International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: Cambodia

Why Anniversaries Could Be Damaging: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge

In the Foreign Policy article by Justine Drennan, she discusses how April 17th, 1975 which commemorates Phnom Penh’s fall to the Khmer Rouge is a date that represents just one point in an ongoing disaster brought about not only by the Khmer Rouge but also France. She goes on to say that in having an anniversary, it can fade the context of the issue since it only focuses on one aspect of the atrocity. In having a strict timeline that has clean dates as to when a tragedy started and ended it can “help conceal the events that led to them”. It is interesting to think about timelines in the context of tribunals and truth commissions. I agree with Drennan’s argument in that timelines do seem to constrict the rhetoric surrounding tragedies however I also find them necessary in order for the mechanisms of international justice to work. It would be rather hard to have a tribunal without time limits. Drennan recognizes that having an anniversary such as April 17th does help victims and the general population to memorialize the experience. But she continues to argue that anniversaries “draw too clear a line between those considered guilty and the rest” which is problematic when considering atrocities including the one in Cambodia which isn’t so black and white when it comes to identifying those who are guilty or not. Anniversaries serve to encapsulate “the suffering in a neat span of time” which ultimately can lead to belittling the roles of different actors in the face of the atrocities committed.

Khmer Rouge Genocide Tribunal

This article interviews Cambodians who live in the Bronx about the Khmer Rough Genocide Tribunal. Wat Jotanarm, a monastery located in the Bronx, is home to a significant population of Cambodian immigrants. Kandaal Pheach, the head monk at the Wat Jotanram temple, along with several hundred followers, is a survivor who fled to America after the Khmer Rouge regime swept through Cambodia in the 1970s. The Khmer Rouge regime dictated Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, and in merely four years killed 2 million people many of whom were considered a part of the intellectual population including police, teachers, and doctors. Pol Pot, the head of Khmer Rouge, envisioned an agrarian utopia and evacuated cities. Pheach was among countless others who were displaced and forced to work the field under scorching sunlight. However, despite his and many other Cambodian New Yorkers’ connection to the tragedy, the community is largely uninterested in the recent Khmer Rouge tribunal cases. Pheach explains, “Cambodian people suffer a lot and a long time.” The genocide has scarred victims so deeply that the community rather not talk about traumatizing memories.

Lack of Cooperation in Cambodian Hybrid Tribunal

Cambodian Hybrid Courtroom

Over the past month international judges have charged three Cambodians with crimes against humanity committed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Although the tribunal is a hybrid court between in United Nations and Cambodia these legitimate charges against former criminals have been highly controversial in Cambodia. The Cambodian government, police and national investigation judge are all opposed to the two cases which are currently open in the tribunal: case 003 and case 004, which involve all three of the past men who have been charged. Despite the fact that is a hybrid tribunal they refuse to work with the United Nations in bringing these men to justice. The national investigator may still challenge the decision of the tribunal, which could further impede of justice for these men also. The latest charge is against a man named Ao An, who is specifically being charged for, “extermination, persecution on political and religious grounds and other inhumane acts”. Although Ao An has been made aware of his charge he is still yet to be arrested and the Cambodian government openly disagrees with the decision and thus far has not aided in his arrest.

The Oscars: An Agent of Social Change?

One of the movies nominated this year for best foreign film was “The Missing Picture,” by a Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh. This is the first time a Cambodian film has been nominated for an Oscar, and though it did not win it has brought media attention to the atrocities still being perpetrated by the Cambodian government and brought hope to the Cambodian opposition. The director’s parents and brother were among the 4 million people killed under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime, and the film tells of the atrocities committed. In this article the author compares Rithy Panh to Anne Frank and says that it was as if “Anne Frank had lived through the Holocaust and been able to tell her own story in a film as writer and director.”

