The Khmer Rouge Trial Faces A Few Obstacles

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia– Time is of the essence in the Khmer Rouge trial.  According to experts, funding and health threaten the trial of Khmer Rouge’s three surviving members for the deaths of approximately 2 million people.

King Guek Eav, the prison chief. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Nuon Chea, the chief advocate, Khieu Samphan, the head of state, and Ieng Sary, the foreign minister, face charges that include genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

The Khmer Rouge, a Communist movement, is responsible for the execution, torture, forced labor, and starvation of millions from 1975 to 1979.  Survivors have waited a very long time for the prosecution of those liable.

“The victims, especially myself, we suffer for too long,” said Marie Chea, now 60 years old.  “I lost my family, my mom, my dad, my brothers and sisters.  I suffer, suffer, even when I am back home — I say home because I am in the United States more than 30 years.”

In 2006, voluntary contributions from various nations paid for the existing tribunal.  However, since its creation, the tribunal has cost more than $160 million and this year faces a $22 million budget decrease.  Financial stress aside, the court faces other dilemmas.

Seven months have already passed in the first “mini-trial.”  Since opening statements in late November, the court has only held trial hearings on 78 days.  On Thursday, it adjourned for about a month.  To date, the tribunal has only completed one case, the sentence of S-21’s prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav, to life imprisonment.

In an effort to expedite the process, judges of a UN-supported court in Phnom Penh have divided the intricate case into smaller trials, thus leaving the most serious crimes for later proceedings.

In addition to funding troubles and slow pace, the ailing health of the Khmer Rouge’s senior members and their ability to endure the entire trial is a grave concern.  Last month, the hearings were postponed for a week because 86 year old Ieng Sary was hospitalized for bronchitis.

“This is it, this is the trial. Nobody believes there’s going to be a second phase,” voiced Anne Heindel, a legal consultant to the Documentation Center of Cambodia.  Moreover, according to Jakarta Globe, Heindel fears of a “narrow judgment” that would veil “the story of what happened under the Khmer Rouge.”

The first trial piece centers on the forced transfer of city inhabitants to rural work sites.  Shortly after the evacuation, the regime allegedly killed thousands of “enemies.” The prosecution has twice requested that the judges include this crime among others in the first trial.

For many Cambodians, far worse crimes- mass purges, forced marriages, and torture – under the 1975-1979 regime may never be heard.  As Heindel stated, unaddressed crimes “would greatly diminish the legacy of this court.”

For further information, please see:

Jakarta Globe- Fear Grow for Early End to Khmer Rouge Trial- 24 June 12

The Guardian-Kmer Rouge leaders go on trial in Cambodia– 26 June 12

The Huffington Post- Khmer Rouge Trial: Kaing Guek Eav, Chief Jailer, Gets Life In Prison– 12 Feb. 12

The New York Times-Survivors Seek Answers at Khmer Rouge Trial– 20 Nov. 12


City Mayor Accused of Factory Shooting Not Charged

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – On Thursday March 15, Cambodian chief prosecutor Hing Bunchea stated that Chhouk Bandit, a former city governor and the lone suspect in a factory shooting, had not been charged despite admitting to a shooting that resulted in injuries for three women.

A former governor has avoided charges in a factory shooting despite admitting guilt (Photo Courtesy of Voice of America).

The incident involving Chhouk occurred on February 20 when Chhouk allegedly opened fire on a group of approximately 1,000 protestors outside of Kaoway Sports Ltd factory.

The protestors were demanding an increase in their pay and better working conditions when the suspect stepped out of his car, pulled out a hand gun and began to fire on the protestors.

As a result of the shooting, three women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three suffered gunshot wounds and were taken to the hospital.

Despite the fact that Chhouk Bandit was subsequently fired by Prime Minister Hun Sen, many fear that he is using his money and influence to avoid being charged for the shooting.

Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng has identified Chhouk as the shooter leading NGO’s and rights groups  to “…strongly urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to make the suspect’s arrest an utmost priority.”

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, stated that the shooting is a criminal matter and Chhouk “…can’t use his money to shut people up.” He continued to state that there should be “…an investigation into who is trying to convince the court to drop the case. This kind of impunity sets a bad example for the country.”

Also fueling accusations of legal impropriety are the statements of the Svay Rieng provincial prosecutor.

Last week the prosecutor issued a summons for Chhouk rather than an arrest warrant citing his belief that the police report was unconvincing despite the fact that the former governor had been identified by the Interior Minister.

