Cambodians are a step closer to bringing the perpetrators of some
of the 20th century's most heinous war crimes to justice.
The country's Constitutional Council yesterday approved a law to
prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders, whose rule was responsible for the
deaths of some 1.7 million Cambodians through starvation, torture,
The decision is likely to clear the way for Cambodia to set a
global precedent as the first country to hold a hybrid war-crimes
tribunal, combining national and international law on its own soil.
Moreover, Cambodia is moving closer to a self-examination of the
"killing fields" regime from 1975 to '79 - a process of revelation
and healing that it has not yet begun.
"What the people want is not revenge against the Khmer Rouge,"
says Ok Socheat, a member of the National Assembly. "What they want
is the reality, the truth, of what lies behind the Khmer Rouge,
because I don't think anyone really understands that. We need to
have this trial so we can prevent genocide, but the people also
need it so we can write our own history," he says.
Still, there are powerful forces both inside and outside Cambodia
reluctant to sift through the ashes of the past - particularly under
the microscope of the United Nations. Some observers say that plans
for a tribunal will remain bogged down in disagreements between the
UN and Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge leader who
switched sides in 1978 and became this country's leader after a
Others worry that Hun Sen will try to push through a hasty and
tightly controlled trial in order to come out looking good before
communal elections next year, and national elections the year
"Even with UN involvement, it's hard to believe that most of the
Khmer Rouge leaders will be found guilty," says Mr. Socheat, a
senior member of Funcinpec, a party that remains loyal to King
Sihanouk, whose signature on the law is the next necessary step in
the road to creating a tribunal.
It was the king who gave the Cambodian Communist Party their name
- dismissing them before their rise to power as a pack of "Red
Khmers." Their short but horrific rule was marked by an absurd
drive to create an agrarian utopia, and the wholesale slaughter of
families. They also abolished money, schools, urban living,
religion, as well as potato picking and book reading. The surviving
leaders of the regime, who saw massive bloodletting as part of
their purification of Cambodian societal decadence, are comfortably
ensconced near the Thai-Cambodian border. Only two leaders, Kang
Kek Leu, or "Duch," and Ta Mok, are in detention.
Duch, an infamous torture and execution center director for the
Khmer Rouge told investigators that he took orders from Nuon Chea,
second only to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. "He called me in to meet
me and he said, 'Don't bother to interrogate them - just kill
them.' And I did," according to a new report released in
The War Crimes Research Office at the Washington College of Law,
American University, in conjunction with the Documentation Center of
Cambodia here, has just released research based on more than 1,000
documents, including telegrams, minutes of meetings, and testimonies
of victims and perpetrators. The information would comprise some of
the important and most disturbing evidence in a trial of surviving
leaders of the Khmer Rouge.
But the prospect of peeling away the layers of secrecy around the
Khmer Rouge still stirs great resistance among senior officials
here, where former Khmer Rouge members now hold some of the highest
positions in government and have been absorbed into the military.
China, Russia, and Thailand are also reluctant to back the trials.
They could be implicated in the process of examining who helped one
of recent history's most brutal regimes. …