Trial of Khmer Rouge should end impunity
General news >> Tuesday November 27, 2007
IN TOUCHANURAJ MANIBHANDU
Trial of Khmer Rouge should end impunity
Thirty years after the events, it is hard to believe that
justice will be done for Cambodians who lost people they loved to the
ruthlessness of the Khmer Rouge. But there is sense in the argument that the
United Nations-backed tribunal, expected to begin in earnest next year, will
help reassure Cambodians that there is a chance for justice in future.
Not least important, the tribunal _ however much or little it
succeeds in incriminating the ageing Khmer Rouge leaders _ will help send
the message to political supremos everywhere that they will not escape with
impunity if they commit crimes against their people.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia,
convincingly presents his argument on the benefits of the tribunal in an
article posted on the website of the Cambodian Tribunal Monitor.
He starts by relating the experiences of members of his family
under the Khmer Rouge and their differences of opinion to the upcoming
The Khmer Rouge cut open his sister's stomach after her husband
had been beaten to death for stealing rice from the commune kitchen.
Following the overthrow of the regime, his mother alone in the family
accepted as a form of apology the offering in bananas and meat from the
chief of a village where some other family members disappeared. His niece,
who was only five or six when her parents were killed, holds that no justice
in the world will bring her family back.
Two reasons which Youk Chhang puts forward for insisting that
the tribunal matters are persuasive.
''We need prosecution before we can ever reach the point of true
forgiveness,'' he writes.
Secondly, he points out that justice has already been done ''to
some degree'', during the 1980s, when people ''took the law into their own
hands and killed many of the worst Khmer Rouge perpetrators''.
''For this reason, I feel that the trials _ if they are
successful _ will not so much bring justice to the victims as give people a
perception that justice is possible for the future.''
The years of delay in the setting up of the tribunal _
officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
(ECCC) _ have given Cambodians and observers of Cambodia ample time to
debate questions of crime, punishment and reconciliation.
The Khmer Rouge are held responsible for the deaths of 1.7
million people through overwork, starvation, torture and execution from
1975-79. Youk Chhang, who has spent 10 years researching the excesses,
reckons a ''vast majority'' of Cambodians want to see the ''intellectual
authors'' of the genocide put behind bars. In a paper presented in Singapore
in 2005, he says these Cambodians are unlikely to be satisfied. He cites the
ages of many candidates for prosecution, the possibility that the trials
will drag on for years, the likelihood of appeals, and the track record of
the Cambodian legal system.
With the arrests of three well-known figures in recent days, and
the demand for bail of the Khmer Rouge's chief interrogator, debate has
resumed over the prospects for the tribunal and the end of the culture of
impunity in Cambodia.
Duch, who was arrested in July by order of the ECCC, stood
before it on Nov 20 to appeal against his detention without trial since
1999. Also known as Kaing Guek Eav, he and the three Khmer Rouge leaders
arrested on Nov 14 and 19 face charges of crimes against humanity.
These are Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister,
his wife Ieng Thirith, who served as a minister for social services, and
Khieu Samphan, the former president. Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief
ideologue taken into custody in September, faces similar charges.
The arrest of Khieu Samphan came a day before the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations drew contempt for again procrastinating on the
question of setting up a proper human rights body. The Asean charter signed
by heads of government on Nov 20 left it up to foreign ministers to spell
out the terms of reference for the mechanism, although the idea has been
discussed by officials and expert groups for close to 30 years.
The member government that was seen to benefit from such
unfinished work was Burma. But other regional governments, including
Thailand's, know full well how such a status quo protects their respective
The coincidence of the Khmer Rouge arrests, Duch's appeal for
bail and Asean's failure to set up a human rights body was a reminder of the
difficulties of bringing change to the region.
Thailand contributed US$10,000 to the tribunal.
Worth a lot more is the information stored in the memories of
officials who took charge of some 300,000 Cambodian refugees encamped along
the eastern border.
These included Khmer Rouge dependents and victims.
© Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2007