The Ambassador for Selected War Crimes

The official title of Stephen Rapp is US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes. A more accurate title would be US Ambassador for Some Other Countries’ War Crimes. The US government has always been willing to overlook war crimes by its friends, and it certainly doesn’t want anyone looking at its own crimes.

This should be kept in mind regarding Rapp’s recent visit to Cambodia and his comments on the conduct of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Predictably, Rapp chimed in with the critics and commentators who regard the ECCC as an international court with a bit of Cambodian decoration and some low-level Cambodian employees (to save money). The current complaint is that the Cambodian government has not arrested prospective defendants in cases 003 and 004 as requested by the now departing international co-investigating judge, Mark Harmon.

Rapp and the other critics ignore the fact that no Cambodian judge has endorsed the arrests, or any aspect of Harmon’s investigations – who do these Cambodians think they are, trying to tell UN “experts” what should happen in their country?

The critics also pretend to be unaware of the judicial history of cases 003 and 004. As is well known but not mentioned in diplomatic circles, both co-investigating judges, Siegfried Blunk and You Bunleng, after many months of looking into the two cases, decided that case 003 did not come within the court’s mandate and formally concluded the investigation. Case 003 involved potential defendants who held higher ranks in Democratic Kampuchea than the potential defendants in 004. It could be surmised therefore that a similar decision would have been reached in that case.

But we will never know for sure, because the Open Society Justice Initiative, Human Rights Watch, the Wall Street Journal and others illegitimately obtained advance knowledge of the case 003 decision and launched a ferocious public campaign denouncing the investigation and Judge Blunk in particular. After several months of this abuse, before all the necessary case procedures had been completed, Blunk resigned.

This allowed for the appointment of subsequent international co-investigating judges, who could start the investigations all over again and who would have been well aware of what happens to international judges who don’t make the decisions expected by the international critics. (Blunk’s first replacement, Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, had already indicated his qualifications by posting his opinions about cases 003 and 004 on his Twitter page.) Did someone mention the phrase “political pressure”?

But there is more. The Ambassador for Some Other Countries’ War Crimes was quoted by Voice of America as saying he “urged the government” to make the arrests requested by Harmon. “We think that this is an important thing, not only for the history of Cambodia, so people will know what happened in their own country, but also to help establish rules and precedent for the future of Cambodian legal processes …”, Rapp told VOA.

It may be a surprise to Stephen Rapp, but most Cambodians already know very well what happened in their country. If they are too young to have experienced it themselves, they have been told by older relatives or have heard the evidence presented at the two completed ECCC trials or the one currently in process. Almost half a million Cambodians have already visited the court, in addition to the millions who have heard radio or television broadcasts of the proceedings.

But it is a fact that an unfortunate precedent has been established. This is not in a failure to go after people further down in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy after the top leaders have been convicted. It is in the failure to try other political leaders for crimes comparable to those of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

For example, Richard Nixon is dead but Henry Kissinger is still alive. Why is he not on trial for the genocidal bombing of Cambodia, which also contributed greatly to the Khmer Rouge coming to power? What about the politicians from the US and its allies who continued supporting the KR politically, financially and militarily throughout the 1980s? Why are these war criminals not being tried by the ECCC?

The answer is that the government which employs Stephen Rapp insisted that United Nations cooperation in the ECCC be conditional on trials being limited to Cambodian defendants. Furthermore, the court’s mandate had to be limited in time to the period of KR rule, so that outside assistance to the Lon Nol regime before 17 April 1975 or to the KR after 7 January 1979 would not be accidentally mentioned in court. These are matters about which the US government would like Cambodians not to be aware.

If the US government really wants additional trials in the ECCC, perhaps it should lobby the UN to expand the court’s mandate beyond its current limits.