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Khmer Rouge Trial and How We Move Forward

{Khmer Rouge Memorial Display of Skulls, Entry to Memorial, and a Cambodian man taking my nephew Jaxson to see the marketplace ~ a symbolic photo of moving forward hand in hand with those who know and those learning}

There is so much extensive information on the Khmer Rouge and current trial that I thought it best to present this topic through a question and answer form where the questions are the most important to Cambodians and non-Cambodians wanting to understand more. Answers are directly quoted from their source. I will try my best to accurately place the answers in context. This posting will continue to grow as we learn more and there will be questions that currently do not have an answer. Please feel free to add questions and answers and also your thoughts.


Why and how did the Khmer Rouge come to Power?
Economic disparity and corruption helped give rise to the Khmer Rouge.

Khmer Rouge Trial: Why has it taken 30 years?
Cambodia originally asked the United Nations and international community to help set up a tribunal into the genocide more than a decade ago.

A joint tribunal was finally set up in 2006 following long drawn-out negotiations between the Phnom Penh government and the UN.

Bail hearings, appeals and pre-trial procedures have contributed to further delays.
~BBC News from Landmark Khmer Rouge trial starts

Almost three decades after they committed their crimes, putting the Khmer Rouge on trial is still exceedingly difficult and political. It is difficult because of Cambodia’s weak judicial system and lack of proper evidence. It is political because many current government officials were in some way or another involved as part of the Khmer Rouge regime and former Khmer Rouge leaders still possess critical influence regarding the balance of power between leading and opposition parties.

How do Cambodians want to deal with the Khmer Rouge trial?
Based on the survey of Cambodians conducted by the author in June 1997 of twenty-five Cambodians from varied socio-economic strata, 7 [s]even recurring themes arose within the interviews conducted. First, Cambodians want peace. After decades of war, many of those interviewed would not support a tribunal if it led to further instability and unrest. Second, the interviewees want to know the full truth about the Khmer Rouge era. The Khmer Rouge regime was so secretive that many Cambodians do not know who was ultimately responsible for the genocidal acts; these facts must be established so that Cambodians can put the past behind them. Third, the question of responsibility for violent crimes committed under orders and/or duress surfaced repeatedly. Fourth, the interviewees want to know who exactly backed the Khmer Rouge--that is, who or which countries supported the regime both directly and indirectly. Fifth, in regard to the question of amnesty, the interviewees held a vast array of opinions. On the one hand, Buddhism and the goal of national reconciliation point to leniency. On the other hand, the crimes committed were so heinous that many interviewees believe that the Khmer Rouge must be punished. Sixth, a state of law must be established in Cambodia. Finally, education is absolutely vital for Cambodia to move toward its purported goals.
~ Jaya Ramji, Fletcher Forum of World Affairs from Reclaiming Cambodian History: The Case for a Truth Commission

What format is the Khmer Rouge being tried?
Top five leaders of the Khmer Rouge are prosecuted in a UN backed tribunal for 1.7 million deaths of Cambodians from 1975 to 1979.

Is there a truth commission that many Cambodians had suggested in conjunction with the tribunal? {I still searching for the answer}

What is currently happening in the trial?
Kaing Guek Eav - more commonly known as "Duch" - who was in charge of the dreaded S21 detention center is the first to be prosecuted. The tribunal is held in Phnom Penh.

What is expected to be gained?
This new hybrid, national-international tribunal was expected to accomplish three things:
First, it should bring justice to those who died and help those who survived to release their suffering.
Second, it should strengthen the rule of law by judging and punishing the criminals in fair and open trials. It should be a model marking the end of impunity and the beginning of law enforcement in Cambodia, and serve as a deterrent to all who contemplate such inhuman behavior in Cambodia or in the world.
Third, it should educate the people of Cambodia and raise awareness about this darkest chapter in the country's history, especially among the young generation. Ultimately, this would lead to the reconstruction of the society as a whole.
~ Chak Sopheap, UPI Asia.com from Khmer rouge Trials will not bring justice

What will most likely be the outcome?
[O]nly local leaders and a few high-level leaders that were directly involved in the genocide will be sentenced, while many others will go unpunished. It
is doubtful if justice and the rule of law will prevail.
~ Chak Sopheap, UPI Asia.com from Khmer rouge Trials will not bring justice

Given Cambodia's current political climate, with its lack of respect for human rights and failure to govern by rule of law, the United States should be applauded for steadfastly refusing to participate in the upcoming Khmer Rouge trials. Prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia will be at best a demonstration of hypocrisy by current leaders of Cambodia and at worst an opportunity for the current regime, a vestige of both the Khmer Rouge itself and communist Vietnam, to rewrite history.

Closure for Khmer Rouge victims is often cited as one of the primary reasons for pushing forward what even most proponents readily admit is a flawed tribunal structure. But is prosecution of past tyrants worth the precedent it sets for Cambodians concerning the absolute power of their current tyrant? The United States has correctly answered in the negative and holds fast to her principle that the future of Cambodia's democracy should not be sold out for a mere show trial. Rather than teaching Cambodians respect for the rule of law and human rights, such a trial will instead reinforce the resignation of Cambodians to living under rule of dictatorship. A show trial of the Khmer Rouge orchestrated by Hun Sen will not only do disservice to victims of the Khmer Rouge, but also to the current and future victims of Hun Sen's authoritarian regime.
~Khmer Institute from Closure at What Cost?

How do we move forward?
In order to move forward, Cambodia must establish a clear picture of the past so that all Cambodians have a stake in upholding its future.
~ Jaya Ramji, Fletcher Forum of World Affairs from Reclaiming Cambodian History: The Case for a Truth Commission


Thanks to everyone for taking the 30 day journey with me to embrace the culture of Cambodia. I have learned so much and will continue to learn and get involved with making its future exceed expectation. I am hopeful.



  1. You did an excellent job Sophorn,I'm so proud of
    you, and appreciate you for your time, effort and dedication. God will bless you because you have stepped out in faith to do His will.


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