Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Friday, May 26, 2006

After the killing fields, a time for retribution

The New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur
After the killing fields, a time for retribution
19 May 2006

After 27 years, Cambodians will get a taste of justice when the Khmer Rouge Tribunal tries suspects charged with committing crimes against humanity, reports VERGHESE MATHEWS.

MORE people in Cambodia have heard about Dame Silvia Cartwright in the last fortnight than at any time before, arguably, more than even when she was appointed the Governor-General of New Zealand in 2001, a position she will hold until August.

Unexpectedly, quietly and slowly, Cartwright is coming into the lives of the Cambodian people, the kingdom's robust media and its fractious politics, with her appointment as one of the international judges for the forthcoming Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Snippets in the media and the chat lines speak highly of her distinguished career as a lawyer and jurist, in fact the first woman to be appointed to that high post in New Zealand. Mention is also made of her prominent role in the fight to eliminate discrimination against women a celebrated cause in Cambodia.

There are 12 other judges and prosecutors from Asia, Europe and North America, all nominated by the United Nations, about whom also little is known in Cambodia.

There is, therefore, increasing curiosity and a resultant awareness about the international judges for the first ever trial of this nature in Asia. However, in sharp contrast, rather harsh words have been reserved for at least one of the 17 Cambodian judges and prosecutors chosen by the country's highest judicial body, the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, headed by King Norodom Sihamoni. This reaction is neither unexpected nor surprising.

Still, it is a remarkable achievement that the proposed tribunal has finally reached this far since its genesis in 1997 when the then co-prime ministers, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Samdech Hun Sen, wrote to the UN Secretary- General for assistance in establishing a trial to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes committed during the ultra- Maoist Pol Pot regime.

What is probably long forgotten is that the prime reason for seeking UN assistance was not merely because the crimes had an international dimension or relevance but more because of the explicit admission that the Cambodian judiciary had neither the expertise nor the resources to conduct such a complex trial.

Under the Khmer Rouge, most of the judiciary either died or were killed, along with an estimated 1.7 million other Cambodians. The more fortunate escaped the clutches of the regime and resettled in third countries. The net result was that when the Khmer Rouge was finally ousted from Phnom Penh in 1979 by invading Vietnamese forces, the newly installed Cambodian Government had to build the judiciary from scratch. That was necessarily a painfully slow process for a cash- strapped and inadequately- trained Government that was simultaneously working at building an education service, a health service, an administrative service all also from scratch.

Trusted community elders and senior party officials were chosen by the new Government's politburo to carry out primary judicial functions though, undoubtedly in the earlier years, the main objective of the emerging judiciary was to ensure the social stability of the fledgling regime.

This then was how the present Cambodian judiciary began some 27 years ago. In the interim, students were sent overseas for training, particularly to Vietnam, and gradually an adequately trained coterie has taken its place in the judiciary though there are still some from the earlier intakes awaiting retirement.

Detractors point out that the judiciary is not among the more respected institutions in the country. This unfortunately is so. However, there are those who counter that it is still grossly unfair to paint the whole institution with one broad brush because of a few. Where the tribunal is concerned, given its structure and transparency, the Cambodian judges will invariably come under greater scrutiny and will be benchmarked against the best among international judges. The hope is that the total experience will contribute to and accelerate the maturity of the Cambodian judiciary.

The tribunal comes with a long name Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea. It is popularly known by the shorter name, Extraordinary Chambers or EC.

The EC will have the power to try suspects charged with committing crimes under both Cambodian and international laws, i.e. genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in addition to murder, torture and religious persecution.

The EC will have two chambers, the first being the trial court made up of three Cambodian and two international judges. For a decision to be reached, the principle of a "super majority" will apply, i.e. four of the five judges must support the decision. This means that every decision must have both Cambodian and international support.

The other chamber, the Supreme Court, an appeals chamber, will comprise four Cambodian and three international judges and will require five judges to uphold an appeal decision.