What is interesting about the film is that it draws the public eye back to Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge tribunals begin to come to an end. Cambodia has faced a difficult and slow recovery after the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge regime, and though over the last 20 years countries have donated billions of dollars to reconstruct the Cambodian infrastructure, schools, tourism, industry, and agriculture, 1 out of 3 Cambodians live on less than $1 a day and earlier this year when garment workers peacefully demonstrated for a wage increase the Cambodian police opened fire killing 5 and injuring many more. In instances like this we need to ask who international aid is helping? Often the regime that takes over post-conflict is itself not blameless and one has to question whether the aid is helping the people of the country or instead entrenching a regime that may be bad for the country.

The arts can be a form of restorative justice; in “The Missing Picture” the director is able to not only memorialize his family but also reveal the depth of the atrocities propagated by the Khmer Rouge. A picture is worth a thousand words, and this film has invigorated the Cambodian opposition and increased the international community’s awareness of the problems in the country. During the regime artists were practically stamped out, and Panh at 49 is considered the “godfather of Cambodian film.” Though Cambodia still faces problems, the return of the arts is a promising step forward for the country and the awareness it can bring will hopefully hold the Cambodian government accountable to something. My question though, is have the tribunals in the country had an important role in the country’s progress? The government has hindered the tribunals on every front, and I question whether the traditional “transitional justice” process in Cambodia can take credit for the forward motion the country has made or if the future lies in restorative justice methods like the restoration of the arts.


Sopheap Pich: A Cambodian Artist and Khmer Rouge Regime Survivor

Sopheap Pich, one of Cambodia’s most prominent contemporary artists, just recently ended a show with Tyler Rollins Fine Art Museum in New York.  Born in the 1970’s, Pich spent his childhood during the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979) and witnessed many of the atrocities committed by Pol Pot’s regime.  Today, Sopheap Pich creates complex sculptures from bamboo and rattan, which address some of the most prominent issues he and his country  faced when he was a child. In many of his works, one can see the impact his experience had on his art-making.

I think his works really capture the feeling in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period, the aftermath, and the Cambodia tribunals.  The piece below is an excellent example of Pich’s work:

Sopheap Pich, Seven Parts Relief, 2012

This piece was actually really interesting for me due to its resemblance to the grid displays of the victims of Cambodia.  (There are no photographs used in the work, however.  It is made entirely of bamboo, rattan, burlap, wire, beeswax, damar resin, earth pigment, plastics, charcoal, and oil paint)

It’s difficult to see, but Pich’s sculptures are impressively intricate.   Pich creates these sculptures by combining his materials into a tightly woven grid pattern.

Sopheap Pich, Cycle, 2011

In class, we talked about the tribunals and the extensive participation from the entire community (I think it was said that over 1,000 people applied to be witnesses in Case 002).  Pich’s work illustrates the togetherness of Cambodia during and after this period. There’s also a visible tension within his work as well due to the bending of materials, which could possibly be read as an illustration of the tensions between the government and the people, or even between the victims and the perpetrators during the atrocities. 

I thought it was really amazing that Pich was able to capture the essence of Cambodia  during and after the Khmer Rouge Regime.

If you’re interested, below is a video of Pich creating a sculpture! It’s pretty nifty.

Cambodian Rattan: The Sculpture of Sopheap Pich

Visualizing the Impact of International Tribunals

Take a look at this visually impressive report on the impact of international tribunals, authored by Daniel McLaughlin and published by the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice).

tribunals map

It graphically presents data on the atrocities, tribunals and cases, which gives you a sense of both their relative scope and impact. The author explains that

“despite the tribunals’ grasp on the popular imagination, they are the subject of significant misconceptions and confusion. Much of the media coverage dedicated to their work remains superficial, at best, and largely muddle over key distinctions between various tribunals, past and present.”

The report also provides a comparative cost analysis with other major events, like the Olympics or  US Presidential election. Do the results surprise you?

intl courts costs

How does this data aid in our evaluation of international tribunals? Based on this and assigned readings in class, how should we evaluate the legitimacy and effectiveness of international tribunals?

