Monday, July 26, 2010

Khmer Rouge Trials, 35 years after "Year Zero!"

Is the sentence meaningful enough?

Tuol Sleng genocide museum Phnom Penh

"What is significant today is the role played by the UN in pushing forward the genocidal tribunal for crimes against humanity and bringing to trial the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge," 35 years after "Year Zero" *

And 35 is the exact sentence of the tribunal to Duch. 35 years in prison for his role in the deaths of at least 14,000 people as the Cambodian regime's chief torturer three decades ago. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch", was found guilty of murder and torture, and crimes against humanity as chief of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison. Prosecutors had sought a maximum penalty of 40 years for 67-year-old Duch. The court gave him 35 years but said he will serve only 30 of those years because he was found to have been held illegally for five years by the Cambodian military.

As some other few, well versed in Asian affairs, and with good sources, I monitored the Khmer Rouge atrocities of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 while I studied at College in France, then as a journalist; and RTL France [I'm RTL Group's correspondent in Japan] broadcasted my first ever news-report aired in my career in France. It was in the 80's and it was the interview of Cambodian refugees I followed in their jungle ordeal from Cambodia torn war region until Khao-I-Dang Refugees camp, near Aranyaprathet, on the Thai Cambodia border, under the control of the Thai army Colonel Kity.

This broadcast is very vivid in my mind as it was aired for RTL FRANCE's "Journal Inattendu" of Henri MARQUE with Francoise CHANDERNAGOR as the studio guest-invitee on this day. France heard at that time the testimony of the victims (of the Khmer Rouges) who had lost everything and asked help to France, to the "foreign and rich nations for those Cambodians who had endured the worst and lost everything." Some time after I talked with movie director Claude Lelouch about the destiny of the Cambodian people.

Cambodian kids at Khao-I-Dang Refugee Camps, Thai Cambodia border, 80s'

Prior to decide for the career of an Asia based Foreign Correspondent, which is to live and work as a journalist in the Far East, I had returned on many occasions to South East Asia region to report and also to join humanitarian effort for the Cambodian and Laotian handicapped populations, especially to help the small villages victimized by bombs (booby traps, land mines) and by hazardous bio-chemical substances left by guerillas and combatting military forces.

I often reported on Cambodia and other regional guerillas on various assignments for the French Broadcasting national corporation. Refugees, guerillas, armies such as the Vietnamese, the Sihanoukists, the Son Sann group, with the Khmers Rouges and I’ve been waiting 35 years for monday’s verdict of the first Khmer Rouge trial.

First Trial of a Khmer Rouge leader

Now this United Nations backed tribunal was the first trial of a major figure in the murderous Khmer Rouge regime (the Kampuchea Démocratique as said by the KR then) since it was toppled 30 years ago. Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, admitted in an eight-month trial last year to overseeing the torture and killing of more than 14,000 people in a prison from which only a handful of people emerged alive. He is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes as well as premeditated murder and torture as chief of a monstrous killing machine that has come to symbolize a regime responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979.

Duch is among five aging and infirm senior cadres facing various charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They include ex-president Khieu Samphan, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, a former Shakespeare scholar, and "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's right hand man.


All four received additional charges of genocide in December, prompting concerns among experts that the court could become even more bogged down. "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, the French-educated architect of the ultra-Maoist movement, died in 1998 and there are fears his surviving allies will die of old age before they face trial.

Many Cambodians have expressed frustration over the slow pace of bringing Khmer Rouge leaders to justice and fear the complex nature and politicization of the cases will mean many will never go to trial. Many former Khmer Rouge members have been reintegrated into Cambodian society and the civil service and top levels of provincial and national government. Allegations of political interference in the court have been made and Cambodia's government has been in no hurry to speed up the hearings. The United Nations has appointed a special expert it hopes can address issues of political meddling and corruption. Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who says he defected to the Khmer Rouge's eventual conqueror, Vietnam, has warned of a potential civil war if the court indicts more suspects. Finance Minister Keat Chhon has also admitted his Khmer Rouge past and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has long been accused of involvement, which he denies.

