Cambodian authorities must drop politically-motivated charges against four women involved in peaceful protests about the situation at Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh, where almost 20,000 people have been forcibly evicted since 2008, Amnesty International said today.
Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom, Kong Chantha and community leader Tep Vanny -- were charged with “obstructing public officials” and “insult” – crimes that carry hefty fines and prison sentences of up to one year.
Police and security officials used excessive force to break up Monday’s protest involving about 50 women outside a government building in the Cambodian capital. At least six demonstrators were injured and two reportedly attempted suicide.
Women have been at the forefront of a campaign to halt the eviction of families to make way for development around the Boeung Kak Lake area in heart of Phnom Penh. Peaceful protests take place regularly.
“Cambodian authorities must stop targeting activists who are peacefully defending their communities’ rights,” said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme.
“The politically-motivated charges against Tep Vanny and the other women, used in an attempt to silence legitimate protest, must be dropped. Authorities must immediately halt the use of excessive force against peaceful protestors.”
The four women spent Monday night in police detention in Phnom Penh and were denied full access to lawyers and medical care. Today they were charged and released under court supervision.
“The authorities’ decision to charge the four women reflects a worrying trend in Cambodia, where the space for legitimate public debate is narrowing,” said Sam Zarifi.
“Those seeking to peacefully claim their rights and voice their concerns are finding it increasingly harder to do so. Such a trend has worrying implications for the peaceful development of the country,” said Sam Zarifi.
In 2007, the Cambodian government granted the Boeung Kak Lake area, through a land concession, to a private development company, Shukaku. Many of the 4,000 families that lived around the lake have been forcibly evicted.
Authorities announced in August that the 779 families that remained near the late would be allotted 12.44 hectares for development.
However, a number of families were excluded from this arrangement, and the homes of eight families were destroyed in September 2011. Meanwhile, the process of granting land in the onsite development area has stalled.
PHNOM PENH(Xinhua) – Cambodia's Vice-Chair of National AIDS Authority Tia Phalla said Tuesday that it's estimated that some 2,500 HIV/AIDS patients died this year and the deaths would decline to about 2,300 in 2012.
"Cambodia has seen success in fighting HIV/AIDS -- the prevalence rate among adults aged 15 to 49 has dropped to 0.8 percent in 2010 from 2.5 percent in 1998," he said on Tuesday at a press meeting and photo exhibition to commemorate the World AIDS Day. "However, the deaths, new infections and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS still persist in this country. " He said that the number of new infections exceeds 1,000 a year.
In Cambodia, the first HIV infection was detected and diagnosed in 1991 and the first AIDS case was found in 1993.
Tia Phalla said that it is difficult to verify the number of Cambodian people who have died from the disease since then as some AIDS infected people had been killed by opportunity diseases such as hepatitis or tuberculosis.
Meanwhile, he said that the country has seen good results in promoting the use of condoms.
According to a recent annual research survey, he said, condom use of male clients of the entertainment industry and with sweethearts has been steadily increasing.
The survey showed that the condom use among commercial partners increased from 85 percent in 2008 to 96 percent in 2011 thanks to sustained investment and targeted outreach to this important target group.
On the other hand, condom use among sweethearts has increased from 58 percent in 2008 to 60 percent this year, he said.
Currently, the country has an estimated 67,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. Some 6,000 of them are children, according to the National AIDS Authority.
The country needs about 58 million U.S. dollars a year to fight against HIV/AIDS, said Tia Phalla, adding that the current challenge for the country is fund shortage due to the recent announcement of the cancellation of the next round of funding from the Global Fund to Cambodia.
“My house, possessions, clothes, all went up in smoke. Nothing was left”
Cambodian women are increasingly at the forefront of the battle against a wave of forced evictions sweeping the country, Amnesty International said today in a new report that urges the government to halt the practice.
Eviction and resistance in Cambodia: Five women tell their stories details through first-hand testimony the stories of Hong, Mai, Sophal, Heap and Vanny, women who have faced or continue to resist forced eviction from their homes and land. The stories illustrate the extent of the problem and show the trials faced at every stage of the brutal process. Some women have been able to resist eviction, others are virtually just clinging on, still more are left destitute.
Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director, said:
“In Cambodia, women are at the forefront of the fight against forced evictions. Many have taken the lead in their communities’ struggle for justice, putting themselves at risk to defend their communities.
“The Cambodian authorities must bring about an end to the practice of forced evictions, which contravene international human rights treaties and tear families apart.
“They must ensure that genuine consultations are held with the people affected, and that residents receive sufficient notice and compensation or adequate housing where there is no alternative to eviction. The government should listen to the women who are trying to protect their homes and families.”
Mai, 48, a mother from the province of Oddar Meanchey, in north-west Cambodia, was pregnant in 2009 when she watched her home go up in flames. “My house, possessions, clothes, all went up in smoke. Nothing was left,” she said.
Her house and 118 others in her village, Bos, were bulldozed and burned to the ground by 150 police, military, and others believed to be workers employed by a company that was granted a concession over a large swathe of land, including Bos village, for a sugar plantation.
In October 2009, Mai was imprisoned for eight months for violating forestry laws when she travelled to the capital Phnom Penh to complain to the prime minister about the eviction. She was released in June 2010, but only after signing an agreement to relinquish the rights to her land. She now has little to provide for herself and her eight children.
Donna Guest, said:
“Women not only face impoverishment from forced eviction but threats and imprisonment when they try to resist, with no protection from the law.”
In the Boeung Kak Lake area of central Phnom Penh, nearly 20,000 people have either been evicted from their homes, or are at risk of losing them since a commercial development company was granted a 99-year lease in the area in 2007.
Thirty-one year old Vanny helps lead community resistance to the Boeung Kak Lake eviction.
On 11 August 2011, the community achieved a partial victory when the prime minister ordered a portion of land to be handed over to the remaining 800 families for onsite housing in plots with legal ownership.
Vanny said: “A lot of people think that this is the first success of people’s demonstration… it’s a great example for other communities all over the country.”
Yet Vanny still feels insecure. “When I leave my house, I don't know whether I can expect to come home or not.”
Vanny has good reason to be concerned, as she now faces a defamation charge brought by the Municipality of Phnom Penh. In addition, eight more homes on the edge of Boeung Kak Lake were destroyed by bulldozers on 16 September and the families left homeless.
Rapid economic development within a newly privatised land market has seen an increase in forced eviction across Cambodia.
Forced eviction often leads to loss of possessions and livelihood, the breakup of communities, and a deterioration of a family’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Access to education and health services can be disrupted. Many victims of forced eviction receive inadequate compensation and are resettled in remote areas. Husbands may need to spend long periods of time away from home seeking work, leaving their wives to cope alone.
Donna Guest, said:
“Tens of thousands of people across Cambodia are unlawfully losing their homes because of the demands of big business.
“The Cambodian government must not sacrifice human rights in the name of economic development.
“The loss of one’s home and community is a traumatic experience for anyone, but women in their role as primary caregivers for their family face a particular burden. Forced evictions also threaten the gains made in reducing poverty in Cambodia over the last 20 years.”
A mother of eight, Hoy Mai was five months pregnant when she was forcefully evicted from her house in northwest Cambodia in 2009, according to Amnesty International. Her village – once home to more than 150 families, some of whom are now homeless – is now a guarded sugar cane plantation surrounded by empty fields, the group says.
Ms. Mai is one of the five “human faces” featured in Amnesty’s latest report on forced evictions in Cambodia – an issue that has long captured the attention of activists and multilateral organizations, from local Cambodian groups to the World Bank. But Amnesty hopes the new report will humanize the statistics, especially by profiling the role of women in the struggle against evacuations.
“Women increasingly are at the forefront, and are leading civil action against this,” said Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director. She added that women are typically the caretakers of the family and often stay at home, so the burden falls on them to protect their families from eviction.
Forced evictions have become commonplace in Cambodia, activists say, as investors look for more land for development, especially for natural resources. Amnesty contends that even though there are laws on the books in Cambodia to prevent forced evictions, those laws are often selectively applied or ignored. By Amnesty’s count, an estimated 10% of Phnom Penh’s population was evicted between 1990 to 2011.
Cambodian officials dispute activists’ accounts of the problem, and say many of the residents who are moved are given compensation.
“The report should not use the words ‘forced eviction,’ because it is just relocation for development,” said Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.
