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.

Contents

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.
 
Elections

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.

Criticism

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

US Storm Falls Short of Severe Predictions, Yet Affects Millions

Governors of several East Coast states close schools, order travel bans, urge people to stay home as snowfall, heavy winds, flooding continue in areas More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle with Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people were displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid