Sunday, 1 March 2009

Cambodia: An interview with Cambodia's Himmler

Link: Kang Khek Ieu: 'They all had to be eliminated' [The Independent]

This February 2008 article contains extracts of a 2006 interview with Kang Khek Ieu, the man known as "Duch". (His full name has also been romanised as Kaing Guek Eav among other versions).  This is the man currently on trial in Cambodia for his role in torturing between 15,000 and 17,000 people to death in the infamous S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. 

"Confessions were extracted by primitive torture: prisoners were strapped to iron beds, suspended upside down from ropes, threatened with drowning, tormented with knives and pincers, locked in tiny cells. Then, at night, they were taken by lorry to the outskirts of Phnom Penh and killed in the rice fields. The Khmer Rouge were obsessed with killing by night" - Valerio Pellizzari,

The article is currently available on PDF from the Cambodia Tribunal website, and is cited as "The Killing Fields confession".  He does confess to his crimes in the interview but his claim that he was merely a pawn and that they were holding his family hostage leaves me feeling dissatisfied.  That type of empty claim is not going to give people the peace and healing that they need. 

The problem of course, is that this is a genocide trial taking place over 30 years after the crimes.  People are rarely going to speak openly and honestly about their motives and immoral behaviour as they look to spend the rest of their natural lives in prison.  They just lie and say that they had no choice and hold on to the mistaken belief that this will save them from a life sentence.

I compare this to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa and Liberia.  There, people often spoke openly of their crimes in exchange for amnesty.  As a South African, I saw the healing effect that it had as people finally received the recognition that they deserved for the crimes committed against them and they finally found out the truth behind what happened to the countless people who "disappeared".

I'm not suggesting for one minute that TRC hearings replace genocide tribunals.  I just wonder if there isn't a place for these type of hearings in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and even Cambodia so that those people who led work camps, for example, can admit to their parts in the conflict and perhaps provide answers as to what actually happened to the countless numbers of people who disappeared.

I see that a press release from the South African Department of Justice TRC site stated that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was going to assist Cambodia in setting up a TRC.

Link:  Documenting the Truth [Khmer Institute]

This is a good article by the Khmer Institute regarding why such a commission may not work in Cambodia.  There are fears that a commission could cause instability and that in the end the proceeding may no be successful in achieving their goal:

"Since many Khmer Rouge soldiers defected in 1996 and integrated into Cambodian society, many Cambodian victims have had to live side by side with their tormentors. Although some may want retribution, it is also clear that they have shown tremendous tolerance. Many victims have, in fact, expressed a desire to forgive their tormentors and move on with their lives. Clearly, a Cambodian truth commission will face social and political controversy and difficulties in obtaining and documenting the truth. Clearly, not all victims and perpetrators will have an incentive or desire to testify. Nevertheless, it is also clear that any process dealing with the Khmer Rouge must seek to heal and educate Cambodian society, goals that tribunals alone may not be adequate in achieving" - Khmer Institute

It seems that my question has been answered then. The current Cambodia Tribunal, a joint effort between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations will hopefully achieve, as much as is possible, this goal of healing and educated Cambodian society and indeed the world.

© A Passion to Understand

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