Sentence is not severe enough according to opinions. Comments today July 26 2010 from participants at Liveblog of Duch Verdict Pronouncement, quotes:

11:30 Regarding the sentence, Under Cambodian law, convicted criminals become eligible for early release after having served 2/3 of their sentence. This means that if the 19 year figure I mentioned above is correct, Duch will then be eligible for release in 12.5 years. Thus, it is *not* guaranteed that Duch will die in prison.

11:31 I'm told that many people here, particularly Cambodians, are confused about the extent of time that Duch will remain imprisoned, perhaps due to the Khmai language in the summary. Perhaps some will be disappointed.

11:49 How is the verdict received by people present?

11:51 Some of the civil parties seem unsatisfied with the judgment. And, like I said earlier, many of the Cambodians filing out seem satisfied with the sentence, but may not know that the effective length of imprisonment will be much less than 35 years.

1:53 Did Duch continue, after hearing the verdict and the closing of the proceedings, his usual practice of turning to the audience and sampeah-ing, or pressing his hands together and slightly bowing, them?

11:57 I could not accept the verdict.It is simple sentence to convict the criminal against human live.It is lighter conviction than the normal crime.....

About the Khmer Rouge regime and the significance of this trial

I found an interesting story on Asian Age about the Khmer Rouge Trials written by Shankari Sundararaman, associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU, in India. Quotes:

"Reports of the genocide within Cambodia first emerged because of refugee accounts. The stories contained tales of forced labour in agricultural lands, an agrarian style model that was brutally enforced, and mass execution of people suspected to be loyal to the former government that assisted the United States’ war efforts in Vietnam..." Her story here:

* "Year Zero" is a reference to the book written "Cambodge année zéro" by François Ponchaud, in French, quotes:

"Cambodge année zéro" est le 1er livre écrit sur la tragédie vécue par le peuple khmer. c'est le 1er qui décrit le calvaire des cambodgiens sous le régime de pol pot. le 17 avril 1975 les khmer rouge "libèrent" phnom penh. pour tout un tas de raisons ils décident d'évacuer la capitale, dont la population dépasse les 2 millions, et ce sans aucune organisation. tout le monde doit partir, y compris les vieillards, les enfants, les malades. c'est le début d'une tragédie qui durera 44 mois. pour les khmer rouge toutes les personnes habitants la ville sont "contaminés" par le virus de l'"impérialisme", il faut donc les "rééduquer". à la campagne. le peuple est alors séparé en 2 communautés distinctes. "le peuple nouveau" (citadins), "le peuple ancien" (ruraux). le peuple nouveau est considéré comme "impur", c'est un peuple d'esclaves qui doit se rééduquer; c'est ce peuple là qui sera martyrisé... le curé sait de quoi il parle. il parle et écrit le khmer. tous les jours il écoute radio pnohm penh et comprend ce qu'il se passe. son livre dénonce le génocide qui débute, il explique pourquoi le régime khmer rouge est un régime criminel. tout ce qui a été écrit ici sera corroboré par les faits. on estime que entre 1.5 et 2 millions de personnes sont mortes sous le régime khmer rouge. dont les 3/4 victimes de maladies, de faim, d'épuisement, de désespoir.

"Cambodge année zéro" by François Ponchaud

Khao-I-Dang, one of the camp jungle's hospitals, 80s'

Who were these Khmer Rouge of "The Paris Student Group"?

Quotes: "During the 1950s, Khmer students in Paris organized their own communist movement, which had little, if any, connection to the hard-pressed party in their homeland. From their ranks came the men and women who returned home and took command of the party apparatus during the 1960s, led an effective insurgency against Lon Nol from 1968 until 1975, and established the regime of Democratic Kampuchea.

Pol Pot, who rose to the leadership of the communist movement in the 1960s, was born in 1928 (some sources say in 1925) in Kampong Thum Province, northeast of Phnom Penh. He attended a technical high school in the capital and then went to Paris in 1949 to study radio electronics (other sources say he attended a school for printers and typesetters and also studied civil engineering). Described by one source as a "determined, rather plodding organizer," he failed to obtain a degree, but, according to the Jesuit priest, Father François Ponchaud, he acquired a taste for the classics of French literature as well as for the writings of Marx.