Initially, and following a meeting with Chhouk, the prosecutor had stated, “I already questioned him this morning. He was accompanied by his lawyer. He confessed to the shooting, but he gave me many reasons for that…It is my right not to arrest [him]. I don’t see it as important.”

Despite the admission, however, Chhouk left court without being arrested. Following this statement the prosecutor then changed his account of the deposition and stated that Chhouk had fired his gun in the air only to change his story again a few days later by stating that Chhouk had a gun but was unaware that it had discharged.

Kaoway Sports Ltd factory sources products for major clothing companies leading a consortium of clothing retailers including Puma, Gap and H&M to demand that the Cambodian government “…conduct a full and transparent investigation into the shooting and [to] hold those responsible for injuring workers accountable.”

For more information, please see:

Khmerization – Prosecutor’s Account of Questioning Varies – 20 March 2012

Khmerization – Factory Shooter Confesses – 17 March 2012

Radio Free Asia – Prosecutors Slammed for No Arrest – 15 March 2012

Voice of America – Bavet Mayor Identified as Suspect in Bloody Shooting – 1 March 2012

Cambodian Workers Faint in Factories

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodian factory workers have been forced to work overtime beyond the limits allowed by law in poorly ventilated buildings contributing to recent incidents of mass fainting.

Cambodian factory workers have been fainting due to poor working conditions and long hours (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

The recent faintings have occurred in the country’s textile industry where a union activist claims harmful chemicals are present and at least partially at fault for the fainting of workers.

Approximately 200 factory workers at the Nanguo Garment Co. Ltd. in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh fainted on Monday while working.

Although the Ministry of Labor medical department director has reported that tests reported no signs of toxic chemicals, workers who were taken to the hospital after fainting reported to Free Trade Union of the Kingdom of Cambodia president Chea Mony that the factory had recently sprayed pesticide around the premises.

A female worker explained her experience by stating that “…I saw a few workers faint, and then others. We were shocked, and we all began to cry.” She then added that had felt exhausted and could not move before fainting.

The International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Program has reported that within a six month time span in 2011 at least 1,500 workers from eleven different factories have reported fainting.

In addition, in August almost 300 people fainted in one week while working in a  factory supplying popular clothing store H&M. In addition, another 100 people were reportedly taken to the hospital after fainting at M&V International Manufacturing factory.

Last April, approximately 100 workers fainted at a factory supplying Puma and another forty-nine fainted at the same factory two months later.

Just one week before the mass faintings, workers in Cambodia held a people’s tribunal to investigate the pay and conditions of factories for brands such as H&M and Gap.

Given the history of faintings at a factory supplying H&M products, many were unhappy at the company’s decision not to attend the people’s tribunal.

The minimum wage in Cambodia is $66 per month which is half of what is required to meet the basic needs. As a result, workers are often forced to work ten to thirteen hours a day to get the money that they need to support their families.


For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Faintings Blamed on Overwork, Ventilation – 14 February 2012

The Guardian – Cambodian Workers Hold ‘People’s Tribunal’ to Look at Factory Conditions – 2 February 2012

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Unable to Pay Cambodian Employees

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Approximately 300 Cambodians working at the Khmer Rouge tribunal will not be paid for their work in the month of January. Some Cambodians, including judges, have not been paid since October. International staff is paid by the United Nations and will continue to receive their salaries throughout the tribunal.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (Photo Courtesy of The Phnom Penh Post )

The reason why Cambodians are going without pay is because funds from donor countries have ran out according to tribunal spokesman, Huy Vannak. However, Vannak explained “despite the fact that no key donor countries have pledged any new financial assistance, the court pursues its work as normal.”

In a “town hall” meeting on Friday administration directors told Cambodian staff for the tribunal that they would not be paid any salary until April at the earliest. The acting director of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) said that what he wants to see in the future is that when funds are received by the United Nations, these funds should be split between the Cambodian and International side of the court.

Under ECCC law expenses and salaries of the Cambodian staff “shall be borne by the Cambodian national budget.” Huy Vannak acknowledged the law but said this has not been the practice of the court. He continued “the Royal Government of Cambodia contributes funds for water, electricity, security, transportation of staff, and outreach activities.”

An unofficial translation of the 2012 Budget Law does not contain any appropriations for the tribunal. Cheam Yeap, Chairman of the National Assembly Finance and Banking Commission, said the government has a separate budget for the tribunal but has not received any budget proposals for 2012.

