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Posts Tagged ‘tribunal’

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Begins Today

In comment on February 17, 2009 at 9:27 am

I haven’t talked much about the tribunal, largely because while I think a good tribunal would be truly beneficial for Cambodia, this tribunal, it is increasingly clear, is little more than another fig leaf for a political regime. The last one was a fig leaf for the recent invading Vietnamese; this one is a fig leaf for the international donor countries, some of who re-armed the Khmer Rouge in the eighties, while allowing their representatives to retain their seat in the UN.

My anger and disappointment about this entire thing is nearly incandescent.

more about “Khmer Rouge war crimes trial begins -…“, posted with vodpod

François Bizot, one of the greatest academic authorities on Cambodian Buddhism, has a somewhat more measured statement on the beginning of the trial. One of Duch’s few survivors, Bizot was held in a prison camp by Duch north of Siem Reap prior to the victory of April 17, 1975, and was one of the only prisoners of that camp released. He has told his story in the bestselling book The Gate. His opinion piece in today’s New York Times deals with Duch as his own personal savior (insofar, I suppose, as Duch released him) and as a murderer of tens of thousands, in his capacity as the head of S-21. It’s definitely worth reading.

AFTER 10 years of detention, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Comrade Duch, is to appear today before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was arrested in 1999, after 20 years of living incognito, for crimes committed on his orders as commander of the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh from 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia and were responsible for the deaths of more than a million people.

Bizot, “My Savior, Their Killer.”

Also note that finally (FINALLY), a history of the Khmer Rouge period will be returned to the curriculum of Cambodian students, something which has been nonexistent for years (history ended in 1974). I have actually interviewed a man intimately connected with the destruction of the older, early PRK-era textbooks which did discuss the Khmer Rouge. There is no escaping of the fact that all these histories will be imperfect, intended to fit one political agenda or another, but the mere fact that the Khmer Rouge will be discussed in high school curriculum at all is already a major change.

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