Thursday, August 16, 2012

Khmer War Crimes Trial

Building and materials


(revised 16 August 2012)
No doubt if you are a tourist to Cambodia and to Phnom Penh in particular, you will most likely include something about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot in your visit. Every second tuktuk driver in the centre of town will offer to take you to the Killing Fields or the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S 21).

These memorials to the Cambodian Genocide have bome tourist attractions. Not that you get a lot of pleasure actually visiting. Quite the reverse in fact, once you have navigated the various beggers at the gate.

Tuol Sleng (Tuol Svay) was a high school in the capital which the Khmer Rouge converted into a torture centre. In just three years over 17,000 people passed through the prision and passed on to the Killing Fields on the outskirts of the city. Visit the school today and the lawns and pleasant spreading shade trees do not prepare you for inside the building which, incidently, really needs a coat of paint.
Here the classrooms have been turned into torture chambers, with the various devices and methods used still on display. They looked like nimpliments out of the Middle Ages. Up stairs several classroom have been filled with rows of tiny brick cells. Each long enough to lie down in but not wide enough to streach your arms out.

In each classroom the blackboard is usually still atached to the front wall.

S21 was every bit as brutal as any Nazi death camp. Killing was just as systematic with every new arrival photographed for prision records. Many of these photos are now displayed along the walls. Since I arrived in Cambodia on this current visit it was announced that a further 1700 photos had been discovered having been saved from destruction by someone.

I have visited several concentration camps in Europe and found S21 to be every bit as harrowing. Extremely moving.

I think I found S21 to be move emotional than the Killing Fields, despite the bits of human bone and clothing sticking out of the soil and the the thousands of bones and skulls on display in the tall memorial stupa. The remains of around 9000 people have been found here.

So that all relates back to memories from previous visits to Cambodia. But this time I took the opportunity to attend the United Nations sponsored Khmer Rouge War Trials. These long runing trials are being held in a new purpose built court some 16 km from the centre of Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Rouge killings were not just crimes against Cambodia, but as the current Prime Minister points out, 'crimes against humanity'. Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia for three years, eigth months and twenty days during 1975-1979. They called the country Democratic Kampuchea. During that time over three million people were killed. They were the parents, uncles, aunties, brothers and sisters of pople still living today. As I got off the tuktuk on my return to my daughter and son in law's home, my driver told me that his father had been killed by the Khmer Rouge just six months before his birth. He never knew his father. His sister is my daughters home help. In Cambodia, hardly anyone is untouched by Pol Pot and his forces.

Now some of the leaders are finally being bought to trial for the crimes they and their regime committed. War Crimes. The accused are all old men and an old woman. The woman is suffering from dementia and she unless she can be cured enough to stand trial, will escape judgement.

Only one leader has so far been convicted by the courts. That is Kaing Guek Eav aka Duch. He has ultimately received a life sentence with no chance of release. I believe Duch pleaded guilty as he had become a Christian and realised the crimes he had committed. Duch was Chairman of S21 and seen to be the organiser of the systematic and efficient torture and killing in that prison.

His was Case 001

Today I sat in on two sessons of Case 002.

My tuktuk picked me up at 7am as with 16 km to travel on the Airport road it would be possible for hold ups to occur. As it was we were briefly held up by a crashed motor scooter and crowds around it spilling over two highway lanes. Other than that the run out was straight forward and I got to the court at 7:45am. The instructions suggested arriving 45 minutes early for registration and security checks, I was the first to arrive so there was no hold up with security. They had a airport scanner for bags and a scanner archway for me to walk through. As food, drinks, cameras, phones and large bags were not allowed into the court my gear had to be stored by security.

You then go into a large covered outside 'holding pen' area full of tables and plastic chairs. From here you pass through more security into the main building, up stairs and through another scanner before coming into a large theatre like auditorium. This is the public gallery. Perhaps 750 cinema style seats in wide sweeping rows across the space and rising up step by step towards the back. Above the seating in a gallery are a number of glass fronted booths which I took to be the media centre and the translators' booth.