If a super majority decision cannot be arrived at, at either of the courts, the accused is released as his guilt would not have been established. If the accused is found guilty, the maximum sentence will be life imprisonment. The accused will escape the gallows as Cambodia has abolished the death penalty. Likewise, in a country where pardons and amnesties are not uncommon, the Government has indicated that neither will be granted to persons found guilty.

The courts will only try crimes committed between April 17, 1975 and Jan 6, 1979, all of three years, eight months and 20 days. Only those "most responsible for serious crimes" will be tried a number envisaged to be fewer than 10. The actual trial is expected to begin early next year though prosecuting judges are expected to start work from the middle of this year.

The Cambodian people have now waited for almost a generation for the trials. While there will be different expectations, there must surely be some unspoken pride that the trial is conducted in Cambodia where the crimes took place, under Cambodian and international laws and with Cambodian and international judges such as Dame Silvia Cartwright.

The writer was the former Singapore Ambassador to Cambodia. He is presently Non-Resident Ambassador to Bangladesh and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He may be contacted at math...@iseas.edu.sg

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Refugee Lesson on Border Control

By Kok Sap

Present Khmer border problems brought back my refugee day memory. During those days, I had learnt that Thai unlike the counterpart Khmer royal family as they had always been in spirit to aid national rural development program especially to those who were willing to make homestead along border with either side of present Thai territory. Seldom Thai royalty does not individually hand out packs of bottle of Yuan nuoc mam or a bag of donated rice or Yuan imported instant noodles to subjects for TV cameras appetizing. Obviously, the royalty is moral and religious devoted as not disingenuous and pretentious as other words.

Other hand Thai government and societal culture was not so immune of corruption or exploitation either. However, remarkably they were so unreadily to sell their national interest for a few ounces of gold from rich refugees. They were much obliged to national policy while making tons from UNHCR already. Nevertheless, one can notice on adjacent border to Cambodia, Thai have been supportive and keen of using ethnic Khmers as opposed to kin refugees for its strategic security. Apparently, most ethnic Khmers were either brainwashed or reluctant to admit their origin and refused to help refugees. That was smart of Thai policy manipulation to prevent unwanted infiltration and grafting.

The same scenario as Cambodia became permanent home for millions of Yuan refugee. Unlike Thai, Cambodian government had not only allowed illegal foreigners to settle anywhere without control but recently signed the illegal treaties in October 2005 to give in to Yuan further advantages. Khmer royalty set stage and choreographic gestures in handing out days of groceries or clothing to poor citizens instead of secured subsidizing livelihood and poor homes along borders. That is the same for government functionaries who are voluntary hostages of illegal settlers. In lieu of enforcing national security priority, impoverish functionaries are yearned to scandalous and whimsy national laissez- faire security and yet the central government is no less excusable as well.

Nonetheless, Khmer royalty had never even stepped close to the dispute area to see for self-awareness but hide out behind concrete walls in capital city. This may seem a marginal gesture to them but it is the worldly meaning to subjects. This is where the difference why Thai royalty continues to garnish support even from people whom it has suppressed rules on for hundreds of year. This is the real down side that rural Khmer people are lack of resource, economic fluidity and worst no confidence in their royalty. The royalty is preoccupied with self-image and propelled pawning to powerful manipulators. Clearly the very national symbol is at the whims of governmental officials who are readily and complacent in greed and self-agendas.

Thereby, with a few dollar bribery, the settlers are left to roam and sack Cambodia natural and almost untouched resources for own prosperity in uncontrollable illegal activities such as logging, fishing, smuggling, prostitution, gambling, and grafting. The mid level official peddlers are in careless attitude why bother if the king is so content with people rages and outcries already. Most tycoons or wealthy class in Cambodia are not necessary Khmer descendents by birth or domicile. However, they wield unsurpassed power over poor Khmers even at the scoff of own government. This is where the scale tipping as the national security is very vulnerable under the affluent nouveau and exploitative riches. We all can see this is the root cause, not necessary done by the outsiders but the malevolence of selfish insiders from sala khum up to the royal palace.