Anne Heindel a legal adviser at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia said it has been common practice for Cambodian salaries to be paid from voluntary international contributions to the Cambodian government. “Donors either give money to the UN side or the Cambodian side,” Heindel said.

A tribunal official explained that funds are usually applied for in November and received annually. However, this year directors did not fly to New York to apply for funds although a tentative plan is in place for the directors to visit New York next month.

David Scheffer, a United Nations appointed Special Expert, said last week it was his “job” to ensure there was adequate financial support for the tribunal. He continued to say “we need to ensure that there’s that infusion of funding from relevant sources into the tribunal on a regular basis.”

For more information please see:      

The Phnom Penh Post – KRT Pay Freeze Will Linger — 30 January 2012

CBS News –Khmer Rouge Tribunal Halts Salaries for Cambodians – 26 January 2012

Washington Post – Salaries Stopped for Cambodian Staffers at Khmer Rouge Tribunal Due to Funding Cuts – 26 January 2012

The Phnom Penh Post – Cash Crunch at KR Tribunal – 19 January 2012

Decision Rejecting UN Selected Judge from Khmer Rouge Tribunals Stands

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia has announced that it will not overrule the rejection of Judge Kasper-Ansermet who was selected by the United Nations to preside over the Khmer Rouge Tribunal which is also known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

Cambodian officials have rejected a judge selected by the UN to preside over the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

According to an official spokesman, Phay Siphan, Cambodia’s Supreme Council of Magistracy is entrusted with final decision-making authority on whether the government would accept the United Nation’s choice of co-investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

As such, the Cambodian government maintains that they are unable to override a decision made by the top judicial body despite statements by United Nations officials that the rejection is a breach of the ECCC agreement.

Special expert on U.N. assistance to the Khmer Rouge trial, David Scheffer, claims the Cambodia did not have authority under the agreement to prevent Kasper-Ansermet from taking the position.

“Our view is that this particular individual, judge Kasper-Ansermet, has clear authority to fulfill his duties in this country and we look forward to him doing so,” Scheffer stated.

According to Scheffer, Kasper-Ansermet is expected to begin work on the investigation of two individuals suspected to have played a role in the “year zero” revolution that claimed the lives of over two million.

Many believe that his intention to investigate the two individuals is what led to his rejection. Many believe that Cambodia’s government is attempting to prevent the investigation of further cases and the two individual’s in question have been particularly controversial.

Furthermore, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was himself a Khmer Rouge soldier, has threatened civil war if more indictments are issued.

A meeting between UN Secretary General’s Special Expert David Scheffer and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, which was intended to settle a dispute over the appointment of the co-investigating judge, proved fruitless.

According to a statement by Cambodia’s Council of Ministers, the two sides held differing views on the interpretation of tribunal agreement but “…they intend to continue their close discussions on the most critical issues, and both remain optimistic that the court can achieve its mandate.”

Many believe that the Cambodian government has continuously placed hurdles in front of the tribunal causing some to question the nation’s dedication to a successful tribunal.

Since its founding in 2003, the tribunal has spent $150 million dollars and has achieved only one conviction.

The man convicted was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison, which was later commuted to nineteen years, for his role in the death of 14,000 people at a Cambodian torture center.

The tribunal stems from the execution, torture, starvation, overwork and disease that occurred under the Maoist regime between 1975 and 1979 and resulted in over two million deaths.


For more information, please see:

AFP – UN Defends Judge in Khmer Rouge Trial Row – 25 January 2012

Reuters – U.N. Says Won’t Change Judge for Cambodia War Crimes Court – 25 January 2012

Voice of America – UN Insists on Appointment of Swiss Tribunal Judge – 25 January 2012

Radio  Free Asia – No Reversal of Tribunal Judge Decision – 24 January 2012

“Case 002” of Khmer Rouge Trial Begins

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – In the opening statement of what many have called the most important stage of the Khmer Rouge trial, Prosecutor Chea Leang accused Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, and Khieu Samphan of turning the country into “a massive slave camp producing an entire nation of prisoners living under a system of brutality that defies belief.”

Nuon Chea speaks with his lawyer on Monday (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

This phase of the trial is known as “Case 002” and will examine Nuon Chea’s role in the killing of approximately two million people. Chea who is well known as “Brother Number Two” again wore his large sunglasses during the proceedings today as he has throughout the trial. While Cambodians are familiar with the accusations against Chea, hearing the stories and examples in a narrative caused many to cry.

