Letter to the Editor: Khmer Rouge Tribunal Defense Is Off Track

I read with interest The Cambodia Daily’s article “Tribunal Bias Is Like Boxing with Hands Tied, Defense Says” (June 19). I think the defense is clearly off track in their search for evidence to find the Khmer Rouge to be less of a monster.

—Letter to the Editor—

As a Khmer Rouge genocide researcher, I think that Victor Koppe of the defense team has become desperate in his unsuccessful attempts to mount an effective defense of the Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity.

The article quoted very well Mr. Koppe’s main positions blaming the Vietnamese for organizing “internal agents” and supporting “traitorous activities” in Cambodia. The general view is that the Khmer Rouge is solely responsible for mass killings and not other countries.

Blaming other countries can have a lot of unintended meanings in Khmer society as well as Cambodia’s foreign relations.

Mr. Koppe also mentioned late King Norodom Sihanouk’s infamous campaign at the U.N. to gain international support for the defunct Democratic Kampuchea regime while at the same time rejecting the new government established soon after the Khmer Rouge was overthrown.

I think the majority of prominent Khmer Rouge historians and international observers have since the 1990s viewed that discussion at the U.N., which eventually resulted in the recognition of Democratic Kampuchea and their Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea as representatives of Cambodian people at the U.N., as a huge blunder in global morality.

None of the states supporting Democratic Kampuchea at the time is proud of their position then and wants to talk about it again. Vietnam’s attempt to legitimize their military action in Cambodia was not successful on the international stage at the time.

For the Cambodian people living through the Khmer Rouge regime, the Vietnamese and Cambodian troops arriving in their villages were their saviors. The younger generations might view it differently but most of the victims believed that they would have been killed if the genocide had not been stopped.

Mr. Koppe also tries to convince the court that Democratic Kampuchea was not an “irrational, isolationist aggressor” and that the Khmer Rouge’s own “investigative” findings through interrogations with tortures at S-21, which indicated that the prisoners were traitors and spies of Vietnam, were believable, if not correct.

I find this argument highly revolting as S-21 prison, like many prisons under Democratic Kampuchea and their mass graves, are at the core of the Khmer Rouge genocide and crimes against humanity. The Khmer Rouge are solely responsible for these crimes.

Kok-Thay Eng is the Executive Director of the Cambodian Institute for Peace and Development in Phnom Penh. 

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