The confession from battalion cadre Nheum Sim reads like thousands of others extracted from prisoners at Tuol Sleng. A note from Nheum Sim’s interrogator, sent to Pol Pot’s deputy Nuon Chea along with the confession said “it was only after I tortured him that he confessed to the story of having been a police informer and a CIA.”
In another confession, the Democratic Kampuchea Ambassador to Laos said he indoctrinated Cambodian residents in Vientiane so they would “see the difficulties and suffering of the people” back in Cambodia and included a list of 50 people implicated in “treason” and other crimes, according to a 1978 statement, a copy of which was sent to Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary.
This evidence, presented in a groundbreaking report released Monday in Washington, undermines Khmer Rouge leaders’ claims of ignorance of the more than 1 million people who died under their regime and confirms there was a policy of mass murder, according to the authors, Cambodia expert Dr Steve Heder and lawyer Brian Tittemore. Heder teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and Tittemore is an international humanitarian law expert.
“This report will be a template for any prosecutor, a starting point for an investigation,” Ralph Zacklin, a UN legal expert who negotiated with Cambodia to set up a tribunal, told The New York Times. “It definitely will focus a lot of attention on the Cambodian trials and presumably it will energize member states to keep pushing this forward.”
Although knowledge of the killings are known through the discovery of mass graves, the records at Tuol Sleng, and other information, the report for the first time links the Khmer Rouge leaders directly to the atrocities, a difficult task because of code names and other methods of secrecy used by the leaders. The report, put out by the War Crimes Research Office of American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington, DC and the Coalition for International Justice, focuses on the questions of individual criminal responsibility and the superior authority of certain officials.
“This information…refutes the defense that only Pol Pot, now deceased, was responsible for the design and implementation of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal policies,” said a press statement on the report titled “Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability of the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge,” which is designed to aid efforts to prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders.
The report comes as the Cambodian government and the UN try to finalize plans for a tribunal to try Khmer Rouge leaders. A revised version of the Khmer Rouge trial law was passed last week by the National Assembly after months of stalling, but the measure must be reviewed by the Senate and King Norodom Sihanouk. The UN and the government would also have to agree on a memorandum of understanding before a tribunal can be established.
“This report makes it clear that if there is a failure to prosecute those responsible for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, it is not for lack of evidence or suspects,” said Floyd Abrams, a leading constitutional lawyer who contributed to the report.
The report assesses the culpability of Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, Ta Mok, Ke Pauk, Sou Met and Mea Muth, who are seen by the authors as the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders most responsible for atrocities. Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary have all denied knowledge of the killings and blamed the murders on lower-ranking officials or Pol Pot, who died in April 1998.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said the authors of the report went through 20,000 pages of information at the center
“It’s so difficult because you have to go through each epic of material and make sure it is authentic and translate it correctly,” he said.
Nuon Chea, Ta Mok and Ieng Sary were members of the Standing Committee of the Central Committee, which was responsible for the implementations of party policies and giving instructions to subordinates, including leaders of the zones, of which there were six as of 1976 but later became seven. Nuon Chea, Ta Mok were also part of the Central Committee’s military committee.
As for the policy of murder, the Democratic Kampuchea Constitution also provided for an unspecified “highest level of punitive sanctions” for those seen as opposing and sabotaging the state. A 1976 Central Committee decision authorized Zone Standing Committees to carry out “smashing within and outside the ranks” at the grassroots level. Euphemisms such as “smashing” were often used by the Khmer Rouge to stand for killing.
The report said the Khmer Rouge targeted three particular groups for mass killings: individuals associated with the Lon Nol regime, which was overthrown by the Khmer Rouge, party members of cadre within the Khmer Rouge suspected of being traitors and non-communist members of the Cambodian population.
Khmer Rouge leaders knew of the purges that began shortly after the ultra-Maoists took power, according to the report. In April 1978, top-ranking cadre were given a telegram confirming that dozens of Cambodians who had been deemed traitors were killed in the Northern Zone.
The Documentation Center’s copies of Tuol Sleng confessions were sent to 20 Khmer Rouge cadre, of which 27 were specifically marked for transmission to Nuon Chea, more than any among the 20 who are still alive, according to the report.
“The files thus suggest that Nuon Chea may have played at least as important a role in dealing with ‘confessions’ as Pol Pot, and perhaps a more important role,” the report states.
Although Tittemore acknowledges that the confessions obtained by force would be inadmissible in a proper court, he said the records should be considered admissible for the purpose of establishing that surviving Khmer Rouge officials received copies of them.
Ke Pauk, Ta Mok and Ieng Sary also received copies of confessions. One document that is marked as having been “sent to Brother Mok already, 12 November 1977,” talks of a peasant demonstration in the Southwest Zone that was suppressed “by arresting the demonstrators and taking them to be killed and disposed of.”
In another marked as sent to Ke Pauk, a Tuol Sleng prisoner talks about the party’s policies to evacuate people from Phnom Penh and seek out those who had gone undercover among the people and “smash them one by one.”
Telegrams, internal situation reports and military reports also link Khmer Rouge leaders to atrocities, including political killings of Cambodians and murders of Vietnamese prisoners and civilians in connection with the war between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam, which the report says may constitute war crimes.
The telegrams, the report states, also “make clear that both Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary were part of the same routine information loop that also included Pol Pot…”
A statement released ahead of the report said the new research will not only serve as an important historical record, but will also stand as a glaring reminder to Khmer Rouge leaders. “No longer will those most responsible for the deaths of nearly one-third of the population of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge reign be able to say they did not know.”