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Richard L. Dixon International Negotiations- IRLS613 Dr. Paul Clarke-Instructor American Military University
The horrible campaigns, massacres, and pogroms that both Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge allies committed in order to remake Cambodia into a Marxist agrarian utopia are a dark stain on world civilization. There is no doubt that the international community as well as the United States was primarily responsible for allowing the atrocities to take place due to their indifference and tacit acceptance of the Pol Pot Regime as the official voice of the Cambodian government. It was only through the rumbling and outcry of the Cambodian people that action was finally initiated by the United Nations, Cambodian government, and the International Community in the establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia by legislative mandate to persecute the senior leadership of the Khmer Rouge for their involvement in the Cambodian Genocide. The purpose of this essay is to shed some light on why the world community failed to successfully intervene militarily and politically in order to mediate an end to this conflict.
Psychopath to Genocide: The Homicidal Delusions of Pol Pot (Saloth Sar) in the Establishment of the Cambodian “Killing Fields”
Much can be said about the calamities, injustice, and genocide that ethnic Cambodians suffered at the hands of the delusional tendencies of Pol Pot shortly after the U.S. pullout in Southeast Asia. Between the years 1975-79 close to two million Cambodians lost their lives in a rule of tyranny, torture, and manipulation in Pol Pot’s quest to create an agrarian utopia in the same failed fashion as Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. The policies of the Cultural Revolution also resulted in the death of some 30-40 million Chinese peasants. “Once in power, Pol Pot began a radical experiment to create an agrarian utopia inspired in part by Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution which he had witnessed first-hand during a visit to Communist China. Pol Pot would now attempt his own ‘Super Great Leap Forward’ in Cambodia, which he renamed the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea.” (The History Place). Pol Pot purposely targeted ethnic minorities in Cambodia to cleanse and purify Cambodian culture and return it to a nomadic pristine state. These included Chinese, Muslims, Vietnamese, and Buddhist Monks. Pol Pot also loathed technology and purged the country of doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and government officials under the Rightwing Military regime that came to power after overthrowing Prince Sihanouk in 1970. The typical life for Cambodians under incarceration during the Pol Pot era was in was hard, intensive, and cruel. Often people were bludgeoned to death by soldiers for no other reason then being demonized by the state. “In their violent repression, the Khmer Rouge regularly used agricultural metaphors such as ‘pull up the grass, dig up the roots,’ and proclaimed that the bodies of city people and other victims would be used for ‘fertiliser.’ But as they demolished the small raised dykes dividing traditional peasant plots, the CPK also demolished all three pillars of Cambodian peasant life: the peasant farm, the family unit, and the Buddhist religion. While the Khmer Rouge idealized the peasantry and liked to say they were leading a peasant revolution, they destroyed the Khmer peasant’s way of life.” (Kierman, Ben. 2007). Even members of the dominant Cambodian majority were not spared from the purge that was being carried out by Pol Pot’s regime. Pol Pot had a distrust of Cambodians who had been trained by the Communist Party in Hanoi and rose to power in the ouster of Prince Sihanouk. They readily became scapegoats in the Khmer Rouge’s campaign and quest for racial purity. “The Khmer Rouge killings of Hanoi-trained Khmer between 1971-75 foreshadowed the political purges of the Eastern zone troops in 1977-78 and the commonly-used DK expression, ‘Vietnamese minds in Khmer bodies.’ This expression, which epitomized Khmer Rouge anti-Vietnamese racism, was applied to any traitorous characteristic, regardless of its actual connection to Vietnam. In this way, the regime rationalized ‘aberrant’ elements within the Khmer race as the result of Vietnamese political, ideological or cultural influence.” (Kanika Mak, 2004).
