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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

KRouge prosecutor denies row sparked resignation

By Patrick Falby

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The international prosecutor at Cambodia's Khmer Rouge war crimes court denied Wednesday that his sudden resignation from the tribunal was due to a dispute with his local counterpart.

Canadian prosecutor Robert Petit insisted he was quitting for family reasons and hit out at "conspiracies" which suggested the real cause was a row with Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang over whether to pursue more suspects.

The UN-backed court's long-awaited first trial has seen Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, accept responsibility for overseeing the execution of more than 15,000 people at the 1970s regime's main prison.

Asked whether his departure had anything to do with the disagreement with Chea Leang, Petit said he was resigning due to private personal family matters "totally unrelated" to his work at the court.

"Those conspiracies might indeed seem like an attractive angle for a story, but they wouldn't be the truth," Petit, who initially announced his resignation on Tuesday, told a press briefing at the court.

Four other Khmer Rouge leaders are also in detention awaiting trial by the court, but while Petit has sought to bring more cadres to justice Chea Leang has disagreed.

Lawyers for detained former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea have alleged Petit has knowledge that his co-prosecutor was ordered by the Cambodian government not to pursue more former regime members.

The court has faced controversy over a series of government interference allegations and claims that Cambodian staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

Petit indicated to reporters Wednesday that he thought the court must confront Cambodian government attempts to control the tribunal.

"I think it is very disturbing that anyone other than judicial officials -- be they elected officials or anyone else -- think they can legitimately tell any court what to do," Petit said.

"Of course, that goes to the very legitimacy of the process and must be addressed," he added.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has publicly stated he would rather the court failed than pursue other former cadres, warning further prosecutions would plunge the country back into civil war.

Critics have accused the administration of trying to protect former cadres who are now in government.

Petit told reporters his departure was an "inconsequential topic" for the court since the prosecution was always a "team effort".

Cambodian civil society groups, however, issued on Wednesday a statement that they were "disturbed" by his departure at a time when his office needs to "establish its leadership role in the trial and the court."

Proceedings focused Wednesday on operations at S-24, a "re-education centre" which former Duch also oversaw as part of his responsibilities in addition to his main job as head of the regime's main Tuol Sleng prison, or S-21.

Duch told judges it was possible that some of his staff at S-24 interrogated prisoners without his knowledge, but denied reports his subordinates flayed skin of inmates through torture by electric shock.

"Electrocution was a separate matter. I do not believe that there were such incidents there, because there were limited generators," Duch said.

The tribunal was created in 2006 to try leading members of the 1975-1979 regime, which killed up to two million people as it emptied Cambodia's cities and enslaved the population on collective farms.
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Canadian prosecutor quits Khmer Rouge trial

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The departing foreign co-prosecutor for Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal expressed concern Wednesday about graft allegations and tight funding that is threatening to derail the trial of Pol Pot's top cadres.

Speaking to reporters a day after he quit for personal reasons, Canadian Robert Petit said the tribunal was in urgent need of funding to prosecute those responsible for 1.7 million deaths during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge era.

"The court is still under-funded and under-resourced for the tasks that it is supposed to accomplish," Petit, whose last day is September 1, told reporters.

"Obviously, allegations such as the corruption and administration must be addressed and put to rest finally," said Petit, who has served on international genocide tribunals in Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

The joint U.N.-Cambodian tribunal has been fraught with problems since it started work three years ago and some payments to the court have been delayed due to allegations of graft.

Petit also urged politicians and senior officials not to meddle in the tribunal, and said attempts to interfere with the running of the court were "very disturbing."

The court admitted in January that a bid to go after more suspects was brushed aside by Petit's Cambodian co-prosecutor, who argued it would not be good for national reconciliation.

The government has denied meddling in the court, but rights activists have long suspected Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen does not want to dig too deep for fear it will unearth secrets about senior Khmer Rouge figures inside his administration.

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, is currently being tried for his role as the chief of the torture center S-21, where more than 14,000 prisoners died.

The other four who were indicted -- "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, the regime's ex-president, Khieu Samphan, and Ieng Sary, its foreign minister, and his wife -- have denied knowledge of any atrocities during Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist revolution.
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Democrat Endorsed Cambodia Invasion

Nixon Papers Cite 1970 Conversation

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer

Five days before U.S. and South Vietnamese troops made their surprise move into Cambodia on April 29, 1970, then-President Richard M. Nixon got the approval of the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee for that action, according for documents released yesterday by the Nixon library.

