[ Accueil Totus ] [Cambodia Genocide Controversy]



28/ Genocide seminar in Phnom Penh


PHNOM PENH POST, August 25 September 7, 1995, p. 1 & 17.



A Cambodian Genocide Program (CGP) conference has produced a strong call for a "truth commission" to gather evidence on Khmer Rouge crimes but far less support for trials of those responsible.

In the key-note discussion paper presented to the conference, two international law experts urged "accountability" be laid for crimes committed during the KR's 1975-79 rule.

However they recommended that the "net" be cast no wider than around senior KR leaders and the commanders of torture and execution centers.

The discussion paper, by Americans Jason Abrams and Steven Ratner strongly recommends the "non prosecutorial" option of a "truth commission".

At the same time, it offered some support for other options such as international or national trials.

The Aug. 21-22 conference in Phnom Penh, closed to the press, was held to discuss the international laws broken during the KR period and possible forms of redress.

Both of Cambodia's co-Prime Ministers addressed the conference, with Second Premier Hun Sen strongly calling for an international tribunal to judge senior KR leaders.

"This is not about politics, it is about justice. If we cannot bring the Khmer Rouge to justice for killing millions of people, then there is no point in speaking about human rights in Cambodia," he said.

He proposed that Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and other members of the KR hierarchy be tried under an international tribunal. To ensure that the trial is fair, he said, Pol Pot should be given a chance to select the best lawyer in the world.

He believed such a tribunal would set an example to prevent more acts of genocide in other countries, and would "weigh heavier" than a trial in a Cambodian court.

First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh told the conference: "The Royal Government is determined to bring those responsible for the perpetration of these crimes against the Cambodian people to face justice."

The conference was hosted by the CGP, a two-year project funded by the US State Department to research and document KR crimes. It is not charged with identifying and gathering evidence of specific perpetrators and victims.

In their key-note paper, Abrams (a State Department consultant) and Ratner (of the University of Texas School of Law), concluded there was considerable evidence of KR crimes.

They found the KR regime had prima facie culpability for: genocidal crimes against Chams, Vietnamese, Buddhists and other groups; crimes against humanity, including murder; war crimes, in connection with their war with Vietnam; and breaches of international and Cambodian law.

The paper urged "accountability" for the crimes describing it as a "moral, legal, and political imperative for Cambodia and the international community" and rejected suggestions that revisiting the KR period would cause more harm than good to Cambodia.

However, it suggested a "more selective form of accountability" because many former KR cadre, senior and junior, had since returned to civilian life.

"The divisiveness inherent in calling forth all those who committed atrocities may be more than Cambodia can handle at this time," the paper's authors remarked.

They went on to recommend that such accountability be limited to KR leaders "who had a policymaking responsibility over the crimes" of the KR regime, and others such as torture and execution camp commanders.

By focusing on "a select group of participants in particularly atrocious acts," Cambodians would get "a sense of identity of those most guilty for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge."

The report added. however, that: "Even such a narrow casting of the net could have destabilizing effects in Cambodia if it involves an examination into the activities of senior [current] governmental officials or other powerful elements of society."

The paper examined possible options to lay accountability:

A case before the International Court of Justice, which the paper did not recommend. It said only the country of Cambodia not individual KR leaders could be taken to the court. While such a case might pressure the Cambodian government to prosecute KR leaders, countries which supported the KR in certain periods would likely veto the court' s hearing of the case.

International Criminal Tribunals, which the paper endorsed "in principle" but pointed out several obstacles. They included the need to gain strong international support for such tribunals, and a likely lack of effectiveness in physically bringing KR leaders to trial. Cambodian cooperation might also not be forthcoming, given that senior government officials former KR cadre who led subsequent governments or other officials who allied themselves to the KR to fight Vietnam could also be indicted.

National Tribunals. The paper's authors expressed this option would be accepted, but acknowledged considerable problems with ensuring the Cambodian justice provided fair trials. Also, although Cambodia was obliged by international law to hold trials of those accused of genocide, "it may well shirk this duty as well as any other demands for accountability. As with international prosecutions, domestic trials would involve governmental officials and others in positions of power".

A non-prosecutorial "truth commission" the author's most strongly recommended option. Compomising a combination of foreign and Cambodian commissioners, such a body could be charged with gathering "detailed, authoritative and unbiased accounting" of KR crimes.

"A commission would set the record clear for future generations of Cambodians so that none could doubt the enormity of the atrocities," the paper's authors said.

"A commission could either name offenders or refrain from doing so, although we favor the former for purposes of full accounting."

The commission could lay the groundwork for future prosecutions.

Civil lawsuits, which the paper said could be possible in two ways. The first was by individual victims who could identify individual perpetrators, though there were limitations to this such as the fact that "courts typically need to have a defendant present in order for such a suit to proceed." Secondly, the Cambodian government could file suits to retrieve some of the monetary assets currently held by the KR, though this would require considerable support from countries were such assets might be held.

Jason Abrams. speaking at a press conference Aug 22, said he and colleague Ratner remained hopeful of prosecutions of KR under the Cambodian justice system.

"We did feel that ultimately this would be the preferred approach for prosecuting the KR and do believe that with international assistance and given enough time the Cambodian national courts may indeed prove to be an effective forum," said Abrams.

But Ratner agreed that the justice system "is simply not in shape now" and that a truth commission remained the best and most "visible" option for accountability.


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