Cambodia’s Main Opposition Leader Arrested for Treason

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – On Sunday, September 3rd, Cambodia’s main opposition leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested for treason. He is accused of violating Article 443 which prevents officials from “colluding with foreigners.” If convicted, Mr. Sokha could face a 30 year jail term.

Kem Sokha was arrested outside his house in Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy of New York Times.

The opposition leader was arrested during a heavy crackdown on critics of Prime Minister Sen’s government. The government officals accused Mr. Sokha of discussing plots with the United States government to undermine Cambodia.

The government, as evidence, disclosed a four-year-old video of Mr. Sokha giving a speech and stating that he has received advice from the United States government on establishing an opposition group in Cambodia.

According to Mr. Sokha’s daughter, Ken Monovithya, more than 100 police officers surrounded their home and arrest her father without a warrant. She stated that Mr. Sokha was handcuffed and escorted to an unmarked vehicle by numerous officers. It is reported that he is currently being held at a remote prison near the Vietnamese boarder. He has not been given an opportunity to speak to an attorney.

Upon Mr. Sokha’s arrest, the United States Embassy in Phnom Penh commented that the charges “appear to be politically motivated.”

The Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party will face a tough election next year. After ruling the country for more than three decades, Mr. Sen’s critics have accused him of trying to eliminate his oppositions prior to the upcoming election.

The New York based Human Rights Watch group has recently stated that “the government and the ruling CPP have manufactured these treason charges against Kem Sokha for political purposes, aiming to try and knock the political opposition out of the ring before the 2018 electoral contest ever begins.”

NYT – Cambodia Arrests Opposition Leader, Accusing Him of Treason – 2 September, 2017

Reuters – Cambodia charges opposition leader with treason – 5 September, 2017

Aljazeera – Cambodia politician Kem Sokha charged with treason – 6 September, 2017

Cambodian War Tribunal Proves Turbulent

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PEHN, Cambodia — Amidst the trial of Khmer Rouge prison commander, Comrade Duch,the difficulty of such an undertaking in a country with a reputation for corruption and a compromised judiciary is apparent.  

Kang Kek Ieu, referred to as Kaing Guek Eav in tribunal filings, but better known by countrymen as, Comrade Duch, was responsible for running ehe infamous prison. At the site, Duch oversaw 15,000 supposed enemies of the revolution. It was at the camp where the inmates were tortured before being executed in the nearby “killing fields.”

At trial, Duch expressed  enthusiasm for the job at the notorious S-21 prison, and argued that he and his family would have been killed had he not carried out his superiors’ orders.

For nine months, French lawyer Francois Roux crafted a defense strategy of admission and apology that implied the team would seek a lenient sentence. But in the trial’s final moments, Duch and his Cambodian lawyer, Kar Savuth, broke with this posture, disputing the legitimacy of the court and calling for Duch’s immediate release. Even though the tribunal promised a more inclusive approach than its counterparts at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, instead, the trial ended with strike among Cambodian and foreign defense counsels. The disagreement signifies the difficulty and challenges of carrying out international standards of justice, especially in a country with a reputation for corruption and a deeply compromised legal system.

Over the last two years, claims of governmental interference and kickbacks have underscored the disadvantages of holding the tribunal in Cambodia. The turbulent negotiations in bringing about former Khmer Rouge leaders to justice began in 1997. By 2003, former-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the extreme politicization of Cambodia’s judiciary required that the tribunal be held outside the Cambodian system. After much deliberation, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was developed as a local tribunal, namely running under local laws, with the United Nations playing the role of a minor partner. After implementing this model, it is said that, “No one in the U.N. or elsewhere will ever copy the Cambodian model,” said Brad Adams, Asia head of Human Rights Watch. “It’s the lowest standard the United Nations has been willing to go.”  

For more information, please see:

The Boston Globe – Cambodia and its War Tribunal – December 6, 2009 

Los Angeles TimesCambodia’s first war crimes trial marred by flaws – December 6, 2009

KI MediaKR Tribunal to instigate civil war in Cambodia?”: CWCI – December 6, 2009

Khmer Rouge Trial Ends, Sentencing for the Deaths of 12,000 Awaits

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PEHN, Cambodia — The Khmer Rouge prison boss, Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, admitted personal responsibility for the torture and murder of more than 12,000 people. He shocked the war crimes court by asking to be acquitted and released.