Coming in I collected my head phone and receiver for the English translation. As required the language of the court can be Englsih or French and Khmer.

While I had been waiting in the holding area a large number of local Cambodias had arrived. I was to discover that part of the court's budget is to emable ordinary Cambodians from throughout the country to be able to attend proceedings. The were all neatly dressed as one of the requirments is suitable tidy clothing. On arrival the bus passengers were all given a bread roll – I got one as well, perhaps the attendants were too shy to say they were not for me. It was a bagette with a sweet but salty fish paste filling. Well that's what it seemed like to me. While we were waiting both outside and then inside, up to date back ground videos were screened on flat screen tv sets. I thought this was a good idea as it not only filled the time in but also brought you up to date with the court's progress.

In the public gallery we sat in a semi circular curve facing a wide floor to ceiling window. At a couple minutes before the 9 am start time, the curtains rolled back to reveal all the various court room officials and personalities in position. It was like having the theatre curtains open on the first act of a play with all the actors in various positions and conversations.

A loud bell rang and we all stood as seven judges walked in and took up their positions on a raised platform facing the court and us. It was interesting to find that New Zealander, Dame Silvia Cartwright was one of the judges. She sat beside the President of the Trial, Nonn Nil of Cambodia. He made all the public comments and controlled the court proceedure. Dame Silvia made a couple of brief comments to him during the morning, but none of the other 5 judges seemed make any contribution or comment amongst themselves.

With his back to the window was a wittness.

To the left were the prosucution teams.- perhaps 30 individuals all in layers' gowns.Several represent ed Civil Parties. The prosucution, like the judges, had the Court logo on their gowns. On the right side were the defence teams of an equal number. Two of the accused Khmer Rouge sat in the second row with guards behind them. One was Samphan Khieu, aka Hem and the other was Chea Neon. Both were old men in their 80's. One, Chea, was in a wheel chair. A third defendant, Sary Ieng, aka Van, was watching from his cell by video link due to health issues.
Well I think I have got that correct.

Each of the three had their own defence team and these were the officials making up the first row.

Once the proceedings began, a live video picture appeared on the television screens so that we could clearly see the face of whoever was talking. This was helpful as the witness had his back to us. He was Mr. Suong Si-Koeun who had worked in the Khmer Rouge Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The first defence lawyer, Jasper Pauw, representing Chea Nuon, took a line of questioning which seemed to annoy the court president. So he tended to deny questions as repeditive and outside the scope of the case and so on. If I had been the lawyer I would have been quite angry but the lawyer was very polite and usually thanked the President for his comment. But it did seem to spoil the line he wanted to follow. The President of the Court also disallowed a number of documents because they had not been previously viewed by the witness.
Well the witness would deny seeing them even when they had been part of the documents collected by the defence or prosecuter as part of their case.

The lawyer was trying to establish if the witness had been influenced by a previous witness retracting his statement. But the President kept shutting down that line of questioning.

I felt that he ended his questioning without achieving the gains he had wanted. He also suggested that the President was adopting new rules as the case went along. The other concern for the defence was the way the Prosecution lawyers could and did, stand to challenge a document or lack of translation or page numbers and so on.
After a short break mid morning, the court resumed with a new defence lawyer representing another defandant. This was Michael G Karnavas (USA) who had worked on other War Crimes trials such as in the former Yugoslavia. He has also taught trial law at universities. Clearly he was a capable and experienced person who seemed to take the witness along the direction he wanted with great precision. I do not believe that the President interupted him at all. His questions were all little steps in which he repeated a previous answer and then got the witness to build further on it. Very skillfull I thought.

I thought also that he got answers which the preceeding lawyer had been attempting to obtain without success. The President even had to remind the witness that he didn't need to give such long answers, especially if he wanted to finish his appearance promptly.

At mid day the witness was given the opportunity to continue into the after noon or to rest and return tomorrow morning. He chose to come back tomorrow. Most likely a good idea as he was also an elderly person. He did claim to be the only Pol Pot intellectual who was willing to give evidence but then would not indicate the names of other intellectuals.