“People always complain about the compensation and relocation, but they have to know that they live on state land illegally,” he said, though people who live on land legally are compensated by the government according to market prices. He said that when there are cases of people who have lived on their land illegally, but for a long time, the government will provide some compensation as a “humanitarian policy.”
Land ownership is often hard to prove in Cambodia, ever since the Maoist Khmer Rouge regime that controlled the country for several years in the 1970s abolished Cambodia’s land titling system and outlawed ownership of private property.
The Amnesty report is different from some previous studies of the issue in that it goes into deep detail about five women from cities and indigenous forest communities in Cambodia who said they had been forcibly evicted, or threatened of eviction.
“The court has no justice for poor citizens,” said Tep Vanny, a 31 year-old resident of Phnom Penh, in a video prepared by Amnesty. “[Poor] people don’t have any money to give them to deal with our problems.”
Ms. Vanny was one of the leading figures in a high-profile struggle against the developers of a project involving the Boeung Kak Lake in central Phnom Penh. After a private development company was granted a 99-year lease over the site – aimed at building a luxury residential and leisure complex – residents complained to City Hall, attracting international attention and prompting the World Bank to suspend loans to Cambodia. In August, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen granted 12.44 ha of land around the lake to the displaced residents, in what activists have described as a rare victory against forced evacuations.
Amnesty acknowledges the government’s move at Boeung Kak Lake was a positive step. But the group says officials still need to do more – and acknowledge that the right to land and home ownership is guaranteed under international law. The report calls for the government to suspend all mass evictions until a clear prohibition on forced eviction is adopted, and stricter legislative guidelines are adopted.
“Land disputes can be solved, but not if politics is behind [the dispute],” said Nonn Pheany, a former spokeswoman for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction who is now retired. She added that victims and “land grabbers” often do not understand each other, with the latter sometimes having no respect for the law.
“It is not easy to solve land disputes since it is so large scale,” Ms. Pheany added. “We have to spend much time studying the problem behind it.”
She said the government often does provide evicted residents with sufficient compensation. Amnesty’s report, though, said many residents would rather stay in their homes and not accept the compensation — but are forced to do so under duress. At one point, the report said residents of the Boeung Kak Lake area were offered US $8,500 for their houses regardless of the size of their plots of land, and were told to move to an area 20 kilometers outside Phnom Penh.
Ms. Pheany suggested that the government should register both private and public land and take steps to evaluate the consequences of private development on the land before selling that land to investors.
“Private business has to ensure that no human rights abuses occur on their development,” said Ms. Guest of Amnesty International. She added that Amnesty was appealing to international governments and using multilateral forums like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the European Union and the United Nations to ensure cooperation from both foreign investors and private companies.
According to the World Bank’s country director for Cambodia, Annette Dixon, the institution has not made any new loans to Cambodia since December 2010, and is continuing to watch the situation there closely.
RFA Photo Homes built on Boeung Kak Lake in central Phnom Penh.
Cambodian authorities scuffle with villagers over a land dispute in the capital.
Four women were injured and another four detained on Monday following a clash with Cambodian authorities over a controversial development project in the nation’s capital, according to villagers.
The women had gathered in front of city hall with other villagers from central Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community to protest the loss of their land to a Chinese-Cambodian company.
The company has been filling in the lake with sand in preparation for the construction of a luxury residential site.
The villagers, many of whom had already lost their homes to a forced demolition, said they held the demonstration to ask for help from local officials after a group of land title officers visited Boeung Kak Lake to take measurements over the weekend.
“After being ordered to disperse, we scuffled with authorities who beat four women unconscious and detained another four,” said one villager, who asked to remain anonymous.
“Members of (the Cambodian rights group) Licadho assisted us in bringing the four injured women to a nearby hospital for treatment.”
The whereabouts of the four detained women were unknown and authorities could not be reached for comment.
Before the villagers' protest, Kong Chantha, a representative of the Boeung Kak Lake community, demanded that all residents whose homes had been demolished by developer Shukaku Inc. and local authorities be entitled to land within an area earmarked by Prime Minister Hun Sen in August.
According to Hun Sen’s decree, 12.44 hectares (31 acres) were to be set aside for 794 families who were facing eviction.
But local authorities say scores of families lack property titles recognized by the government and have excluded them from the land. Villagers contend that implementation of the decree has lacked transparency.
“I represent the people. I have no other means to exhaust in order to keep my house for my children,” Kong Chantha told RFA.
Sam Ath of Licadho said Cambodian authorities need to move faster in assigning the designated land to families facing eviction.
“We haven’t seen any discussions or dialogue taking place between the people and the authorities on the issue yet,” he said.
“What will happen if the government finishes measuring out the 12.44 hectares of land agreed to for the people, but some residents are left out?”
Nearly 20,000 people have either been evicted from their homes or are at risk of losing them since Shukaku Inc., which is owned by a politician from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, was granted a 99-year lease in the area in 2007.
Boeung Kak suicide
Meanwhile, the husband of a woman from the Boeung Kak Lake community said her body was found Saturday after she committed suicide out of desperation over being forcibly evicted.
Chea Dara, a 30-year-old mother of two, threw herself off of a bridge last week after she was left with no other option to protect her home from local authorities and the developer, according to her huband Doeung Phou.
Doeung Phou said his wife had struggled since 1980 to save money to purchase their eight square meter (86 square foot) home, but had been forced off of the premises as authorities prepared to demolish structures in the area.
“She just told me that she was hopeless and very worried about having no property—no land ownership and no home—for her children to stay in the future. She said she was afraid that the children would end up living on the street,” he told RFA.
A funeral was held for Chea Dara at a nearby pagoda on Saturday evening.
Cambodia’s land issue dates from the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, which banned private property and forced large-scale evacuations and relocations throughout the country.
This was followed by mass confusion over land rights and the formation of squatter communities when the refugees returned in the 1990s after a decade of civil war.
Housing Cambodia’s large, young, and overwhelmingly poor population has posed a major problem ever since.
An estimated 30,000 people a year in Cambodia are driven from farmland or urban areas to make way for real estate developments or mining and agricultural projects.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry and Yanny Hin. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
Cambodian people pass the time in the ruins of a house at the Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh. The World Bank called on the Cambodian government to halt the eviction of another 10,000 people at a controversial real estate development and offered to help those who had lost their homes, (file).
Amnesty International called on the Cambodian government last Thursday to halt a wave of forced evictions affecting tens of thousands of people, a problem that shows no sign of letting up. Amnesty says women are increasingly putting themselves at the forefront in standing up for land rights.
Amnesty’s report tells the story of five women from across Cambodia who have been affected by forced evictions. The rights group says the Cambodian government is ignoring its international obligations by pushing ahead with forced evictions, and says Phnom Penh risks reversing 20 years of hard-won gains in reducing poverty.
“Amnesty International has been calling for an end to forced evictions for several years now. We’ve documented this extensively and of course the vibrant civil society in Cambodia has also been documenting and reporting on this practice which is unlawful under international law,” said Donna Guest, the deputy director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific department.
Women tell their stories
Guest says Amnesty wanted to focus on women and tell their stories as human rights defenders, as mothers and as wives.
"And this is to show the more human face - that these people are not just a statistic, these people have lives," she explained. "These people have had very adverse consequences - some of them have lost their homes, all their possessions, families have been split up. So that is why we are here today - to show the human face.
At the launch of the report, Guest was flanked by three Cambodian women who have been affected by evictions.
One of those women, Hong Mai, was evicted from her home in northwest Cambodia two years ago to make way for a sugar concession awarded to a ruling party senator.
She says armed authorities destroyed her house and all her possessions when they burned down her village and evicted the residents.
Hong Mai was five months pregnant, yet when she traveled to the capital days later to seek help from Prime Minister Hun Sen, she was accused of violating the Forestry Law and put in jail.
Eight months later she was released after signing an agreement to withdraw her claim to her land.
Hong Mai has not seen her husband since, and she and her five children are destitute.
She wants consumers in the European Union to boycott Cambodian sugar because, she says, "it is made from the land, life and blood” of people who have been thrown off their land.
Guest says Amnesty does not take a position on issues such as sanctions, but the organization is adamant that development should not come at the expense of human rights.
And as a European-based organization, Amnesty’s staff will continue to meet policymakers in Brussels and other European countries.
