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Why KR leaders have yet to be punished

Why KR leaders have yet to be punished

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

34 abstentions).

"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."


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