Another member of the Paris student group was Ieng Sary. He was a Chinese-Khmer born in 1930 in South Vietnam. He attended the elite Lycée Sisowath in Phnom Penh before beginning courses in commerce and politics at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (more widely known as Sciences Po) in France. Khieu Samphan, considered "one of the most brilliant intellects of his generation," was born in 1931 and specialized in economics and politics during his time in Paris[citation needed]. In talent he was rivaled by Hou Yuon, born in 1930, who was described as being "of truly astounding physical and intellectual strength,[citation needed]" and who studied economics and law. Son Sen, born in 1930, studied education and literature; Hu Nim, born in 1932, studied law.

These men were perhaps the most educated leaders in the history of Asian communism. Two of them, Khieu Samphan and Hou Yuon, earned doctorates from the University of Paris; Hu Nim obtained his degree from the University of Phnom Penh in 1965. In retrospect, it seems unlikely that these talented members of the elite, sent to France on government scholarships, could launch the bloodiest and most radical revolution in modern Asian history. Most came from landowner or civil servant families. Pol Pot and Hou Yuon may have been related to the royal family. An older sister of Pol Pot had been a concubine at the court of King Monivong. Three of the Paris group forged a bond that survived years of revolutionary struggle and intraparty strife, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary married Khieu Ponnary and Khieu Thirith (also known as Ieng Thirith), purportedly relatives of Khieu Samphan. These two well-educated women also played a central role in the regime of Democratic Kampuchea.

The intellectual ferment of Paris must have been a dizzying experience for young Khmers fresh from Phnom Penh or the provinces. A number sought refuge in the dogma of orthodox Marxism-Leninism. At some time between 1949 and 1951, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary joined the French Communist Party, the most tightly disciplined and orthodox Marxist-Leninist of Western Europe's communist movements. In 1951 the two men went to East Berlin to participate in a youth festival. This experience is considered to have been a turning point in their ideological development. Meeting with Khmers who were fighting with the Viet Minh (and whom they subsequently judged to be too subservient to the Vietnamese), they became convinced that only a tightly disciplined party organization and a readiness for armed struggle could achieve revolution. They transformed the Khmer Students' Association (KSA), to which most of the 200 or so Khmer students in Paris belonged, into an organization for nationalist and leftist ideas. Inside the KSA and its successor organizations was a secret organization known as the Cercle Marxiste. The organization was composed of cells of three to six members with most members knowing nothing about the overall structure of the organization. In 1952 Pol Pot, Hou Yuon, Ieng Sary, and other leftists gained notoriety by sending an open letter to Sihanouk calling him the "strangler of infant democracy." A year later, the French authorities closed down the KSA. In 1956, however, Hou Yuon and Khieu Samphan helped to establish a new group, the Khmer Students' Union. Inside, the group was still run by the Cercle Marxiste.

The doctoral dissertations written by Hou Yuon and Khieu Samphan express basic themes that were later to become the cornerstones of the policy adopted by Democratic Kampuchea. The central role of the peasants in national development was espoused by Hou Yuon in his 1955 thesis, The Cambodian Peasants and Their Prospects for Modernization, which challenged the conventional view that urbanization and industrialization are necessary precursors of development. The major argument in Khieu Samphan's 1959 thesis, Cambodia's Economy and Industrial Development, was that the country had to become self-reliant and end its economic dependency on the developed world. In its general contours, Khieu's work reflected the influence of a branch of the "dependency theory" school, which blamed lack of development in the Third World on the economic domination of the industrialized nations. End of quotes.

Khmer Rouges leaders

Sources: Agencies, Asian-Age, R.Yates,
France TV, Radio France, RFI, NHK, RTL, Reporter's Notes.

✍✍✍ An important verdict on a symbolic level!

✍✍✍ Pol Pot, Duch and all Khmer Rouges were not alone in murdering their nationals, helped by major powers during the cold war.

✍✍✍ The guerilla after 79 continued with the support of China and the US supporting the KR and the anti Vietnamese troops while the Boi-Doi military were helped by the USSR-Russia.

✍✍✍ Is the population still under shock?

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