of the Cold War, which had been
the prime motivation for suppressing any attempts to bring up the genocide issue
and hold the KR accountable.
"But with Clinton in the White House, they suddenly woke up to the forgotten
genocide of Cambodians. The book deals with the rather painful way in which finally
the international community started to talk to the Cambodian Government about maybe
it would be a good idea to hold the KR accountable after all."
Fawthrop and Jarvis say they hope that those KR leaders who do survive to stand trial
will be held accountable and do not get away with genocide any longer.
"One of the prime purposes and objectives of this tribunal is to make sure that
one of the worst crimes against humanity in human history does not go unrecorded,
unaccounted for, unpunished," says Jarvis. "Every effort should be made
to start to start the tribunal this year and because the suspects are aging and have
health problems, make sure the oldest are among the first to face the court."
Fawthrop said the government had a responsibility for the health of all people in
jail or custody, therefore consideration should be given to ensuring the suspects
were in good condition for a prolonged trial.
"I don't think the government should be paying Ieng Sary's hospital bills in
Thailand, I think he has plenty of money for that. But maybe if Nuon Chea was convincingly
without money the government could help him to receive good medical attention to
ensure he is still around for the trial."
Asked whether he thought the coalition government, having been formed, would now
wish the tribunal to be completed as soon as possible, Fawthrop said: "The government
had made it fairly clear, particularly the CPP ruling party, that the legislation
should have been ratified after the last election and there are still some question
marks about why the National Assembly dithered.
"Hun Sen has reiterated several times that ratification is a priority issue.
I don't think ratification will be a stumbling block."
Commenting on the current debate over the size of the KRT budget, Fawthrop said:
"The final chapter of our book deals with the budget and that is indeed proving
to be a particularly awkward topic.
"This is based on donor fatigue towards tribunals in general, and the fact that
the costs of the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals have far exceeded expectations,
even though the KRT will cost a tiny fraction of these international tribunals, a
mere $60 million."