Category Archives: Cambodia

Practical Problems of Genocide Tribunals

From After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson (Texas Tech U. Press, 2006), pp. 183-187 (footnote references omitted):

When one examines the details of how tribunals are structured, it becomes clear that no solution can yield a completely satisfactory outcome on all the competing values at stake. We see, for example, a range of approaches to the question of personal jurisdiction, that is, who should be prosecuted in a genocide tribunal. Though the approaches vary widely, each of them has both advantages and disadvantages with respect to the question of impunity. Cambodia’s 1979 People’s Revolutionary Tribunal prosecuted only two people, leaving many other culpable senior leaders untouched, along with the thousands of people who carried out the actual killing. The ICTR has indicted and/or prosecuted more than seventy people, but this is totally unsatisfactory to many Rwandans, who find tens of thousands of genocide perpetrators living among them. The ICTY has indicted some 150 individuals, creating a large and time-consuming caseload but still leaving many perpetrators harmless in the former Yugoslavia. The Ethiopian courts are prosecuting more than 5,000 suspects, though that process has been criticized for violating the rights of the accused, and in any case it still leaves low-level perpetrators beyond the reach of the law. In Rwanda, more than 100,000 persons suspected of involvement in the genocide have languished in detention for years with no prospect that they will ever receive fair trials in a court of law, solely due to the fact that the sheer numbers of accused overwhelm the capacity of the Rwandan justice system. As a practical matter, then, there may be no ideal solution to the problem of personal jurisdiction for the crime of genocide….

Another challenge in achieving justice for the Cambodian genocide has to do with the question of temporal jurisdiction, or the span of time during which applicable crimes may be prosecuted. The proposed Khmer Rouge tribunal would limit its temporal jurisdiction to the period between April 17, 1975, and January 7, 1979. Thus, only criminal acts that were committed in that time frame could be prosecuted by the Khmer Rouge tribunal. This makes sense, insofar as that was the period during which the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia ‘s capital and also the period of the most intense killing by the Khmer Rouge, but it is also true that the Khmer Rouge executed and otherwise abused many innocent people prior to April 17, 1975, and they also continued to carry out atrocities long after they were driven from power on January 7, 1979. By limiting temporal jurisdiction to this period, people who were victimized by the Khmer Rouge at any time outside of that tightly constricted time frame might feel as if they have been denied justice for the crimes committed against them and therefore that impunity continues to reign….

A similar set of questions could be raised with respect to the subject matter jurisdiction, or what crimes will be prosecuted. For example, a growing body of evidence suggests that rape was common at the lower levels of the Khmer Rouge security organization, particularly the rape of female prisoners who were slated for execution. Recent precedents established by the ad hoc international criminal tribunals mean that when rape is assessed as having been systematic or widespread, this could constitute a war crime or a crime against humanity. Rape in war is always a war crime, but what is new under these recent precedents, where widespread or systematic, is that it can now trigger the doctrine of “command responsibility,” putting senior leaders at risk for the crimes of their subordinates. In the Cambodian case, however, the available evidence suggests that whenever the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge uncovered such “moral” infractions by their cadre, those accused of such acts faced summary execution. Consequently, the top Khmer Rouge leaders can argue that they did everything possible to suppress such crimes, and therefore they cannot be held responsible. If, due to the limited definition of personal jurisdiction, only top leaders are prosecuted, but they are absolved of responsibility for rapes, then any woman who was raped by a lower-level Khmer Rouge cadre or soldier may feel that she has not received justice and that impunity continues. Again, it would seem that there is no universally satisfactory way to address the problem of impunity for crimes on the scale of those carried out under the Khmer Rouge.

Another set of questions has to do with the extent of international involvement in a tribunal. The ICTY, the ICTR, and the ICC are in the nature of international experiments in combating impunity. As such, these judicial institutions have been fraught with start-up difficulties. They are also enormously expensive undertakings—which is one reason that several members of the UN Security Council were reluctant to see a similar model implemented in the case of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. A major advantage of the ad hoc international tribunals is that they tend to provide the highest legal standards of international justice, but in so doing, they also require a great deal of time and money in order to render justice to only a small minority of the perpetrators. Moreover, with the ICTY seated in the Netherlands, and the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania—both at some distance from the territories where the crimes were actually committed—the surviving victims who have the greatest right and need to see justice done in most cases are simply too far from the court to see any justice being done at all. On the other hand, in the Rwandan domestic prosecutions, in a country where the legal profession and the courts were totally destroyed during the genocide, the relative lack of international involvement can be seen as a factor contributing to the procedural shortcomings of the process and the long delays in rendering justice for the victims and the accused alike. The same might be said of the Ethiopian prosecutions.

