The Cambodian Genocide Program 1994-2001

Final Report to the U.S. Department of State,

Bureau of Democracy and Human Rights

 

Susan E. Cook, Ph.D.

Director, Cambodian Genocide Program

Yale Center for International and Area Studies

Yale University, New Haven CT USA

 

 

Overview

 

The genocide of 1975-1979 represents one of the darkest, most tragic chapters in the history of Cambodia. Upwards of two million people perished at the hands of a regime that was closed, insular, ideologically extreme, and deeply paranoid not only about outsiders, but also the “outsiders within.” For almost fifteen years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, few in the international community did anything to seek redress for the victims and survivors of the genocide; in fact, Cold War political dynamics found many countries, including the United States, aiding the Khmer Rouge in their attempts to rehabilitate themselves and regain power in Cambodia. The Cambodian Genocide Justice Act of 1994 signaled a sharp break with the previous stance of the U.S. towards the Khmer Rouge and the crimes they committed in the 1970s, replacing it with a genuine commitment to accurately documenting what took place in Cambodia under Pol Pot’s regime, and to seeking legal remedies for those who survived its reign of terror.

 

The Cambodian Genocide Program was created at Yale University in 1994 with the support of the U.S. Department of State. Founded by Ben Kiernan, world-renowned scholar of contemporary Cambodian history, the Cambodian Genocide Program set out to document, as thoroughly as possible, the genocidal crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge with the dual purposes of making this information available to any court that claimed jurisdiction over them, as well as establishing an authoritative account of these events for posterity. Starting with a two-year mandate, Dr. Kiernan and his team of researchers, investigators and documentalists in Cambodia, Australia, and North America assembled information and organized it into a set of searchable databases. Using the (then) new technology available in the form of the World Wide Web, these databases were made available to a global audience in January 1997.

 

After the discovery of a major cache of original documents from the Khmer Rouge’s own security archive, the Cambodian Genocide Program received additional funding from the State Department and other donors (see Appendix A for a full list of financial contributors) to continue its documentation work for an additional five years. During this time the prospect of a genocide tribunal that would try the remaining leaders of the Khmer Rouge has become ever more likely. These two processes were not unrelated. As political developments in Cambodia, as well as in the international sphere, made a genocide tribunal more politically viable, so did the increasing body of probative material held by the Cambodian Genocide Program make a legal accounting of the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge more imperative. The Cambodian Genocide Program has helped to keep the issue of justice for genocide survivors in Cambodia alive in the international consciousness by publishing its research findings widely, appearing frequently in print and broadcast media around the world, and assisting with documentary film projects, museum exhibits, and theatrical productions that seek to bring the Cambodian genocide greater international attention. The Cambodian Genocide Program has also made its findings available to students and scholars of the Cambodian genocide, legal experts, policymakers, and Cambodians themselves in order to impress upon all interested parties the idea that airing the truth about what occurred in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, and punishing those responsible, will allow Cambodian society to move forward, and achieve a measure of closure, as it emerges from so many decades of violence and destruction.

 

 

Introduction and Acknowledgements

Scholarly efforts to study genocide have become increasingly important as the twentieth century (“The Century of Genocide”) ends and the twenty-first begins. They serve not only to support international genocide tribunals that require a high standard of proof, but also to supplement them. Mechanisms of legal redress are primarily focused on the alleged criminals—what they did, when, and to whom. It is the purpose of such proceedings to determine what crimes these people committed, and to punish them accordingly. The dynamic of a trial thus tends to devote more attention to the perpetrators than to the victims of these tragedies. Again and again, it has been shown that, in order for survivors to heal, societies to reconcile, and cultures of impunity to end, the truth must be told, and told in detail.

 

Despite the attempts of courageous survivors and dedicated scholars to bring the events of the Cambodian genocide to light in the years following the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, the genocide in Cambodia has remained shrouded in mystery, confusion, and obscurity. The Cambodian Genocide Program has attempted, through its work, to remove some of the mystery from what happened in Cambodia in the 1970s. By not only assembling documents and other materials that have evidentiary value to a genocide tribunal, but also by researching social and cultural aspects of life under the Khmer Rouge, the Program has attempted to create a multi-dimensional understanding of the Cambodian genocide. It is our wish that justice will come to those who perpetrated genocide in Cambodia, but we also hope that an honest account of the events in question can help survivors (and their children and grandchildren) achieve a certain closure about what occurred in their country. There is comfort in knowing the truth, even when the truth is unfathomably cruel.

