ECCC Reparations

This blog is designed to serve as a repository of analyses, news reports and press releases related to the issue of RERAPATIONS within the framework of the Extraordinary Chambers in Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a.k.a. the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Court’s Contribution to History


Many in Cambodia thought of this process as being revelatory of the truth of what happened during the reign of Democratic Kampuchea. This, of course, is not the purpose of this Court. Nor can revelation of the historical truth ever be the purpose of a criminal process. Regardless of what the various commentators might tell you, the purpose of this process is neither to write a history of the Khmer Rouge and Democratic Kampuchea, nor is it to be a sophisticated exercise in capacity building for the Cambodian jurists. The purpose of any criminal process is to answer the question of whether the persons in the dock are guilty of the crimes they have been charged with. It is that simple. At the end of the process the Court will not be able to answer the questions which have been on the minds of Cambodians for the last four decades, i.e. ‘why did so many people die?’; ‘why did they kill my father?’; ‘were the Chinese involved and can they be held responsible for the Cambodian deaths?’; and ‘why did the United Nations and the international community not intervene?’ But, the Court will be able to answer the question of which of the persons brought before it are guilty of which crimes. To many, this will be an unsatisfactory and aloof answer. What makes it even more unsatisfactory and aloof is trying to read the Court’s judgments (which a regular person does not stand a chance of understanding). What might be a more satisfactory answer is to read an individual document or read or hear a historian’s interpretation of that document.


The Supreme Court’s recent reclassification as ‘public’ of a great number of previously confidential documents from the case-file of Case 001 is no paltry event. Considering that not the entire case-file of Case 001 has been made public, the inquiring minds might want to know what is in the documents which have not been made public and what process the Supreme Court undertook to arrive at the corpus of documents which will not be made public this time or at all. Nonetheless this declassification is an event of note for many historians, observers of the Court and ordinary citizens. What is important is that now that they have been declassified these documents be made available to the public through easy access (not through DC-Cam which has managed to replicate the public accessibility of these documents during the Democratic Kampuchea period but an institution that welcomes the general public, as opposed to only purporting to do so). It is important that copies of the declassified documents not be handed over to an institution that intends to treat them as private property (if these documents are handed off to a new institution, for a period of time we will not know how good a job this institution will do making them available to the public; what we need to ensure is that these documents do not get handed off to an institution with a known poor record of public relations).


What the Court should make clear (and which it did not do in the Release (see below) is that the use of quotation marks around the word ‘confessions’ is not substantiated by any finding of this Court so far. It is very easy to dismiss everything that was entitled ‘confession’ at S-21 as prisoners writing tall tales out of fear of torture or another form of duress. I do not doubt that this is exactly how many of the S-21 confessions were written. In many of these confessions S-21 prisoners admitted to being a CIA or KGB agent, names which meant nothing to them beyond that they were told by the interrogators that those were the Khmer Rouge’s enemies. But, considering the level of oppression that came with Democratic Kampuchea, it is difficult to imagine that there was absolutely no internal dissent (not necessarily sophisticated conspiracies that Duch led the leadership to believe existed but those happening on a much less basic scale). It is difficult to imagine that Vietnam, with its history of spy networks during the Vietnamese civil war, did not have spy networks in Cambodia. Acting in that manner would be completely out of character for the Vietnam of the 1970s and it is very implausible that it acted in that manner. If we admit that there was at least some internal dissent (and historical studies show there might have been) and that there were some Vietnamese spies in Democratic Kampuchea, why is it so difficult to believe that Duch’s security apparatus did manage to ferret some of them out? One does not need to be a Khmer Rouge sympathizer or agree with their methods of dealing with dissent or treason to admit that this must have been the case. Now, how many of the S-21 confessions tell the truth? The answer is: we do not know. We know that they were extracted under duress and in some cases torture but the methods themselves do not either deny or affirm the confessions’ verity (we are told that torture was an effective method of extracting information of anti-Nazi guerillas by the Nazis which led to the destruction of a sizable number of them; we are told that the information which led the US military to Osama bin Laden was extracted under torture; the barbarity of torture is beyond doubt but those who say it does not work are lying to their teeth while being paid to support a certain agenda or are honest but genuinely incompetent). Many biographies were equally untrue, why do we not put them under quotation marks? A number of witness testimonies at this Court were patently untrue, why no quotation marks around ‘witness statements’? This is not a mere opportunity for nitpicking. This attitude to S-21 confessions by a court of law is unwarranted for it has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. What it does is proliferate one of Cambodian stereotypes. There are many more, e.g. the Khmer Rouge destroyed all buildings in Phnom Penh (besides the building of the Central Bank, what other buildings did they destroy?); the Khmer Rouge destroyed Cambodia’s agriculture (how? prosecuting them for their methods is one thing; accusing them of everything that is wrong with Cambodia today and malevolence is another); the Khmer Rouge wanted to kill as many Cambodians as possible to help the mainland Chinese expand their living space (no, really?); and, perhaps, my favorite: everyone in the Democratic Kampuchea government was Chinese and for that reason hated the Khmer and wanted to starve them to death (anyone with a sense of recent history of Cambodia remembers those anti-Chinese leaflets strewn around Phnom Penh; people who read them did not necessarily dismiss them as utter nonsense). The Court must tread very carefully to ensure that it does not give credence to one or all of these stereotypes (unless of course the Court finds that the stereotype is true).


Another pet peeve of mine is a statement that these proceedings contribute to national reconciliation. It sounds really warm and fuzzy and I would like for this to be true as I do not wish Cambodians more suffering than they have already endured (and continue enduring through poverty, corruption and helplessness). But, some day someone will explain to me how. My current outlook only has me see wounds reopening, old animosities reigniting and bereavement setting back on. I do not see the cathartic effect this process might have that others see. Maybe I need better glasses. Or maybe I need to start sending glasses to others. As it is with any pet peeve, it is hard to let go once you are on it, ECCC has “a mandate to contribute to national reconciliation”? Can I have a copy?


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