Eighteen year old Tha Chanthy began to shed tears when explaining that her grandfather was killed by the Khmer Rouge. However, Chanthy said that she could come to terms with the past if justice was served. She explained “my grandfather died and he wasn’t guilty of anything. “We need to find justice for him.” “Even if he’s already passed away, if we can find justice then his spirit will be able to rest in peace.”

A key aspect of the case will be the prosecution’s ability to prove all of the defendants were engaged in a “joint criminal enterprise.” In order for the prosecution’s burden of proof to be met it will need to demonstrate each defendant had knowledge of and supported the implementation of a criminal plan.

The other prosecutor, Andrew Cayley, explained to the court that “none of the accused here ever soiled his hands with blood, but all set in motion a series of policies which unleashed an ocean of blood.” Cayley further explained that one witness will testify that Chea ordered the immediate execution of a large number of prisoners. The witness is currently serving a nineteen year sentenced for his role as head of Khmer Rouge’s main prison.

While many Cambodians are thrilled that the leaders of Khmer Rouge are being tried, pessimism among citizens of whether justice will be served is high. 74 year old Ieng Thirith has been declared “unfit” for trial due to medical reasons. Theary Seng, the founder of the Cambodian Center for Justice and Reconciliation explained “the release of Ieng Thirith is only one reflection on how incredibly late these trials are coming into place.”

Former prisoner Sum Rithy is undeterred by the manner the trial has moved forward. The former mechanic explained “the tribunal must continue, I’ve been waiting 30 years for this day.” “This isn’t a normal crime.” “This is a big case.” “Millions of people died.”


For more information, please see:

New York Times – Khmer Rouge Leaders Accused of Brutality ‘Defying Belief” – 21 November 2011

The Christian Post – Khmer Rouge Genocide Trial Leaves Cambodians Pessimistic – 21 November 2011

United Press International — Khmer Rouge Leaders’ Trial Under Way — 21 November 2011

Aljazeera – Khmer Rouge Trio Face Trial in Cambodia – 20 November 2011

War Crimes Court Expedites Trial

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Khmer Rouge tribunal explained Thursday that the four former Cambodian leaders accused of genocide will be tried on a charge-by-charge basis.

Nuon Chea attends a trial in his sunglasses and ski cap (Photo Courtesy of Phnom Penh/Reuters
Nuon Chea attends a trial in his sunglasses and ski cap (Photo Courtesy of Phnom Penh/Reuters)

“Separation  of  proceedings  will  enable the chamber to issue  a  verdict  following  a  shortened trial,  safeguarding  the  fundamental  interest  of  victims  in  achieving  meaningful  and  timely justice, and the right of all accused in Case 002 to an expeditious trial,” the opinion read.

The court’s desire to accelerate the trials stems from the fact that defendants range in age from seventy-nine to eighty-five. The court is attempting to avoid the result of the 2006 trial of Slobodan Milosevic in which Milosevic died in his cell during trial.

Defendants have already cited their health as obstacles to upcoming trials. It has been reported that Ieng Thirith, the youngest of all the defendants, has dementia and memory loss. A health expert told the court that Thirith was no longer fit for trial.

Another defendant, Nuon Chea, has told the court that it is very difficult for him to focus and he cannot sit for long periods of time.

Clair Duffy, a trial monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative admitted that the decision to break up the charges into separate trials is not perfect but explained the clock is ticking for the court to sentence the defendants before they die.

“I guess it’s an exercise of weighing competing interests. The question is, is it better to see some form of justice in a shorter period of time that only involves some allegations? I think the answer to that has to be yes,” she said.

While public appearances by the defendants have been limited, the media has kept a close watch on how the defendant’s act while in public. During a bail hearing in 2009, Ieng Thirith said that anyone accusing her of a crime would be cursed “to the seventh circle of hell.”

Nuon Chea has been wearing sunglasses and a stripped ski cap throughout the trial. On the first day of trial he announced that he was not happy with the trial. After a judge denied Chea’s request to hear hundreds of Chea’s witnesses, Chea staged a three day walkout.

Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. In addition to being accused of genocide, it is also alleged that the regime authorized torture, executions, starvation, and child labor camps.

