Khmer Rouge Tribunal


 Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Will Justice be Served 30 Years After?


2007 Journalism Fellowship

Human Rights Versus a Culture of Impunity in Southeast Asia

Jakarta, Indonesia

May 1st 2007

By Dara P. Vanthan


Ladies and Gentlemen:


I am honored to be here and share with you my experience in combating impunity in my country, the Kingdom of Cambodia.


Last month, 32 years ago the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, victorious over the U.S. backed Lon Nol regime. A few hours later, on April 17, 1975 the Khmer Rouge started to evacuate people forcibly from the cities and towns to live in the countryside and implement their agrarian policy. People who refused to leave got killed suddenly. Months later, the Khmer Rouge formed a government officially called Democratic Kampuchea under the leadership of senior communist leaders such as Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan. After 3 years 8 months and 20 days, the regime caused the death of an estimated 2 million people, a quarter of the population, due to starvation, over work, torture and execution. The Khmer Rouge was ousted from power in earlier 1979. The survivors are mostly widows and children.


However, Cambodians weren’t able to find peace and justice after the fall of the Khmer Rouge or even after the 1993 U.N sponsored election. The Khmer Rouge continued to wage a guerilla war until the mid 1990s, terrorizing the countryside and preventing the country from moving forward. Today, senior Khmer Rouge leaders walk freely in the country and deny all the crimes that happened during their rule. This sort of attitude toward victims is viewed as a mockery that is unacceptable in the society as well as in the international community.


In the meantime, a decade ago, the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) was established as part of the Cambodia Genocide Program of Yale University, which was funded by the U.S State Department, in order to collect, catalogue research and investigate the most notorious crimes committed under the leadership of the senior Khmer Rouge leaders. In January 1997, DC-Cam gained independence but still continued the same work.


Furthermore, DC-Cam has published what we have collected and researched, generated the debate about the memory of the Khmer Rouge history and justice in the hope that one day the notorious Khmer Rouge leaders will be brought to trial. In lien of our goals, we have provided training to Cambodian officials, professors, lawyers and journalists on Khmer Rouge regime, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other related crimes; and international and customary laws, international human rights and humanitarian laws.


Fortunately, in June 1997, an important movement that Cambodian victims have awaited for finally came to the stage. With an official letter from Royal Government of Cambodia requesting assistance from the United Nations to bring to trial Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes committed during the period of Democratic Kampuchea between 1975 and 1979, a “mixed” tribunal was set up after over 8 years of negotiation between Government of Cambodia and the United Nations on issues such as how the tribunal should be operated, who should be brought to trial, and other matters.


In June 2003 Cambodia and UN reached an agreement which is called “the Agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia Concerning the Prosecution under Cambodian Law of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea.” The tribunal is officially called “the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea (ECCC) or the Court.”


The tribunal has two Chambers: The Trial Chamber with 3 Cambodian and 2 international judges; and the Supreme Court Chamber with 4 Cambodian and 3 internationals judges. The Court’s jurisdictions deal with domestic crimes such as homicide, torture, and religious persecution; and international crimes of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes, Destruction of Cultural Property, and Crimes against Diplomatically Protected Person. As for whom the court has power to prosecute, the Law on the establishment of the extraordinary chambers in the courts of Cambodia (ECCC Law) covers only two categories of persons: senior Khmer Rouge leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those most responsible for the crimes committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979.


According to the ECCC, the first trial is expected to take place late this year. However, the Internal Rules of the ECCC that governs the procedure and other issues which parties are bound by, has not been adopted yet because of the current issue of international lawyers’ participation in ECCC, and the Cambodian Bar Association specifications for the participation of these international lawyers. A day before my departure, I was told that the problem will be solved and that the Internal Rules will be adopted in the next plenary cession very soon.


So far, many NGOs have been helping the ECCC in terms of outreach activity in which the victims were informed and explained about the progress of the ECCC. DC-Cam has also conducted extensive outreach work and has been the leader in terms of providing evidentiary documents to ECCC. Since the Co-Prosecutors launched their investigations in July last year, DC-Cam has provided upon their request hundreds of thousand of pages of evidentiary documents in the form of original, photocopy, scanned and microfilm. Moreover, thousands of interview transcripts of potential witnesses, hundreds of documentary films, photos and DC-Cam’s publications were also provided to ECCC free of charge. DC-Cam is also providing these kinds of documents to the Investigating Judges and Defense Support Section upon their request, also free of charge.


Finally, what I would like to say is that the majority of Cambodians, after nearly 28 years have passed, still want to see the Khmer Rouge leaders brought to trial. This will not be enough for the victims however. One more thing is needed: the chance to reconcile victims and former Khmer Rouge cadres in addition to Khmer Rouge reconciling themselves. Why is this so? Because there are still victims and perpetrators living side by side in the same villages, where they maintain an uneasy truce.


Thank you for your attention.