Justice and National Reconciliation in the Khmer Rouge Trial Process

Posted by khmernews on March 29, 2007

Whilst the Khmer Rouge tribunal has been on the difficult road to the prosecution and trial for the former leaders of the Democratic of Kampuchea regime, a number of civil society organizations have been working very hard to organize public forums in order to allow the people to express their ideas concerning such a historical trial. Through the forums, it was believed that national unity and reconciliation will exist and innocent Cambodians who suffered from the Khmer Rouge regime will be able to escape the shadow of fear which has haunted them for about three decades. The Khmer Rouge issues are still a complicated subject which we have to confront and handle as long as justice has not been found for victims. However, the process of finding justice must safeguard the current peace which Cambodia has struggled  to achieved so far.

The victims of the Khmer Rouge regime have been waiting for justice for nearly three decades. They hoped that justice will be found for them in the near future after the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia has completed the prosecution and trial for the suspects and defendants who are the former Khmer Rouge leaders. The trial will start after such a hybrid court has adopted its controversial internal rules. Officials of the tribunal claimed that the internal rules will have been adopted by April. While the tribunal is moving forward, many public forums and visits to the tribunal, prisons and killing fields have been organized one after another in order to bring about a national reconciliation.  

In fact, in early March, the Center for Social Development (CSD) held a public forum on “Justice and National Reconciliation” in Siem Reap province with nearly 200 participants. Miss Seng Theary, the Executive Director of CSD, highlighted that the main objective of the forum is to inform the people about the Khmer Rouge tribunal and its expected results in terms of peace, justice and national reconciliation. For the next three years (2007-2009), the CSD has planned to hold at least six forums a year in different provinces – especially the provinces where were significant killing fields during the Khmer Rouge regime – and prior to the start of each forum, the CSD will transport participants to visit the extraordinary courts and [Khmer Rouge] torture and killing sites in and around Phnom Penh.

“Why have Khmer Rouge leaders not been arrested?”

Why has the tribunal not arrested the suspicious Khmer Rouge leaders pending for trials but allowed them to live freely? Why are only the former Khmer Rouge leaders between 1975 and 1979 tried? And why are foreign countries which brought wars to Cambodia not tried? Is the US legal organization’s accusation saying that there has been corruption within the Khmer Rouge tribunal true? If the tribunal find that current Cambodian high ranking officials are people most responsible for the Khmer Rouge regime, will the tribunal summon them to be questioned?

These are questions which victims directed to speakers who were representatives of civil society organizations whose their work concerning the Khmer Rouge issues and to a representative of the Khmer Rouge tribunal who were present in the forum. The questions of the victims were answered one by one. Some answers were acceptable for the victims, whilst others were not. Mr. Reach Sambath, the spokesperson of the ECCC, explained that the tribunal will try only the senior former Khmer Rouge leaders, refereeing to an agreement which the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations took many years to talk, but there will be no trial for involved countries. In respond to the explanation, participants questioned, “If we are talking about justice, we have to find troublemakers and to bring them to justice; however, the tribunal will try only the senior former Khmer Rouge leaders of a period between 1975 and 1979. Will justice be found for millions of Cambodian victims?”

Regarding with the start of the trial which have been delayed over and over again, Ms. Chea Leang, an ECCC co-prosecutor, highlighted that she has been waiting for the adoption of the internal rules and that she will submit cases to the co-investigating judges to conduct a thorough investigation before the start of the trial. She went on to say that so far, the tribunal has not prosecuted any former Khmer Rouge leaders and people who are most responsible yet.

On the other hand, what Cambodian and non-Cambodian people really want to know now is an explanation for the accusation made by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) that there has been corruption within the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Nevertheless, Mr. Reach Sambath turned down the accusation, saying that it was not true. “Now, I am standing before venerable monks and on the sacred land of Siem Reap and I would like to inform you all that the government is not involved with any corruption,” claimed Reach Sambath. Meanwhile, there was a question asked whether or not some former Khmer Rouge leaders are now in high positions in the government. However, the question remained unanswered and the speakers said that the answer to the question is the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

Justice and National Reconciliation  

All participants of the forum as well as the Cambodians throughout the country really want the Khmer Rouge trial starts soon in accordance with justice, impartial and credible. Some participants suggested, “If [the tribunal] cannot find justice for the victims, please just make them [victims] feel a release.” The suggestion appeared that they have not been confident in the current court system which has been accused of corruption.

“During the negotiation, we previewed what would happen when we have brought all linked people to justice. Now, it is time to choose. Do we choose peace without trials or justice in which all people involved with Khmer Rouge are brought to justice or another option between peace and justice which will contribute to the development of the country?” recalled Dr. Helen Jarvis, Chief of the ECCC Public Affairs, adding, “The third option was agreed by both the Royal Government of Cambodia, the United Nations and all Cambodian lawmakers.” She asserted, “The creation of the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia is not pressure from any foreign countries because there have been respect for the United Nations’ constitution and [Cambodian] national integrity. But the formation of the tribunal was initiated by the Royal Government of Cambodia itself.”

Mr. Thon Saray, the President of ADHOC, said, “The terms of Justice and peace complement each other but I do not hope that the tribunal will find 100% justice for us so that we have to find another option to balance the peace and justice because if the trial is not appropriate, problems will occur. As a result, we will not only be unable to find justice, but also provoke mass killings or human rights violations again.”

To have justice and national reconciliation, Miss Seng Theary said that [the best solution] is that Khmer people should sit and talk face-to-face about their past experiences, and that will be very difficult and painful. She considered discussion on past experiences a good way to help the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime to release their suffering and tension. She firmly mentioned, “While the Khmer Rouge tribunal is moving forward, it is a good moment for all Khmer people to study what really took place during the Khmer Rouge regime, to share their opinions and to discuss on such a hot issue.

Cambodian victims of the Khmer Rouge regime have carefully followed up the progress of the tribunal in the hope that it will be able to find justice for them. A fund of US$56 million will be used to cover all operational expenses of the tribunal within a limited period of three years. It should be noted that the Khmer Rouge tribunal was created by an agreement between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations following the 7-year-long negotiation.

(Informal translation)
-Extracted from: Samne Thmei, #102, Monday-Sunday 12-18 March 2007.


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