Thus, there seems to be no optimum level of international involvement in tribunals designed to combat impunity. If the tribunal is entirely internationalized and seated outside the territory where the crimes were committed, there is a danger that those most in need of seeing justice done will not perceive any effective impact on impunity. Those few perpetrators who find themselves before the court will be prosecuted under alien laws and in an unfamiliar language, all far away from the scene of the crime. On the other hand, when tribunals are conducted strictly as a national affair in the immediate aftermath of terrible devastation, local judicial and political conditions may not be strong enough to deliver fair and impartial justice, as we saw with the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in 1979. However, it may turn out that the proposed mixed model for Cambodia—with internationals on the court and with the proceedings conducted where the crimes occurred—could be a good compromise to balance these competing values.

On balance, then, when we look under the hood of international tribunals at their internal workings, it is clear that there is no ideal, one-size-fits-all solution. When weighed against the enormity of the crimes at issue, questions of personal, temporal, and subject matter jurisdiction, along with the degree of international involvement, generally tip the scales of justice toward an unsatisfying outcome.


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Filed under Cambodia, Ethiopia, NGOs, Rwanda, U.N., Yugoslavia

Who Instigated the Cambodian Genocide?

From After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson (Texas Tech U. Press, 2006), p. 78 (footnote references omitted):

Were the Cambodian people somehow Pol Pot’s “willing executioners,” with the violence of the Khmer Rouge regime reflecting an underlying cultural trait of the Cambodian people, historically unique to the time and place it occurred? Or did the violence of the Khmer Rouge regime emanate from some more broadly distributed ideological origin, therefore rendering it amenable to comparison? Perhaps the Khmer Rouge mass killing arose from the same tenets of communism that brought about the mass killing of Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China but that was, by absolute numbers, much less evil. Or perhaps the killing in Cambodia can be understood as a response to the perceived threat from Vietnam, as the Khmer Rouge themselves have argued at some length. These same themes and issues lay at the heart of the Historikerstreit, and they also are part and parcel of genocide studies.

In the scholarly literature on the Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea, there have been two principal schools of thought regarding the nature of the violence that took so many lives in such a short period of time. One school of thought holds that the primary locus of the violence was local and that it was largely the result of the spontaneous excesses of a vengeful, undisciplined peasant army. A prominent proponent of this school of thought is Michael Vickery. A second school of thought holds that the locus of the violence was centralized and that it was largely the result of a carefully planned and centrally controlled security apparatus. Several observers have proposed this explanation of the violence in the Democratic Kampuchea regime, including, for example, the recently retired U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, Kenneth Quinn. It can be argued, however, that until recently there was an inadequate amount of data to make an unambiguous determination on this question.

A wide range of new evidence uncovered by the Documentation Center of Cambodia over the course of the last ten years has done much to resolve this controversy. In particular, data on the frequency, distribution, and origin of mass graves, combined with data gleaned from newly discovered Khmer Rouge internal security documents, have given us new insight into the question of the economy of violence within Democratic Kampuchea. The data lead inexorably to the conclusion that most of the violence was carried out pursuant to orders from the highest political authorities of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. In this chapter I briefly review some of the new evidence that so strongly suggests this new and now well-documented conclusion.

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Assessing the UN’s Role in Cambodia

From After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson (Texas Tech U. Press, 2006), pp. 40-42 (footnote references omitted):

The Paris Peace Accords on Cambodia adopted in October 1991 committed the UN to what was at that point the largest, most expensive, and most interventionist peacekeeping operation in its history. Idealists argued that the goal of the accords was to bring peace to a land that had suffered two decades of war and genocide. Realists argue the primary purpose was to remove the “Cambodia Problem”—the long, stalemated, and increasingly pointless Cambodian war supported by most of the states of the region and powers of the world—from the international agenda. In either case, the Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodian Conflict were being touted as a model for collective security in the post-Cold War world order. Consequently, it is essential that we have a clear understanding of exactly what these agreements did—and did not—accomplish.

The peace process did achieve numerous significant objectives. The Cambodian conflict was decoupled from superpower geopolitical conflict, and Chinese military aid to the Khmer Rouge was terminated. Cambodia’s two decades of international isolation ended. 362,000 refugees left the camps in Thailand and returned to Cambodia. The three-faction rebel coalition challenging the Cambodian government was reduced to a single recalcitrant faction—the Khmer Rouge. The fragile beginnings of political pluralism were put in place. A free press began flowering in Cambodia as never before. Indigenous human rights groups were founded and growing rapidly. Ninety percent of eligible Cambodians registered to vote, and 89 percent of those voted in 1993’s free and fair elections, despite Khmer Rouge threats to kill anyone who participated. A liberal constitutional monarchy was promulgated, and a coalition government began functioning, more or less. These were huge accomplishments, a tribute to the skill and dedication of the international civil servants who risked and in some cases sacrificed their lives in Cambodia. It was $3 billion well spent.