The unexpected U.S. incursion into Cambodia came as a surprise to the American public, most members of Congress and the new Cambodian government. What followed were a series of public demonstrations in Washington and later Kent State University in Ohio, which, in turn, expanded opposition to the war.

In an April 24, 1970, telephone conversation with Sen. John C. Stennis (D-Miss.), who was then chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Nixon said the administration was going to provide arms to the Cambodian government to prevent its overthrow by a pro-communist element, and continue secret B-52 bombing raids, "which only you and Senator Russell know about." Richard Russell (D-Ga.) was the former committee chairman.

"We are not going to get involved in a war in Cambodia," Nixon reassured Stennis. "We are going to do what is necessary to help save our men in South Vietnam. They can't have those sanctuaries there" that North Vietnam maintained.

Stennis replied, "I will be with you. . . . I commend you for what you are doing."

Several days earlier, in a memo to then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, CIA Director Richard Helms proposed a plan to covertly deliver thousands of AK-47s and other military equipment to the Cambodian government with help from Indonesia.

Yesterday, about 30,000 pages of documents were opened to the public at the National Archives facility in College Park and the Nixon library in Yorba Linda, Calif., part of a staggered declassification of papers and tapes from the Nixon years.

The memos and tapes shed light on fateful moments of Nixon's second term, the Associated Press reported, among them a peace deal with North Vietnam, sea changes in domestic and foreign policy, and management of the Cold War.

They also give insights into a well-known characteristic of Nixon and his aides -- a hair-trigger sensitivity to political rivals and quick resort to machinations against them.

A 1972 meeting between Nixon and his chief of staff produced an informal directive to "destroy" Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton, according to scribbled notes among the documents released yesterday that referred to Eagleton as a "pip-squeak."

In a 1969 memo, Nixon's staff assistant describes placing the movements of the Kennedys under observation in Massachusetts after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy drove off a bridge in an accident that drowned his female companion.

The materials show Nixon as sharp-witted, crude, manipulative and sometimes surprisingly liberal in comparison with mainstream Republicans today. In one letter, he solidly endorses the Equal Rights Amendment, saying that for 20 years "I have not altered my belief that equal rights for women warrant a constitutional guarantee." The amendment failed.

The library posted online more than 150 hours of tape recordings. The tapes cover January and February 1973, spanning Nixon's second inauguration, the peace deal with Hanoi, and the trial and conviction of burglars whose break-in at the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex precipitated the coverup that wrecked Nixon's presidency. He resigned in August 1974 under threat of being forced out by Congress.
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Cambodia: The Government Must Combat Torture

Press Release: Asian Human Rights Commission

Between 1975 and 1979 the Cambodian people suffered one of the world’s most brutal regimes, the Khmer Rouge, which used, among things, torture as a means to assert its rule. In its notorious Tuol Sleng Torture Centre in Phnom Penh, some 16,000 Cambodians died horribly by the systematic use of torture by the Khmer Rouge to extract confessions during the four years of its reign. Now, the man who ran that centre, Kaing Guek Eav alias “Duch”, is being tried by the UN-assisted Khmer Rouge tribunal for torture and other crimes.

Due to this experience, in 1992, upon the end of the war that had followed the ousting of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia did not hesitate to adhere to the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and has since taken measures to combat torture. Surveys among a sample of inmates conducted by a human rights NGO, LICADHO, in 18 different prisons across the country have shown a decline of alleged torture cases, from 450 in police custody and 49 in prison in 1999, to 124 and 78 respectively among the 2,556 inmates interviewed in 2007, and to 78 and 7, respectively among 1,983 inmates interviewed in 2008.

In order to show its commitment, Cambodia ratified the Optional Protocol to this convention or OPCAT in 2007. Unfortunately the Cambodian government has failed to honour its obligations under this Protocol and it has not created, within the OPCAT-prescribed one year period, an independent National Preventive Mechanism to visit places of detention; it has simply pledged to do so by the end of 2010.

For many years the Ministry of Interior has authorized NGOs access to prisons but not to police stations, especially to LICADHO, to provide medical treatment and conduct surveys on the treatment of inmates. Recently, it authorized, on a long term basis, the field Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to conduct visits to prisons, which is going to contribute to the prevention of torture on inmates and the improvement of prison conditions and the treatment of inmates.

For his part, in 2009, the Prosecutor General of the Court of Appeal, with whom the Code of Criminal Procedure enacted in 2007 entrusts the task of inspection prisons and police stations, started a programme of inspection of all prisons and major police stations across the country. One purpose of this programme is to prevent torture in those places of detention. The Court of Koh Kong province has lately convicted a police officer for torture.

The Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor General’s Office are supporting training for prosecutors, police officers and prison personnel to get them to comply with UNCAT and OPCAT, prevent and combat torture and all forms of ill-treatment in all places of detention, and cooperate with the future National Preventive Mechanism.

Cambodia has no anti-torture law, but torture is criminalized and punishment for it is provided for in the final draft Penal Code which the government is reportedly going to approve and send to the Parliament for adoption in the near future.

However, torture, though in decline, is still being used, mainly to extract confessions. The surveys conducted so far may not reflect the extent of its use when inmates, interviewed in the presence of prison guards, are inhibited by fear of reprisals to tell about the torture they or their fellow inmates have been subjected to. In the first five months of 2009, there were reportedly five deaths in police custody against three for the whole of 2008. The families of the dead and human rights monitors have suspected torture as the cause of death. The concerned authorities have denied the use of torture and usually claimed suicide. But no independent investigation into those deaths has been ordered, and medical personnel called upon to certify such deaths in police custody are known to be reluctant to contradict what the police have said.

For their part, prosecutors before whom the police bring suspects for charging are themselves inhibited to inquire whether those suspects have been subjected to any torture. They do not want to order new investigations into the alleged crime. Nor do they want to investigate torture should they suspect it as they do not want to create any friction with the perpetrator who might be none other than the police themselves. For the same reasons they are not willing to conduct any prompt investigations into torture complaints as called for under the UNCAT.

The Cambodian government must now make greater efforts to honour its obligations under the UNCAT and OPCAT and its commitment to combat torture and protect people’s absolute right to freedom from it more effectively. It should seek expertise and advice from the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture to create a National Preventive Mechanism that meets the OPCAT requirements without any further delay. It should speed up the enactment of the Penal Code under which torture is criminalised.

Considering that the judiciary has a constitutional duty to protect human rights, the Prosecutor General of the Appeal Court should also do more to protect this absolute right. He should create within his office a torture complaint unit to receive complaints from victims or their families. Upon receiving a complaint, he should order the prosecutor under whose jurisdiction the incident has occurred to conduct a prompt investigation, and to report to him any legal action he or she has taken. The prosecutor should also receive such complaints and likewise conduct prompt investigation.

The prosecutor should exercise the power conferred upon them by the Code of Criminal Procedure to inspect prisons and police stations under his or her jurisdiction. Like the Prosecutor General, he or she should be well equipped with adequate expertise, including visit methodology, to avoid negative repercussion of the inspection on persons detained in police custody or in prison such as reprisals against them for telling the truth.

The Prosecutor General should issue a directive to all prosecutors to check whether suspects brought before them bear any physical or mental sign they have been tortured before laying any charge against them. If there is any such sign, they should conduct prompt investigation and take legal action against the perpetrators.

The current Code of Criminal Procedure has not stipulated this examination for sign of torture and legal action by the prosecutor. It should be amended forthwith to stipulate such examination and action not only by the prosecutor but also by the investigating judge and the trial judge. This amendment should also affirm the suspect’s right to legal counsel, medical treatment and contact with his or her family upon his or her arrest. He or she should be promptly informed of this right. His or her counsel should be present during all police interrogation. Currently, the suspect cannot have access to legal council until 24 hours after the arrest and then only for 30 minutes. As to medical treatment and contact with the family, he or she is very much subject to the discretionary decision of the prosecutor and the custody officer.


About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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Vietnam opens bank in Cambodia to promote bilateral trade

PHNOM PENH, (Xinhua News Agency) -- Vietnam's commercial bank Sacombank opened its first branch in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, bringing the total number of commercial banks in Cambodia to 30, local media reported on Wednesday.

Bank officials say that Cambodian operation will not compete with local banks, but will assist cross-border transactions between Cambodia and Vietnam.

"We are here to improve cross-border business, especially between Cambodia and Vietnam," John Vong, deputy CEO of Sacombank, was quoted by the Chinese language newspaper the Commercial News as saying.

The bank's Chairman Dang Van Thanh said that "the bank is aiming to provide loans to Vietnamese enterprises investing and operating in Cambodia, overseas Vietnamese, especially those running small and medium-sized enterprises."

The government figures showed that bilateral trade between Cambodia and Vietnam is projected to rise to two billion U.S. dollars in 2009, up from 1.62 billion U.S. dollars in 2008.

Chea Chanto, governor of the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), said at Tuesday's launch that "the investment of Sacombank in the Cambodian market is an expression of confidence by Vietnamese investors in Cambodia's banking sector."

"Cambodia is a good location for banking because it is an economy open for investment from other countries," he added.
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