NGOs and the KR trials

[Sent to the Phnom Penh Post in May 2003.]

Throughout the long effort to negotiate international participation in a Cambodian trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders, several self-described human rights organizations and individuals have made themselves prominent in their opposition to a trial of this type. Now that trials look like going ahead, the same groups are rushing to participate in whatever (funded) bodies can be attached to the trials.

The opposition has not always been well informed. Late last year, for example, more than 16 months after the law for the KR trials had been promulgated, Amnesty International was publicly denouncing the law as “fatally flawed” because it supposedly did not provide for an international prosecutor. AI has not repeated this argument recently, so it appears that someone in the organization has now managed to read as far as Article 16 of the law.

One would have hoped that Amnesty would have speeded up its reading of the law’s remaining 32 articles. Unfortunately, this appears not to have happened. In its final report on the draft agreement between Cambodia and the UN, which it still opposed, Amnesty “welcomed” what it said was a change as a result of the final negotiations: “At the investigation and indictment stages, disagreement between Cambodian and international staff will now lead to the prosecution going ahead … [my italics]”. Amnesty could have saved itself some anguish by reading Article 20 and Article 23 of the law, which deal with such disagreements in the indictment and investigation stages respectively. Both state: “If there is no majority as required for a decision, the prosecution [Article 20]/investigation [Article 23] shall proceed.”

Human Rights Watch has been equally vociferous, if not as careless in mentioning specifics, as Amnesty International. The head of its Asian division, Brad Adams, will be well known to most Post readers for his long-time hostility to Hun Sen and the CPP.

Last September, in an effort to convict Hun Sen of “bad faith” in regard to the KR trials, Adams reproduced in the Post what he claimed was a Thai “official record” of a May 1998 meeting between Hun Sen and the Thai Prime Minister at the time, Chuan Leekpai. The document was clearly not what Adams said it was, even to the casual observer, but it formed the main basis for his argument that the UN should not participate in the trials. (For details, see my letter in the September 27-October 10, 2002, Post.)

Adams told a recent NGO meeting in Washington that he believed that the UN General Assembly should send the agreement with Cambodia back for further negotiations. When pressed, he conceded that this might be the equivalent of calling on the General Assembly to reject the agreement.

But the real prize for blissful ignorance regarding the KR trials has to be awarded to the Coalition for International Justice. The CIJ, despite its name, is not a coalition. It has been mainly concerned with the international trials for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda. I have seen no public statement from it calling for either acceptance or rejection of the UN-Cambodia agreement, but its web site page on the KR trials is a ridiculous compilation of one right-wing distortion or outright fabrication after another. For example:

“For the next fifteen years [after 1979] the issue of justice in Cambodia received little international attention …” That is, the UN General Assembly was preoccupied and didn’t notice that it was voting every year to give Cambodia’s seat to the KR. This is literally all that the page has to say about the UN and the KR in the 1980s.

In 1999, “the Cambodian government [was] now exclusively under the control of Hun Sen after a July 1997 coup.” The 1998 election and the formation of a coalition government that is still governing the country were perhaps a detail that escaped the CIJ’s attention as it focused on the big picture. (To be fair, I should acknowledge that the CIJ elsewhere on the page does mention an election in 1998, although it says it occurred in April, rather than on July 26, which is when most Cambodians think they voted.)

“… some have suggested that all rulings of the future court should require a ‘supermajority’ which would require the concurrence of one international judge with all decisions.” I don’t know how Senator John Kerry and the Clinton administration feel about being described as ‘some,’ but you might think that the CIJ would be aware that this 1999 compromise proposal was accepted by both the UN and Cambodia and included in the Cambodian law. Apparently, it is not so aware.

“Between 1996 and 1998 he [Hun Sen] granted amnesty to Ieng Sary, Kae Pok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.” Kae Pok is dead and therefore cannot speak, but not even Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan claim to have been given an amnesty. Ieng Sary was pardoned (not amnestied) from the death sentence in his 1979 conviction for genocide, and amnestied in regard to the 1994 law outlawing the KR. The UN-Cambodia agreement leaves it up to the trial court to decide whether Ieng Sary’s pardon protects him from being tried for other offenses such as crimes against humanity.

There is much more, but this is enough to make the point. Those who find such things amusing or who think I am making it up should point their browsers to

It will come as a surprise only to the naive that the CIJ is now at the center of efforts to create a self-appointed NGO body to “monitor” the KR trials. It is planning to collaborate with the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, whose main contribution to the approaching trial was to applaud the United Nations’ withdrawal in February 2002. AI and HRW are expected to be part of this body, which is seeking funding from currency gambler George Soros’ Open Society Institute. One hopes that Soros, before he hands over any millions, will ask the recipients to demonstrate that they can find Cambodia on a map of the world – but what the hell, it’s all tax deductible anyway.

Nearly everyone would object if a judge were appointed for a KR trial who had publicly declared a belief in the innocence or guilt of the defendants. But these organizations, which have campaigned for years on the argument that it is impossible for the present Cambodian government to conduct a fair trial, now ask us to believe that they can be relied upon to issue objective scorecards about how well the trials meet “international standards.”

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