[ Accueil Totus ] [Cambodia Genocide Controversy]


41/ Vickery on KR genocide, 1994.


9 May 1994

Editors, Z Magazine, 18 Millfield St., Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA

Since I was mentioned by Jack Colhoun in his exchange with Edward Herman (Z Magazine, October and December 1993) as a source for death statistics in Democratic Kampuchea ('Khmer Rouge regime'), and since perhaps not many Z Magazine readers are familiar with the literature on Cambodia, I would like to set my record a little straighter and to add, for the first time in print, my views on 'Khmer Rouge genocide' and trendy Khmer Rouge-bashing, which I have hitherto expressed only privately, in particular to Noam Chomsky and Ben Kiernan.

I have no personal interest in the Colhoun-Herman relationship. I have met neither of them, although I have read Herman's political writings with pleasure and admiration, but had never heard of Colhoun until I saw his letter in Z. Nevertheless, I admire people with the Vietnam record he claims, and would like to imagine that had I been in similar circumstances I would have made similar choices (my draft notices came during the Korean War which I was able to avoid by strategems within the law).

I have discussed DK death statistics, I believe, in four publications, of which probably the best known is $Cambodia 1975-1982$. [Footnote 1: Boston, South End Press, 1984. The others are "Democratic Kampuchea:CIA to the Rescue", $Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars$ (BCAS), 14/4 (1982); "How Many Died in Pol Pot's Kampuchea", BCAS 20/1 (1988); "Comments on Cham Population Figures", BCAS 22/1 (1990). End footnote] There my estimate was about 700,000 deaths $above a normal peacetime death total$, of whom perhaps half were victims of execution, the rest dying of overwork, illness, and hunger. I still believe in the relative accuracy of those figures, and in recent years have come to the conclusion that if they are in error, it is on the high side. The revelations of far more survivors than were believed possible in 1979-80 means that fewer perished than had been estimated. I wish to insist again, as I did in all the contexts in which I wrote about this, on the weakness of all Cambodian population statistics, to the extent that any estimated total could conceivably be off by 2-300,000. Thus, as Colhoun noted, I would not argue about a figure of one million or so, even though my preferred total is less. I do insist that the 2-3 million estimates are demographically impossible. Interested readers should also heed that my estimates are for deaths above a normal peacetime rate, the usual way of measuring demographic disasters, whereas certain other writers on the subject have preferred to treat all deaths between April 1975 and January 1979 as Pol Pot crimes, as though without the Khmer Rouge no one would have died in those years. This accounts for one estimate of 1.5 million which has become popular in recent years among those who accept my point about 2-3 million, but balk at a figure of less than one million.

I agree with Herman's argument about western pressure on Cambodia concerning the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge are still a danger because they were deliberately revived after 1979 by an international coalition in which the United States played a major role. They were nurtured back into the Cambodian political arena by that international aid. Every western plan for resolution of the Cambodia conflict, starting with the 1982 Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, and including in particular the U.S.-inspired Australian plan and its devolution in the 1991 Paris agreement forced on Phnom Penh envisaged, even demanded, inclusion of the Khmer Rouge in a new government. The party whose exclusion was desired was the State of Cambodia (SOC) government in Phnom Penh (until 1989 People's Republic of Kampuchea, PRK). This process ended in the UNTAC election farce of 1993.

Colhoun was correct in his negative view of that exercise, although not having read what he wrote, I cannot comment on the details. I hope he included mention of a USAID-supported education for democracy group which imported an El Salvadoran death squad organizer to tell Cambodians about the organization of elections in the midst of violence. Raul Garcia Prieto, vice-president of the ARENA Party, was brought to Cambodia by the International Republican Institute just about the time the UN report on human rights in El Salvador was published. So far as I know not a single journalist, even after the story was virtually forced down their throats, tried to bring it to the wide international attention it deserved. [Added January 1996: Michael Hayes, Editor of $Phnom Penh Post$, wrote "U.S. Political Opponents [IRI and NDI] Team Up to Train Khmers", demonstrating, so it went, that in the West rival parties cooperate to promote democracy rather than shoot one another. Nothing was said about the involvement of ARENA]; [Footnote 2: Hayes' article was in Vol. 2, No. 5, 26 February-11 March 1993. A very brief, anonymous, notice appeared in $Far Eastern Economic Review$, 1 April 1993, and Nate Thayer told me he placed it there. It read, "As the UN prepares to hold Cambodia's first election in more than two decades, foreign election experts are arriving in large number to educate the local population on the mysteries of Western democracy and electoral campaigning. Among the 'experts' is a member of El Salvador's Alliance Party (Arena) [Raul Garcia Prieto, vice-president of the ARENA Party], whose late founder Roberto d'Aubuisson was held responsible for ordering the assassination of the country's archbishop in 1980 and who routinely used death squads to intimidate or eliminate his opponents". This was not designed to attract attention, unlike Thayer's long, upbeat reports about the Khmer Rouge.End footnote] and not the slightest peep of objection was heard from any UN agency, let alone the Human Rights Component. [Footnote 3: The International Republican Institute, according to their personnel in Phnom Penh, is a 'Core Grantee' of the National Endowment for Democracy, created by the Reagan regime, but continued under Bush and Clinton, to foster political democracy in other countries. The NED is still funded by Congress. The IRI activities in Cambodia during the election were jointly funded by NED and by USAID (The U.S. foreign aid organization); with USAID as the major backer. [Added January 1996: These two groups are still busy with Democracy education in Cambodia].End Footnote]