He did hwever clearly emphasise that there was no point in requiring the present Minister of Finance and the current Minister of Foreign Affairs to testify as they had been lower than him in the Pol Pot government. He also told the President of the Court not to interupt him while he was speaking. My feeling was that he was being selective in his answers and protective of some individuals.

At one point he mentioned how he had met with another Pol Pot leader to discuss what that person had said in his testomony. The witness claimed that he just wanted to see what he had to prepare to answer during his questioning. It did sound a bit like collusion though. I is also illegal to discuss a case with a witness once they have begun to testify.

However Mr Suong did get a bit confuesed at this stage and kept changing the facts around.

I left after the end of the morning session at noon. It was an experience which I was glad to have had. I was glad that I had made the effort to get out to the Court as it is undoubtly a historical event.

It has taken a long time to get this War Crimes Tribunial under way and there seemsd to be a variety of opinions as to why this should have been so. There also seems to be an opinion that the current cases will be the last to be heard. If the investigations continued then they may well end up reaching into the higher levels of the current government. There is the question as to what some of the current political leaders were doing during the Khmer Rouge period. Would this prove to be an embarishment?

One of the interesting sides to the Court proceedings is the printed resources handed out to public attending. There is an informative 32 page booklet which seeks to answer common questions and list helpful organisations. Then there is a collection of up to date printed sheets which describe the current cases, gives personal background and information regarding the charges made against the defendants. There is a Whose Who in the court with brief biographs of each key person. I found this helpful and interesting to know a bit about each person participating during the day. A copy is given to each member of the public attending.

I would estimate that today there were around 400 public attending. Over 50,000 have attended so far during the Case 002 trial. The Court has a budget amount to cover the costs of busing in Cambodians from around the country to experience the court activities.

I read during the last seven days a local newspaper report that the NZ Government had committed a further $100,000 to the Court's running costs. Perhaps that is to cover Dame Silvia's salary?

From the ECCC Facebook pages:

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is mandated to put on trial senior leaders and those most responsible for crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.
The Khmer Rouge tribunal is offically known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The ECCC is a domestic court supported with international staff, established in accordance with Cambodian law.

Under the terms of Agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia, the Extraordinary Chambers will bring to trial senior leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea and those who were most responsible for the crimes and serious violations of Cambodian penal law, international humanitarian law and custom, and international conventions recognized by Cambodia, that were committed during the period from 17 April 1975 to 6 January 1979.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I am sitting in a rather up market cafe. The Coffee House is attractively set out with modern comfortable furniture, a mixture of low sofas and cushioned stools around low glass topped wooden cofee tables. Of course there is free wi-fi, as is the case with every coffee cafe I visit which aims at expats. Some of the more local estabishments als ohave the service as well.

At one table a loud voiced expat woman is holding a conversation with someone about running charity type training schools and the problem of actually finding a niche area to train in which wasn't already being over taught by other groups. Seems that there are so many hair dressing and sewing training establishments that getting a job in these areas when training is finished is hard. To me that would indicate a chance of women going backing into the life styles that the training was supposed to take them from. Perhaps micro financing them into their own businesses might help – I think that this could be a really esential extension to the whole training scheme.

It is only 9am and already the presence of an air con is proving helpful. I was awake before 6am thanks to the local dogs and their regular early morning chorus. They have a late night sing a long as well. By 7:30 am the family were out the door and heading back to school for the first day of the new year. The long summer (mid year) break was over and there was a sense of excitiment at going back to catch up with friends and others. The roads were congested with over loaded tuk tuks and motor scooters. There were several traffic police and a military individual controlling the mixing flow from two roads which converge to cross the short narrow bridge leading up onto an even businer main road.

We are dropped off on the opposite side of the four or more lane road which runs beside the high school campus of Hope International School. I say four or more lanes because with the flow of tuk tuks cars trucks hand carts and scooters everyone makes their own line of progress. Some scooters even ride against the flow. Crossing the road looks threatening, but in reality is fairly straight forward. See a space in the coming traffic with less scooters and start walking out slowly but steadily. Everyone just aims to go around you as you walk. Crossing the centre line and a Nope School security guard or traffic warden will rush out into the road to flag down approaching vehicles. And so you cross safely, if not a little amazed.