For more information, please see:

Phnom Penh Post — Khmer Rouge trial split — 23 September 2011

AFP – War crimes court splits KRouge trial charges– 22 September 2011

Voice of America — Khmer Rouge Court to Try Former Leaders Crime by Crime — 22 September 2011

The Atlantic — Scenes From a Khmer Rouge Trial Gone Wrong — 21 September 2011

Duch Found Guilty: War Crimes Day of Reckoning

David L. Chaplin II

Impunity Watch Reporter; Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch has been found guilty of crimes against humanity by Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes tribunal. Duch, 67, whose full name is Kaing Guek Eav, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The man who ran a notorious torture prison where more than 14,000 people died during the Khmer Rouge regime was found guilty of war crimes Monday and sentenced to 35 years in prison — with 5 years taken off that sentence for time served.  The verdict against Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, also convicted him of crimes against humanity, murder and torture.  Duch ran Tuol Sleng prison, where “enemies” of the Khmer Rouge regime were sent.

At least 1.7 million people — nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population — died under the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime from execution, disease, starvation and overwork, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia.  But prosecutors said the former maths teacher ordered the use of brutal torture methods to extract “confessions” from detainees – including pulling out toenails and administering electric shocks – and approved all the executions.

A meticulous record-keeper, Duch built up a huge archive of photos, confessions and other evidence documenting those held at Tuol Sleng.

Despite acknowledging the role he played at Tuol Sleng, codenamed “S-21”, he insisted that he had only been following orders from his superiors, and on the trial’s final day in November shocked many by asking to be acquitted.

Wearing a blue shirt, the former Khmer Rouge jailer looked pensive and slumped in his chair as proceedings were held behind a floor-to-ceiling bullet-proof screen which separated the public gallery from the rest of the court.

“I can’t accept this,” Saodi Ouch, 46, told the Associated Press news agency. “My family died… my older sister, my older brother. I’m the only one left.”

Some said they wanted a tougher sentence. “There is no justice. I wanted life imprisonment for Duch,” said Hong Sovath, whose father was killed in Tuol Sleng. Many called the War crimes tribunal efforts a “shame” and “slap in the face” to survivors.

The group’s top leader, “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, died in 1998.  The other Khmer Rouge leaders awaiting trial are “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, former foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, the minister of social affairs.

For more information, please see:

CNN World – Khmer Rouger survivors angry over Duch jail sentence – 26 July 2010

Al Jazeera – Khmer Rouge prison chief convicted – 26 July 2010

BBC – Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch found guilty – 26 July 2010

Concern for Abused Addicts at Cambodian Drug Centers

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Many treatment centers in Cambodia have raised serious human rights alerts as reports of  physical abuse and involuntary administration of experimental drugs and medication become more frequent.

A woman in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, prepared to inject herself with heroin in a back alley used by addicts, like those in the background. Image courtesy of The New York Times.


The Human Rights Watch issued a recent report describing the abuse and mal-treatment in eleven different government-run centers. The report indicated that electric shock, beatings, rapes, forced labor and forced donations of blood were practices at most of these institutions.

According to the report, “Sadistic violence, experienced as spontaneous and capricious, is integral to the way in which these centers operate.” It went on to state that, “the practice of torture and inhuman treatment [is] widely practiced throughout Cambodia’s drug detention centers.”

The Cambodian government dismissed the report, and uttered in a public announcement that the report was,  “without any valid grounds.” Meas Virith, deputy secretary of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, stated at a news conference that, “The centers are not detention or torture centers,” and that “They are open to the public and are not secret centers.” She declined to describe the specific treatment practices the centers uses.

Aside from the few government-run centers, there are very few other resources for drug users to rely on to seek help for their addictions. Government figures for drug use in Cambodia are unreliable and range from about 6,000 to 20,000.The United Nations believes this figure could be as high as 500,000. In light of such heavy use, desperate families sometimes commit their relatives to the centers.  Others are said to be institutionalized against their will.

A drug dealer working in a poor neighborhood in Phnom Penh. Image Courtesy of: Justin Mott for The New York Times.

In December of 2009, the Cambodian government engaged in administering and experimental herbal drug to try and treat addicts. The treatment was heavily criticized by rights groups and health professionals because it was  imported from Vietnam but not registered for use in Cambodia. It is uncertain how many people the drug was used on, but twenty-one drug users documented and administered “bong sen” for ten days at various treatment centers before being released. There is no indication that a systematic follow-up was conducted, and the national drug authority conceded that at least some of those treated returned to drug use.