“The Case for Justice” by ICTJ

This video from the International Center for Transitional Justice makes the “case for justice” by highlighting different examples of countries in transition from violence (e.g. Colombia, Egypt, DRC, Uganda, Cambodia, etc.) and where there are impunity gaps.

  • What arguments does ICTJ make for why justice is necessary?
  • What are the different obstacles to accountability across the cases?
  • How does ICTJ’s conception of “justice” compare to those we discussed in class and in the assigned readings?

Khmer Rouge denies crimes against humanity

This past Wednesday Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea tried for crimes against humanity denies role in the S-21 torture prison. Testifying against Chea, Dutch accused him or ordering the “smashing” of hundreds of Cambodians that were held captive. “I would like to inform the Cambodian people that I have never at any time been responsible for the operation of S-21. Earlier this month Duch told the court that Chea and him have been on bad terms but Chea blames him for failing to destroy evidence at the detention centre.

UMass Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies

The Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at UMass recently opened at the end of March. It is hosting its first traveling exhibit called the Rescuers with Proof: Media for Social Justice.The exhibit highlights stories from genocides that occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Cambodia.With photographs and testimonials from around the world, the Rescuers Project highlights the remarkable stories of ordinary people who, at great risk to themselves, have intervened to protect and save members of targeted groups. Here’s a link to its website if you’re interested: . The exhibit is open until April 12th. The Institute is at 758 North Pleasant Street (ac from Totman Gym). Here is the link to the website .

I think this new Institute could be a really great resource for a lot of our research papers and is a great complement to what we’ve been doing in class if anyone has a chance to check it out!

The ECCC and Duch: “The Khmer Rouge’s Perfect Villain”

Here’s a New York Times op-ed on the significance of the “Duch” trial at the ECCC for Cambodia. It details the nature of his testimony and its importance for victims.

Here are a few questions for us to address here:

1) What else can you find out about victims’ views on his trial and his sentence? Was his change in sentence to life imprisonment fair?

2) How should we measure the successes and failures of the ECCC? Criticisms include a limited prosecutorial strategy (e.g. few indictments), government interference to ensure impunity for senior Khmer Rouge leaders, and limited capacity. These are common concerns for my hybrid courts. But on the other hand, the ECCC has been viewed as a success in terms of victim outreach and building local ownership.

The Cambodia Tribunal Monitor is an excellent resource and so is the ECCC’s site.

War Criminal: Kaing Gek Eav

Yesterday, war criminal Kaing Gek Eav was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, murder, and torture. Eav was commander of Tuol Sleng prison where at least 15,000 men, women and children were tortured and then executed. Eav claimed that he was only a junior official and should have never been tried. He was at first sentenced to 35 years imprisonment but survivors were outrage arguing that the sentenced was too lenient. “The crimes by Kaing Guek Eav were undoubtedly among the worst in recorded human history. They deserve the highest penalty available,” Judge Kong Srim said. Eav appealed to the court once but it was rejected and the new ruling is said to be final and with no chance for another appeal.

Better Now Than Never?

SOURCE: BBC News (2010). “Senior Khmer Rouge leaders to appear in Cambodian court.”

Since 2007 Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan,  senior officials during the Khmer Rouge regime, have been in detention for facilitating the genocide that killed nearly 2 million Cambodians during the late 1970s. Although both Chea and Samphan are quite old, their age is not a deal-breaker for the hybrid, U.N sponsored criminal court. The alleged criminals are expected to petition the court for pre-trial releases, due to the need for extended time to prepare for the trial. BBC expects both appeals to be denied Monday, extending their detentions until mid 2011, the expected time frame for the trials. Formally named, Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the court established in 2006 has only convicted one individual for crimes against humanity. The international community is concerned about the health of the former leaders, hesitant to lose the opportunity for justice, a legacy from Augusto Pinochet (Chile) who died before sentencing in 2006.