“We will ask our membership in the European countries - which are extremely active on this issue - to appeal to their members of parliaments, and also to raise awareness. I think part of any advocacy strategy must be to raise awareness so that people are aware of what’s going on. A lot of people have no idea what’s going on in Cambodia and this report today is an attempt to raise this profile, bring it to international attention, including in the EU countries,” Guest stated.
Amnesty’s focus on women and land rights was bleakly highlighted when a prominent land rights activist at the huge Boeung Kak eviction site in central Phnom Penh committed suicide this week.
Chea Dara, the mother of two children, threw herself off a bridge Tuesday - reportedly after her family was refused land at the lakeside site after a five-year battle.
At the release ceremony for the Amnesty report, Chea Dara's fellow activists wore black in tribute to her.
Cambodia is seeking more signatories to an international landmine treaty, as it hosts a weeklong international conference with nearly 100 countries represented in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia was one of the original supporters of the Ottawa Convention, which has garnered 158 supporter nations since 1999.
An unexploded land mine, right, lies in the field at a clearance site of land mines near the Cambodia-Thailand border, in Pailin province, once a Khmer Rouge stronghold in northwestern Cambodia, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011. Cambodia on Sunday is hosting a six-day international conference on land mine clearance in Phnom Penh.
“If we do not accelerate the speed and the efficiency of the resolution of problems, we will not reach our final goal for a world free of mines,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the opening of the conference Sunday.
“I hope our other friends who are not yet members of the convention will join us in achieving this goal,” he said.
At least 10 countries who are not signatories to the convention—including China and the US—are participating in the conference. China is expected to address the gathering on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, landmines have killed an estimated 1 million people in the last 10 years. And they remain a major obstacle to development.
“In the countries emerging from conflicts, these weapons slow the repatriation of refugees… deprive communities of the productive and safe use of land and natural resources,” said Helen Clark, the international head of UNDP.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra says her government will keep its troops positioned in the disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple and protect Thailand's national sovereignty along the border.
Ms Yingluck was speaking after talks on the territorial dispute with Cambodia around Preah Vihear with Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa, army commander-in-chief Prayuth Chan-ocha and Atchaporn Jaruchinda, secretary-general of the Council of State. Ms Yingluck said a case had been prepared for presentation to the International Court of Justice, which is hearing a territorial complaint about the land in the vicinity of Preah Vihear from Cambodia. The court 1962 gave Cambodia juridiction over the ancient khmer temple, but the ruling was vague on the immediately adjacent, disputed area.
The International Court of Justice recently said the disputed area should be demilitarised pending a settlement, but Ms Yingluck said her government had not withdrawn Thai soldiers from a disputed area.
It would wait for a decision from the Thai-Cambodian General Border Committee (GBC) meeting.
The government would then propose the GBC's report to the parliament for approval.
Ms Yingluck said her government would do its best to protect the national sovereignty.
Preah Vihear temple is on the border of Cambodia and Thailand's Si Sa Ket province.
With per capita GDP well under a thousand dollars and a government dependent on foreign aid, Cambodia is among the poorest of the poor in Southeast Asia. But with workers in China, Thailand and Vietnam, demanding and obtaining heftier paychecks, Cambodians are getting a residual lift. Rising wages, labour unrest, as well as currency instability and political turmoil in some cases, elsewhere in the region’s traditional manufacturing centers are improving the prospects of Cambodia, an industrial minnow.
The country’s garment exports have soared in the past year, increasing by nearly 40 per cent, according to the government. Independent observers might put the figure lower, but they would agree with Ken Loo, the secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, when he points to rising wages and work stoppages in China as one of the main causes of Cambodia’s increased share of the market. It’s an important boost in a sector that has been Cambodia’s main engine of growth since the late 1990s, when the country stabilized after years of debilitating civil strife. The garment and footwear industry employs some 400,000 people in this country of just over 14 million (the Gap, H&M and Nike are among the major brands that have suppliers in Cambodia) and account for more than two-thirds of Cambodia’s exports.
But the spillover effects of higher labour costs in China and elsewhere aren’t limited to the textiles sector. Slowly but surely, Cambodia’s industrial horizons are expanding as well, with Japanese companies leading the charge. Minebea, a Tokyo-based producer of micro motors, for example, started operations in Cambodia at the end of last year. The Japanese company began outsourcing manufacturing to Thailand 25 years ago, where it has grown to employ over 30,000 workers. Because of rising wages there, it’s now assembling some of its products in a special economic zone in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Other manufacturers—making headphones and wetsuits, among other products—have opened plants there too, lifting the sophistication of the Cambodian manufacturing sector above T-shirts and sneakers.
“It’s unrealistic to say Cambodia is adding huge value-added chains,” said Peter Brimble, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank in Cambodia. But growing hurdles in Asia’s main production centers are “enough to tip the scales” to attract investor interest in Cambodia. Gordon Peters, an investment adviser with Emerging Markets Consulting, which operates in Southeast Asia, said the number of international companies contacting his consulting firm about business scoping opportunities in Cambodia has grown exponentially this year. More investors are looking at Cambodia as an attractive “long-term bet,” one with limited dividends now but high-growth prospects in the near future, he said.
Observers often criticize the heavy-handed influence of Beijing on Cambodia. But if rising wages in the regional powerhouse can lift business and employment prospects in Cambodia, this is a spell under China’s shadow that the Southeast Asian country is likely to enjoy.
Brendan Brady (www.brendanbrady.com) reports widely on diplomacy, business, human rights and environmental issues across the Asia-Pacific.
A year after more than 350 people died on a bridge stampede in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh – an event that drew headlines across the world – a new report says the government hasn’t conducted a “meaningful” inquiry into the tragedy, and advocates are calling for new investigations.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), responsible for the report, is recommending that the government reopen a “full investigation” into the incident, which Prime Minister Hun Sen himself labeled as the greatest tragedy to befall the country since the Pol Pot regime.
“The anniversary of this tragedy falls on International Day to End Impunity… a timely coincidence as despite the gravity of the event, no one has been held accountable,” said Ou Virak, the President of CCHR.
In the initial months following the stampede – which occurred on the Koh Pich bridge on Nov. 22, 2010 during Cambodia’s annual three-day water festival, which draws millions of people to Phnom Penh – a government inquiry found that victims panicked when the suspension bridge started to sway, setting off a domino effect that resulted in the deaths. What caused the panic, however, has remained a subject of debate, and many human rights groups and residents were dissatisfied with the government-led investigation, which they said did not hold anyone accountable or responsible for the deaths of so many people.
The new report criticized the make-up of the government-sanctioned committees responsible for the investigation, which included the developer of the Koh Pich bridge, people responsible for planning the festival, and other government officials.
The report also questioned what provoked the panicked reactions on the bridge. At the time, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said in local media reports that the stampede happened because people became “scared of something.” The report, based around interviews with hundreds of victims, their families and witnesses, found that many people interviewed still do not know what caused the panic. Others said rumors were circulating that the bridge was collapsing, and some others mentioned gang involvement.
The report also noted that some victims – about a quarter interviewed – said they had heard victims were electrocuted after police fired water cannons at people on the bridge to get them to move off of it — a charge vehemently denied by government officials.
At the time of the incident, no state officials were held personally responsible or called to step down, according to the report. The human rights organization says that this is partly to blame for what it described as insufficient reforms to improve crowd management and emergency response.
Government officials disagreed with the report.
“This was not carelessness, but it is an unpredictable incident,” said Phay Siphan, a government spokesman for the Council of Ministers, in response to queries from the Wall Street Journal. “The investigation on the stampede has been conducted already.” He added that the government had built two additional bridges to manage crowds during future festivals, and also erected a stupa, a mound-like Buddhist structure, in memory of the tragedy, bearing the name of each deceased victim.
According to government statements from last year, families of deceased victims were set to receive compensation of 5 million Cambodian riels (US $1,250) with injured victims receiving 1 million riel (US $250). Additional sums were given to victims from private sector donations. The government says that this compensation was sizeable and an indication that officials were doing their best to help the victims, but according to the report, some of this compensation was not distributed in a transparent manner.
Mr. Phay Siphan said that even though human rights organizations have the right to call for a deeper investigation, the government has been “responsible” and “responsive” in dealing with the aftermath of the stampede, adding that new crowd control procedures are in place.
Any new procedures around crowd management, such as the two new bridges, were not tested during this year’s water festival, though, as the popular boat races were cancelled amid massive flooding in Cambodia.