The students gather in the shade of the raised buildings. It is a Christian school so the principal opens with a short appropriate Bible verse and will end assemble with an equally short relevant prayer. This assemble is devoted to introducing the new staff members and short term volunteers. More staff will arrive over the coming days, having been delayed by various travel or training concerns. In 15 minutes or so, the assemble is over and the new classes are heading off with their teachers. It is only 8:20 am. With an 8am start, the school day will end at 2:30pm. With the way the heat builds up during the day, this early start seems a good idea.

I leave the school and head off down busy side streets for the coffee bar 20 minutes walk away. The residential streets are a mixture of small businesses congested housing and construction in progress. Down an ajoining side street last week I looked in at several local mechanical factories and workshops. There I watched lathes at work, welding, heavy metal work as equipment such as concret mixers were either manufactured or repaired. I saw a factory making large industrial generators down another street. Generally the workshops were not much bigger that two or three New Zealand double garages (car ports). Industrial safety measures didn't seem obvious. Welding without eye or foot protection was a common practice.

I always enjoy walking along the streets here as there is always so much to see. And today I only had to decline three tuktuk offers and one moto ride. Perhaps I don't look so touristy? Ah well, dream on.

While the temperatures are in the thirties, it was still early morning and easier to walk than later in the day would be.

Just a block away from the Coffee House is the Russian Market. This is the one I have visited the most during my times in Phnom Penh. It is not the largest market but still full of many narrow alleyways and passages through the various stalls. Mostly the width is around a metre but it varies a bit depending on how much of the stall's goods spills out from their official space. Imagine a typical stall being around 3-4 metres wide and about the same or perhaps a little less, deep.

Stals seemed to be grouped into areas selling the same type of product. There is a small group of stationery and book sellers. Some of these have so much stock crammed in that the seller sits out in front and clambers onto her displays to reach items at the back. One woman did this to get my a copy of the Malaysa Lonely Planet. It was just $5 and a fake. The cover looked correct but the small print had the correct edition but then said published June 2011. Now I knew that the current edition was 2010 with the next due out in 2013. I checked careflly inside and finally found evidence that the copied pages came from a 2005 edition. It pays to check.

In one corner there are a number of DVD and CD stalls. One inside corner stall is double size. Most every film you can think of is likely to be there. But not The Story of Film – An Odessy which was shown on UK tv. Every stall has the complete films of Bergman – and they have each year I have visited. The packing changes so they must sell. I bought Brave to show to my grandchildren only to get home and find it had most likely been filmed off a cinema screen. And they had copied the 3D version so that it was fuzzy really not worth watching. It would pay to check. I suspect that this is the way the very latest films are obtained. Only $US1.50 a disc.

In the middle of the market are food stalls, both vegetables and meats, but also prepared meals. I called in with my family members for lunch at the noodle and spring roll stall. Here for under $US1 each we enjoyed fresh cooked noodles in a very tasty light sauce with chopped up sections of deep fried and crisp spring rolls. Crushed roasted peanuts were sprinkled on top. Across the alley was a cold drink stall. A good combination.

What amused me, as the family sat at the long ledge at the stall eating their noodles, were the European tourists pausing to take a photo of us all eating.

An early morning visit around the food stalls and you will find fresh fish swimming in bowls with others chopped up int round slices. No nicely filleted slices here. I wached various 'butcher' chopping up chicken and beef and letting it lie on the counter or hang. Some had flies around it other pieced did n't. I am told that if buying meat sellect the slices which attract flies. It seems meet without flies has most likely had some insecticide sprayed over it. But no one know exactly which chemical is used. Perhaps frozen supermarket meat is the safest choice.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Kampot is a small town, although I see the local sign posts name it as Kampot City. I past through it on the way to the coastal town of Kep last year, but now I am enjoing a few days in Kampot.