 

Many dedicated people offered their skills, time, energy, and resources to the work of the Cambodian Genocide Program. It is important to acknowledge as many of them as possible, as the list alone attests to the ambitiousness of the task we set for ourselves. Three individuals deserve their own list. They are Ben Kiernan, Helen Jarvis, and Youk Chhang. Ben brought twenty-five years of scholarship on Cambodia to the task of founding the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale, and served as its Director from 1994 to 1999. Without Ben’s knowledge, energy, and, above all, his passion, the CGP never could have achieved so much. His continued interest in the work of the CGP will undoubtedly deepen and strengthen the world’s case against one of the twentieth-century’s most murderous regimes. Helen Jarvis also brought a long-standing interest in Cambodia to her role as the CGP’s Documentation Consultant. Much more than a computer systems development expert and information management specialist, Helen realized early on that the CGP should incorporate Geographic Information System (GIS) technology into its research agenda and look into some of the reported mass graves scattered around Cambodia. The success and importance of the mapping component of the CGP is attributable in large part to her. The Cambodian Genocide Program could not have identified a better crusader for truth, justice, and the power of history to lead the Documentation Center of Cambodia than Youk Chhang. A survivor of the genocide who wears the star of Texas as proudly as he wears a traditional Cambodian kromah, Youk has dedicated many years to unearthing the truth about this period in Cambodian history, and rallying ordinary Cambodians, along with politicians, diplomats, activists and Khmer Rouge leaders themselves, around the idea of looking Cambodian history squarely in the face, however painful the task.

 

In the interests of space, it is possible to mention only the names, and not the many achievements, of those who have contributed to the work of the Cambodian Genocide Program. They can all take credit for the overall accomplishments of the Program, and they should. Apologies to anyone who was inadvertently left off. Thanks, then, to Cath Besly, Oaulus Boon, Charles Bowers, Jeff Brand, Lydia Breckon, John Bullock, Muy Bun, Tim Cashman, Ivy Chan, Matinal Chan, Chou Chandary, Entero Chey, Michelle Chhuy, Rada Chhuy, George Chigas, Cindy Chung, Evon Clarke, Sara Colm, Nereida Cross, Dede Donovan, Chart Em, Sokhym Em, Craig Etcheson, Daniel Felsing, S. Desita Ferdinandus, Matthew Fladeland, Naomi Graham, Mihaela Grigore, Michael Guo, Simon Handfield, Sophal Hak, Liam Hayden, Samnang Heng, Maureen Henninger, Suzy Hepner, Aya Hirata, Cindy Huang, Rachel Hughes, Sothearith Im, Judd Iversen, Jens Iverson, Sarah Jacoby, Munich Khan, Dara Khel, Iem Sok Khim, Ariane Kirtley, Wai-Keng Kwok, Curtis Lambrecht, Barbara Law, Putheara Lay, Botumroath LeBun, Troeung Lim, Robert Loomans, Kalyanee Mam, Ewan Masters, Peter Moloney, Kristine Mooseker, Dmitri Mosyakov, Robin Murray, Allen Myers, Loeung Neakhatary, Maria Norin, Lina Norng, Noah Novogrodsky, Matt Oakes, Ann Okerson, Mina O’Shea, Sam Oeun Ouch, Sovann Ouch, Leslie Pace, Barbara Papacoda, Olivia Patchett, Lorraine Paterson, Kosal Phat, Toni Samantha Phim, Thavro Phim, Tem Pisey, Jaya Ramji, Gustav Ranis, Larissa Reid, Rich Richie, Camille Riley, Chris Rizos, Joe Rodriguez, Sam Peou Ros, Steven Rothert, Jody Rowlands, Puanthong Rungswasdisab, Richard Ruth, Ros Sarou, Ben Shoer, Shawn Sijnstra, Sorya Sim, Kim Sin, Khavan Sok, Irene Sokha, Yem Sokha, Entero Sokhea,  Jason Sokol, Mak Solieng, Manara Sombo, Chhang Song, Scott Taing, Pisey Tem, Neth Thavry, Sophy Theam, Siv Thuon, Sopheak Vichea Tieng,  Leslie Timko, Sally Tremaine, Sopheak Try, Eric Tsang, Sok-Chea Ung, Mao Utah, Olwen Tudor Jones, Karen Van, Beth Van Schaack, Pou Vanny, Peou Dara Vanthan, Monida Var, Sean Volke, Jodi Weinstein, Haynie Wheeler, Kenneth Wong, Felicia Wu, Nean Yin, Kim Yong-Gu.

