Week 535 – 2007-11-25: The Khmer Rouge Trial: Understanding in the Head, and Understanding in the Heart
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 535
On 21 June 1997, then First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and the Second Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote to the Secretary-General of the United Nations:
“On behalf of the Cambodian Government and people, we write to you to ask for the assistance of the United Nations and the international community in bringing to justice those persons responsible for the genocide and crimes against humanity during the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979…
Cambodia does not have the resources or expertise to conduct this very important procedure. Thus, we believe it is necessary to ask for the assistance of the United Nations. We are aware of similar efforts to respond to the genocide and crimes against humanity in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and ask that similar assistance be given to Cambodia.
We believe that crimes of this magnitude are of concern to all persons in the world, as they greatly diminish respect for the most basic human right, the right to life.”
The pre-trial hearings conducted this past week by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia about the request by Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to be released on bail because his pre-trial detention is long beyond the maximum of three years permitted by Cambodian law, was the first public court event resulting from the 1997 appeal by the two prime ministers to the United Nations.
It had to be expected that the whole process of a Khmer Rouge trial would be difficult.
The National Assembly and the Senate had adopted related legislation in January 2001. However, a Cambodian lawyer appealed to then King Norodom Sihanouk to intervene as the new law, which had been worked out with the United Nations and allowed foreign judges to participate in the trial, seemed to contradict Article 129 of the Constitution. According to a report at the time – quoting here from Chinese news media under the headline “Trial on Khmer Rouge Leaders May Lead to Split of Cambodia: Sihanouk” – the King responded: “I would like to express my thanks, but I’d like to ask you to understand that the issue might lead to a split of our nation. I can not involve myself in the affairs of the Royal government and the two legislative branches.”
It was reported that on the day of the first public hearing last week, not fewer than 200 national and international journalists, and approximately 300 citizens from every walk of life, had gone to the compound of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. “All the citizens and journalists had assumed that they would be allowed to enter the hearing hall in order to see Duch’s face, but they were not allowed.” Most of them could see him only on two big screens of a closed-circuit televised transmission in a special room for the visitors.
When the proceedings showed that the hearings were concerned with the technical legalities of the detention without trial for eight years, six months, and ten days, and the request of the defense lawyers that their client be released on bail, some of the spectators who had come expecting to see the trial of a mass murderer got angry at the defense lawyer. Some people tried to explain the legalities and principles underlying these procedures: that to achieve justice, even people accused of tremendous atrocities have to be judged according to the law – even though they themselves did not judge others according to law – and not according to emotions.
Dr. Kek Galabru, the president of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, was quoted in the Cambodia Daily as saying that, “People understand the principle of human rights for all in their heads, but not in their hearts.”
This gap is very wide – and not only in relation to the Khmer Rouge trial.
The Constitution of Cambodia says in Article 32:
“Every Khmer citizen shall have the right to life, personal freedom, and security. There shall be no capital punishment.”
But during this same week we have reports which show that murder is not an uncommon punishment or event: that members of the police force sometimes act with possibly lethal force, even in minor events; that a small group of men may kill another man in order to rape his friend; and that groups of angry people kill suspected wrongdoers.
- Man, Whose Oxcart Was Hit by Another Oxcart, Was Chased by Police and They Fired a Gun at Him; He Escaped from His House for One Night
- Perpetrators Who Shot a Teacher to Death and Raped His Girlfriend Arrested
- Suspect of Robbery at Phone Shop in Stung Meanchey Killed by Mob; He Could Not Escape, He Begged for His Life, but He Was Beaten to Death by the Mob
In the meantime, it has been reported that Duch will probably not be released on bail, as his safety could not be guaranteed if he were released on bail – even if he did not try to flee.
An old victim of the Khmer Rouge regime, who had participated in the 1979 People’s Court in absentia trial of Pol Pot regime leaders, still hopes that the present trial will have a positive outcome for the future beyond this trial itself, “I want the current Cambodian courts to follow this court.”