The Khmer Rouge’s extermination of non-ethnic Cambodians was deeply rooted in historical animosity against the Vietnamese who were their ancient enemies. As we have seen in the Serbian’s pogrom against the Bosnian Muslims, retribution was carried out against them because of their alleged alliance with the Nazis during WWII which resulted in the murder of some 400,000 Siberian Nationalist and Jews. One can easily apply similar circumstances to the Cambodian “Killing Fields” as well. At one point in their history the Khmer people were conquered by the Vietnamese who then humiliated, subjected, and forced the population to hard labor. Additionally, the Khmer Rouge pointed out that their plight at the hands of their Vietnamese conquerors was made worst by the intervention of the French Colonial Empire which expanded Vietnam by annexing parts of Cambodia. “Rather than interpret the establishment of the French protectorate as saving Cambodia from Vietnamese and Thai domination, they adopt the view that colonialism was a twin injustice: not only did it clearly exploit the Khmer people, resources and land, it also reduced, or stymied the rise of, a powerful and developed nation.” (Kanika Mak). There is no doubt that the United States involvement in Indochina played a direct role in the ascension of the Khmer Rouge to power and thereby allowed them to initiate their reign of terror upon their population. As I mentioned earlier, the United States was behind a coup that overthrew the legitimate government of Prince Sihanouk. Two events by the United States were responsible for Pol Pot’s rise to power: 1. In 1970 the United States secretly invaded Cambodia in order to destroy the rebel camps of the Viet Cong. All along the United States had been telling the world that its military operations during the Vietnam War was only isolated to that country. However, secretly Richard Nixon had drafted a policy that the only way to have a save-the-face withdrawal from Indochina was to cut off the supply routes of the Viet Cong and the NVA which meant going into Cambodia. Unfortunately, the U.S. intervention did not succeed in rooting out the Viet Cong or the dismantling their bases, instead it drove them deeper inside the interior of the country. This did not go over well with Pol Pot who had formed the Khmer Rouge earlier in 1962 to overthrow the oppressive rule of Prince Sihanouk. The encroachment of the Vietnamese only heightened the historic animosity that the Cambodians displayed towards the Vietnamese because they once again viewed themselves as being occupied. These resentments played into the hands of Pol Pot who stirred up the nationalistic chauvinistic tendencies of the Khmer Rouge. In John Mueller’s companion piece to the “Banality of Ethnic War” entitled “The Rise, Decline, Shallowness, and Banality of Militant Nationalism in Europe: Hobbes, Thugs, ‘Ethnic Conflict,’ and the Future of Warfare,” we see a repeat pattern of militant nationalism whose venomous rhetoric convinces normally ordinary citizens to kill and maim those they are told to disdain and demonize with impunity. He utilizes the example in Europe by highlighting the action of the Serbians against their Bosnian Muslim neighbors. The same pattern holds true in Cambodia as well. “In a state of nature people do not descend into the war of all against all Hobbes depicted, and the notion of ‘ethnic warfare,’ insofar as it connotes a conflict of all against all and neighbor against neighbor, is similarly
misguided. Instead, it s a condition in which a mass of essentially mild, ordinary, and quite normal people can unwillingly and bewilderedly come under the vicious and arbitrary control of a small group of thugs with guns.” (1999, 1).
2. From the years 1969 to 1973 the United States deliberately bombed Cambodia back into the Stone Age in order unhinge and slow down the inevitable advance of the NVA into South Vietnam as well as saving face in an exit strategy. The bombing destabilized the country side and forced thousands of Cambodians to flee to the capital city of Phnom Penh. Refugees from Vietnam that were on the border separating the two countries also sought sanctuary in the capital city of Cambodia. The bombing of the Cambodian countryside, as well as the overcrowding of the capital city, the U.S. withdrawal in 1975, and the corruption of the Rightwing government served as major factors in the ascension of power for Pol Pot’s regime. The plight of the ethnic Cambodians was ignored by the United States and the rest of the world because the war in Indochina had become highly unpopular which had led to massive protest and peace movements around the globe. As a result, any intrusion to stop the “killing fields” in Cambodia would be view as a further continuation and escalation of hostiles in Indochina. In addition, the United States was still suffering from the after effects of the Watergate scandal in the country. Interestingly though, it wasn’t the Western nations that put an end to Pol Pot’s rule in Cambodia, instead it was the newly victorious government of the People’s Republic of Vietnam who invaded and overran Cambodia in 1979 and installed a puppet government that was controlled by Hanoi to stop the numerous incursions of Cambodia into its territory. The Vietnamese campaign was eerie similar to the one carried out by Tanzania under the rule of Julius Nyerere in the Tanzania/Uganda war of 1978-79 that ousted Idi Amin with the help of dissent forces who were loyal to former president Milton Obote that Amin had driven from power years before. Even though Pol Pot was driven from power, he and his followers in the Khmer Rouge led a proxy war against the Vietnamese Government for the next decade which was aided and largely funded by Red China. In fact, when Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, it was invaded by China in the same year as retaliation for occupying Cambodia. Cambodia had become a broken country during this period. Even though it had the semblance of a centralized government with the installment of the puppet government by the People’s Republic of Vietnam (ex Khmer Commanders Heng Samrin and Hun Sen installed as President and Foreign Ministry respectively), it still was a fragile state with really no ruling authority. “After nearly a decade of war and the "bitter and sour times" of Khmer Rouge rule, Cambodia in 1979 was a ruined country. Much of its educated or trained manpower either had not survived the "Killing Fields" or had fled the country. The remaining population was traumatized, weak from hunger and disease, and greatly demoralized from the almost complete destruction of the Khmer social
fabric. The country's productive infrastructure lay in ruins. So great were the physical and psychological ravages endured by the Cambodian people, including the social dislocation caused by the death of hundreds of thousands and the flight across the Thai border of a large segment of the surviving population, that the first Western observers to reach Cambodia in 1979 questioned the very survival of the Cambodian people.” (Curtis, Grant, 1993).
The push to end the civil war in Cambodia between the forces of the Khmer Rouge and their alliance with Prince Sihanouk was a combined effort of the United Nations and President George Bush. The Cambodian conflict was an example of an ignored conflict that levied the worst possible wrath on the whole region. Now the world community set about the task of digging through the mess and coming up with a comprehensive measure to establish peace. On paper, the successful efforts for a peaceful settlement seemed almost a daunting task. At play were four separate entities fighting power in the country. They were the State of Cambodia (SoC), the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPLNF), the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCIPEC), and the Khmer Rouge. Under the tenets of the Paris Accords of October 1991 the four separate organizations were given joint ruling powers under the auspices of Prince Sihanouk who served as president. In addition, the United Nations created the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) to help facilitate the transformation to peaceful rule. “The world organization’s largest peacekeeping operation to date, UNTAC job is to monitor Cambodia’s progress toward democracy until elections are held in the spring of 1993.” (Bonde, William J, 1992). However, during this vital transition period of the country of Cambodia to democratic rule under the guidance of UNTAC, the country was plagued by corruption, violence, and the continued lack of cooperation by the Khmer Rouge under strongman Pol Pot who turned out to be the proverbial fly in the ointment. The 1993 elections that were mandated, organized, and monitored by UNTAC proved to be the first steps towards stability in the country. Yet those elections were marred by political corruption, chaos, kickbacks, and assassination attempts. “The electoral process was similarly marked by well-orchestrated campaigns of harassment and intimidation, including assassination of party officials. In addition, apparent economic sabotage resulted in a sudden depreciation of the riel, causing economic hardship and injecting further uncertainty into the peace process.” (Curtis, Grant,). The election was eventually won by FUNCIPEC. The election of 1998 though was historic for Cambodia for several reasons. 