News / Asia

Cambodia Considering Law Outlawing Denial of Khmer Rouge-Era Crimes

Cambodia's main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha, center, waves during a protest rally in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 20, 2013.
Cambodia's main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha, center, waves during a protest rally in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 20, 2013.
Robert Carmichael
On Friday, Cambodia’s parliament will debate a controversial draft law that will punish people who seek to downplay the crimes of the Khmer Rouge era. The government said the law is necessary; critics disagree and said it is politically self-serving.
The origins of the draft law can be found in comments made by Kem Sokha, the deputy leader of the opposition.

In a recording released by the government last month, Kem Sokha can be heard purportedly describing the Khmer Rouge’s notorious S-21 torture and execution center as Vietnamese-inspired propaganda.

Kem Sokha said the government has manipulated his words. The government said it did not.

Whatever the truth, the Draft Law on the Denial of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea will be presented to parliament on Friday.


Under its provisions, those found guilty face up to two years in jail. Legal entities - which commentators say can include political parties - could be liable for the conduct of their members.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy believes the authorities likely edited Kem Sokha's remarks to try to make him look bad as they have done with his public comments in the past.  But, speaking via Skype Wednesday to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, Rainsy said that does not mean he is opposed to the law against denying Khmer Rouge-era crimes.
"I think Mr. Kem Sokha can be a victim of the same manipulation.  And, about the law to punish those who are accused of denial of genocide, I fully, I fully support," Rainsy said.

Others are less enthusiastic and note the timing of the draft law: Cambodians go to the polls next month.

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the purpose of the law has been made clear by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“I’ve listened to his long speeches on this and he said many, many times that he wants this law to basically target one person - and that is Kem Sokha," Ou Virak noted. "And it’s very, very political. It has nothing to do with denial of atrocities and the crimes that took place under the Khmer Rouge. It has everything to do with politics before the election.”

Ou Virak predicts that the law will create fear and self-censorship among ordinary Cambodians, and hamper fledgling reconciliation efforts.

The government said it will not chill debate and insists that people who deny such crimes must be punished to prevent the country sliding into chaos.


Others find that unconvincing. Youk Chhang is the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, the country’s leading research organization on Khmer Rouge-era crimes. He said that over nearly two decades of research. “I have not met a person or a survivor that denied that the Khmer Rouge committed horrible crimes," he said. "Everybody believed this including the Khmer Rouge themselves.”

Youk Chhang worries the law will limit the need to debate freely and learn the truth behind the Khmer Rouge period - particularly among the young who did not experience it firsthand.

He also takes issue with the government’s line that Cambodians need not fear the law simply because some European nations have legislation that outlaws genocide denial.

Youk Chhang said a similar law in Rwanda, which experienced genocide in 1994, has shown the potential for abuse: in Rwanda’s case, journalists, politicians and academics have been jailed.

“The law does not heal, you know. The law actually prosecutes and compensates. But now we think about reconcile a society that’s been broken for over 34 years. So when you think about reconcile, when you think about development, when you think about a better Cambodia, I think that education and free speech should be embraced,” Youk Chhang said.

But with the ruling party controlling parliament and with Hun Sen pushing for the law’s adoption, it is likely that it will soon be on the books.

Daniel Schearf contributed to this report from Bangkok

You May Like

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Indian PM Calls for Unity Amid Tense Climate Over Beef Attacks

Recent series of beef-related incidents seen as signs of rising intolerance toward Muslims and other religious minorities More

Why These Are New York City's Most Treasured Spaces

Under threat of jail time and fines, some New York property owners are not allowed to renovate their spaces without prior approval More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs