Theary SengJanuary 21, 2009
ABC Radio Australia
Cambodia's UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal has officially set February 17th as the start date for the long-awaited trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of atrocities in the 1970s. Former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav - better known as Duch - will be the first person to appear on charges of crimes against humanity, breaches of the Geneva Convention and pre-meditated murder and torture. Aged 66, Duch was prison chief at the infamous Tuol Sleng jail, a former school transformed into a torture centre during Khmer Rouge rule between 1975 and 1979.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Theary C. Seng, executive director of Center for Social Development
Click here to listen to the audio program (Windows Media)
SENG: This is definitely a good starting point, justice must be seen to be done. We have been waiting for 30 years now where a trial has not been had, so this is the beginning of the justice process and it's a very, very visible beginning. As you know, a trial is a visible symbol of justice and the anticipation, the waiting, the expectations, are being merged and all eyes are being pointed to this trial that is set for February 17th.
LAM: I understand that Duch has also pleaded guilty, that there is much evidence weighed against him?
SENG: Yes, Duch is also a good starting point, because a trial is based on evidence. After 30 years, a lot of evidence has been lost, but with regards to Duch, he kept a very, very meticulous record of all the executions, at least 16,000 were believed to have been killed at his command. There are witnesses, there are piles and mounds of documentary evidence. So this is a clear cut case and so it makes it a better beginning and a more visible beginning, an easier case I think than the other four senior leaders who are also currently under detention at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
LAM: And Theary, the tribunal of course as a symbolic reconciliation with Cambodia's painful past and yet despite the limited time and resources, many people feel that the hearing should be broadened to try more former perpetrators?
SENG: Millions died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. To try to prosecute only five, beginning with Duch now, being the only one considered most responsible and the other being considered senior leaders is not enough. I understand that hundreds if not thousands could potentially be prosecuted for the mass crimes that occurred in the 1970s and taking into, and taking the lives of at least two million Cambodians, including those are my parents. But Duch should not be the only scapegoat. He should not be made a scapegoat. So if hundreds-and-thousands are not realistic, well five is not enough either. There is currently now a discussion to possibly prosecute another six. This is being forwarded by the international co-prosecutor. I think this is a very realistic number, and to have an additional six prosecutions. I think it will bring greater peace to the Cambodians have been waiting for peace and justice.
LAM: And yet I understand that there is some reluctance in certain quarters within Cambodia, to broaden the tribunal. Is there a political dimension to this reluctance?
SENG: So this is the problem, if evidence and justice is leading the prosecution, even if it is five or six or seven. I think Cambodians will be satisfied, but when there are other elements outside of evidence, outside of justice for the victims, factors such as political considerations, then it becomes really problematic and it's then it could potentially led to these trials to become shams, and this is sometimes better than not having a trial. So yes there are political considerations that should not be in this court. As you know the current government are comprised of former Khmer Rouge soldiers, so they don't want these issues to surface into the public arena, especially under the glare of international and national attention. So we believe that there are political considerations, that should not be in the vicinity of this Khmer Rouge Tribunal. It should be based on evidence, it should be based on justice for the victims.http://ki-media.blogspot.com