Cambodia gets its silly season

[First published by the Khmer Times web site (www.khmertimeskh.com) on 24 March 2014.]

In Australia, newspapers call the weeks around Christmas and international New Year the “silly season”: because people are preoccupied with holidays, it seems that there is little or no serious news. It’s the time of year for reports of flying saucers or pie-eating contests.

It appears that Cambodia is developing its own silly season in the lead-up to Khmer New Year. That is the simplest explanation for stories that appeared in the Cambodia Daily and Phnom Penh Post last Friday. They reported that a number of mostly anonymous “human rights organisations” and individuals had lodged complaints with the International Criminal Court accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of genocide and various other crimes.

Morton Sklar, a US lawyer for the complainants, was quoted as saying: “The genocide claims are based on Hun Sen’s efforts to interfere with the operations of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and to stop investigations and prosecutions of Khmer Rouge atrocities in their tracks, so as to shield members of the Hun Sen government from criminal charges.”

Mr. Sklar and his clients obviously suffer from short memories. Far from interfering with the investigation and prosecution of Khmer Rouge crimes, Hun Sen has probably done more than any other individual in the world to bring justice for them.

It was then co-prime ministers Hun Sen and Norodom Ranariddh who in 1997 wrote to the United Nations asking for international assistance in bringing the KR leaders to trial.

In early 2002, when the UN Office of Legal Affairs abruptly withdrew from the negotiations to establish the KR tribunal, Hun Sen’s government went on a 10-month diplomatic offensive to win a General Assembly resolution telling the OLA to resume the negotiations and participate in setting up the tribunal.

Although it was originally envisioned that the tribunal would last only three years, it has now been going for more than a decade, and the Cambodian government’s expenditures for the court are many times the original projection. The Cambodian government is the third largest donor to the court; if funding is compared to government revenue or the country’s GDP, Cambodia is by far the largest donor.

The effort to bring the KR leaders to trial did not begin in 1997. On 17 September 1986, Hun Sen wrote to the UN Secretary General, calling for an international trial of the KR. The call was ignored by the UN, which at the time, thanks mainly to US and other Western government influence, still allowed the KR to occupy Cambodia’s UN seat. Ronald Reagan is dead, so it’s too late to try him for protecting the KR genocidists, but his vice president and successor, George H.W. Bush is still around, so perhaps Mr. Sklar’s clients would like to amend their ICC complaint to include him. (That isn’t really possible, of course, because the United States has exempted itself from the ICC’s jurisdiction.)

And in August 1979, the seven-month-old government of which Hun Sen was part actually conducted a public trial of the two top leaders of the KR, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary. The trial was conducted in absentia because the two defendants were secure in camps along the Thai border, where Western and Chinese military supplies protected them and allowed them to carry out murderous raids into many parts of Cambodia.

Furthermore, if we shift the focus from the prosecution of KR atrocities to how those atrocities were stopped, Hun Sen’s record again looks pretty good. He was among the very small number of Cambodians who risked their lives by coming together to organise a rebellion against the KR. After they succeeded with Vietnam’s assistance in driving the KR from power, they took on the monumentally difficult task of both rebuilding and defending the country from the ongoing well-armed assaults of the KR.

After the 1991-92 period, when UNTAC’s intervention resulted in a considerable widening of the KR’s military operations in much of rural Cambodia, Hun Sen was instrumental in developing policies that led to the military and political fragmentation of the KR, and the end of its existence as an organised threat.

Now, some people, mostly in the United States, who don’t like some possible decisions that the KR tribunal may or may not make, have decided that Hun Sen is shielding the Khmer Rouge. “Silly” doesn’t seem nearly a strong enough term.

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