According to Graham Shaw, an expert on drug dependence and harm reduction with the World Health Organization in Phnom Penh, “No information is known to exist as to the efficacy of this claimed medicine for the detoxification of opiate dependent people, nor to its side effects or interactions with other drugs.”

“If Cambodian authorities think they are reducing drug dependency through the policy of compulsory detention at these centers, they are wrong,” said the report by Human Rights Watch. “There is no evidence that forced physical exercise, forced labor and forced military drills have any therapeutic benefit whatsoever.”

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Cambodian Addicts Abused in Detention, Rights Group Says – 15 February 2010

Voice of AmericaDrug Treatment Centers Rife with Abuse – 30 January 2010

IPSCAMBODIA: ‘Abuse Rampant in Drug Detention Centres’ – Human Rights Watch – 7 March 2010

Cambodia NewsRights Group Says Cambodia’s Drug Treatment Centers Rife with Abuse – 30 January 2010

Victims Speak Out About Khmer Rouge Pain

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, CambodiaThree decades have passed since the Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of as many as two million Cambodians. Despite the long-awaited, and much-delayed, Khmer Rouge tribunal, many survivors and families of victims are beginning to speak out against the lack of justice, even though for the first time at an international criminal tribunal, victims have been represented as well as the defense and prosecutors.

Chem Mey, a 78-year old survivor, commented that he, “lost my family,” and that the regime “killed my children and my wife. Nobody had rights or freedom then. That’s why now I want to find justice – for the victims and the younger generation.” The former mechanic not only lost his family to the Khmer Rouge, he also suffered torture and beatings at the notorious S-21 detention center in Phnom Penh. At least 14,000 inmates passed through the tiny cells of Phnom Penh and torture chambers in the late 1970s; and Chum Mey is one of only three confirmed, living survivors.

At the tribunal, along with almost a hundred other people, Chum Mey was accepted as a civil party in the trial of the man who ran S-21, Kaing Guek Eav, commonly referred to as Comrade Duch.

After closing statements in November, civil parties like Chum Mey felt that their rights to speak and question witnesses had been restricted. Lawyers of many civil parties complained that little interest was shown in their testimony. According to one civil party lawyer, Silke Studzinsky, “They felt that the trial chamber was not very receptive to their sufferings.” She went on to say that “This left for them the impression that the trial chamber was rather uninterested in their stories.” Despite the frustration, various local and international lawyers worked with several different groups of victims through the closing statements, but there seemed to be little coordination among them.

Although it is too late to impact the trial of Duch, a second trial, believed unlikely to start until the middle of 2011 is expected to take a different approach to give voice to victims such as Chum Mey. Instead of a myriad of lawyers, there will be one lead counsel for the civil parties to mirror the approach taken by the prosecution and defense.

For more information, please see:

BBC World NewsKhmer Rouge survivors feel justice denied -January 4, 2010

Earth Times Historic Khmer Rouge tribunal has lessons for the world – December 13, 2009

Phnom Penh PostGenocide charges laid at KRT – December 17, 2009

Khmer Rouge Survivor Testifies at UN-Backed Tribunal

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – One of the last remaining survivors, Vann Nath, of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison gave his testimony today at Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal. Also in attendance facing charges was Comrade Duch (a.k.a. Kaing Guek Eav), a senior Khmer Rouge official in charge of the infamous prison. Up to 16,000 men, women, and children were tortured under his command and later taken away to be executed in the late 1970’s. Vann Nath is one of only seven to have survived the prison, and only one of three currently living.

“The conditions were so inhumane and the food was so little…I even thought eating human flesh would be a good meal,” Vann Nath told the UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh. During his testimony, Nath, now 67, told the tribunal that he was fed twice a day, and each meal consisted of three teaspoons of rice porridge. “We were so hungry, we would eat insects that dropped from the ceiling… We would quickly grab and eat them so we could avoid being seen by the guards.”

Nath testified that he only survived his imprisonment at the jail and was spared torture because Comrade Duch liked his paintings of the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot. Comrade Duch is the first senior Khymer Rouge leader to face trial and the only one to take responsibility for his actions. Duch is charged with crimes against humanity and is the first of five defendants scheduled for trials by the UN-assisted tribunal. The four other Khmer officials will face trial in the coming year.

