Two Cambodian genocide experts say that a US congressman’s call to condemn Second Prime Minister Hun Sen as a war criminal has “no basis in fact or law.”
Craig Etcheson, formerly of the Cambodia Genocide Program at Yale University in the US, and Steven Heder, a lecturer at the University of London, wrote in an open letter to the US Congress that “no credible evidence exists” to implicate Hun Sen in the crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.
And while “grave human rights violations” have occurred in Cambodia since Hun Sen came to power, “as egregious as these human right violations may be, they do not cross the threshold into genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, as defined in international law,” the two wrote in a Sept 26 letter.
Earlier this month, US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher introduced a non-binding bill that if passed would “express the sense” that Hun Sen is culpable for “war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.” Rohrabacher represents an area in the state of California that has the largest contingent of Cambodian-Americans in the US.
Besides the killings during the Khmer Rouge regime, the resolution blames Hun Sen in part for killings and torture during the 1979-89 Vietnamese occupation, executions after the “coup d’etat” in July 1997, and the recent “violent crackdown” on opposition demonstrators.
In his remarks introducing the resolution, Rohrabacher said Hun Sen was becoming Cambodia’s new Pol Pot.
Wrote Etcheson and Heder of Rohrabacher’s resolution: “While permitting human rights violations to be committed with impunity will only encourage further violations, it is a disservice to the rule of the law and the truth to make baseless or grossly exaggerated allegations to achieve a political end.”
The two implied that such political tactics are no different from the way Hun Sen has abused his power “to attack, imprison and even allegedly kill his political enemies.”
Etcheson and Heder go on to write that US Congress should not fall into such a rhetorical trap, “especially not in the name of democracy and human rights. Instead, they should focus their efforts on promoting and supporting serious investigations into those human rights violations for which Hun Sen might credibly be held accountable, and to making sure that United States policy helps to bring about an end to the climate of impunity that allows grave human rights violations to continue in Cambodia.”
Rohrabacher’s resolution is to be considered by the US House’s International Relations Committee on Friday, according to Agence France-Presse. A senior US official in Washington told the news service that the next few weeks are crucial for resolving Cambodia’s political crisis.