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In Response to Your Washington Times Article of Dr. David Roberts

September 20, 2002

Dear Sir:

I am writing this letter in response to your Washington Times article of Dr. David Roberts (Lecturer from the School of History and International Affairs, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland) dated 09/13/02, who accused the Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy as undemocratic and authoritarian. In addition, he implied that Mr. Sam Rainsy was a racist, when he used the word "Youn" to refer to the Vietnamese.

First, the Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy is a true patriot and democrat. He is well deserving of the award that was given to him by Senator John McCain.

Dr. Roberts may be an expert in his field but he is no expert in Khmer language. In the Khmer dictionary, it says "Youn" means Vietnamese and is possibly related to the Sanskrit word "Yavana" that means savage. However, this possibility of a link between the words "Youn" and "Yavana" is just pure speculation and has no basis for it.

Anyhow, my own research indicates that the word "Youn" came from the word "Yueh". The Mandarin Chinese calls Vietnam, Yueh Nam. The word "Nam" means south in Chinese. "Yueh" indicates the name of the people of that region. Therefore, "Yueh" means Viet or Vietnamese in Chinese and "Yueh Nam" means the "Yueh" people of the south. In this case, south means south of China. The North pronounces it Yeknam (with a "Y" sound).

Chou Ta-Kuan (Zhou Daguan), the celebrated Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia in the 13th century, indicated in his report that there was already a large population of Chinese settling in Cambodia at that time. He said that the Chinese preferred life in the Khmer Empire because it was easier than in China. There were a lot of Chinese men marrying the native Cambodian women. I don't know when Khmer started to call the Vietnamese "Youn", but the habit may have been picked up from the Chinese settlers who lived in Cambodia at the time. The word "Youn" may have derived from the Chinese word "Yueh" to indicate the Vietnamese. If one starts to think about it, "Viet" (as pronounced by the North Vietnamese) or "Yeak" (as pronounced by the South Vietnamese) sounds very similar to "Yueh"; and "Yueh", meaning Vietnamese, in turn sounds very similar to "Youn". George Coedes, the French expert on the Southeast Asian classical study, found an earlier evidence of the word "Yuon" inscribed in Khmer on a stele dating to the time of the Khmer King Suryavarman I (1002-1050.)

Why do the so-called Western scholars and journalists keep on perpetrating this kind of misinformation about the word "Yuon"? "Youn" does not mean savage as Dr. Roberts had mistakenly indicated in his writing. Savage in Cambodian means "Pourk Prey" or "Phnong". Cambodians calls Vietnamese "Youn" the same way they call Indian "Khleung", Burmese "Phoumea", Chinese "Chen", and French "Barang".

When the Vietnamese calls Cambodian "Mien" why did the Western press and scholars not report it to be a derogatory word also? If I were to follow the logical thinking of the Western press and scholars, then "Mien" must be a derogatory word also. In the late 17th century, the Vietnamese court of Hue had indiscriminately changed the names of the Cambodian princesses Ang Mei, Ang Pen, Ang Peou, and Ang Snguon to the Vietnamese sounding names of Ngoc-van, Ngoc-bien, Ngoc-tu, and Ngoc-nguyen, respectively. Also they changed the name of Phnom Penh to Nam Vang. Why do scholars and press stay silent on these subjects.

It is very dangerous for foreigners, like Dr. Roberts, to interpret the meaning of certain native words when they do not fully understand the languages and customs of those natives. It is people like Dr. Roberts who helps perpetrate the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the word "Youn" to mean savage. aggravate the mistrust and hate between Cambodian and Vietnamese.

Cambodians have been using the word "Youn" to refer to the Vietnameses before the word Vietnamese had even existed. Because of the ignorance of some scholars and journalists about the meaning of this word, are we therefore supposed to abandon using this word that we have done from time immemorial?

If Dr. Roberts insists on saying that the word "Youn" means savage, then I would ask him to prove to Cambodians how it is so. How does he know that this word means savage? What did he base his knowledge from? If he is a true scholar, then he must not base his understanding on hearsay. Otherwise, his credibility is at risk.


Kenneth T. So

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