Khmer Rouge Trial: Obstacles to Justice

Posted by khmernews on December 21, 2007

Phnom Penh: At the present time, 5 former Khmer Rouge leaders have been detained by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and the moving toward Khmer Rouge trial is getting underway. The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) has been actively participating in the process by providing tens of thousand pages of Democratic Kampuchea-related documents. Below is an interview between Nguon Seroth, Rasmei Kampuchea’s political author, and Youk Chhang, director of the DC-Cam. The interview was conducted on December 6.

Rasmei Kampuchea: I have some questions to ask you concerning the Khmer Rouge trial. 5 former Khmer Rouge leaders have been arrested by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, but what I have noticed is that they did not accuse them of committing genocidal crimes like what we called the Khmer Rouge regime genocidal regime. Can you explain why they were not charged with genocidal crimes, but war crimes or crimes against humanity or both of these crimes instead? What is considered as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Youk Chhang: The term genocide was generally used by Cambodians after the fall of the [Khmer Rouge] regime on January 7, 1979. This term implies the meaning similar to the ruthless acts which were committed on millions of Cambodians. Therefore, it seems to have attached to Cambodians through history rather than through law.  Genocide refers to any of the following acts aimed at destroying, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children from one group to another group. Generally, the term genocide is difficult to define in human languages regardless of English, Khmer, Chinese or Vietnamese. It is difficult to explain closely to what has happened in an act of genocide.  For this reason, only those who have gone though it could understand, but generally speaking, we do not want people who have never been through it to understand the meaning of this word. I think that this is a reason of history rather than that of law, and for the process of accusation, we let the court do it. For Cambodians, what important for them is that their siblings, relatives, and parents died during the regime and that they want to see a court fairly try those most responsible for what happened during that regime.

Rasmei Kampuchea: As the moving forward to the Khmer Rouge trial has been accelerated, evidence and witnesses are very important for the process of the tribunal.  Therefore, can you tell what evidence your center, which is playing a role to organize Khmer Rouge documents, has given to the tribunal? How about witnesses?

Youk Chhang: Our DC-Cam has collected information and given it to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and the general public. We are neither a legal unit nor a court. We are not the ones who judge whether a document is evidence or not. The role of the DC-Cam is attached to victims and people, and we provide historical events to the public, court, organizations, Co-Prosecutors, Co-Investigating Judges, and Defence Support Section in order that this information will be considered and analyzed to give justice to us who are the victims. The DC-Cam, which has been supported by the Royal Government of Cambodia and international community, is a place to keep historical information for courts, researchers, politicians, lawyers, and students to use.

Rasmei Kampuchea: How about witnesses?

Youk Chhang: We are not a legal unit or a court, so we are not authorized to point out whether a person is a witness or not. All of us are the ones who have lived after the Khmer Rouge regime, and we record the things about those people through what we have gone though. We have kept these documents in our library, and the court has been using it. As a result, it depends on the court to decide which victim or former Khmer Rouge cadre we have interviewed can be a witness.

Rasmei Kampuchea: According to law, if former Khmer Rouge leaders are found guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity or both of the crimes, how would they be punished?

Youk Chhang: life imprisonment.

Rasmei Kampuchea: Do you think there will be only five former Khmer Rouge leaders tried by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal or do you think there will be more?

Youk Chhang: At the present time, we should focus on the 5 cases since these 5 cases are very important. They are the trial of former senior leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea regime. We must focus on analyzing, researching, and investigating these cases first in order to solve the problem, and they will become the basis for looking at other crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.

Rasmei Kampuchea: If there are more than these, how many could there be?

Youk Chhang: Like what I have said earlier, this is the role of the court to decide the level of the crimes and how many people [should be prosecuted].

Rasmei Kampuchea: Although there have been arrests of the 5 former Khmer Rouge leaders including Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, and Khieu Samphan, some people are still worried that they are old and weak and that they could die before a real trial takes place. So, do you think this can happen?

Youk Chhang: We are “doing” a tribunal which competes with time. Therefore, we have clear and limited time to solve a huge problem occurred during the Democratic Kampuchea regime. The concern is reasonable because some [Khmer Rouge] leaders really are old. I hope that the court will not delay anymore by depending on the schedule before the arrests. It should do according to what it can do in the reality. I think that there are a lot of reasons the court can do faster than the present time since there is support from the people. The arrests of the 5 leaders have cleared the suspicion of the public and international community that the government had no willingness to try the [Khmer Rouge] leaders. Moreover, the arrests have gained confidence on the system and value of the court. As a result, we have support, willingness, enough evidence, and victims who come out to testify as witness. I think the court should scrutinize the reality and make it faster than plan.

Rasmei Kampuchea: If [the Khmer Rouge leaders die], what will be the consequences on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and justice in Cambodia?