Duch Khmer Rouge prison boss, known as Duch, stands beside a security guard during the closing arguments of his trial. Curtesy of The Guardian,

Duch is one of five aging senior cadres facing trial in the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians who were murdered or died of starvation or overwork. From 1975 to 1979, before being removed after an invasion by the Vietnamese, the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime sought to create an agrarian utopia by abolishing religion, money and schools and forcing most of the population onto collective farms.

Duch’s nine-month trial concluded with Duch asking the judges to consider his co-operation with the court, and proceeded to ask that the 10 years he had already served in jail be used as his sentence, and set him free. In the last statement of his concluding remarks, he said: “I would ask the chamber to release me, thank you very much.”

The statement reportedly came only two days after he told the court he was ultimately accountable for the deaths that occurred while he headed the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Duch had admitted, “I am solely and individually responsible for the loss of at least 12,380 lives.” Duch was claimed to be responsible for the thousands of deaths, most of whom were tortured detainees at the notorious S-21 prison, where Duch was commander, before inflicting death in the nearby “killing fields.”

Officials involved in the proceeding seem skeptical. Prosecutor, William Smith, said outside of the court, that he was surprised by Duch’s last-minute change of heart. Smith stated, “The fact that he entered a request for an acquittal reinforces in our mind that his remorse is limited.” The prosecution has asked for 40 year’s jail for Duch, 67.

The judges are expected to deliver a ruling in March of next year. The maximum penalty they can impose is life imprisonment.

For more information, please see:

Sydney Morning Herald – Killing fields accused may not live to face court – November 27, 2009

The Times Online – Please release me begs Khmer Rouge torturer-in-chief – November 27, 2009

The Guardian –Cambodia torturer Duch – killer of 12,380 – asks court to set him free – November 27, 2009

CNN – Closing arguments end in Khmer Rouge trial – November 27, 2009

Khmer Rouge Torturer Admits to Crimes Against Humanity

By Pei Hu

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PEHN, Cambodia – Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, admitted responsibility for crimes committed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge regime. Duch is accused of crimes against humanity including torture and premeditated murder that lead to 10,000 deaths.

During the short Khmer Rouge regime, 2 million lives were lost due to starvation, being over-worked, and from execution. At the UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia, Duch expressed “regretfulness and heartfelt sorrow” for his actions. Duch told the court, “May I be permitted to apologize to the survivors of the regime, and also the loved ones of those who died brutally during the regime… I ask not that you forgive me now, but hope you will later.”

On Tuesday, prosecutors opened their case against Duch. Co-prosecutor Chea Leang said, “For 30 years, one-and-a-half million victims of the Khmer Rouge have been demanding justice for their suffering… Justice will be done. History demands it.”

Duch, former Tuol Sleng prison ward, is the first key Khmer Rouge leader to be on trial, and four more Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial. Leang said Tuol Sleng prison “formed an integral and indeed vital role in a widespread attack on the population of Cambodia.”

Prosecutors read out gruesome details from the notorious Tuol Sleng prison during the indictment, including medieval methods of torture. “Several witnesses said that prisoners were killed using steel clubs, cart axles, and water pipes.” The indictment also read, “Prisoners were then kicked into the pits, where their handcuffs were removed. Finally the guards either cut open their bellies or their throats.”

Thousands of people have died in Tuol Sleng, which is now a Genocide museum with photographs of the victims lining the wall.

Duch was in charge of interrogations at Tuol Sleng, but “every prisoner who arrived a S-21 [Tuol Sleng] was destined for execution.”

“As a member of the [Khmer Rouge] I recognize responsibility for what happened at Tuol Sleng,” Duch told the tribunal. At 66 years-old, Duch is the only Khmer Rouge defendant to admit his part in the atrocities, but he insisted that he did not hold a senior role in the regime and had no choice but to work at Tuol Sleng, “I was in a life and death situation for myself and my family.”

Duch was discovered in the Cambodian country side by British journalist Nic Dunlop in 1999. Dunlop said it was “surreal” to see Duch in a court room.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Khmer Rouge Leader Admits Crimes– 31 March 2009

Reuters –Khmer Rouge torturer accepts blame for 14,000 deaths– 31 March 2009

Toronto Star – Khmer Rouge torturer apologizes– 1 April 2009