Kampot is spread along both banks of the wide Kampot River, spanned by an old narrow bridge and a modern wide concrete structure, named obviously, the Old Bridge and the New Bridge. There is also a railway bridge but no trains to cross it. An Australian company, Toll, spend millions of somebody's money reconstructing the line which had been built originally by the French colonialists years ago. So the line looks smart and modern, and runs from Kamport to Sihanouk Ville, Cambodia's port But the reconstruction stopped just past Kamport and the old railway line continues on to the capital of Phnom Penh, but is in no condition to run trains on.

The local tourist guide book describes the town as 'an old provinical capital of quaint lanes and colonial period architecture. A bit worn down but radiating a quaint welcoming small town ambiance.'

That sorts of sums it up I suppose. Certainly, I enjoyed wandering around the streets in the late afternoon light viewing the old buidings, mostly the typical Asian house shop structures. They were in various states of repair but often well done up and attractive. The size of the house shop building results in most businesses being small enough to fit into the long narrow space of the buildings' ground floor. Cafes and bars were common in this setting.

Of course there also a number of 'modern' Cambodian styled buildings scattered around often standing several floors higher than than the more pictureque ajoining double story house shops.

Down a side street in one such building we found an Australian run Espresso cafe. Here the owner roasts his own beens, aoften a blend of Cambodoan, Laos and Vietnam beans. The brew was good enough to order a follow up double espresso. They also served such famous Cambodian dishes as eggs benedict, hot cakes and crapes. Having brunch there also enabled us to escape a drenching from a heavy monsoon downpour.

There are a lot of cafe and bar establishments which come in two levels. First are those serving local Cambodians and these are usually more in the back streets and around the market area. They tend to have plastic chairs and tables on the pavement.Some appear very popular and are crowded.

Secondly are the more up market tourist and expat aimed businesses. These tend to be located along , or close to, the river bank to take advantage of the view and any cool breeze. My observations was that most ran Happy Hours from 5pm to 8pm with the offer of two cocktails for the price of one or 75 cent draught beer.
We visited the Rusty Keyhole bar and resta urant one evening for what is claimed to be, their world famous BBQ pork spare ribs. Certainly I had read about them in the guide books but was somewhat underwhelmed by the result. The ribs, once located were small and I finally discovered tine strips of very tender juicy meat between them. However, they came accompanied by much more ajoining meat which was drier and tougher. I am sure that while these may be the best in Cambodia, it wouldn't take much to surpass them. I guess the real reason is that not many restaurants actually serve them here. I was warned by the staff that as this was the rainy season, the french fries would not be crisp and crunchy. They were correct as the chips were soggy and limp.

But it was fun to be at the Rusty Keyhole and the staff were friendly.
The town runs along the river bank. On the bank there is an attractive wide walkway and park strip and a retaining wall. Decrative 'French' lamp posts run along the river's edge. Across the road a line of house shops with bars, hotels and guest houses mix in with small businesses such as tour agents.

Lots of people were out walking in the late afternoon. Plenty of tourists, young and old, mixed in with the locals. The rush hour traffic was uncongested and unrushed. Generally there was a pleasant relaxed feel to the place.

I visited the market and made my way down narrow alleyways, some straight, others twisting around stalls and drains. The market stalls and alleyways were covered with blue plastic roofing causing a very humid hot and stuffy environment. Some alleyways had a theme, perhaps food, hardware or rows of women working treddle sewing machines making garments.

Markets are always interesting to wander around as the type of goods on sale can often be quite different to home. This is especially true in the hardware area where traditional hand made tools are often the main items for sale. I saw some interesting large baskets and local cicular clay BBQ's enclosed in a tin bucket for added strength and as they had a handle, for transport as well.
There is one large traffic roundabout in town and couple smaller versions, French style I suspect. Each has a statue on the central island and the one I spent time at this visit was the main or Central Traffic Circle. This had a statue of a large durian as its focus. Various smaller durians were stacked around the large main errect stone fruit. Durian is a controversial fruit. It has a strange odour which many consider offensive. Hotels often ban the fruit from their building. I have tasted it once and thought that it wasn't all that bad.