“CCR is not saying that any particular person or agency is to blame… [but] does think that a greater amount of responsibility should be taken for the incident,” the report said. “A serious discussion should take place about what systems and procedures should be in place to reduce the likelihood of similar events happening in the future.”
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The highest-ranking surviving Khmer Rouge leader, accused in the deaths of 1.7 million people, defended himself on Tuesday by casting his actions as part of a patriotic struggle to keep Vietnam from annexing Cambodia and exterminating ethnic Cambodians.
Presenting what could have been the condensed version of a political address from his days as the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologue in the 1970s, the defendant, Nuon Chea, 85, spoke of threats from Vietnamese agents as a justification for the purges that led to the torture and killings that defined the Khmer Rouge regime.
It was the first time a Khmer Rouge leader offered a detailed defense in court for the atrocities committed by the radical Communist regime from 1975 to 1979.
“I have been given an opportunity today that I have been waiting for for so long, and that is to explain to my beloved Cambodian people and their Khmer children the events that occurred in Cambodian history,” Mr. Nuon Chea said.
Placing himself in the heroic company of Cambodian patriots, he said, “I would like to pay my respects to our ancestors who sacrificed their flesh, blood, bone and life to defend our motherland.”
His audience in the courthouse, including two busloads of university students in white shirts, listened intently to the explanation Cambodians have been seeking from the trial for why the Khmer Rouge ravaged their country.
“We don’t know which part is wrong and which is right,” said Radet Hak, 21, a law student. “I want to hear more later.”
The court sessions this week, including statements by prosecutors and defendants, are being broadcast around the country.
Mr. Nuon Chea is one of three top Khmer Rouge leaders being tried on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity at the tribunal, which is backed by the United Nations.
Frail and unsteady on his feet, Mr. Nuon Chea seemed to swell in the witness box with the certainty that he had been wronged by history. He accused the court of being “unfair to me since the beginning,” because the trial was addressing the acts of the Khmer Rouge without reference to their cause and context.
“I must say only the body of the crocodile is to be discussed, not its head or tail, which are the important parts of its daily activities,” he said.
He did not address in detail the horrifying catalog of brutality and mass killings presented by prosecutors, saying merely that “whatever was indicated in the opening statements is not true.”
The prosecutors have accused him and his co-defendants, Ieng Sary, 86, and Khieu Samphan, 80, of command responsibility for atrocities committed according to their plan and with their involvement. A fourth defendant, Ieng Thirith, 79, the former minister of social affairs, was dropped from the case last week when the court found her to be unable to participate because of dementia.
In an earlier case, Kaing Guek Eav, 69, known as Duch, the commandant of the main Khmer Rouge prison, Tuol Sleng, was sentenced in 2010 to 35 years in prison, later reduced to 19 years.
“My position in the revolution is to serve the interests of the nation and the people,” Mr. Nuon Chea said. “Oppression and injustice compelled me to devote myself to fight for my country. I had to leave my family behind to liberate my motherland from colonialism and aggression and oppression by thieves who wish to steal our land and wipe Cambodia off the face of the earth.”
Another law student at the courthouse, Vessna Roschan, 21, said: “I don’t believe him, because 1.7 million people died. Nuon Chea says, ‘I am protecting the Cambodian people, I protect Cambodian culture,’ but I don’t believe him because many people in my family died, around 24 people.”
Mr. Nuon Chea began his statement with an account of the early years of the Cambodian Communist movement and its struggle to remain independent of the larger and more powerful Vietnamese Communist Party during the years of the Vietnam War.
He said the Vietnamese Communists, who had hoped to control their Cambodian counterparts, were disappointed when Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975, two weeks before the fall of Saigon to the Vietnamese Communists.
After the war was over, he said, “Vietnam’s cadres still continued to remain discreetly on Cambodian soil in order to conquer this country in accordance with the ambition to occupy, annex and swallow Cambodia and rid Cambodia of her race and ethnicity” — an ambition he said continued today.
In Cambodian society, suspicions of Vietnam run deep, and it is not unusual for people to imagine the involvement of Vietnamese agents in local events.
Mr. Nuon Chea said this suspicion of subversives and traitors was part of the reason for the evacuation of Phnom Penh and other cities immediately after the Khmer Rouge victory, forcing most people into the countryside, a policy that prosecutors said cost thousands of lives.
He denied that the Khmer Rouge had tricked and then murdered officials of the former government who surrendered after the overthrow, saying that impostors disguised in the black outfits of the revolutionaries were responsible.
He said the American bombing of Cambodia in 1969 radicalized many Cambodians and fueled the growth of the Khmer Rouge, but he blamed Vietnam for all that went wrong after the group took power.
“The Vietnam factor is the main factor that caused confusion in Democratic Kampuchea from 1975 to 1979,” he said, using the formal name for the country under the Khmer Rouge government.
He said nothing to the court about the systematic atrocities described by prosecutors, nor about their contention that he had personally ordered the torture and killing of particular prisoners.
But in video recordings played by the prosecution before he testified, he is heard acknowledging the killings, saying that “if we had shown mercy to these people, our nation would have been lost.”
“We didn’t kill many,” he continued. “We only killed the bad people, not the good.”
By SOPHENG CHEANG, Associated Press – 6 minutes ago PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A senior Khmer Rouge leader insisted Wednesday he had no real authority during the regime's brutal rule of Cambodia and allegations he bore responsibility for its atrocities were a "fairy tale."
Head of state Khieu Samphan told a tribunal he was a figurehead leader who never joined key policy meetings in the radical communist government, which is accused of orchestrating the "killing fields" and causing the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians in the 1970s.
In his rebuttal, he said the prosecutors' opening remarks were exaggerations based mainly on unreliable old news reports and books. "You really want my head on the block," he said.
After the trial of Khieu Samphan and two other top leaders opened Monday, prosecutors have described the pitiless policies — focused on forced labor and abolition of private property — the Khmer Rouge imposed in an effort to build an agrarian utopia.
The tribunal is seeking justice on behalf of the estimated quarter of Cambodia's population who died from executions, starvation, disease and overwork under the Khmer Rouge rule.
The defendants are the most senior surviving members of the regime: Khieu Samphan, 80; Nuon Chea, 85, the group's No. 2 and chief ideologist; and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, 86. They are charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture, but have denied wrongdoing. The Khmer Rouge's supreme leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 in Cambodia's jungles while a prisoner of his own comrades.
Khieu Samphan stressed the nationalist credentials of the Khmer Rouge, who first opposed French colonialism, then fought against a pro-Western regime and its U.S. backers and finally forced a showdown with neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia's traditional enemy.
He recalled that when he was young, communism gave hope to him as the best way for developing Cambodia, as it did for millions of youth for their own homelands. Yet the picture the prosecution had painted, he said, "would lead people to believe that my youth was that of a murderer."
"You seem to want everybody to listen to your fairy tale," he said. Prosecutors have described a litany of horrors, large and small, saying the Khmer Rouge sought to crush not just all its enemies, but seemingly, the human spirit. Defense statements have lacked that emotional punch, but their emphasis on politics and history indicates that will be key to the trial.
Khieu Samphan's French lawyer, Jacques Verges, dismissed the prosecution statements as similar to the novels of Alexandre Dumas, author of dashing adventure yarns such as "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "The Three Musketeers."
Khieu Samphan has said he has known Verges since he attended university in France in the 1950s, when both were active in student movements against French colonialism. "He and I used to attend meetings of student committees against colonialism. That's what bound us together in friendship," Khieu Samphan said in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press.
Verges has defended Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal and Nazi Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie and is noted for a slashing, sarcastic courtroom style, aimed as much at discrediting the judicial establishment as getting his clients off the hook. Khieu Samphan, along with Verges, reminded the court that intensive U.S. bombing of his country during the Vietnam War contributed to its misery.
"Can you imagine what my country faced after such bloody killing and war?" Khieu Samphan declared.
While decrying the case against him, Khieu Samphan added that he welcomed the opportunity to explain his role to the Cambodian public.
Khieu Samphan earned a reputation for rectitude and bravery when he was a left-wing lawmaker under a repressive royalist regime in the 1960s before joining his Khmer Rouge comrades in the jungle.
Even today, there is a residue of respect for him. Um Ros, 82, from Kandal province on the outskirts of Phnom Penh said Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary were good leaders and never committed crimes against Cambodians. He said Khieu Samphan was member of parliament for his constituency in the 1960s and always was good to people.