1. The world witnessed for the first time saw in almost half a century, which the power of the Khmer Rouge started to fad and eventually decline. It was also during this period that some semblance of a special people’s tribunal was set up to try various senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge for their involvement in the Cambodian genocide. The ordinary citizen felt empowered and clamored for the special tribunals to correct the injustices that had been perpetuated upon them by both Pol Pot and the senior leadership of the Khmer Rouge. “One possible consequence of the trials is that the attitudes of ordinary Cambodians toward the
rule of law will be affected. One hypothesis is that the trials will restore faith in the rule of law, a faith undermined by the failure of the state to take action against the miscreants for thirty years. The trials have several purposes. Obviously, holding the leaders of the former regime accountable for human rights violations during their reign of terror is a primary objective of the process. But the trials also seek a broader goal: what might be called reconciliation. Although the term has many – and many contested – meanings, reconciliation generally involves societal transformation, with friend and foe seeking a means of living together in peaceful tolerance and coexistence. As with virtually all transitional justice processes, the Cambodian efforts to address its past seek several objectives simultaneously.” (Gibson, James L., Sonis Jeffery, and Hean, Sokhom, 2009). 2. The elections took place without the participation of UNTAC. “The elections held on 26 July 1998 marked an historic moment in the development of Cambodian democracy. Unlike the elections of 1993 which were run by the UN, this time the polls were organised by Cambodians themselves, monitored by around 1,000 foreign observers – (including some 600 observers sent by about 40 countries gathered under the Joint International Observer Group/JIOG).” (International Crisis Group, 1999). 3. The 1998 election also witnessed the emergence of a new player on the Cambodian Political scene which eventually was won by the CCP (Cambodian People’s Party) by manipulation, coercion, and other under-handed means. “The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has now achieved long-sought legitimacy but this has come essentially by default – by marginalising political opposition, wearing down donors and diplomats, and maintaining a lock on power through the military and local government offices.” (ICC). Even though the CCP gained power through corruption, they represented a stabilizing influence that played a significant role in the establishment of special tribunals to persecute the senior leadership of the Khmer Rouge. The process to establish to establish a special Tribunal was slow, tedious, and filled with indifference. Most of the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge had passed away and the whereabouts of the others was unknown. There was also an effort by various elements within the International Community as well within Cambodia to suppress the eye witness accounts, statements from victims, and noted documentation of the atrocities that was carried out by the Khmer Rouge against their people between the years 1975-79. These atrocities included torture, bludgeoning, indiscriminate killing, false imprisonment, random beatings, rape, intentional starvation, and the withholding of critical medical treatment. Finally through intense negotiation with the United Nations, the Cambodian National Assembly was able to vote on the establishment of a special tribunal called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. “In January 2001, the Cambodian National Assembly approved a draft law (the “ECCC Law”) establishing the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in the form of so-called Extraordinary Chambers—a mixed judicial
forum with domestic and international features and participation—to try the alleged crimes of the DK regime. After almost six years of negotiations, the United Nations and the Cambodian government reached an agreement (the “UN-RGC Agreement”) in 2003 regulating their cooperation in connection with the tribunal.” Initial funding came from the United States in the amount of 516 million dollars. Even though the Cambodian Legislative mandated that the trials take place in Cambodia, it still had an international flavor with legal jurists primarily from Western Nations. Cambodia at that point did not have enough legal experts in the country because the professional class during the Khmer Rouge rule had been purged or killed in their insane quest to purify Cambodian society. The primary purpose of the Tribunal was not only a stage to persecute the top leaders of the Khmer Rouge for their hideous crimes against humanity but also a truth commission, historical project, and a healing process for the victims who had