That agency, in tune with the purpose of the Paris Agreement and UNTAC, designed its activities to discredit the Phnom Penh government. When it organized a Human Rights conference at the end of November 1992, among the invited foreign participants were representatives of all the western SOC-bashing organizations--Lawyers Committee, Amnesty, Asia Watch--while specialist students of Cambodia who have written frequently about human rights there, but with sympathy for Phnom Penh, were not only not invited, but two of them who happened to be in town were denied permission to sit in as observers. [Footnote 4: They were Ben Kiernan and myself. End footnote]

The opening ceremony began with an incantatory plea for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, even though the relevance for the business of establishing guarantees for human rights in Cambodia was not clear. It might seem that one purpose was to suggest that the Phnom Penh government was the equivalent of SLORC. It could not have been intended as a call for improvement in human rights in Southeast Asia, for no mention was made of the longest-serving political prisoner in Southeast Asia, perhaps in the entire world, Singapore's Chia Tay Poh, who after over 20 years imprisonment without trial was transferred to restricted residence before Aung San Suu Kyi was subjected to similar surveillance. His release, like hers, is up to him, and like her, he has refused to compromise on principles. But of course Chia Tay Poh is not a middle-class glamor person. He is a real leftist who, before being put away in the 1960s was saying very nasty things about the Americans in Vietnam--not the sort of political prisoner to whom UNTAC would wish to call attention, with their Singapore police component, and subservience to American Vietnam policy.

The bias there was nevertheless somewhat surprising because in June 1992 Dennis McNamara, the chief of UNTAC Human Rights, who had worked for the UN in Malaysia, told me he thought there was perhaps more risk for human rights activists in Malaysia and Singapore than in Phnom Penh.

I hope Colhoun noticed another UNTAC scandal, the domination of the Information and Education Component of UNTAC by a member of the executive branch of the U.S. government and an American Cambodia expert who since 1980 had become a professional enemy of the PRK/SOC. That component was the principle source of Cambodia expertise for UNTAC, and they issued reports which can hardly be qualified as anything but disinformation. [Footnote 5: They were respectively Timothy Carney and Stephen Heder. I have covered this in some detail in "Cambodia: a Political Survey", Discussion Paper No. 14, The Department of Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1994. End footnote]

The U.S. pressure on the post-election government to exclude the Khmer Rouge is a red herring. In the runup to the election the royalist party FUNCINPEC, still an ally of the Khmer Rouge, was the U.S. darling. The goal was still to undermine the Phnom Penh side. Having forced them to accept Khmer Rouge participation in the election, Washington intended to discredit them for acceding to that international pressure; and refusal of recognition or aid after the election, as threatened by the U.S., would have weakened the SOC Peoples Party and in fact contributed to Khmer Rouge advances, via the conciliatory policy of FUNCINPEC and Sihanouk.

If now the Cambodians in the Phnom Penh government consider that they must form a coalition including the Khmer Rouge, it is no longer the business of outsiders to object, although I also find the prospect regrettable.

At the moment, though (May 1994), things don't look so bad. The new Phnom Penh coalition government (FUNCINPEC-People's Party), contrary to expectations, has taken the initiative against the Khmer Rouge militarily, which may exclude the possibility of Khmer Rouge entering the government coalition, except on terms favorable to the government.

I say 'contrary to expectations' because the party which 'won' the election, with a narrow plurality, the U.S.-backed FUNCINPEC under Sihanouk's son Ranariddh, had cooperated with the Khmer Rouge since 1982 and during the election campaign announced a policy of reconciliation and reintegration of the Khmer Rouge into the national community. The object of U.S. hatred, the former People's Republic/State of Cambodia under Hun Sen, whose People's Party came in a close second in the vote, said on the contrary that if they won the election they would destroy the Khmer Rouge militarily and prevent them from participating in a new government. What is surprising is that following the election and formation of a coalition of FUNCINPEC, the Peoples Party, and a small third party, it is Hun Sen's Khmer Rouge policy which has prevailed. With respect to the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh is right where they were before they gave in to international pressure in 1991, defending themselves rather successfully against their enemies whom the U.S. insisted on rehabilitating. The differences, which are in their favor, are that the former Khmer Rouge allies, FUNCINPEC and Son Sann's KPNLF/BLDP are now in the Phnom Penh government and cannot overtly object to such defence, and the U.S. and China have apparently ceased their aid to the Khmer Rouge. Only the Thai army continues to provide cross-border sanctuaries and clandestine aid to the Khmer Rouge (although the possibility that some of the equipment was provided by the U.S. should not be overlooked).

