Mataeriel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview

9

Mapping Cambodia's 'killing fields'

HELEN JARVIS

After the overthrow of Democratic Kampuchea, Cambodia and Vietnam revealed to the outside world the horrors of Tuol Sleng, a high school in Phnom Penh where more than 15 000 people are reported to have been imprisoned and tortured before being executed on the outskirts of the city at Choeung Ek, often called 'the killing field'. Tuol Sleng became a Museum of Genocide, preserving the remains of the horror that took place there, and a memorial stupa was erected at Choeung Ek (Fig. 9.1 provides an example of a stupa). But these are only two such genocide sites of the many hundreds scattered throughout the country. During the three years, eight months and twenty days that the Khmer Rouge held power, more than 1.6 million people perished, over one quarter of the total population, dying in miserable circumstances of starvation and untreated illness, if not from brutal torture and execution, in one of the twentieth century's most destructive episodes (Kiernan 1996; Sliwinski 1996).

In November 1997, almost nineteen years after the Khmer Rouge was overthrown, for the first time one of the major organs of the United Nations acknowledged that massive human rights violations had occurred in Cambodia during the Democratic Kampuchea period of 1975-9. The General Assembly voted to accept the report of the Secretary General Special Representative on Human Rights for Cambodia, Thomas Hammarberg, which recommended a positive United Nations response to a July 1997 letter signed jointly by the then co-Prime Ministers Hun Sen and Norodom Ranariddh requesting assistance in bringing the Khmer Rouge to justice (United Nations 1999).

A UN Group of Experts was established to give an opinion as to whether sufficient grounds existed for convening a trial, and to explore the advantages and disadvantages of various types of tribunals, with different levels of international involvement. The Group of Experts' report, released in early 1999, recommended an international tribunal such as those already in operation for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The Cambodian government response was rather to request international assistance for and involvement in a Cambodian domestic process. During the following years discussions continued with the United Nations as to the degree of international involvement in these judicial proceedings, while the number and identity of those to be indicted and tried are yet to be determined.

After two decades of delay in bringing the Khmer Rouge to justice, the tide was

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