Duch himself has previously testified that being sent to Tuol Sleng prison was “tantamount to a death sentence,” and that he was only following orders to ensure his own safety. Earlier in his trial, the 66-year-old admitted responsibility for his role as governor of the jail, and begged forgiveness from his victims. The Khmer regime’s policies caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people nationwide through execution, torture, disease, and malnutrition.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Khmer Rouge Survivor Testifies – June 29, 2009

CBC News – Ex-Khmer Rouge Prisoner Testifies at Trial in Cambodia – June 29, 2009

Reuters – Pol Pot Paintings Saved my Life – June 29, 2009

Cambodian Officials Stripped of Immunity

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia’s National Assembly has voted to remove parliamentary immunity for two opposition party officials, a move some are claiming is a sign that democracy in Cambodia is in jeopardy and going backwards.

This vote by Cambodia’s lower house would allow the court to prosecute Mu Sochua, former Minister of Women’s Affairs, and Ho Vann, Phnom Penh municipality representative, on defamation charges filed by the prime minister and other senior members of the ruling party.

Mu Sochua (Sourace: AFP)

Cambodian officialMu Sochua had initially filed a defamation suit against the prime minister for his remarks on a speech she made, but Phnom Penh Municipal Court dismissed the case earlier this month while continuing the countersuit filed by the prime minister.  Ho Vann was sued by a senior member of the ruling party after he made remarks on the validity of meaningless certificates given to Cambodian officials by Vietnamese schools.

The UN has criticized Cambodian government’s use of courts against its critics, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “The lawsuits undermine the constitutional freedom and expression.”

Cambodia’s ruling party is arguing that the suspensions of immunity were in accordance with internal parliamentary rules, the law and the Constitution of Cambodia.  However, since April, eight criminal defamation and disinformation complaints have been filed in the courts by Cambodia’s highest authorities against government critics.

Human Rights Watch said the prime minister has “a long history of trying to muzzle Cambodia’s political opposition and undermine the independence of the legal profession.”

With many local and international human rights group raising concerns over this violation of free speech, especially for lawmakers whose rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, Mu Sochua said she is prepared to go to jail rather than pay a fine to the prime minister if found guilty.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Cambodia strips MPs of immunity – 22 June 2009 – Cambodia suspends immunity of two opposition lawmakers – 22 June 2009

Radio Australia News – Cambodian opposition MPs stripped of parliamentary immunity – 22 June 2009

Taiwan News – Cambodia lawmakers, stripped of immunity, protest – 22 June 2009

Families with AIDS evicted in Cambodia

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia– After a week of negotiations, 20 families with HIV/AIDS were evicted from their homes in Cambodia today.  The families have been forced by the Cambodian government to move out of the Borei Keila community in central Phnom Penh and resettle in Tuol Sambo, which is known as the “AIDS village” by the locals.

Families have been protesting the move for months, complaining that they would have no means of income or medical care at the new location.  Tuol Sambo has no clean water or electricity, and the homes are made of metal sheets.  Most families are not in the position to battle the authorities, and they fear that they will face further discrimination by living in Tuol Sambo.

AIDS families evict

A man carries his belongings as another resident watches before being transported to the new resettlement site (Source: AP)

Amnesty International has condemned the move calling it “segregation,” and added, “The site’s long distance from the city hampers access to health services and jobs…[t]he families have urgent humanitarian needs…[t]here is a real risk that the health of the evicted families will deteriorate there.”

However, the Cambodian government is claiming that the families had illegally settled on government land where the authorities now wish to build new offices for Ministry of Tourism.

Last year, around 23,000 Cambodians were evicted from their homes and another 150,000 are at risk of facing eviction due to land disputes and commercial development projects.  Human rights organizations said evictions are a major social problem hurting Cambodia’s stability.

Furthermore, according to the 2008 estimate by the UN, 75,000 Cambodians are infected with AIDS and 100,000 have died due to AIDS-related causes, which is the highest in Southeast Asia.  The government is trying to decrease its HIV/AIDS prevalence to 0.6% by 2010 and have allocated about $50 million to combat the disease.

Despite the government’s efforts, Director of Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights Naly Pilorge said, “It is tragic that the government has chosen to create a permanent AIDS colony where people will face great stigma and discrimination.”