At the same time, one must be clear-headed in assessing the impact of the UN in Cambodia. The Comprehensive Settlement laid out numerous central objectives above and beyond the elections. First, a cease-fire was to be implemented and maintained among the combatants. Second, all outside assistance to the warring factions was to be terminated. Third, the several contending armies were to be returned to their barracks, disarmed, and demobilized. Fourth, the utterly destroyed Cambodian economy was to be rehabilitated. Fifth, the demobilized soldiers, internally displaced persons, and repatriated refugees were to be reintegrated into civil society. Sixth—and crucially—a “neutral political environment” was to be established; that is, state institutions were to be decoupled from the organs of the theretofore ruling party. Not a single one of these central objectives of the UN peace plan in Cambodia was achieved.

These requirements were defined in the Comprehensive Settlement as integral elements of the peace process and necessary precursors to the conduct of the elections. When they failed to materialize, the UN deftly redefined its mandate on the fly from peacekeeping—since there was precious little peace to keep—to election-holding. The elections were indeed held, and a new government was established, though that process turned out to be rather messy, with the defeated ruling party tenaciously maintaining its grip on power despite the verdict of the electorate. The UN then declared victory and somewhat precipitously withdrew, leaving the Cambodians to their own devices.

Thus, Secretary Christopher’s assertion that the elections were “the triumph of democracy” was hyperbolic, to say the least. One UN-administered election does not make a democracy, particularly when the results of the election are implemented in as desultory a fashion as happened in Cambodia. The transitions to stable, liberal democratic systems in Western Europe, in Latin America, and in the emerging democracies of East Asia all make clear that the development of democracy is a long process. It depends upon a variety of social and economic conditions, such as strong labor movements and a powerful middle class, capable of bargaining with the landed and capital-holding sectors of society. These conditions did not remotely exist in Cambodia, and thus one could confidently conclude that it was quite premature to predict the consolidation of democratic rule in Cambodia. To be completely fair, critics of the UN operation in Cambodia should not have ascribed such a goal to the operation. Partisans of the UN operation should have avoided claiming to have achieved that goal.

So, with what was at best a protodemocracy stumbling ahead, the war in Cambodia raged on. Cambodian battlefields saw their heaviest fighting since 1989, and the new Royal Army was not necessarily getting the best of the fighting. Poorly planned assaults and temporary seizures of the main Khmer Rouge bases at Anlong Veng in the north and Pailin in the west dissolved into disasters for the government, as the insurgents transformed the Royal Army’s pyrrhic victories into death traps. After these initial fiascoes at Anlong Veng and Pailin, one might have thought the government would have been chastened, but it was not. The Royal Government immediately began to plan the retaking of the Khmer Rouge stronghold at Pailin, this time without waiting for the dry season. Thus, the UN intervention in Cambodia had not terminated the war, despite what Secretary Tornsen termed the UN’s “stunning peacekeeping success.”

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Filed under Cambodia, China, NGOs, U.N., U.S., war

Cambodia’s Thirty Years War

From After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson (Texas Tech U. Press, 2006), pp. 2-4 (footnote references omitted):

It is an extraordinary situation. Cambodia is a country where as much as a third of the population died in one of the worst genocides of modern times, and many Cambodians do not believe it happened. How can it be that so much destruction occurred so recently, yet so few are aware of this history? In order to explain how this peculiar situation came about and perhaps to help to correct it, we must start at the beginning of the Thirty Years War.

That war began in 1968, when the Communist Party of Kampuchea—popularly known as the “Khmer Rouge”—declared armed struggle against the government of Cambodian leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Over the course of this war, the conflict took many different forms, went through many phases, and involved a list of participants nearly as long as the roster of the membership of the United Nations. The country changed its name six times during the Thirty Years War, beginning as the Kingdom of Cambodia, changing to the Khmer Republic in 1970, Democratic Kampuchea in 1975, then the People’s Republic of Kampuchea in 1979, the State of Cambodia in 1989, and finally back to the Kingdom of Cambodia again in 1993. These contortions reflected the extraordinary violence of the underlying turmoil. Cambodia finally emerged from the Thirty Years War in 1999, with the capture of the last Khmer Rouge military leader still waging armed resistance.

The Thirty Years War wrought upon Cambodia a level of destruction that few nations have endured. At the epicenter of all this violence, from the beginning until the end, there was one constant, churning presence: the Khmer Rouge. Though they have now ceased to exist as a political or military organization, Cambodia continues to be haunted both by the influence of the individuals who constituted the Khmer Rouge and by the legacy of the tragedy they brought down on the country. The social, political, economic, and psychological devastation sown by the Khmer Rouge will take generations to heal, if indeed it ever can be healed. This epic saga of havoc is so complex and confusing that scholars do not even entirely agree on how to name all the ruin.

