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Posts Tagged ‘Khmer Rouge’

Cambodia: more on primitive accumulation, and new criticisms of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

In cambodia on February 28, 2012 at 9:26 am

After my recent post on primitive accumulation in Cambodia, now these stories from the Phnom Penh Post:

Shooter Now Unknown. It’s unclear what to make of this. It was pretty obvious from initial reports that Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith was himself the man who shot into a crowd of workers striking outside a shoe factory. It sounds like the provincial police chief, who claimed that the suspect was identified and under pursuit, may have been planning to arrest a patsy, as the police did in the Chea Vichea case, and that national officials may be preventing that from happening. We’ll have to wait and see.

Monks Await Justice. Khmer Krom – it’s what Cambodians call the Mekong Delta now controlled by Vietnam.  While ethnic Khmer in southern Vietnam appear to have a generally better nutritional profile, and experience somewhat less poverty than do Khmer (as a whole) in Cambodia, it is also clear that the Vietnamese State attempts to control ethnic Khmer display so closely that their policies amount to a form of cultural genocide. (yes, that). Khmer Krom activists are often under attack, as was made obvious in the case of the Khmer Krom activist monk, Tim Sakhorn.  Moreover, it is clear that elements within the Cambodian government often cooperate with the Vietnamese government to arrest and intimidate Khmer Krom activists.

So, when another Khmer Krom monk activist was murdered, with his throat slit in a Cambodian temple in Kandal province, in 2007, few expected a serious search for the murderer. Their suspicions have been proven correct, and five years later, monks and lay-people held a ceremony to remember his death.

Meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal is experiencing another set of serious criticisms, and coordination between the Khmer and International judges appears to be non-existent. The new International judge, Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, has re-opened Case 003, to the objections of PM Hun Sen and his co-investigating Khmer judge. Meanwhile, Cambodian staffers at the court have not been paid for a very long time. While this is supposed to be the responsibility of the Cambodian government, they have disclaimed this.  The European Union has just coughed up 1.7 million to help pay this staff. Meanwhile, the Open Society Justice Initiative is releasing perhaps its strongest criticisms yet of the tribunal’s process, talking about a ‘crisis of credibility,’ and the International Bar Association has released a statement claiming the tribunal faces a serious ‘failure of credibility.’

oh. my.

Twitter News From Cambodia

In cambodia on December 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I’ll have some shortish book reviews and recommendations here, over the next week – including Margaret Slocomb’s book on the Cambodian Economy in the Twentieth Century, new articles on primitive accumulation in Southeast Asia by Ian Baird, David Graeber’s book on Debt, and more…..

but in the meantime, I have been spending too much of my evening ‘free-time’ (when I really should be watching sitcoms) following the twitter feed of Faine Greenwood, who is live-tweeting the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC) in Cambodia, and Guy Delauney’s feed, where he’s been covering the Xayaburi Dam breaking news.

I recommend you do the same….

It’s getting tense over at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC)

In comment on August 19, 2011 at 9:42 pm

So, Things are getting a bit intense over at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia).  Newish Co-Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk, whose go-it-alone style and brusque treatment of pre-existing staff at the courts has not made him a lot of friends there, talked in his typical style to the Phnom Penh Post yesterday.  He had this to say about Professor Steve Heder’s departure from the staff of the Extraordinary Chambers:

After the contract of this consultant was not renewed by our Office for certain reasons, he obviously had an axe to grind, and in a toxic letter tried to portray the termination of his contract as his “resignation” levelling all sorts of allegations at our Office. He would be well advised to bear in mind his post-contractual obligations.

This is a very serious accusation against Professor Steve Heder.  Judge Blunk essentially accuses Heder of attempting to sabotage the progress of the tribunal for reasons limited to personal satisfaction of employment. Not cool, if true.  But Heder deserves a great deal of confidence here.  Heder is the author, along with Brian Tittemore, of “Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge.” Published in 2001, this paper must be considered the most influential and significant published contribution to the prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders prior to the convening of the ECCC.

The departure appears to have something to do with the way in which the important term “those most responsible” for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. This term is important because “those most responsible” are the ones who will be charged. So the way in which the term is defined for the purposes of the court will determine how many people will eventually be tried in the courts.  Heder discusses this obliquely in a short article here, and in a longer article titled A Review of the Negotiations Leading to the Establishment of the Personal Jurisdiction of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, available here.

Heder’s contributions are significant, in other words. That’s not just my opinion, but obviously shared not only by historians of the Khmer Rouge, but also by other ECCC observers, like David Scheffer, here.