"Khieu Samphan is not a communist leader but a real democratic leader and I don't believe he killed Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge regime," said Um Ros, who attended the trial on Monday. He said the court arrested Khieu Samphan because it was unaware of his goodwill and clean hands.
Scholars question the professions of innocence, however. "Khieu Samphan was promoted up the ranks of his Party and State apparati to become one of the key accomplices in the political execution machine that Pol Pot created," Cambodia expert Stephen Heder said in a 1990 study. "Khieu Samphan became an ever more important assistant to Pol Pot because he remained steadfastly loyal to his leadership and policies" while others who betrayed or were suspected of disloyalty were detained or executed.
"Khieu Samphan's political star rose literally on heaps of corpses," wrote Heder, who teaches at London's School of Oriental and African Studies and worked to help the tribunal prepare cases.
Ieng Sary also spoke briefly Wednesday to reiterate that he would not participate in the trial until a ruling had been issued on a pardon he received in 1996. The tribunal previously ruled the pardon does not cover its indictment against him. He sat in a wheelchair and complained of shortness of breath and heart problems while delivering his statement.
"I'm not surprised that Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary continue to deny their crimes as the charges against them of genocide, war crimes are very serious," said Theary Sang, a Cambodian lawyer and human rights activist who lost family members under their regime. "Even if I am not surprised, I am however disgusted by their lack of remorse for the suffering they caused. They are delusional in their denial in light of the weight of evidence against them - the mounds of skulls and bones, the horrific testimonies from every survivor of cruelty, the magnitude and scope of evil unleashed by them across the whole of Cambodia."
About 600 spectators attended on the third day of the trial, including Buddhist monks, students, civil servants and ordinary people who traveled from the provinces on transport provided free by the tribunal.
Opening statements concluded with Wednesday's hearing, and actual testimony is slated to begin on Dec. 5.
By John Boudreau firstname.lastname@example.org | Mercurynews
Sophany Bay's three young children died in her arms, one after the other, during Cambodia's genocide. Sarem Neou lost her two daughters to starvation and disease; her mother was dragged to death by a horse after she was suspected of stealing food for one of the girls; and her husband died after learning of the horrific deaths of his children. Kelvin So's brother, a surgeon, was one of thousands of professionals executed by Khmer Rouge soldiers.
Collectively, the three survivors lost hundreds of relatives -- aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews -- during the reign of terror from 1975 to 1979 in Cambodia when an estimated 1.7 million people died, about a quarter of the small Southeast Asian country's population.
Sophany Bay, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, holds a photograph of her daughter Lilavodey "Pomme" Bay, who was killed by the regime when she was six months old, in 1975, by an injection of an unknown substance, at the Wat Khemara Rangsey Temple, in San Jose, Calif. on November 12, 2011. Bay is returning to Cambodia to witness the second trial of Khmer Rouge leaders. (LiPo Ching/Mercury News). ( LiPo Ching )
Now Bay, So and Neou are among 45 Cambodian-Americans -- including six from the Bay Area -- who will get the opportunity to see justice done. When opening arguments start Monday in Phnom Penh in a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders charged with crimes against humanity, Bay and Neou will be sitting in the gallery alongside other witnesses to genocide. They and the other Cambodian-Americans are being legally represented in the trial and might provide testimony.
"I want to see justice before I die," said Bay, 66, a San Jose mental health counselor. "I want to see those killers and ask them, 'Why? Why did they kill so many people? Who stood behind the killing fields?' Before I die, I want justice."
Leaders' second trial
The United Nations-backed tribunal, the second prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders, is simultaneously a criminal and civil proceeding that could last more than two years. Its mandate is to try leaders responsible for the killing of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Civil claimants seek reparations, perhaps a permanent memorial in Cambodia, and the chance to face those who unleashed ineffable brutality on their lives.
The defendants in what the tribunal calls Case 002 are Ieng Sary, who was foreign minister; Khieu Samphan, a former head of state; and Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two. A fourth defendant, Ieng Thirith, 79, the former minister of social welfare and wife of Ieng Sary, suffers from dementia and last week was declared unfit to be tried and ordered freed from detention by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The regime's top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998. In the first trial, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the torture and death of at least 14,000 people in Tuol Sleng prison.
"I am very glad the international court is bringing those people to justice," said So, a 63-year-old Milpitas resident. "But it's late. They are old. Why should these people have had a better life?"
Some survivors are ignoring the tribunal, said Leakhena Nou, a medical sociologist at Cal State Long Beach who led an effort to document the stories of those in the United States. "It's a way of coping. It's also a very Buddhist, almost fatalistic response to something that is almost incomprehensible."
The Khmer Rouge took control in 1975 after the war in next-door Vietnam spread to Cambodia. Khmer Rouge leaders evacuated cities and banned modern technology to create an agrarian culture to purify the nation as a foundation for a new Communist society. This included killing countless Cambodians, particularly the educated.
When Khmer Rouge soldiers committed mass executions, they would play loud music to cover the screams of those being beaten to death, recalled Neou, a schoolteacher who was in Paris on a scholarship when Pol Pot took over the country April 17, 1975. Unable to bear the thought of her children and husband facing these horrors while she remained safe in France, Neou returned to her homeland in January 1976 and was placed in a work camp.
Those who survived did so because of luck, cunning, faith and a fierce drive to live, the survivors say.
"I don't know if I am strong or weak," said Neou, 71. "But I have a willpower."
The police inspector
So, whose position as a national police inspector should have led to his quick execution, was beaten with an ax handle during an interrogation by two soldiers who did not believe his claims of being a law student, which he had been. He finally confessed to being a police inspector, but used a formal term not understood by the soldiers, who most likely were illiterate. It saved his life.
Bay's husband, Sarit Bay, a military officer, was being trained in the United States when the Khmer Rouge charged through Phnom Penh, shooting off guns and ordering everyone out of the city and into the countryside. Sophany Bay, who had close ties to the deposed Lon Nol government, left with her three young children and few supplies. She spotted her sister-in-law, whose husband was a provincial governor, and other relatives but could not reach them because of the crush of people. She learned later they were all killed. Some were beaten to death and some, even small children, had their throats cut with palm tree branches.
With little food and no shelter from the rain, her infant daughter, nicknamed Pomme, fell severely ill. One day Bay carried her five miles to an infirmary, where a soldier injected a lethal substance into the baby's head.
"Instead of saving her, he killed her," she recalled, her body shaking at the memory.
Bay, also a schoolteacher, was forced to do hard labor for up to 13 hours a day. Her other two children were constantly interrogated and beaten by soldiers in futile attempts to get them to reveal the identity of their father. The boy, 6, died silently in her arms late one night, while her 5-year-old daughter "talked until the last minute," Bay said. "She asked me to go and look for my husband."
"They killed my whole family," she said. "Nobody is alive, only me and my husband."
Family wiped out
Neou, who now lives in Silver Spring, Md., didn't learn about the death of her family until after Vietnamese soldiers invaded Cambodia, ending the reign of the Khmer Rouge. She had emigrated to the United States, joining her brother in San Jose. One day a letter from a relative arrived, telling her that just about everyone in her family was dead.
"I jump up and down," she recalled of that fall day in 1980. "It seemed like my head was hitting the ceiling. I jumped and ran around the apartment. I scream and run around."
Even though they were deposed by Vietnamese forces in 1979, Khmer Rouge leaders remained free from prosecution for decades. Wrangling between the tribunal and the Cambodian government, which includes former members of the Khmer Rouge, has dampened enthusiasm for the trial among many Cambodians in the United States and Cambodia. Those with Khmer Rouge ties include Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was a low-ranking Khmer Rouge member decades ago before joining the government created by Vietnam while Cambodia was under Vietnamese military occupation.
More trials in doubt
The international prosecutor for the tribunal wants to bring at least two more cases against former leaders of the regime, but the Cambodian government, which has been accused of tampering with the process, has resisted. Observers say the government fears current political leaders could be affected.
"They see these four defendants as the ultimate defendants," said Nushin Sarkarati, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit organization representing Cambodian-Americans before the tribunal. "Their argument is anyone else is not really a senior leader for the Khmer Rouge. This is an absurd notion."
Neou, undeterred, is ready to do what she can to implicate the former Khmer Rouge leaders. She said she was an eyewitness to the power once wielded by some of those now on trial. After she had returned to Phnom Penh from France, Neou saw Ieng and Khieu up close. Ieng showed up in a black car. "He came in a car like Al Capone's," she said. "He was happy."
