16 December 2005
ANALYSIS / CAMBODIA
_ KHMER ROUGE TRIAL
Lack of funds must not block path of justice
How the Cambodian government and Asean can help break the logjam over
the Khmer Rouge Tribunal
By YOUK CHHANG
Phnom Penh _ The
United Nations will begin to set up its office in Phnom Penh in
February 2006, in preparation for the three-year tribunal of the
senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime formally known as Democratic
Kampuchea. A judicial institution (the Extraordinary Chambers, or EC)
will soon be formed to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by
members of the ousted regime.
The Cambodian people
have waited over 25 years to see justice done: under the Khmer Rouge,
our country lost between a quarter and a third of its population _ the
largest death toll, in percentage terms, of all the genocides in
Since 1979, not a
single credible trial of the regime's leaders has been held.
Some of the Khmer
Rouge leaders have died. Brother Number One, Pol Pot, died in the
jungle in 1998, and Central Committee member Ke Pauk died in his sleep
Only two former
cadres are languishing in jail.
One is Duch (age
59), the former head of the notorious Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21), where
an estimated 14,000 enemies of the state died and only about 12
The other is
Southwest Zone commander and Central Committee member Ta Mok (age 78),
who was jailed when he refused to join Prime Minister Hun Sen's
government in the early 1990s.
Both Duch and Ta Mok
have now been charged with war crimes, genocide and crimes against
humanity committed during the rule of Democratic Kampuchea. The
regime's remaining leaders (such as Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge
foreign minister) have enjoyed lives of relative ease, but are ageing
rapidly. Most are now in their 70's.
Many now wonder
whether the Cambodian people must continue to wait to see justice done
because the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) cannot or will not meet
its financial obligations for the tribunal.
If it does not, will
the UN try to make up the shortfall or will it withdraw from the
process? It is too early to know the answer, but before the deal is
done, a number of solutions can be explored.
In 2003, the RGC and
the UN agreed to share legal and financial responsibility for the EC
trials. The international community has raised enough money to cover
the UN's share for at least the first year of the tribunal. Australia,
Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, France,
Germany, India, Japan, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Republic of
Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have made contributions.
The RCG agreed to
provide $13 million in cash and services as its contribution.
The government never
indicated that money was a problem until last summer, when its
representatives said the RGC could afford to contribute only $1.5
million, and that it was seeking donors' help in funding its portion
of the costs. The response of the international community has not been
heartening: the only country that has helped so far is India, which
donated $1 million in October 2005.
On Dec 9, the UN
appealed to donors around the world and Japan in particular, to help
the government cover its $10.5 million shortfall. And the government
has also stated that it will accept donations from wealthy individuals
and from the private sector, both in the country and abroad.
lead to more questions than they answer. How will the money be raised?
Will the process be transparent? Should the government itself pay more
than $1.5 million? And should the RGC officially approach its
neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for funds?
Steps the Royal
Government of Cambodia Can Take:
To date, the
government has spurned Japan's offer to help cover its share of the
budget. Although no official reason has been given for its refusal,
perhaps the government is afraid that Japan will try to unduly
influence, or even monopolise, the EC process.
This would be
difficult, given the oversight by the international community as
represented by the UN. Japan is willing to help and the government
should accept its offer so Cambodia can move on and see the
Extraordinary Chambers begin their work.
If the government
truly wants Cambodians to donate funds, making appeals through the
press is not enough. It should instead make a sincere and formal
request and disseminate it widely, both within the country and abroad.
Many impoverished victims of the Khmer Rouge want to make small
donations, but few have access to newspapers and would not know how
they might contribute. Allowing them to support the tribunal gives
them a stake in their justice system.
But in accepting
contributions, the government also takes on an obligation to ensure a
transparent process. People must know where their money is going and
what it will fund. The government should be prepared to have the
fund's use audited and to publish the audit report.
This will help the
government, too, because if people have their goodwill reciprocated,
they will also have confidence in their elected officials.
should make another good-faith effort to locate funding from its own
budgetary resources for the tribunal.