Whatever the actual situation behind Heder’s departure from the Chambers, his response to Blunk’s public shot across the bow probably didn’t lower the temperature. After rehearsing his account of the events behind his departure, he responds directly to Blunk’s threat:

As for my post-contractual obligations, I continue to reserve the right of reply to any inaccurate or misleading information published about my work for the ECCC, such as this statement by Judge Blunk, who would be well advised to get his facts straight.

The whole letter is here, and worth a read.

 

Sounding Cambodia on July 8th 2011

In sounding on July 8, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Howdy, readers.  I’ve been in the great Cascade Mountains of Washington State, and far from the internet.  But I’m back now, working on my manuscript (yes, really), and trying to keep households and students from imploding (sort of).  While I was gone, a lot of important things happened.  Here are some of them!

Over at Slate magazine, Ken Silverstein does an excellent job skewering the self-serving culture of the NGO elites who rule Cambodian in tandem (and not a friendly one) with the CPP.  It won’t be news to anyone who’s ever lived in the ‘Bodge, but it’s a good refresher.  Go read.

Meanwhile, the Closing Order from the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC, aka the Khmer Rouge Tribunal) has been released, and the media are starting to talk about Brother Number Two, Nuon Chea, again. Here’s an article in the Guardian from the  redoubtable Thet Sambath, the Cambodian journalist responsible for the most important film on the Khmer Rouge made, Enemies of the People.  Enemies of the People is available on DVD now – buy it, watch it. Learn.  As a different article said, it’s like watching a documentary on the Nazi Genocides narrated by the bad guys.

Also, there was a fascinating, important election in Thailand, which could have enormous implications (hopefully and likely positive ones) for Cambodia.  We’ll see, but the upshot is that Thailand just elected its first female Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and the army has indicated that it will respect the results.

Also, important economic news out of Cambodia.  Rice exports quadrupled, which is good for business, but should make Cambodian nationals nervous, since food security is getter worse every year. Cambodia experienced a 6.5% rise in food prices over the last year. Food security analysts point out that other countries have experienced 20% rises, and call that stable.  Tell that to the peasants. If they’re interested in eating meat, prices are at least double the rise of general food increases:

In the first six months of 2011, beef has increased some 12.07 percent to 26,000 riel a kilogramme, smoked fish has seen a 22.63 percent increase to 16,800 riel, and pork has climbed 25.37 percent to 21,800 riel on Phnom Penh markets, the Commerce Ministry’s daily report on Friday showed.

As for the manufacturing sector, the Garment Manufacturer’s Association of Cambodia (GMAC) predicts a thirty percent rise in exports this year, while the anti-union draft law is receiving unified opposition from the unions.  Meanwhile, primitive accumulation proceeds apace, with the cruelty in evidence, for example, in the repeated destruction of the shelters of already-evicted villagers from the notorious Dey Krahom collective.

Sounding on Cambodia for April 18, 2011

In comment, sounding on April 18, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Happy Khmer New Year, everybody! សួស្តី ឆ្នាំ​ថ្មី! I’m a few days late of course, but my wishes are sincere for all of that.  May your upcoming year be full of health, success, happiness, and peace. I was not able, this year, to attend the awesome (and increasingly awesome) New Year’s events at my local Khmer temple – Wat Munisota [I can't ever say that name without wanting to point out how fantastically funny and smart the namers were: Munisota means (in Sanskrit and Khmer): "That which is heard from the sage" (the Dharma), but of course, it also sounds very much like "Minnesota," which was intentional. Brilliant, good humor], in spite of some excellent invitations.  But I’m hopeful I might be able to make it to the Madison temple‘s New Year celebration this coming Saturday.

In this week’s Sounding on Cambodia, I talk about:

  • The 36th anniversary of the Fall of Phnom Penh, April 17, 1975 [The picture above is Lon Nol Buddhist-inspired propaganda which characterizes the communist insurgency as Vietnamese anti-Buddhist monsters, defeated by the power of Nang Thorani's hair in the scene of the Buddha's enlightenment].
  • “Aid to Cambodia Rarely Reaches the People it’s Intended to Help,” by Joel Brinkley, and a review of Joel Brinkley’s new book, “Cambodia’s Curse,” by Elizabeth Becker
  • PM Hun Sen rumored to have lung cancer – no confirmation
More after the jump…

PraCh Releases Hip-Hop Responses to Duch’s Sentence

In khmer on August 6, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Good on PraCh for putting this together, and for making it freely available to listen to online. Click on the picture below to go to the song.