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Amnesty International Condemns Cambodian Government’s Eviction of 20 Families Living with HIV/AIDS – June 18, 2009

Kaiser Daily Reports – Cambodia Aims to Decrease HIV/AIDS Prevalence to 0.6% by 2010 – 6 April 2009

MSNBC – Cambodian authorities evict HIV-affected families – 18 June 2009

Khmer Rouge Trials Calls for Prime Minister’s Testimony

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Attorneys at the Khmer Rouge tribunal asked judges for permission to interview Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and former King, Nordom Sihanouk.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge member, became the Prime Minister of a Vietnamese-installed communist government after the fall of the regime. Hun Sen ruled Cambodia for two decades and is currently serving as Prime Minister.

The defense team for Nuon Chea asked for the testimonies. Nuon Chea is believed to be the main ideologist for the Khmer Rouge Regime that killed nearly 2 million Cambodian people from 1975-1979. Nuon Chea is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity and faces life imprisonment as the tribunal does not issue the death penalty.

The defense team said that Nordom Sihanouk, the former King who served as a symbolic head of state after the Khmer Rouge took power had “rare access of the Khmer Rouge leadership, their strategies and policies” and was “privy to a range of sensitive information.”

The Associate Press obtained confidential court documents that requested the testimony of current senate president Chean Sim and assembly president Heng Samrin. Chean Sim, Heng Samrin, and Hun Sen were all former Khmer Rouge members who defected to Vietnam before the regime was ousted. “They are likely in possession of much relevant information to the pending judicial investigation,” one of the documents said. All have denied any role in atrocities.

Nuon Chea’s attorney, Son Arun confirmed the authenticity of the documents but said he did not file the requests personally. The Associate Press understood his comments as an apparent move to distance himself from putting Cambodia’s prominent officials on trial.

After long delays, the United Nation backed tribunal begins later this month with Kaing Guek Eav better known as “Dutch” on trial on March 30th. Nuon Chea’s trial is expected to begin later this year.

For information, please see:

AP – Cambodia PM testimony sought at Khmer Rouge trial– 2 March 2009

Asia News –Hun Sen could testify at trial of Khmer Rouge– 2 March 2009

The Star – Politics delays international justice – 3 March 2009

Cambodia Opens Landmark Khmer Rouge Trial

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia —On February 17th, Cambodia began the trial for the atrocities of the “Killing Fields.” Former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as “Duch”, faces charges of crimes against humanity. Duch, now 66, is accused of presiding over the deaths of 15,000 men, women, and children in Tuol Sleng prison over 30 years ago.

The UN-funded tribunal was established in 2006 and after much delay and controversy, the tribunal opened for the first time on Tuesday. The tribunal is to try Duch on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder. Duch faces a possible life sentence and the tribunal does not impose the death penalty. “This first hearing represents the realization of significant efforts in establishing a fair and independent tribunal to try those in senior leadership positions,” chief judge Nil Nonn said at the opening of the trial.

The Khmer Rouge regime killed 2 million people which nearly wiped out a quarter of the country’s population.  Tuol Sleng prison was used to extract false confessions from alleged traitors who were under suspicion of being agents of foreign powers including the CIA. Many inmates were taken to nearby Choeung Ek, an orchard now known as the “Killing Fields.” Adults were beaten to death while children’s heads were smashed against trees. “I prayed for dawn as soon as possible so that I could see this trial start,” said artist Vann Nath, one of the few survivors from the prison.

On Tuesday, the hearing adjourned after seven hours of legal arguments, which mainly dealt with the admissibility of witnesses. Duch’s defense lawyer Francois Roux complained to the court that it was “unacceptable” that Duch had been held without trial for more than nine years. After the first day of trial, Roux told reporters that Duch acknowledged the charges against him and wished to use proceedings to publicly ask forgiveness from his victims as well as all other Cambodian people.

Roux told the press, “Duch will try to explain some things, but he can’t explain all that happened. Is it possible to explain what has gone against humanity itself?”

Like most of the Khmer Rouge’s top figures, Duch lived freely for years until he was arrested in 1999. He was formally transferred to the tribunal in July 2007. Currently, Duch is held at villa along with four top Khmer Rouge leaders, who will face trial later this year.

Kan Hann, whose brother and sister died of starvation and overwork under the Khmer Rouge, came to the trial on Tuesday. “My dream has come true now as I have been waiting for the trial for 30 years,” he said.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Cambodia Killing Fields Trial Opens; The Chief Accused Expresses Remorse– February 2009

APF – Cambodia opens landmark ‘Killing Fields’ trial – 17 February 2009

New York Times – Khmer Rouge Genocide Trial Opens in Cambodia – 17 February 2009

APF – Picture of Dutch on Trial