A new law called for last week by Prime Minister Hun Sen to criminalize the denial of crimes during the Khmer Rouge regime does not contain the word genocide.
Though the official definition of genocide refers to attempts to destroy in whole or in part any ethnic, religious, national or racial group, scholars here have said the word has never been properly translated into Khmer and its usage in the Cambodian context applies to crimes in general during the Pol Pot regime.
The Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal has also not ruled on whether genocide actually took place in Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime.
According to a copy of The Law on the Denial of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea obtained Tuesday by The Cambodia Daily, the legislation will punish individuals who “refuse to acknowledge, diminish, deny, or challenge the existence of crimes or glorify crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea in accordance with criminal provisions.”
The public denial of crimes can take the form of a public announcement, “written correspondence or paintings” and “audio-visual communications for the public,” the draft law states, adding that punishments for denying crimes will range from six months to two years in jail and be levied with a fine ranging from 1 million riel to 4 million riel, or about $250 to $1,000.
Officials from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said Tuesday the draft law criminalizing the denial of Khmer Rouge crimes should persecute government officials who interfere with proceedings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal and prevent former “leaders” of the regime from taking up positions as senior government officials.
Mr. Hun Sen called for the law to be drafted last week, just days after the government released an audio recording of the CNRP’s acting president, Kem Sokha, apparently accusing Vietnam of inventing the torture and jailing of thousands of Cambodians at the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh.
The law, drafted and hastily approved by the National Assembly in just four days, will be debated on Friday and if passed, could see people imprisoned for up to two years for denying crimes that took place during the Pol Pot era.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, CNRP president Sam Rainsy said the opposition party would propose changes to the law when it is debated later this week.
“The CNRP will propose an amendment to also punish those who use and abuse their political position to interfere in judicial proceedings with the effect of obstructing justice and preventing the due prosecution of former Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for crimes against humanity,” Mr. Rainsy said.
Though the government has denied having any influence over the Khmer Rouge tribunal, Mr. Hun Sen has previously stated on several occasions that any additional trials beyond Case 002 would not be allowed to move forward as wider investigations could reignite a civil war.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Tuesday that the opposition would also push for the inclusion of an article that prevents former Khmer Rouge leaders from being allowed into senior positions inside the government.
“We do not want the Khmer Rouge regime to happen again in Cambodia and most of the former Khmer Rouge have their hands dirtied with blood and they should not become the leader of the country,” Mr. Sovann said.
“We want to ban Khmer Rouge leaders from taking high positions in the government,” he continued, declining to elaborate on the definition of a Khmer Rouge leader or say whether the law could be used to target any current members of the government.
“I do not want to tell any names and I don’t want to target any individual, but this should be in the law,” Mr. Sovann said.
Mr. Hun Sen is often credited by his supporters for having developed the so-called win-win policy in the 1990s by dismantling the Khmer Rouge through integrating them into the government. There are many former Khmer Rouge members in the government including Mr. Hun Sen himself, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Senate President Chea Sim, all of whom defected from the regime when it was in its latter stages.
CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun, who helped to draft the new law, said that since national election candidates for the CNRP are no longer members of the Human Rights Party and SRP—which merged to form the CNRP last year—their arguments would be dismissed during Friday’s parliamentary session.
“Whatever they suggest, I will not take it into consideration since they are no longer the members of the National Assembly,” Mr. Vun said. “We won’t think about it since it would cause us a headache.”
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid NGO, welcomed the CNRP’s proposed article criminalizing political influence over the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“To punish the ones who interfere in the [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] is necessary. But it should not only be for the ECCC, but for all crimes and all courts,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.
However, he said an article forbidding “former Khmer Rouge leaders” from taking high-ranking government positions was too vague and could fuel discrimination.
“What is a leader and what is a high-ranking official in government?” Mr. Sam Oeun asked. “It looks like discriminating [against] former Khmer Rouge because not all Khmer Rouge leaders were involved with the killing so we cannot presume like this.”