Asean Nations Can Play Important Role in Khmer Rouge Trial
Posted by khmernews on November 17, 2006
By Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, Phnom Penh
The Cambodia Daily
Thursday, June 23, 2005
The quarter of Cambodia’s population killed by the Khmer Rouge constitutes the largest death toll in percentage terms of all the genocides in modern history.
It has been more than 25 years since the Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown yet not a single credible trial of its leaders has been held. Cambodians’ expectations and questions for the upcoming tribunal, which is anticipated to begin in 2006, differ widely.
It is doubtful that everyone’s expectations for justice can be realized, but there will nevertheless be tangible benefits to holding trials.
While Asean member states have not made financial contributions to the tribunal, they can still play important non-monetary roles.
In June 1997, then co-Prime Ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen requested assistance from the United Nations and the international community “in bringing to justice those persons responsible for the genocide and crimes against humanity” during Democratic Kampuchea.
And after seven years of negotiations, in October 2004, the Royal Cambodian Government and the UN ratified an agreement on the prosecution of crimes committed during Democratic Kampuchea.
Cambodia and the UN have nearly completed the next phase of preparations for the tribunal: Raising a budget of $56 million. The UN has received pledges for a little over $41 million of the international community’s slated contribution of $43 million.
The Cambodian government was to pay $13 million in cash and kind, but has belatedly stated that it can only contribute $1.5million. It has appealed to Japan, which is the co-sponsor of the UN resolution to establish the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, to make up the shortfall.
Once Cambodia’s original pledge is met the trials can begin. No one knows for certain how many of the regime’s former leaders will be brought to trial, and no one can predict the tribunal’s outcome.
Expectations among the public vary widely.
Some members of the Cambodian public would like to see the former leaders pay for their crimes with their lives, but Cambodia does not have the death penalty, and the UN has been advocating against the death penalty for decades.
A few other Cambodians take a more strictly Buddhist line and advocate forgiveness. A very small number – mainly politicians – have stated that trials should not be held at all because Cambodians have already become reconciled. They are afraid of “raking up the past.”
The vast majority of Cambodia’s people want to see all of the “intellectual authors” of the genocide jailed for their crimes. But for legal, documentary, budgetary and other evidentiary reasons, not all of them will be charged and brought before a court of law. Instead, only specific charges and specific cases will be addressed for the former leaders.
Given the ages of many of the candidates for prosecution, the possibility that trials could drag on for several years, the likelihood of appeals, and not least of all, the track record of the Cambodian legal system, it is unlikely that most Cambodians’ expectations for justice will be met.
Nevertheless, the trials will provide three very important benefits for our country. First, they can form a backdrop for helping people answer some of the questions they have about the tribunals and the Cambodian justice system. Second, they can stimulate a dialogue among Cambodians on whether their legal apparatus works and about what they want their justice system to become.
And third, just a generation after the genocide, many young Cambodians simply can’t believe that their parents endured such hardships under the Khmer Rouge.
Thus, tribunals will help keep the memory of what happened in Cambodia alive and inspire people to work to prevent it from happening again. Whatever the outcome, the tribunals will be important for Cambodia’s future. The Documentation Center of Cambodia, other legal and human rights NGOs, and to some extent, the government itself, are working to help Cambodians become aware of the tribunal.
For example, the government has published a handbook to inform the public about the trial. For its part, DC-Cam has a new project under which it will bring village leaders from all over the country to attend a week of the tribunal’s proceedings.
They will then return home and discuss their experience with others. The meetings will be filmed and the films shown in other villages nationwide to encourage debate and feedback. These and other efforts will help average Cambodians participate indirectly in the trials and have a greater awareness of the workings of their government and the international community.
Some Asian governments still view human rights as an issue that is largely Western in orientation. Over the past few decades, however, people in many Asian countries have progressively demonstrated their belief that these rights are universal in nature and that due process and the rule of law are critical elements of democracy.
While no Asean member state has yet made a monetary contribution to the upcoming Khmer Rouge trials, there are other equally valuable ways in which they can support Cambodia’s quest for justice.
Because of their cultural and historical similarities, Asean members have a good understanding of how to approach problems in other Asian countries. They will be in an excellent position to assist Cambodia in making both the trials and the public’s experience of them a positive one.
Some of the ways other Asean countries can help are simple and inexpensive. They include:
1. Technical assistance. Countries like Singapore, for example, have highly trained technicians who could help identify and exhume the more than 19,000 mass graves that are spread throughout Cambodia. Compared to bringing in Western experts, Singapore could provide efficient and cost-effective expertise to the tribunals that would yield critical forensic evidence.
2. Documentation. DC-Cam recently sent letters to representatives of Asean and other nations in the hope that governments, diplomats, universities, and private citizens would send relevant official documents, photographs, and other materials to Cambodia, which could serve as evidence at the tribunals or help Cambodians to better understand their history.
3. Counseling. At present, Cambodia has only 12 trained psychiatrists, while it is estimated that about a third of the survivors of Democratic Kampuchea – some 2 million people – still suffer from what is called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. In a project with the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, DC-Cam has found that simple treatments, such as breathing exercises or sleeping medication, can go a long way toward helping those who are experiencing anger, insomnia and other debilitating symptoms of PTSD. Because they have an innate understanding of the Asian psyche, counselors from Asean could be of invaluable assistance to the Cambodian community by providing counseling to both former victims and perpetrators.
4. Hardware. At least some portion of Cambodia’s contribution to the tribunals can be in-kind. Donations of new computers for the tribunal’s administrative staff or for university history and political science classes would be very valuable.
5. Transportation. Travel can be a time-consuming and expensive undertaking for most rural Cambodians. For those who would travel to Phnom Penh to attend a portion of a trial, the costs can be prohibitive. Thus, the donation of large vans or small buses would be a much-needed means of bringing people to the capital from the countryside.
6. Volunteers. DC-Cam is working with a group of nearly 200 student volunteers from throughout Cambodia, who will go door-to-door before the trials begin, distribute information and help people learn what to expect from them.
Not only will this help average citizens to gain a clearer understanding of the trials, but is will also assist in building a future core of citizens who are involved in their communities. The Cambodian students would benefit from their association with students from throughout Asean, who will help them broaden their knowledge of regional history and politics, and learn different approaches to problem solving.
7. Radios. While this does not seem like a very important donation, it is critical. In a country where the average income is about a dollar a day, few villagers have access to newspapers or television. But radio is the main medium Cambodians use for learning; they often hook up a radio to an old car battery, with villagers gathering around to listen and discuss the news.
It is Cambodians’ hope that other members of the Asean community will show their support for human rights in Asia by providing much-needed assistance for the Khmer Rouge tribunal.