A report released this week that implicates seven Khmer Rouge leaders in torture and killings committed during the regime’s reign has been dismissed by government officials who said a government-created tribunal, and not an academic study, should decide the culpability of the top cadres.
“I always [make fun of] foreign advice to me that I must establish a state of law in Cambodia and respect the power division between the executive, legislative and the court,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday. “But then they always force us by indicating this person or that person must be tried. So I don’t know who our teachers learned from before and who taught them to do that, but for students, they will become crazy.”
The report, authored by Cambodian affairs expert Steve Heder and international legal analyst Brian Tittemore, relies on Khmer Rouge documents to argue that leaders Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, among others, knew about the killings committed by lower level officials within the movement.
All three have denied any knowledge of the deaths that typified the regime.
The researchers claim in the report that they have laid the groundwork to prosecute the seven, including Ta Mok, Ke Pauk, Sau Met and Mea Muth. None of the leaders have ever faced a trial.
The study was released Monday by the Coalition for International Justice and the War Crimes Research Office at American University in Washington.
Om Yentieng, a close advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said the accusations against the top Khmer Rouge leaders have been known for a long time.
“These words have existed for more than 20 years, but just now it is becoming active, why now?” asked Om Yentieng, who is also a member of the government negotiating team on the tribunal. “We should not say now who is wrong and who is right. That’s why we created the court.’
The government has begun debating the Khmer Rouge tribunal again after a months-long delay over a legal technicality. Hun Sen has said he wants to hold the tribunal before the end of the year.
UN officials expressed concern that they have had little contact with the Cambodian government as it prepares for the supposedly UN-assisted tribunal, but Hun Sen has dismissed the concerns saying the tribunal would be held with or without the UN.
While the report calls for prosecution, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said Tuesday that it may be viewed by some as an alternative to a court hearing.
“A press conference is no substitute for a proper trial,” he said. “No one can possibly believe that. I think it will certainly be of great interest to scholars of the period. Once a tribunal starts it may give the jurists a head start on accumulation of evidence which will lead to justice perhaps a little more quickly,” he said.
Youk Chhang of the Documentation Center of Cambodia said researchers sifted through 20,000 of the more than 600,000 telegrams, meeting minutes, confessions and additional sources to reach their conclusions. They began the research in 1998, asking Youk Chhang to provide them with the most recently discovered documents, he said.
Youk Chhang said he was pleased that the report is out after three years and that while it may be of value to prosecutors, it provides ordinary Cambodians with a clearer view of the Khmer Rouge years.
“I think its very helpful to the people of Cambodia to know the facts [about the Khmer Rouge] from a professional legal person, that this is what happened. To me that is the most important of all,” Youk Chhang said.