It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard good news out of Cambodia. This week, a Cambodian court of appeals freed a radio station owner, Mam Sonando (71-years old), who had been sentenced for 20 years on charges of secessionism. As is often the case, Sonando’s real crime was simply criticism of Hun Sen’s government. It’s a relatively bold move for the judges involved. I’m personally not as familiar with Cambodian politics, but friends who are confirm that Hun Sen’s political position remains secure and courts have seldom ruled against the regime.
Category Archives: Cambodia
VOA Khmer has some more analysis of the second trial at the Khmer Rouge. Two key issues are whether the (admittedly less legalistic) 1979 trial under the Vietnamese or the 1996 amnesty preclude another trial. John Ciorciari, a professor of law and public policy at the University of Michigan (my home institution), says no to both questions. Read on here to find out more about the debate.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen much news regarding the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. The second trial, featuring Nuon Chea (Brother Number 2), Khieu Samphan (former head of state), Ieng Sary (former foreign minister), Ieng Thirith (minister for social affairs), is due to start soon. Unlike Duch, these four defendants allege their innocence and vow to fight the charges.
However, a new dispute appears to have broken out between the Cambodian and international members of the tribunal. The international prosecutors want to bring several more defendants before the trial, while the judges seem to want to avoid further prosecutions. In fact, the behavior of some of the judges has been shockingly unprofessional. According to the BBC:
They [the judges] warned they would punish a “disloyal staff member” they suspected of leaking information. And they “welcomed” the resignation of international staff who disagreed with their approach to investigations, one of whom referred to a “toxic atmosphere of mutual mistrust” in a “professionally dysfunctional office”.
[Judge] Blunk also rebuked a journalist who asked whether the judges were trying to “bury” the third case, telling him: “The use of the word ‘bury’ is insolent, for which you are given leave to apologise within two days.”
Of course, as everybody knows, the best way to inflame a reporter’s charge is to try to attack the messanger. BBC also interviewed some Cambodian activists who suspected that the United Nations simply wants to wrap up the trials as soon as possible in order to save money.
Overall, this is a sad state of affairs for the KRT process and a far cry from what its supporters had hoped. It looks less and less likely that the KRT will have any meaningful impact on the Cambodian legal system. Perhaps the second trial at least will provide enough of a sense of justice to allow Cambodians to close the book on this part of their history.
The dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple has been mentioned on this blog before, but now it’s taken an even more explicitly legal turn. Cambodia petitioned the International Court of Justice to clarify its 1958 decision regarding the temple. That’s right – the ICJ ruled on this issue in 1958, and the countries are still fighting over it. It will be interesting to see what happens this time around – and more importantly, if a new decision actually resolves the dispute.
A few brief updates from the region:
Burma/Myanmar: The National League for Democracy has established a network of lawyers called the Central Legal Aid Team to provide pro bono legal services across the country. According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, their work will focus mostly on defending political activists, although lawyer Aung Thein claims it will not be limited by its affiliation with the NLD.
Cambodia: While Yellow Shirts have yet to face justice in Thailand, Cambodia has started to prosecute seven Thais, including an MP and prominent Yellow Shirt activist, for illegal entry into a military zone. The incident is part of the larger border dispute between the countries over the Preah Vihar temple.
Indonesia: Members of the Islamic Defenders Front are now standing trial for attacking and stabbing a Christian minister in Bekasi. Sadly, this is only a more extreme case of rising Islamic antagonism towards Christianity in the country.
There’s an article in Asia Times about the current situation of the Khmer Rouge Tribunals. Of particular interest is this description of the KRT’s next steps:
Because the suspects will strongly contest the proceedings and the documentary evidence linking them to atrocities committed by low-level cadres is fragmented, their prosecution is expected to be significantly more difficult than that of Duch, who essentially pleaded guilty after leaving a voluminous paper trail from his time as a prison administrator.
“Case 002 is the most political, the most important, and the most difficult,” said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which helped to compile much of the evidence used by the court. Chhang called the second case “a test of trust between the UN and the government in seeking justice for the Cambodian survivors”.
It’d definitely worth reading in its entirety.
Sam Rainsy, Cambodia’s primary opposition leader, received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment for “altering public documents and disinformation.” Rainsy had protested against Hun Sen’s decision to demarcate its border with Vietnam. He alleged that Phnom Penh had ceded territory to its northern neighbor, and even encouraged a village to uproot border markings. While this is obviously a sensitive issue for the regime, 10 years does seem like quite a long time for what is basically sedition. Of course, the Hun Sen regime claims the courts are independent and merely applying the law. But it also appears that, with China’s investment and aid, Hun Sen no longer feels compelled to moderate his authoritarian instincts.