Prime Minister Hun Sen has said Ieng Sary made a significant contribution to national reconciliation by leading many of the Khmer Rouge forces to the government side, bringing down the rebel military organization (“Hun Sen Heaps Praise on Ieng Sary,” Sept 25, page 1).
“Ieng Sary showed his good heart by bringing down the Khmer Rouge,” Hun Sen said, and that “the King signed the amnesty that let Ieng Sary lead 70 percent of the Khmer Rouge armed forces to defection,” in reference to a September 1996 amnesty granted to Ieng Sary by King Norodom Sihanouk at the request of the then two co-premiers.
Ieng Sary and other Khmer Rouge leaders were sentenced to death in absentia in 1979 by a tribunal organized by the Vietnamese army occupying Cambodia at the time and staffed with “judges” from Cuba and other countries where the judicial systems are not independent, but rather form part of the ruling party’s state apparatus.
Hun Sen’s statements that Ieng Sary should be brought to trial and then his retractions that Ieng Sary should not be tried twice for the same crime leads me to believe there will never be an independent process to try those Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the mass murders that took place in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, who has spent several years gathering evidence for an eventual Khmer Rouge tribunal has stated, “We have enough information for the prosecutors to begin a case against Ieng Sary.”
In Europe, the widows of former Cambodian diplomats, recalled to Phnom Penh in December 1975 by a telegram signed personally by Ieng Sary, blame him for the disappearance of their husbands and sons. In most cases, the ambassadors and other diplomats were sent “for re-education” upon their arrival. Re-education being, of course, a euphemism for the death sentence.
Strangely, Hun Sen constantly uses the amnesty given by King Sihanouk to Ieng Sary to justify his defense of Ieng Sary.
Why did the King agree to the request made by then-First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen to grant amnesty to such a notorious mass murderer as Ieng Sary?
Under the 1993 Constitution, the King is empowered to grant amnesty of his own volition or after a request from the head of the government has been received.
Let me recall the events surrounding the amnesty:
• On Saturday, Sept 14, 1996, the two co-prime ministers requested an audience with the King. His Majesty received them at the Throne Hall, where they submitted to the King an already drafted royal decree granting amnesty to Ieng Sary. The King signed the royal decree but advised the co-premiers that they should get the support of two-thirds of the National Assembly before making the decree public.
• As the co-premiers were against a debate in the National Assembly on this matter, the King repeated, before his visitors left him, that the royal decree should be supported in writing by two-thirds of the National Assembly, adding that individual letters addressed by the deputies to the King would suffice. The co-premiers gave a formal assurance to the King that they could deliver at least 80 signatures of deputies agreeing to the amnesty, thus satisfying the King’s precondition.
• To show his good will, Hun Sen pledged to the King that he would cooperate closely with Prince Ranariddh and that their quarreling would end. The King was very happy by this news saying that if the two co-premiers quarreled, as had been the case since March 1996, it would only benefit the enemies of Cambodia.
• The same evening, at his wedding anniversary reception, Prince Ranariddh told Asean ambassadors of the signature of the royal decree by the King, thus breaking the promise made to the monarch and making the amnesty public.
• The amnesty granted Ieng Sary a pardon for the sentence passed on him by the “international tribunal” in 1979 and granted him immunity from prosecution under the 1994 legislation outlawing the Khmer Rouge. It did not, however, give Ieng Sary immunity from possible future war crimes or genocide trials for his role in the regime under which at least 1 million people were killed.
Ieng Sary has claimed he is completely innocent of the crimes he is alleged to have committed. He insists that most decisions were made by a so-called “gang of four” composed of Pol Pot (already dead), real “Brother No 2” Nuon Chea (living in Pailin) and Son Sen and his wife, Yun Yat (both murdered in June 1997).
He has also claimed that after the Democratic Kampuchea government was formed in April 1975, not a single cabinet meeting was held. This again is plainly not true, as the minutes of cabinet meetings are available, and he attended some cabinet meetings.
In his memoirs for the period, the King tells how on Jan 5, 1979, he was summoned to a meeting with Pol Pot at Government House, where he was informed of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and was asked to plead the cause of his nation and people to the UN Security Council in New York, which the King accepted.
Pol Pot told King Sihanouk that all his family could leave Cambodia the same afternoon in a special Chinese plane but Ieng Sary intervened to say that only the King and Queen could leave and that the rest of the family would remain in Phnom Penh. Ieng Sary wanted to keep the King’s family (what was left of the King’s own family) in Cambodia to ensure that the King did not say or do anything detrimental to the regime. But Pol Pot prevailed and everyone left that afternoon.
At a press conference on Sept 9, 1996, Ieng Sary said, in answer to a question from a foreign journalist that he did “not feel remorse” because as deputy prime minister in charge of foreign affairs, he had nothing to do with the genocide. Next, he may say, as the Nazis at Nuremberg did, that he was following orders!
I would suggest Hun Sen and the government need not to fence themselves behind the notion of “national reconciliation” to defend this gang of murderers who are enjoying a rather comfortable life in Pailin and Phnom Penh, while their victims have to live side by side with their abusers. Any politician that does so cannot be trusted to guide their nation toward a peaceful or democratic future. Just as those who equate enforcing criminal law with revenge show no respect for the law or human rights.
When such a government abdicates its responsibilities to punish violations of human rights, as the Cambodian government appears to be doing, the international community should step in.
I would suggest that Hun Sen would earn the respect of his own people and the international community only if he gives the right answer to his people’s cry for justice and ceases trying to defend the indefensible.
Jeldres is the official biographer to King Norodom Sihanouk. He has just completed the translation of the King’s memoirs “Prisoner of the Khmers Rouges,” which is due to be published before the end of the year.