Khieu was "dressed like Viet Cong" in the black pajama-like pants worn by Vietnamese Communist guerrillas as he addressed the new arrivals: "We wish for you to find happiness in this new society."
Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496.
In America: Approximately 157,500 Cambodians resettled in the United States from 1975 to 1994, the vast majority as refugees. An estimated 12,000 live in the Bay Area. Many still suffer serious mental health problems from being tortured and witnessing killings of their family members.
Legal rights: In 2009, researcher Leakhena Nou, a medical sociologist at Cal State Long Beach, began documenting the stories of genocide survivors in the United States and founded the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia (www.asricjustice.org). She discovered that Cambodian-Americans had legal rights to offer testimony and have legal representation at the tribunal proceedings.
The lawyers: The San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit that specializes in seeking reparations from perpetrators of war crimes and human rights violations, is representing 45 Cambodian-Americans, including six from the Bay Area, in the second United Nations-backed Khmer Rouge genocide trial in Phnom Penh.
Mixed reaction: "A good number of Cambodian-Americans choose not to pay attention (to the tribunal)," said Daryn Reicherter, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine who treats many Cambodian émigrés in San Jose. "It's too upsetting. They don't want to reopen memories. And there are people who are totally involved and really hang on it and get updates from Cambodian news sources. I rarely get a perspective from someone who is in between."
Human rights groups yesterday staged a demonstration in front of the headquarters of Ve Wong Corp — a well-known food manufacturer that produces instant noodles, sauces and snacks — in Taipei, protesting against the alleged seizure of farmland in Cambodia by two of the company’s joint ventures.
“The forced seizure of farmland in Cambodia’s Koh Kong Province by Koh Kong Sugar Co Ltd and Koh Kong Plantation Co Ltd is a very well-known case among human rights activists in Southeast Asia,” said Roxanna Chen (陳思穎), a protester who used to work at a human rights organization based in Thailand. “After looking deeper into the case, I realized that a Taiwanese firm was one of the major investors in the two companies and that’s why I think we should take some actions here in Taiwan.”
Members of the Environmental Jurists Association and other public groups hold up banners while performing a skit outside the main office of the Ve Wong Corp in Taipei yesterday. The protestors accused the company of violating human rights and developing land in inappropriate ways at their factories in Cambodia.
According to Chen, Ve Wong owns a 30 percent stake in each of the companies operating in Cambodia, with the remainder of both fims owned by the Thailand-based Khon Kaen Sugar Co and Cambodian member of parliament, Ly Yong Phat.
Since 2006, Koh Kong Sugar has seized 9,600 hectares of farmland and Koh Kong Plantation took 9,400 hectares to build a sugarcane plantation and a sugar processing plant, Chen said.
Several Cambodian farmers were killed or injured by security personnel dispatched by the companies as they tried to protest the seizure of their farmland, she added.
“I don’t know the law, but I want to say that it’s fine for Ve Wong to make money, but they have no right to do so by hurting others and depriving farmers of their rights,” said Ly Vouch Hang, a Cambodian immigrant who represented the TransAsia Sisters Association Taiwan at the protest.
Taiwan Association for Human Rights’ Policy director Shih Yi-hsiang (施逸翔) said that as a signatory of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its International Covenant on Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights, “the government should make sure that all businesses follow the principles laid out in the two covenants, whether operating in Taiwan or abroad.”
In response to the protest, Ve Wong Corp issued a statement saying that while the company holds a 30 percent stake in each of the companies, “our Thai partners are in charge of the daily operations of the companies and have never informed us about what the human rights groups have stated.”
Battle-hardened former Khmer Rouge guerrilla Lim Sambath echoes the words that have become a mantra for the servants of the ultra-Maoist regime that tore Cambodia apart three decades ago.
“We had to follow orders,” he said of his role in the bloody “year zero” revolution that wiped out 1.7 million Cambodians — a quarter of the population — from 1975-1979, marking one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.
“Almost all Cambodians are victims. Everybody had to follow the regime’s policy,” he said. “Those who defied the rules, their fate was death.”
As a U.N.-backed court prepares for the trial of three senior leaders on Monday, the truth about the “killing fields” could be lost forever in the rugged mountains and impenetrable jungles of this former Khmer Rouge stronghold.
Like “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, ex-President Khieu Samphan and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, Lim Sambath, 58, distances himself from the killings and says his recollection of the harrowing era is vague.
He tells stories of his battlefield heroics to repel Vietnamese invaders but denies responsibility for any of the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who died of torture, starvation, disease and execution in the rice fields and makeshift jails run by Pol Pot’s black-clad disciples.
“I don’t know how many people were killed,” Lim Sambath, a former guerrilla commander, now a community leader, told Reuters at his home in Boyakha village on the western border with Thailand.
“We had to follow orders. We had little knowledge. We saw no light. It was like living on another planet. But that was the only planet we knew.”
Almost every Cambodian alive lost a family member under the Khmer Rouge and many fear the multi-million dollar Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), established by the United Nations in 2005 to try those “most responsible” for the killings, will fail to bring justice.
VOW OF SILENCE
Pol Pot, the French-educated architect of the revolution, died in 1998 and the defendants facing trial next week in what is known as “Case 002″ not only appear unwilling to cooperate but face widespread criticism for stalling the proceedings.
Ieng Sary, for instance, tried to have his case thrown out and last month issued a statement saying he would refuse to answer questions, or speak at all, during the trial.
Another blow to the proceedings took place on Thursday when a fourth defendant, French-educated former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was declared mentally ill, unfit for trial. She will be released if no appeal is lodged.
The defendants are charged with committing crimes against humanity and genocide, and accused of crimes ranging from murder to enslavement, religious and political persecution, inhumane treatment and unlawful imprisonment.
They are all in their 80s and in poor health. Given the slow pace at which the joint U.N.-Cambodian tribunal moves, many fear they won’t live to see the verdict delivered.
The court has handed down just one sentence so far, a 35-year jail term, commuted to 19 years, for former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias “Duch”, over the deaths of more than 14,000 people. His appeal is set for February 3 next year. He has repeatedly said he was “just following orders”.
Cambodians who saw Duch sentenced reacted with anger and tears and complained it was too lenient. Many just want the top commanders to come clean and explain the motivation and ideology that fueled the Khmer Rouge’s unrelenting killing spree.
“They’re all guilty,” said Kim Sokhon, a street vendor who lost his mother, sister and two nieces. “They know what happened — they were the ones who enforced Pol Pot’s policies.”
The closest any of the former cadres have come to disclosure is seen in the documentary film “Enemies of the People”, in which Nuon Chea, during six years of interviews with journalist Thet Sambath, admitted threats to the party line were “destroyed” if they could not be “corrected or re-educated”.
For tens of thousands of Cambodians, being “destroyed” meant being blindfolded, then bludgeoned to death and thrown into one of the hundreds of mass graves across the country.
The film is expected to be used as evidence against Nuon Chea, who denies the charges.
Chhang Youk, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has compiled evidence to use during the trial, said it was unlikely defendants would confess but he was confident justice would eventually prevail.
“Everyone wants a final judgment of what happened,” he said. “We’ve seen the Khmer Rouge hasn’t changed its attitude. They won’t admit anything, so the tribunal is really important.”
The ECCC itself is in crisis. Despite its big budget, expected to reach $150 million by year-end, it is beset by resignations and public acrimony over its reluctance to pursue cases beyond 002.
It also faces allegations of U.N. apathy and political interference by members of the Cambodian government, some of whom are former Khmer Rouge cadres.
Theary Seng, a prominent survivor of the Khmer Rouge era and the first plaintiff to register in case 002, withdrew her complaint against Nuon Chea on Tuesday because of what she called “toxic shenanigans” in the court.
Her letter to the ECCC, typed in a large, bold font, said simply: “ENOUGH!”
That same day, the Open Society Justice Initiative, a private legal and human rights group, urged the United Nations to conduct an independent inquiry into allegations of judicial misconduct, incompetence and lack of independence, accusing Cambodian and international judges of thwarting investigations.
Tribunal monitor Clair Duffy said the ECCC now had a “credibility crisis” and it was crucial more indictments were made so the real story of the Khmer Rogue was not left untold.