Sounding on Cambodia for August 5, 2010

In sounding on August 5, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I’m in the throes of a stereotypical pre-tenure academic summer, writing very productively, but never productively enough, happy with my work, but worried it’s not good enough, watching my children grow up, and wishing I had more time to spend with them rather than writing, excited about the imminent beginning of classes, and dreading the end of my ‘free time’ for writing.

So, instead of thoughtful commentary, here are some of the things that have caught my eyes and ears on Cambodia today:


More laudatory stories about the new documentary Enemies of the People. Very excited to see it.

This story, from the Moth (a storytelling website), is by Andrew Solomon, and tells the story of a Khmer woman who created her own, apparently largely successful, path out of the crippling depression that was destroying the lives of the women around her after 1979 (end of Democratic Kampuchea, the state of the so-called Khmer Rouge). Step one: Forget. Step two: Work. Step three: perform manicures and pedicures. Seriously. I was prepared to scoff, but found this deeply powerful. Go ahead and give yourself 15 minutes to listen to the whole story. It came to my attention via Alison, of AlisoninCambodia, an excellent archaeological blog.
Andrew Solomon – Moth Podcast

Now, back to work.

News: Duch Sentenced

In khmer on July 26, 2010 at 10:07 am

I typically have avoided much discussion of the Khmer Rouge Tribunals, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. But today Duch was sentenced. [PPP Article]

Duch (:wiki: for non-Khmer speakers, it’s probably best to try to pronounce it “DOE-ik”; please don’t pronounce it as “Dutch.”) was, of course, the administrative head of the notorious Khmer Rouge Torture and Execution center, S-21, sometimes today known by the name “Tuol Sleng.”  He directly ordered (under the higher orders of his chain of command, almost certainly ending with Nuon Chea, “Brother Number 2″) torture and execution.  Of all the thousands of people murdered (perhaps about 16,000) under his direct authority at the prison (or at the site approx. 17 km to the South, known as Choeung Ek (pronounce “Jung Aik”), only 14 are known to have survived.

He is a monster. Certainly he is a fascinating one.  He is brilliant: he possesses a very keen mind, especially for mathematics and some forms of moral philosophy.

He is almost entirely unself-conscious: the evident hypocrisy and outstanding repugnance of his views, when discussed with his famous captive François Bizot (:wiki: ), was not only denied by him, but not even apparent to him. He clearly loves being in the spotlight, and a major part of his life these last few years has been made up of his efforts to take center stage, announcing bizarre strategies for justice (allowing his victims to stone him to death?) and a desire for complete self-sacrifice and an acceptance of guilt, along with an almost bizarre lack of emotional depth behind any of his statements.

He’s a Christian convert: Former Khmer Rouge stalwarts who have been the only consistent missionizing ground for Christian evangelists in Cambodia, and it’s likely that his personal conversion narrative shares much with these others, which could very easily be interpreted as an appeal to the Christian doctrine of forgiveness and the erasure of sin, something which (those angry at the ignorant Brit Hume aside) Buddhism in Cambodia does not offer.

All of this makes for a fascinating figure. But here are some of the stories that I want to hear about, stories that aren’t getting written (or read by me, anyway), and stories that I think are really in many ways more important to understanding what’s going on here.

  • I’m already seeing a lot of outrage from the Khmer expatriate population over the interw3bz about this verdict.  I am not in Cambodia, so cannot speak to how folks from different age groups and class groups are responding on the ground.  I would very much like to see those stories.  Some of that is starting to come across, especially in the Phnom Penh Post, which is writing biographical stories in frames of talking to his neighbors.  A nice touch, really, but I’d like more detail about current responses.
  • What about the age gap in terms of aspirations for this trial?  Although many thought the entire thing was doomed to fail, and thus paid little attention (see below), for those who did support it, were there significant differences in what they hoped to get out of the trial?  How does this verdict and sentence affect those aspirations?  If both groups are disappointed, are they disappointed in different ways?

Finally, let’s be frank: lots of us thought this was doomed from the beginning. Between the notoriously corrupt Cambodian Judiciary, the ongoing hostile relations among the Cambodian Lawyers Guilds themselves, the constant, unending, delays in beginning, the narrow scope of indictments, and a plethora of other damning problems, we just couldn’t see this trial leading anywhere positive.  It was also rare to hear Khmer people outside of the legal and NGO worlds speak up for the specific process involved; most were disappointed from the beginning.