Youk Chhang: The court has been doing its best to take care the 5 people’s health. In prison they are provided services like health care and foods. However, there are some things we cannot predict, because human life—we can say—is determined by divinities. If it happens due to the determination of divinities, we cannot protest. For the role of the court towards victims, I think the court has done its best. While we are concerned by the aging of the 5 former leaders who we have known, who are being detained and whom we always think are responsible for mass killings of millions of people, we should also look at some victims who have died without knowing that we are trying to find justice for them and their family. At present in provinces, villages, and communes, old-aged victims, for example, want to attend the trial in order to see or hear it directly before they die so that they can die peacefully. I think we should think about this too.

Rasmei Kampuchea: Some people say more than 3 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge regime. Some say 1.7 million were killed and others say 2 million people were killed with various reasons. Do you have a real figure?

Youk Chhang: There are 3 figures. The first figure which was organized by the People’s Republic of Kampuchea between 1982 and 1983 through letters from 1.1 million victims shows 3.3 million people died. People wrote about their sufferings as well as the number of relatives and siblings they had lost. The second figure of foreign researchers who interviewed Cambodian refugees along Thai border in the 1980s and who used scientific method to calculate the population before and after the war reveals that 1.7 million Cambodians died. The third figure which has been found recently basing on new documents including the number of people who died in more than 20,000 mass graves in Cambodia concludes that 2.2 million people died.

However, it should be noticed that the 3 figures were not found by the demographists but by historians, political scientists, [and] the government. Recently, a senior researcher has been studying the 3 figures to find out which figure is the closest to the real number of people who died, how many people died from starvation, how many from overwork, how many from disease, and how many from execution.

Rasmei Kampuchea: Through my understanding the first trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders might be conducted in mid-2008. Therefore, do you think the Khmer Rouge Tribunal may delay its mission to more than 3 years? Why?

Youk Chhang: I think this is a big, important issue which will happen in the near future. I think the Royal Government has fulfilled its obligation by bring the senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea to justice. Another thing which will happen in the future is the problem that in order that justice conforms to the international standard, how much money will be used and how much time more will be needed? A question is raised, “Is international standardized justice measured by money or by justice itself?” I think what important is that we have do it conforming to justice side rather than using money to measure what is called “international standard.” [I] think in the present situation we do not need as much time as we have planned, and for the shortages of funds, they should be completed rather than requesting for more funds and extending the time, which we think may affect the process holistically.

Rasmei Kampuchea: How much money more will the Khmer Rouge Tribunal need to complete its operations? And how much money will be spent on the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders?

Youk Chhang: Generally, no international court says, “Now we have enough money for the trial.” I have never heard at all. All the international courts always say, “We lacks funds, we need more funds, and we need more time.” This is a problem which always happens to international courts, and it creates concerns and hesitation of some host countries in the judicial process. I hope the Khmer Rouge Tribunal will not become one of the courts I have heard or a court that is said to always need time and funds.

Rasmei Kampuchea: What are the countries which have funded the Khmer Rouge Tribunal? Which country is the biggest donor to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal?

Youk Chhang: The approved budget is $56 million, and it comes from the countries which want to help Cambodia and from Cambodians who want to see justice. This budget does not affect the current developmental budget of the Royal Government of Cambodia. In the website of the court, there are names of the donors and amount of money each country has funded. We notice that China and Vietnam have not funded or provided any services to the court.

Rasmei Kampuchea: To you, is the Khmer Rouge trial only the “revenge” taken on the atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979 or does it mean more than that? Please elaborate the essence of the tribunal.

Youk Chhang: The court is not a “revenge-taker”. The chance for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) may be the most important question for the court. Can the Cambodian government and the United Nations both of whom used to support the Khmer Rouge in the past (the government pardoned the Khmer Rouge in return for peace in the 1990s and the United Nations allowed the Khmer Rouge to represent Cambodia at the United Nations for 10 years) find solution to help each group seek hope in the future through the court? Both the government and the United Nations have discussed what they did, but in the eyes of victims and Cambodians under 25 years old, they have a lot to explain. The presence of the court is a chance for both parties to gain faith and respect in Cambodia. If the government announces [things] publicly and fairly, the results of the public support will enable them to go forward with their policy. The similar acts of the United Nations can gain popularity and support from the government for its activities in Cambodia. It will enable the United Nations to intervene in or prosecute genocide in other places around the world. An important way the ECCC can gain confidence from the people is through public relations in a fair and equal chance. The satisfaction and dissatisfaction of the groups on the results is not more important than the issue we have to consider first. For example, when the retired king asked the United Nations for talks, they should have met him.  The royalists would have been encouraged and the others would have understood clearly what people have been talking. However, the response of the ECCC should be made publicly, so that Cambodia would receive a real “justice”. It is necessary for the ECCC to give these groups some answers about the reasons and responsible people. The court will give chance to people to judge and discuss the real things that are acceptable to them and the things they think are fair for all Cambodians.

Unofficial Translation
-Extracted from Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol. 15, #4456, Friday, December 7, 2007.


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