“We know these institutions cannot prosecute everyone … but we also know that 1.7 million people were not tortured, starved, enslaved and executed by one torture center commander and up to a handful of people at the top,” she said.
Independent experts say a big problem is the politicization of cases and stonewalling by Cambodia’s government to limit the scope of investigations.
Many former Khmer Rouge members hold top positions in the bureaucracy, legislature and the government, including parliament president Heng Samrin, Finance Minister Keat Chhon, and long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Hun Sen last year told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that more indictments were “not allowed” and has previously said he would be happy if the court packed up and left, warning of a return to civil war if more cases were pursued.
Ven Dara, a provincial councilor in Palin and niece of a late Khmer Rouge military chief, Ta Mok, admitted she was horrified by the killings and said indictments should go to the very top.
“If the Khmer Rouge leaders are accused of being the killers, then what about our current leaders? They didn’t even dare to show up to testify,” she told Reuters.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Prosecutors asked judges in a United Nations-backed trial Friday to delay the release of the highest-ranking female member of the Khmer Rouge after the court ruled that she was unfit to stand trial because she suffers from dementia.
“We have applied for a stay of the immediate release and we have also filed a motion of appeal in respect to certain parts of the decision itself,” said one of the prosecutors, Andrew Cayley.
As minister for social affairs, the defendant, Ieng Thirith, 79, was on trial along with three other leaders of the Khmer Rouge government, which was responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979 through execution, torture, forced labor, starvation and disease.
In a statement Thursday, the court said that while it acknowledged the gravity of the crimes for which Ms. Ieng Thirith was charged, she “lacks capacity to understand proceedings against her or to meaningfully participate in her own defense.”
On Friday, the president of the trial chamber, Nil Nonn, rescinded an order that Ms. Ieng Thirith attend the Monday hearing, the court spokesman said.
Ms. Ieng Thirith was charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, homicide and other crimes the indictment described as her role in “planning, direction, coordination and ordering of widespread purges.”
The legal communications officer for the court, Lars Olsen, said Ms. Ieng Thirith would be released “as soon as practically possible” and would be “free to go wherever she wants,” but she remained in detention Friday while prosecutors filed their appeal.
One of her lawyers, Diana Ellis, said in an e-mail that plans for Ms. Ieng Thirith’s future “have yet to be finalized.”
The only conditions set by the court were that she “refrain from interfering in the administration of justice,” including interference with potential witnesses.
Only five senior members of the Khmer Rouge have been arrested, and Ms. Ieng Thirith would be the first to be set free.
One defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, 69, was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison in July 2010 for his role as commandant of the Tuol Sleng prison, where more than 14,000 people were sent to their deaths. The court reduced that term to 19 years because of time already served.
In ordering the release of Ms. Ieng Thirith, the court said prosecutors could create a mechanism to periodically monitor her health once she was free, with the possibility that she could be rearrested if her condition improved. The court said that her dementia was consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.
In a June 24 medical report to the court, a geriatric expert from New Zealand, A. John Campbell, said that Ms. Ieng Thirith was disoriented and had difficulty with memory and that the medical workers who attended to her said she could be “bad tempered.”
Mr. Campbell said that Ms. Ieng Thirith sometimes lost her way inside the small detention center and that she sometimes talked to herself, “usually about the past and her youth.”
Until her arrest in November 2007, she had been living in a villa in Phnom Penh with her husband, Ieng Sary, 86, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, who is a co-defendant.
Along with her husband, the remaining defendants are Nuon Chea, 85, the party’s chief ideologue, and Khieu Samphan, 80, the head of state. The Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998, was never tried.
Mr. Nuon Chea also sought to be released for health reasons, asserting that he was not able to concentrate for long periods. But he was found fit to stand trial last week, according to the court spokesman, Mr. Olsen.
If it proceeds, the release of Ms. Ieng Thirith would be the latest setback for the tribunal, which has been tarnished by accusations of corruption, political interference by the Cambodian government and lax oversight by the United Nations.
The tribunal has suffered delays since it began its work in 2005, along with soaring costs that are expected to reach $150 million by the end of the year.
Five members of the legal office resigned in the spring in protest over alleged inaction by the investigating judges. Last month, one of the investigating judges, Siegfried Blunk from Germany, resigned, citing political interference by the Cambodian government.
The Open Society Justice Initiative, which is based in New York and has been monitoring the tribunal, called on the United Nations to conduct a formal investigation into the accusations of judicial misconduct and political interference in the trials.
As a young woman, Ms. Ieng Thirith was a brilliant scholar, along with her elder sister, Khieu Ponnary.
The sisters moved to Paris, where Ms. Khieu Ponnary studied Khmer linguistics, and Ms. Ieng Thirith, then known as Khieu Thirith, studied English literature with a focus on Shakespeare.
Ms. Khieu Thirith married and took the family name of Mr. Ieng Sary in Paris in 1951, where he was one of a group of radical Cambodian students together with Pol Pot. After returning to Cambodia, Ms. Khieu Ponnary married Pol Pot, who was several years younger than she was.
Before the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, Ms. Khieu Ponnary became mentally ill, and Pol Pot later remarried. She died in 2003.
As her sister’s mind faded, Ms. Ieng Thirith became the de facto “first lady” of the revolution.
(AP) CHAKTO LORK, Cambodia — Hang Davi's life now depends on her husband's luck. If he catches fish in the stagnant floodwaters that have turned her Cambodian village into a lake, the family eats. If not, they go to bed hungry and pray his losing streak won't last another day.
For two months Davi has waited for the filthy water to retreat, as it does every year, so she can work in the surrounding rice fields. But the stubborn brown pool has continued to lap high against the bamboo ladder leading into her tiny stilt shack, trapping her inside.
She and about 1.8 million people across Cambodia and Vietnam are currently suffering a silent misery from the worst flooding in a decade. Thailand's flood crisis has received extensive media coverage, especially as the waters inch toward central Bangkok, but less attention has been paid to its much poorer neighbors, where many rural families still waiting for water levels to drop have received little or no aid from their governments or international organizations.
"Farmers like us rely mainly on agriculture, but when our rice and other crops have been completely destroyed by the floods, how can we survive?" Davi says, sobbing softly while balancing her 1-year-old son on her hip. "This flood is the biggest I have ever seen in my life. The floods have completely destroyed our hope."
Flooding is an annual cycle of life for Cambodian and Vietnamese subsistence farmers living along the Mekong River. High waters often don't draw much attention because people there simply know how to cope with what is normally considered a necessary nuisance. They wait for the waters to recede so they can plant new crops in the freshly deposited silt.
Even Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said the most worrying thing for farmers living along the river is to see no floods come at all.
"This year the level of water is good," he said in August after the first floods hit. "The water has flown into the lowlands, bringing a lot of fertilizer for the farmers."
But this season people were simply swallowed by water following cataclysmic monsoon rains that brought torrents down from the mountains. At least 250 people and countless livestock have died in Cambodia. Remote villages have been left in waist- to chest-high waters for up to three months, with three-quarters of the entire country swamped and 1.6 million people — about 1 in 10 — affected.
The situation has started improving in Vietnam, but nearly 175,000 people there are still struggling in the southern Mekong Delta, where about 90 percent of the more than 80 people killed were children, according to the United Nations.
An estimated 20 million people across Southeast Asia have been affected by flooding since June. Most are in Thailand, but the Philippines was slammed with back-to-back typhoons in October, and tiny, landlocked Laos was hit by cyclones in July and August.
Myanmar also is experiencing flooding, though the extent is unclear because little information has been released from the secretive country. Local media there reported some 30,000 people were hit by flash floods last month that killed more than 160.
"This year's been a freak event," said Kirsten Mildren, spokeswoman for the U.N.'s regional Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Thailand. "It's not like a tsunami or a hurricane where after a couple of days the immediate crisis has ended and you're into recovery. Here, you're weeks or months in water and it just keeps escalating."
Since none of the flood-ravaged countries have officially requested international help, the governments are in charge of handling the crisis on the ground and there's only so much the U.N. and other humanitarian groups can do. Mildren said many aid agencies based in Cambodia have already run out of money after throwing everything they had at the floods, largely leaving the government to respond on its own.
In Thailand, a far richer country with stronger disaster infrastructure, the response has been robust, with the military and civil society using trucks and boats to reach cut-off areas. Government doctors travel on foot with medical supplies and food is being distributed at shelters. Some local aid groups are even working to rescue stranded pets. Tweets, blogs and news reports detail every step of the disaster, which has killed at least 567 people and waterlogged swaths of Bangkok, the bustling capital.