the opportunity to recount their stories of horror. The ECCC was severely criticized because it did not follow the decorum of international law especially when it came to the Geneva Convention of rules of evidence, pre-trial confinement, and trying defendants in absentia. “A major defect of this option is that in the common law world, trials in absentia are not generally considered to fulfill the requirements of due process. Although one of the Nazis convicted at Nuremberg was tried in absentia, that trial was conducted under special rules. If objections of many common law lawyers to trials in absentia are to be met, the Khmer Rouge leaders must be captured. “(Stanton, Dr. Gregory H., 1992). In other words, the Cambodian Government, UN, and the International community could not agree upon on a consistent protocol that would have been an effective avenue to redress and punish the wrongdoers who had organized, participated, and carried out the pogrom against Cambodian minorities. In terms of political consideration, much of the criticism about the effectiveness of the ECCC from the International Community was unjustified because they themselves had their dragged feet and actually blocked the establishment of a War Crimes Tribunal. Even after the Khmer Rouge had been thoroughly defeated and driven from power in 1979 by the Peoples Republic of Vietnam, there were those because who still recognized the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia. This was due to Cold War politics when the world was divided into spheres of influence by the United States and Soviet Union. “China, the United States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), all supported Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in various ways. The Great Powers opposed attempts to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice. No country in the world could be found to file a case against them in the World Court. The Khmer Rouge held on to the Cambodian seat in the United Nations, representing their victims for another fifteen years even though they were openly accountable for their crimes. Rather, international aid poured into their coffers, abetting their war to retake power.” (Kiernan, Ben, 1999). The purpose of the ECCC to bring justice to the Cambodian people by punishing those figures who participated in acts of genocide has not been a total failure. Even though most of the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge are in hiding, too sick for trial, or have
died, the world finally got the opportunity to hear and get a real world account of the atrocities that had happen in the closed society of Cambodia. The fault for a lack of accountability in holding the Khmer Rouge responsible lies not with the Cambodian government but actually the International Community who failed them by ignoring and turning their backs on the catastrophic events that were allowed to take place in the country. What is disturbing is that it was allowed to happen again in Rwanda by the International Community with predictable consequences. One will fine that Cambodia is a country that is finally on the right course of stability. It has finally rebuilt it infrastructure, signed major trade agreements with both the EU and the United States, become a popular tourist destination, and establishment a competent democratically elected government. Yet the legacy, pain, and sorrow of the “Killing Fields” still linger in the minds of those citizens who lived through its horror.
1. The History Place. (1999). Pol Pot in Cambodia 1975-79. Retrieved from http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/pol-pot.htm. 2. Kierman, Ben. (2006). External and Indigenous Sources of Khmer Rouge Ideology. Odd Arne Westad and Sophie Quinn-Judge (Ed.), In the Third Indochina War: Conflict between China, Vietnam and Cambodia, 1972-79 (187206). London: Routledge. 3. Mak, Kanika. (2004). Genocide and Irredemtism under Democratic Kampuchea (1975-79). Yale Center for International and Area Studies. Genocide Studies Program. 7. 4. Ibid. 17. 5. Mueller, John. (1999). The Rise, Decline, Shallowness, and Banality of Militant Nationalism in Europe: Hobbes, Thugs, ‘Ethnic Conflict,’ and the Future of Warfare. 1. 6. Curtis, Grant. (1993). Transition to What? Cambodia, UNTAC, and the Peace Process. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. 6. 7. Bonde, William J. (1992). A Cambodian Peace Settlement: George Bush’s Litmus Test in Asia. 1. 8. Curtis, Grant, 17. 9. Gibson, James L., Sonis Jeffery, and Hean, Sokhom. (2009). Cambodians’ Support for
the Rule of Law on the Eve of the Khmer Rouge Trials. 2-3.
10. International Crisis Group. (1999). Back from the Brink: Cambodian Democracy Gets a Second Chance. 3. 11. Ibid. 1. 12. Whitley, Kelly. (2006). History of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Origins, Negotiations, and Establishment. Ciorciari, John D. (Ed.) in The Khmer Rouge Tribunal (29-55). Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Documentation Center of Cambodia. 13. Stanton, Dr. Gregory H. (1992). The Cambodian Genocide and International Law. Available from http://www.genocidewatch.org/cambodiangenocideilaw.html. 14. Kiernan, Ben. (1999). Cambodia's Twisted Path to Justice. Available from http://www.historyplace.com/pointsofview/kiernan.htm.