Seven busy roads radiated out from the Central Traffic Cicle. Well, busy by Kampot standards.

There were the usual varied use of motor scooters and it was common to see small children riding along with adults. Two adults and two children was common. There were a number of extended length tuktuks with and additional passenger or cargo compartment on the rear.

I visited the local tin box shop with my grandchildren who wanted a few extra containers for their treasures. The locally made boxes came in a variety of sizes and in two or three basic colour variations. Simply made with light tin and pop rivets they also had a latch on the front.

Our accommodation was around two kilometres up river at Les Manguiers (the Mango Trees). This pleasant family friendly resort was reached via a country road full of deep large potholes often water filled so that driving through them was somewhat like a trip into the unknown. The lodge is run by Franco Khmer family so that French is as commonly spoken as Khmer by the staff. There were many French speaking guests. Tall spreading mango trees provide a cool shade over the large grass areas between the guest bungalows raised up to enable cool breezes to pass nunderneath. The height also improves the river views.

There were several swimming spots along the river bank and a small jetty which made a great spot to jump into the river from. All lots of fun. Also kyaks to rent and launch trips to book on to.

A regular daily feature was the fishing boat procession. Each afternoon, just before susnset 20 or so small fishing boats would head down river in convy for a nights fishing at sea. They would return soon after sunrise with their catch. Their distinctive putput motor sounds would fill the air for a few minutes as they sailed past. In fact the sound of the morning return was more useful than an alarm clock.
There are numerous padi fields around the grunds and it was interesting to watch locals working transplanting rice during the early morning before the heat incresed too much. All very picturesque and very Asian looking. The lodge provided meals to order although it tended to be a 'meal of the day' The wine list was limited to about six choices in total. But it did aloow me to have a bottle of Baron de Roschild for $US17 which I thought was a pretty good bargin.

Dinning was in small enclosures built out over the river. They were roofed but open to the view and breezes. Very pleasant. Free wi-fi, free cold water, free old bicycles – you were charged for the newer ones. My large bedroom with large first floor deck cost $20 per night. While the room had a shower it was only cold water. So the system was for a large thermos flask of hot water to be delivered each day. This was them mixed with the clod water in a beaker and poured over the body. A system that worked well, providing the staff remembered to deliver the thermos.
He area is dominated by Mt Bokor which rises up across the river. The French colonialists build a hill station at the top to provide relief fom the lowland heat. Similar hill stations were developed by most colonial powers with tropical colonies. I remember staying at a similar place in the mountains of Fiji during my living there in the 1970's.

Well the French built a resort on Mt Bokor which opened in 1925. The road up the mountain wound up steeply. It was begun in 1917 and took six years to complete. It is claimed that 1000 workers died during its construction. At the top they built a hotel, church and a number of houses and other buildings.. And so it continued for 20 or so years, closed down for another 20 and then reopened around 1963 with the country's first casino built up at the top. It closed ten years later. Now there is a major development taking place with the building of very large casinos and hotels and it is claimed, a planned town for scores of thousands to live in. But why I don't know. There are still ruins of the original French buildings and on my visit during a time of cloud cover, they had a really sppoky and mysterious feel to them. Shapes that appeared out of the mist. On a clear day there are great views but I go those lower down are rather prefered the cloud cover.

On the way up below the cloud layer was a great new roadside statue of Ya Mao a respected Buddist figure. Lots of locals were stopping off to pose in front of the statue, some to burn inscence and others to photograph some hanging boulders.

The amazing thing about Mt Bokor is that the hi ghway up the hill is world class and without a doubt the best road in the country. It must be more than 25km long and even when it goes through jungle areas has street lighting along the curbside. Amazing. Sharp bends even with a graceful curve has mirrors installed. Extensive retaining work alsong the hillsides should resist subsidance. This is an impressive road by any standard. Yet on the day I went up it I saw less than 50 vehicles using it.

Someone had a lot of money to invest here. I wonder who?

Over all I think that Kampot would be well wort revisiting. I would even stay at Les Manguiers despite its 2 km from town.