This post-election development must certainly irritate Washington, for it shows the resilience of Hun Sen and the Peoples Party whom the U.S. wished to destroy. Phnom Penh, following Hun Sen's policy, is proving what some of us argued for years, that the Peoples Republic/State of Cambodia was a viable government which could defend and develop itself if only foreign aid, including U.S., to its enemies, of whom the most dangerous were the Khmer Rouge, was stopped.

After 1979 two main lines of argument were used by those who approved of the Vietnamese overthrow of Democratic Kampuchea and the formation of the Peoples Republic--emphasis on (1) the positive aspects of the new regime, and/or (2) the negative features of the old. In my own writings I chose the first line, insisting that the Peoples Republic was the best among available choices for Cambodia and deserved recognition and normal international aid and trade.

My position implied rejection of the Khmer Rouge, but I avoided the arguments usually evoked by those emphasizing that line, because insisting on Khmer Rouge iniquities without offering an alternative was useless, because I considered some of the accusations inaccurate, and because of the strange bedfellows with devious purposes who came together to damn the Khmer Rouge. Imagine--Ben Kiernan, Craig Etcheson, David Hawk, Stephen Morris, William Shawcross, Elizabeth Becker, and William Colby all together in an ideological bed. Bashing the Khmer Rouge was a safe position, like praising motherhood and apple pie, and was indulged in even by those involved in passing backhanders to the Khmer Rouge across the Thai border.

I considered that the themes on which they insisted, genocide and the need for an international genocide tribunal for the Khmer Rouge, might be counterproductive if one, as I did, favored the PRK. 'Genocide', it seemed to me, was historically inaccurate for what had happened in Cambodia, and, more important, I believed that had such a tribunal been established the trial, if it were fair in the best traditions of western justice, would take months, even years, delaying peace in Cambodia, and that in the end the Khmer Rouge might be acquitted. Then, as I wrote to someone advocating such a trial, "where would you be?". Certainly there should not have been a show trial organized in the west, and I thought that those who wanted a trial at any price should have insisted on recognition of the 1979 trial conducted in Phnom Penh which condemned Pol Pot and Ieng Sary for genocide in absentia. That they did not shows what they were really up to.

It was not just condemnation of the DK leadership that some of the strange bedfellows in the western anti-Khmer Rouge camp desired. Their clamor for an internatioal tribunal was to get the Phnom Penh leadership along with the Khmer Rouge on the grounds that the former were 'ex-Khmer Rouge' and guilty of the same crimes. That would certainly have caused a lengthy trial, blocked development within Cambodia and peace negotiations, and weakened the People's Republic even if in the end their leaders were all acquitted. This tendency has noticeably abated since the Cambodia expert on whom they relied for intellectual support, Stephen Heder, declared that there was no evidence linking the Phnom Penh leadership to Khmer Rouge crimes. [Footnote 6: "Recent Developments in Cambodia", a talk by Stephen R. Heder, Australian National University, 5 September 1990, printed and distributed by Campaign to Oppose the Return of the Khmer Rouge, Washington, D.C., p. 2, "...I have seen no evidence that any of the ex-Khmer Rouge in positions of high political authority in today's Cambodia were involved in large-scale or systematic killing of Cambodian seems they were not deeply involved in any of the massacres of Cambodian civilians that took place between April 1975 and January 1979". End footnote] In the last three or four years the U.S.-based anti-Khmer Rouge groups of which I am aware were sincerely against the Khmer Rouge, although one of the trendiest, the "Campaign to Oppose the Return of the Khmer Rouge", did not recoil from enlisting a war criminal like William Colby, who no doubt had his own agenda, as a member of its Advisory Board, and reacted quite petulantly when they were chided for this.

I did not go public with these views, and only communicated them privately to some of those involved, because my arguments would have been misused to deflate opposition to U.S. aid to the anti-Phnom Penh coalition which included the Khmer Rouge.

Now there is no longer need to keep these opinions under wraps, for the anti-Phnom Penh coalition is gone, the major powers no longer aid the Khmer Rouge, the Phnom Penh government, although not in the form I preferred, has been recognized, and the blockade of Vietnam has ended. Foreign anti-KR groups could be most useful in exerting pressure on their governments to insist that the Thai army stop providing aid and sanctuary for the KR, even against the announced policy of the Thai government, a situation so serious that even the U.S. ambassador in Bangkok has spoken out against it. Once upon a time the U.S. bombed Cambodia for providing similar sanctuary to Vietnamese; and while I do not suggest Bangkok should be bombed, the U.S. has not hesitated to exert heavy pressure on Thailand for other purposes, such as trade and patents, to preserve profits for U.S. capitalists, and much more could be done to influence the behavior of the Thai military. Otherwise the treatment of the Khmer Rouge is for Cambodians within Cambodia to decide, and if a trial is to be organized it should be a strictly internal Cambodian matter.


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