Cambodia: from the duty of remembrance to the need to continue the fight for justice

17/04/2019
Press release
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Today, the FIDH joins the Association of Victims of the Khmer Rouge Genocide (VGKR) to commemorate and pay tribute to the victims of Khmer Rouge crimes in front of the first memorial in Europe inaugurated in their honour at the Parc de Choisy in Paris a year ago. This memorial, for the construction of which FIDH had been working with the City of Paris and other associations since 2013, represents a reparation measure for the victims of the Khmer Rouge who have been living in exile for decades and contributes to the necessary sharing of this dark history of Cambodia with the younger generations.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In April 1975, Pol Pot and his team of revolutionaries imposed on Cambodians their vision of the world based on the ultra-radical collectivization of the means of production and the desire to bring about an agrarian society without class or religion. For nearly four years, this totalitarian regime reigned in terror and established a repressive regime, killing at least 1.7 million people as a result of hunger, torture, execution and forced labour.

It was not until 2006 that Extraordinary Chambers within the Cambodian Courts (ECCC) were established to try former Khmer Rouge leaders. Two of them were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Two other cases are still pending but blocked. Political interference, lack of resources, an interest of the international community that is running out of steam.... These obstacles must not prevent all the crimes of the past from being fully clarified and all responsibilities from being established. This is an essential condition for the non-repetition of the most serious crimes and the rule of law.

FIDH MOBILIZED OVER THE PAST 14 YEARS

Following a plea for the creation of the ECCC and the adoption and implementation of strong victims’ rights provisions, FIDH and the lawyers of its Litigation Action Group (LAG) accompanied, supported and represented 20 civil parties from the Cambodian diaspora in France in the proceedings of the so-called “Case 002". Most of the civil parties represented were victims of crimes related to forced displacement and contributed, in a first trial, to the conviction of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea for crimes against humanity.

Their testimony also led to the conviction, after a second trial, of these two former Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes against humanity and genocide. An FIDH documentary recounts the struggle of these civil parties in “Case 002" at the ECCC and their expectations regarding this justice process.

FIDH film "Case N°002 - History of a verdict"

Short testimonies of civil parties filmed by FIDH "Civil parties in Case n°002 testify". 

While "Case 001", which led to the conviction of "Duch", director of the infamous S-21 detention and torture centre in Phnom Phen, is closed, and "Case 002" has led to two convictions, the Cases "003" and "004", which the Cambodian authorities never really wanted, are still ongoing despite numerous obstacles.

“Case 003" concerns Meas Muth, a military leader during the Khmer Rouge regime, charged in particular with crimes against humanity and genocide; "Case 004" initially concerned three persons, but only two, Ao An and Yim Tith, are still under investigation, in particular for crimes against humanity and genocide. The Case "003" and "004" are characterized by their length, with divergences between international prosecutors and investigating judges - pushing for the continuation of the investigation and indictments - and their Cambodian counterparts pushing for the closure of these controversial proceedings; which reinforced suspicions of political interference by the Cambodian authorities, who had accepted the establishment of this mixed jurisdiction on condition that it limits prosecutions to former senior Khmer Rouge leaders, and does not focus on lower-level officials, some of whom maintain links with the current power in Phnom Penh.

The international community’s interest in these trials has also waned, particularly in view of the indictment of the most senior leaders still alive, which has also resulted in a lack of financial support for these ongoing proceedings.

Beyond the establishment of responsibilities, the proceedings at the ECCC have made it possible to lift a taboo and encourage some civil parties to talk to their children and grandchildren about it, to generate public debate in Cambodia on crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime, including previously invisibilised crimes such as sexual crimes. In particular through the retransmission of the hearings on television and the inclusion of this dark page of Cambodian history in school curricula and textbooks.

For this reason, justice work and remembrance work on past crimes go hand in hand and require political, technical and financial support and long-term efforts, especially when it comes to international crimes that affect the entire international community by their particular gravity. In order to rebuild a society on a sound basis, the commitment and investment of the States concerned and the international community for fair and meaningful justice for victims is necessary in the long term.

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