The RCG has a
contractual obligation with the UN to ante up its share of funding for
the EC trials; if it does not, it will violate its contract with the
UN. This would give the UN the right to stop providing further
After nearly 10
years at the negotiating table, the government cannot claim that it
did not know what its share would be. $13 million is a considerable
sum for a poor country, but not insurmountable in light of its annual
budget and the intangible returns it could realise.
Coordinator Michelle Lee said in a news conference in Phnom Penh on
Dec 13, that the UN is looking into whether the approximately $6.9
million left in a trust fund for the Cambodian elections in the early
1990s could be used to help cover the shortfall.
however, that the countries that gave the money _ Japan, Denmark and
Australia, for example _ would have to agree to use this, and there
are no guarantees that they would do so.
from its own resources would have a number of benefits for the
It would help dispel
the nagging impression that the RGC is trying to stall the tribunal,
and it would give Cambodia real ownership in the tribunal in the eyes
of people around the world.
funding would also demonstrate the RGC's true commitment to justice,
which might encourage more countries to help Cambodia.
Many nations have
expressed concern that their contributions might be wasted because
Cambodia's judicial system is seriously flawed. To alleviate such
concerns, donors might consider contributing on a year-by-year basis.
They need not contribute the full amount up front and could merely
agree to release future instalments, provided the proceedings prove to
be fair and transparent.
A Role for Asean
governments still view human rights as largely a Western issue. Over
the past few decades, however, many Asians have demonstrated their
belief that these rights are universal and that due process and the
rule of law are critical elements of modern societies.
As Asian countries _
and those from Asean in particular _ play an increasingly important
role in global politics, their conduct should reflect the changes that
have been taking place in Asia.
As yet no Asean
member state has made a financial contribution to the Extraordinary
Chambers. But there are other ways to support Cambodia's quest for
justice. They include:
assistance. Countries like Singapore, for example, have highly trained
technicians who could help identify and exhume the over 19,000 mass
graves that are spread throughout Cambodia. Compared to bringing in
Western experts, Singapore could provide efficient and cost-effective
expertise to the EC that would yield critical forensic evidence.
states could send Cambodia relevant official documents, photographs
and other materials related to Democratic Kampuchea, which might serve
as evidence during the proceedings and could help Cambodians to better
understand their history.
present, Cambodia has only 12 trained psychiatrists, while about a
third of the survivors of Democratic Kampuchea _ some two million
people _ still suffer from what is called post-traumatic stress
disorder or PTSD. The Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation has
found that simple treatments, such as breathing exercises or sleeping
medication, can go a long way toward helping those who are
experiencing anger, insomnia and other debilitating symptoms of PTSD.
Because they have an innate understanding of the Asian psyche,
counselors from Asean could be of invaluable assistance to the
Hardware. At least
some portion of Cambodia's contribution to the tribunal can be in
kind. Donations of computers for administrative staff or for
university history and political science classes would be very
Travel can be a time-consuming and expensive undertaking for most
Cambodians. For those who would want to travel to Phnom Penh to attend
part of the proceedings, the costs can be prohibitive. Thus, the
donation of large vans or small buses would meet a significant need.
Documentation Centre of Cambodia works with some 200 Cambodian student
volunteers who will go door to door to distribute information and help
people learn what to expect from the trials. This will help citizens
to gain a clearer understanding of the trials and assist in building a
future core of citizens who are involved in their communities. The
Cambodian students would benefit from their association with students
from throughout Asean, who will help broaden their knowledge of
regional history and politics, and learn different approaches to
Radios. While this
does not seem like a very important donation, it is critical. In a
country where many people earn no more than a dollar a day, few have
access to newspapers or television. Radio is the main medium
Cambodians use for learning. Thus, donations of new or used radios
would be invaluable in helping them stay abreast of developments in
Youk Chhang is
Director, Documentation Centre of Cambodia.