In Chakto Lork village, located in Cambodia's worst-hit central Kampong Thom province, Davi and her neighbors say they have been ignored. The little rice they get is bought from the sale of whatever fish the men catch each day. A good day brings in US$1.75. When those rations run low, dirty floodwater is added to stretch the rice into a gruel for the family of six.
"I hope my children can avoid getting sick," Davi said, adding that her baby has sufferd three bouts of diahrrea since the floods hit. "If one of the kids get sick, my family has to eat porridge instead of rice because we must save money for the medical fees."
With no clean water in the village — plumbing and electricity are nonexistent in its bamboo shacks — villagers are forced to bathe, cook and wash their clothes and dishes in the same fetid floodwaters where they defecate. This increases the risk of waterborne diseases. Watery and bloody diarrhea already have been reported in some areas, along with mosquito-borne dengue fever. Both can kill if not properly treated, and children are among the most vulnerable.
Vietnam, one of the fastest growing countries in Asia, is starting to recover. But people living in hardest-hit Dong Thap province have suffered the longest with more than 30,000 homes submerged there.
Water has now largely receded in residential areas, but it remains high in rice fields, said Bui Dinh Tu, a provincial disaster official. Vietnam has two main rice crops, and another smaller harvest. This year's flooding hit during the third crop and was not expected to impact annual yields.
"We have moved a lot because the flood keeps chasing us," said Nguyen Van My, who is surviving by fishing after his house was swept away in Vietnam's An Giang province three months ago. He is sleeping in a tent on high ground after moving from four other areas with his wife and three children.
"We did stock up for the seasonal floods, but the water has been high and prolonged beyond our expectations, so we don't have enough food," My said, adding that he expects it will take another month before the water recedes from his property. "But I am happy that my family is safe and we at least have a shelter."
The worries will not end when the flooding finally stops, especially in Cambodia. With 20 percent of the country's current rice fields ruined, some fear the water will not recede in time for planting of the next crop.
"I don't know how we can survive this year and next year, as we have no spare food left at home," said Suon Sy, 48, looking around the empty house she shares with her husband and seven children. "I have just enough food for hand to mouth. I've endured this situation many times in the past three months."
She and her neighbors can only hope the fish are biting tomorrow.
Mason reported from Hanoi, Vietnam, with contributions from Associated Press writer Tran Van Minh and videographer Hau Dinh.
Angelina Jolie has been doing a humanitarian work for Cambodia for a decade and the Southeast Asian country granted her citizenship in 2005.
There is no doubt that the actress is kind-hearted when it comes to helping the people in need. However, a recent report says that Jolie accidentally purchased land from an official who was charged of crimes against humanity.
The 36-year-old purchased two plots of land for $25,000 in Cambodia from the country's former member of the Khmer Rouge, accused of mass murders in the country.
Jolie, who runs a charity, is believed to have bought the land from Ta Tith (also known as Yim Tith), a former official leader of the Khmer Rouge which was responsible for the killing of a large number of people in the late 1970s. Ta Tith is wanted by the United Nations for crimes against humanity.
According to interviews and documents collected by Global Post, Jolie purchased a piece of land for her charitable activities in Cambodia in 2002 from the reclusive man. Jolie runs the charity named Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation in Samlot district. She bought land in the same area.
A local government official in Cambodia said that the land was in the control of the Khmer Rouge. Since, Tith was in need of cash, he sold the land to Jolie in 2002, the official confirmed.
The official also said, "The Prime Minister had given the land in this area to former Democratic Kampuchea (the Communist party run by the Khmer Rouge soldiers) and Tith sold the land to her because he badly needed money."
He said, 'She has title of ownership.'
Mounh Sarath, a former employee of Jolie, told the Global Post that the actress instructed him to buy the land, totaling about 225 acres, for more than $25,000 from Ta Tith in 2002.
According to Sarath, before purchasing the land, he had informed her of the fact that the seller had held a senior position in the government of the communist leader Pol Pot. "She knows that Yim Tith and everybody are the Khmer Rouge," he said over telephone. "We talked like we have to, like Mr. Yim Tith is a big man there and he's a very important person. ... So she knows that," he said.
In 2009, the United Nations charged Tith with crimes against humanity. Court documents said that Tith was the commander in charge of one of the areas in Cambodia where at least 600,000 people had been killed under the Khmer rule between 1977 and 1979.
Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times Somaly Mam, left, helped Srey Pov after she escaped from a brothel.
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF Published: November 16, 2011
Phnom Penh, Cambodia When I write about human trafficking as a modern form of slavery, people sometimes tune out as their eyes glaze over. So, Glazed Eyes, meet Srey Pov.
She’s a tough interview because she breaks down as she recalls her life in a Cambodian brothel, and pretty soon my eyes are welling up, too.
Srey Pov’s family sold her to a brothel when she was 6 years old. She was unaware of sex but soon found out: A Western pedophile purchased her virginity, she said, and the brothel tied her naked and spread-eagled on a bed so that he could rape her.
“I was so scared,” she recalled. “I was crying and asking, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ ”
After that, the girl was in huge demand because she was so young. Some 20 customers raped her nightly, she remembers. And the brothel twice stitched her vagina closed so that she could be resold as a virgin. This agonizingly painful practice is common in Asian brothels, where customers sometimes pay hundreds of dollars to rape a virgin.
Most girls who have been trafficked, whether in New York or in Cambodia, eventually surrender. They are degraded and terrified, and they doubt their families or society will accept them again. But somehow Srey Pov refused to give in.
Repeatedly, she tried to escape the brothel but she said that each time she was caught and brutally punished with beatings and electric shocks. The brothel, like many in Cambodia, also had a punishment cell to break the will of rebellious girls.
As Srey Pov remembers it (and other girls tell similar stories), each time she rebelled she was locked naked in the darkness in a barrel half-full of sewage, replete with vermin and scorpions that stung her regularly. I asked how long she was punished this way, thinking perhaps an hour or two.
“The longest?” she remembered. “It was a week.”
Customers are, of course, the reason trafficking continues, and many of them honestly think that the girls are in the brothels voluntarily. Many are, of course. But smiles are not always what they seem. Srey Pov even remembers flirting to avoid being beaten.
“We smile on the outside,” she said, “but inside we are crying.”
Yet this is a story with a triumphant ending. At age 9, Srey Pov was able to dart away from the brothel and outrun the guard. She found her way to a shelter run by Somaly Mam, an anti-trafficking activist who herself was prostituted as a child. Somaly now runs the Somaly Mam Foundation to fight human trafficking in Southeast Asia: She’s the one who led the brothel raid that I recounted in my last column.
In Somaly’s shelter, Srey Pov learned English and blossomed. Now 19, Srey Pov can even imagine eventually having a boyfriend.
“Before I didn’t like men because they hit me and raped me,” she reflected. “But now I think that not all men are bad. If I find a good man, I can marry him.”
Somaly is creating an army of young women like Srey Pov who have been rescued from the brothels: well-educated and determined to defeat human trafficking. Over the years, I’ve watched these women and girls make a difference, and they’re self-replicating.
In my last column, I described a frightened seventh-grade Vietnamese girl who was rescued in a brothel raid that Somaly and I participated in. That raid in the town of Anlong Veng has already had an impact, for six more brothels in the area have closed because of public attention and fear that they could be next. And the seventh-grade girl is recovering from her trauma at a shelter run by Somaly, where a girl named Lithiya has taken her under her wing.
Lithiya, now 15, is one of my favorites in “Somaly’s army,” perhaps because she wants to be a journalist and has taught herself astoundingly good English. Trafficked at age 9 from Vietnam, Lithiya was locked inside a brothel for years before she climbed over a wall and escaped. Now a ninth grader, she is ranked No. 1 in her class.
Srey Pov, Lithiya and Somaly encountered a form of oppression that echoes 19th-century slavery. But the scale is larger today. By my calculations, at least 10 times as many girls are now trafficked into brothels annually as African slaves were transported to the New World in the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
So for those of you doubtful that “modern slavery” really is an issue for the new international agenda, think of Srey Pov — and multiply her by millions. If what such girls experience isn’t slavery, that word has no meaning. It’s time for a 21st-century abolitionist movement in the U.S. and around the world.