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Medizinische Flüchtlingshilfe Bochum e.V.

Gerechtigkeit heilt –
Der internationale Kampf gegen Straflosigkeit

Internationaler Kongress vom 14. bis 16. Oktober 2005

Chap Sotharith
Executive Director, Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace

Finding the Truth: Genocide in Cambodia

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
first of all allow me to take this opportunity to thank The Medical Aid for Refugees Inc. (Medizinische Flüchtlingshilfe e.V.) Bochum for inviting me to be honoured in sharing my idea in this important event, the international Congress on “Justice heals: The fight against impunity” here in Bochum.


Cambodia — for more than 30 years, the very name Cambodia has been synonymous with turmoil. Cambodia was a war. Cambodia was a genocide. Cambodia was an invasion, an occupation from foreigners and a costly United Nations peacekeeping mission. Cambodia was a tragedy. Cambodia was a problem.
With a long history of conflict, Cambodia experienced the killing field committed by the Khmer Rouge (or Democratic Kampuchea) during its ruling 17 April 1975 to 7 January 1979.
The Khmer Rouge, as soon as it took power on April 17, 1975, emptied Phnom Penh (of its approximately 2 million residents) as well as other cities and towns, and forced the people to abandon their homes to settle in the countryside without a proper plan.
This forced evacuation was motivated, according to the Khmer Rouge, by three reasons: 1) escape from any possible bombs by the United State, 2) the urgent need to rebuild the country's war-torn economy starting from agriculture and rural development; and 3) the Khmer Rouge peasantry's hostility toward the cities and city dwellers, especially the rich and the Lon Nol’s civil and military officials. According to the Khmer Rouge idea, the evacuation was necessary to “revolutionize” and to “purify” the urban residents and to annihilate Phnom Penh, which “Cambodian peasants regarded as a satellite of foreigners, first French, and then American, and which has been built with their sweat without bringing them anything in exchange.” The only people who were not ordered to leave the city were those who operated essential public services, such as water and electricity.
Unfortunately after the criminal Khmer Rouge was ousted in January 1979, it was still entitled to have a seat representing Cambodian people in the United Nations for another 14 years. Until 1993 the Cambodian seat at the United Nations was taken back by a legitimate new coalition government established by General Election organized by the United Nations.

Why is it called Genocide?

The Pol Pot revolution in Democratic Kampuchea 1975-79 was a misguided utopian development experiment based on dictatorship, forced labour and total autarky, without money, markets or private property. Cambodia was under a closed communist economy. Social and economic relations and infrastructure were destroyed. Foreign trade collapsed. Urban people were chased out and forced to work in rural agricultural areas. Large numbers of people including intellectuals were killed, died by hunger and untreated diseases and many others fled the country. It is estimated that the death toll was between two and three million people. As evidence is concrete by discovering mass graves, description of the survivors including me, Khmer Rouge has been regarded as a criminal against humanity. They killed those who are against them and killed their relatives and children as well. It is really a genocide!

Fining the Truth through an Extraordinary Chamber

In the spirit of achieving justice, truth and national reconciliation, the Cambodian Government and the UN decided that the court should limit prosecutions to the senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea who planned or gave orders, as well as those most responsible for committing serious crimes. It is expected that only a small number of people will fall within this limit and be tried.

A draft law was negotiated between taskforce for Khmer Rouge Trial of the Royal Government and representatives of the United Nations lead by Mr. Hans Corell, and promulgated in August 2001. Details of the tribunal were to be negotiated through a Memorandum of Understanding. However, citing concerns about international standards of justice, the UN pulled out of this process in February in 2002 and promised not to return to it. However, according to the request and invitation from the Government’s Task Force the negotiation continued and agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia Concerning the Prosecution under Cambodian Law of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea was signed on 6 June 2003. Consequently, the Law on the Establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea was amended in October 2004 based on the Agreement.

Implications of the Trial

There are two mixed idea over the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. One idea is that those who committed crime have to be responsible and subject to Law and Justice Procedures. We have to know who the criminals are and they have to be punished. The other idea is that Cambodia now is a peaceful country. We have peace because we have exchange Peace with Pardon and forgiveness to the KR and allowed them to integrate in our society.
Let me elaborate more on this. After the death of Khmer Rouge in 1998, the Government negotiated with the Khmer Rouge for national reconciliation. Tens of thousands of Khmer Rouge fighters defected and integrated into the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. All of them have retained the same ranks as they were in the KR. Many of them later decided to be disarmed in the demobilization programme and live as the civilians. This is also in consistency with the Buddhist advice of “Tolerance” and “Forgiveness”. Therefore, a lot of people frequently ask whether a very expensive trial was what necessary by the Cambodian people when we are facing a huge financial constraint, especially in the process of socio-economic development and poverty eradication. Some of them even are afraid of possible civil war or terrorist activities happened because the KR hardcore followers want to revenge for their leaders being punished.


The Chamber will face many challenges including three main points as described below.

Credibility of the Court: As some countries and observers are still suspicious about the credibility of the Court as Cambodian court system is believed to be corrupt and unreliable. As example, so far the United States has not given any single dollar yet to finance the court and it issues a statement that it would provide financial support only when the Chamber conducts its activities in a professional and independent manner. However, the Government strongly believes that the court will do its best to meet the international standard.

Budget constraints: Today, the court still need another US$10 million to complete the initial budget plan of the Chamber. Without that money, the process of the court will face a big problem. The commitment of rich countries and justice loving countries is very important to ensure the success of the tribunal.

Limited Human resources: This is the new workload for Cambodian side to conduct such international practice of tribunal when its judges and lawyers are still limited with knowledge and experiences to perform their jobs efficiently. The trainings before conducting the Chamber will be of importance.


The government and the people of Cambodia have decided to conduct the trial with cooperation and support from the international community with a principle of national sovereignty and international standard. As a Cambodian, I want to see a fair trial which would be an important component of finding the truth and justice. It would provide peace of mind and closure of the unclear past and dark time, without which there cannot be any justice and national reconciliation, as well as reaffirming people’s trust in the political system and amongst the people.

Though some of Cambodian people don’t like the trial, I consider that the trial is one of the best examples in the world to alert the warning to all barbarous dictators and regimes that justice will prevail on our planet over dictatorship, crime against humanity and freedom.

(Bochum, October 15th 2005)