Many historians describe the conflicts in Southeast Asia during the second half of the twentieth century in terms of three Indochinese wars. The First Indochina War was the war of French decolonization in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, beginning in 1946 and ending with the Geneva Conference of 1954. The Second Indochina War can be said to have run from 1954 to 1975; it is typically known in the United States as the “Vietnam War” and in Vietnam as the “American War,” a dichotomy that reveals much about who was centrally involved. In this war of Vietnamese unification, as the United States attempted to prevent the consolidation of communist rule over all of Vietnam, the war also spread to engulf both Laos and Cambodia. The Third Indochina War began hard on the heels of the second, when from 1975 to 1991, the issue of who would rule Cambodia and how it would be ruled drew deadly interest from virtually every country in the region and from all the world’s major powers.

From 1968 onward, it appeared to many Cambodians that these wars flowed from one into the other, as inexorably as the Mekong River flows into the sea. The 1991–1993 United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cambodia marked the end of the Third Indochina War, but the fighting in Cambodia continued for nearly another decade afterward. The outlines of the conflict in Cambodia changed with the United Nations intervention, but the basic issue underlying the war—the Khmer Rouge drive for power—was not resolved by the peace process. Combat continued between the central government and the Khmer Rouge until the government finally prevailed in 1999. Thus, what historians characterize as distinct wars with distinct protagonists appeared to many Cambodians to be simply one long war, with one central protagonist—the Khmer Rouge—driving the entire conflict.


Filed under Cambodia, China, France, Laos, Thailand, U.N., U.S., Vietnam, war

Model Japanese Entrepreneur in Cambodia

The Asahi Shimbun carried a story on 19 April about a model Japanese business entrepreneur in Cambodia.

SIEM REAP, Cambodia–Two years ago, a savvy Japanese tour guide saw her chance to fill a business niche here.

Sachiko Kojima opened a cookie factory. She was soon supplying foreign tourists from Japan and around the globe with souvenir confections from this northern Cambodia city, the gateway to the Angkor Wat Khmer ruins.

Her “Madam Sachiko” cookies, shaped like the ancient ruins, are now the must-buy souvenir for tourists visiting the city.

Kojima, 33, who grew up in Gunma Prefecture, runs her business with Japanese management finesse. But her company, Khmer Angkor Foods Co., procures all its ingredients from Cambodian suppliers. The factory includes a bakery, sales shop and head office….

In the shop and bakery, Kojima follows a Japanese business style. The shop’s interior is attractive and inviting. The factory is clean and sanitary. Her employees follow rules similar to workers in Japan: No sitting down and no eating or drinking while on duty in the shop.

Foreigners in Cambodia rarely start businesses outside of travel agencies and restaurants. Kojima had the choice of starting up as a non-governmental organization (NGO), which would have received tax breaks and other advantages.

However, she was determined to form a privately owned, for-profit company.

“I think the people here need to see examples of basic business ideas, such as how to make a profit and how to pay taxes,” she said.

via Colby Cosh

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Filed under Cambodia, economics, Japan

The Effect and Scent of Durian

The Cambodia Weblog Santepheap reports on the sights and smells of the local durian capital.

On the subject of smells, Kampot is home to the finest durian plantations in the whole of Cambodia and is therefore the perfect place to sample the fruit of Durio zibenthinus.

Durian does tend to polarize opinion. The white and creamy goo that surrounds the tree seeds inside this rugger ball sized plant is much beloved of locals who consider the flavor to be indescribably good and who appreciate the fruit’s acclaimed aphrodisiac qualities; ‘As the durians fall down, the sarongs fly up,’ the local saying goes.

The author Anthony Burgess had a wholly different take on durian however, ‘It’s like eating a magnificent raspberry blancmange in a foul public toilet,’ he is reputed to have said.

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Stadtluft macht frei

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution notes a followup to a Nick Kristof article a while back.

Nicholas Kristof updates his story on the sex slaves that he bought (and freed) in Cambodia. For the main story read the whole thing but the following anecdote caught my eye as saying a lot about problems of development that are not much discussed in the literature: short-time horizons, envy, the dragging down of the ambitious and the almost inherent lack of property rights in small communities.

[See Marginal Revolution for the anecdote]…

Eventually, and with help, Srey Neth moves to the city, in the process recapitulating an important aspect of Western economic development best encapsulated by the German phrase Stadtluft macht frei, city air makes one free (PDF).

Migration also seems to be a key factor!

BTW, Alex omits the parenthesized conditional: “Stadtluft macht frei (nach Ablaufe von Jahr und Tag)” ‘City air makes one free (after the lapse of a year and a day)’. And sometimes it takes much, much longer–more than a generation.

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