The strongest realistic statement promoting the possibility that the sentencing of Duch could help reform the Cambodian Judiciary was  just published via the East-West Center. Judy Lederwood and Kheang Un, both of Northern Illinois University, in a paper that can be downloaded and read here for free. (“Is the Trial of ‘Duch’ A Catalyst for Change in Cambodia’s Courts?“) It’s an important paper, but as it was written in anticipation of this verdict, we now have the opportunity/responsibility to update it with observations.

But many of us, and specifically, I myself, restrained our criticisms, not only publicly, but privately. Whenever I have given thought to this trial process, I have had a lengthy mental combat with myself.  It seemed so self-evidently doomed, that I couldn’t imagine supporting it in any way; it almost seemed cruel to set this up when some people wanted genuine justice and simply were not going to get it.  But I desperately wanted something to work, for someone.  Even if it only gave some small sense of emotional closure to those 14 survivors, I thought it would be worth it.  Maybe in that sense, it was.

I spun out all sorts of theories for myself; perhaps it would act as a spur to the reform of the Cambodian Judiciary, or increase popular pressure on the Judiciary. Maybe it would spur on conversations and provide some sort of rapprochement between the generations that survived the period and those born after.

These things could still happen, but it appears clear that this sentence, in which Duch could get out of prison after only 19 years, is a message of some sort, from the court.  Of course, it’s likely that Duch will die in prison.  But the relevance of this verdict is in the message it sends about the court’s ability to prosecute and sentence those indicted. Given the weight of the evidence against him, and his complete acceptance of all responsibility and throwing himself upon the court, this should have been the clearest court victory out of all the indictments.

That’s what I think, and what I’m thinking about.  How about you?

Sounding on Southeast Asia for February 23, 2010

In sounding on February 23, 2010 at 10:11 am
  • Do a search for Mekong and Naga lately – lots of news.  Here’s a review in the Nation (Thailand) of a new book relating the Mekong and the Naga.  Good stuff, want to read.
  • I’ve got a couple of students who are writing a grant to go work and study with the awesome group in Cambodia Tiny Toones.  Tiny Toones is an organization founded by Cambodian Deportee K.K., who was one of those young Khmer Americans forcibly deported from the US (usually the only home and dominant culture they’ve ever known) because he never applied for citizenship and got into trouble with the law.  Sounds like he had a pretty rough life, but he’s making a seriously positive difference in Phnom Penh, where he teaches breakdancing, life skills, and literacy to street children.  Here are a couple of mass-media articles about the group. Time Magazine | NYT

And oh yes, this is what this web site sounds like if it were music.

SOUNDING on Cambodia: Hun Sen and Preah Vihear

In sounding on January 26, 2010 at 10:04 am

shot caller

Paul Vrieze publishes a review of Hun Sen‘s 25 years in power. Hun Sen’s greatest asset has far too often been seen by his critics as a weakness: he was on many different and conflicting sides in the conflicts of the 70s and 80s – just like the majority of Cambodians. Unlike most Cambodians, in addition to having had a kaleidoscopic history of shifting political loyalties, he has only every really been on one side: his own. [link, via]

Despite his political skills, Hun Sen did not shy away from using violence against political opposition. In 1997, he took over thegovernment by force and the ensuing fighting killed about 100 people, mostly from the rival Funcinpec Party, according to a 2008 US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, which referred to the takeover as an “unlawful seizure of power”.

Before the military takeover, a grenade attack hit a peaceful opposition rally in Phnom Penh, which killed 16 children, men and women and wounded more than 100 others. Recent disclosures of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) probe into the attack, which was conducted because an American citizen was injured in the blast, were made under a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Cambodia Daily, a local English-language newspaper.

The investigation, which was cut short due to intensifying threats to the FBI agent, found evidence that directly implicated Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and the CPP, while highly placed witnesses declined to cooperate with the FBI, according to the records disclosed to the newspaper. The US government reacted to the violent events of 1997 by banning direct aid to Cambodia for a decade. As the US Congressional Research Service noted, “The autocratic tendencies of Prime Minister Hun Sen have discouraged foreign investment and strained US-Cambodian relations.”

And oh yes, the Dry Season is here – so it’s about time for violent misunderstandings at the Cambodian-Thai border, over the Khmer temple of ប្រសាទ​ព្រះ​វិហារ Prasat Preah Vihear (Thai: Phra Viharn). [link, link]

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