 

Thanks, too, to those institutions that supported the work of the Cambodian Genocide Program in various ways over the past seven years. They include the Yale University Library, the Orville H. Schell, Jr., Center for International Human Rights at the Yale Law School, and the School of Information Systems, Technology and Management at the University of New South Wales.

 

This report is organized according to the three major achievements of the Cambodian Genocide Program, 1994-2001. The first is the establishment of the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. The second is the historical documentation work, and the third is the promotion of a genocide tribunal in Cambodia. Each of these three broad areas boasts its own accomplishments, and these are described in turn. For information on specific project activities, as spelled out in the original grant proposal, please refer to the three previous annual reports, included as attachments. A brief summary comparison of the project’s objectives and accomplishments can be found in Appendix E.

 

The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam)

 

It was clear from the outset that a comprehensive effort to document the Cambodian genocide would necessitate the establishment of a base of operations within Cambodia itself. The Documentation Center of Cambodia was founded in Phnom Penh in January 1995 to serve not only as the Cambodian field office of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale, but also as a symbol of the large stakes Cambodian nationals have in researching their own history and promoting the idea of justice for gross violators of human rights. A Cambodian-born American, Mr. Youk Chhang, was selected to be the Director of the Documentation Center, and a fledgling staff of Cambodian research and technical experts was hired to help launch the Center’s activities.

 

Operated initially by the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale, the Documentation Center became administratively independent in 1997. Mr. Chhang became Executive Director of the DC-Cam, and a Board of Directors made up of legal, academic, and other Cambodian professionals was constituted as the governing body of the Center. Although most of its operating funds still came from the CGP at Yale in the form of sub-contracts and consultancy payments, the DC-Cam began receiving funding for a range of new activities from other international donors as well. The Center’s staff grew to approximately 35 by the end of 2001, all of them Cambodian.

 

Since 1995, the DC-Cam has grown into an independent, nonprofit Cambodian non-governmental organization, and has earned the respect and won the praise of the Cambodian people, the Cambodian government, and the international community. The Center now houses the world’s largest collection of original materials on the Cambodian genocide, including the Khmer Rouge security archive, thousands of photographs, film footage, cassette recordings, notebooks kept by Khmer Rouge cadres, and much more. (See the DC-Cam’s website at www.bigpond.com.kh/users/dccam.genocide.) By locating the physical archive at a location inside Cambodia, the Cambodian Genocide Program made it possible for ordinary Cambodians, in addition to scholars and policymakers, to have access to these important materials. Although concerns arose about the safety and security of the archive, measures have been taken to ensure that the collection will remain a permanent resource for the Cambodian people, as well as for those involved in bringing the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.

 

In order to ensure the continued availability of the most important original documents from the Khmer Rouge’s own security archive (the Santebal collection), obtained by the Cambodian Genocide Program in 1996, the Program has worked to preserve this collection in at least three ways. First, trained preservationists at the Documentation Center of Cambodia sought to prevent the deterioration of the originals from the collection by cleaning and reinforcing those sheets that were torn, soiled, or showed other signs of wear, and by removing corrosive staples and rubber bands. Second, the collection was photocopied in order to create a working set, leaving the originals less exposed to air, light, heat, humidity, and human handling. Third, (with the supervision and support of the Yale University Library) the entire collection was microfilmed, and copies are now held at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, Yale University, Cornell University, and the Center for Research Libraries at the University of Chicago. The Library of Congress has also expressed an interest in obtaining copies of the one hundred and fifteen reels of film.

 

With funding from the Yale University Library, the Documentation Center of Cambodia has continued to microfilm other important documents, including dossiers from the Lon Nol regime and notebooks kept by Khmer Rouge cadres.

 

 

 Documenting the Cambodian Genocide

 

The principal objective of the Cambodian Genocide Program has been to document, authoritatively and as comprehensively as possible, the events that occurred in Cambodia between April 1975 and January 1979. The Program approached this task in two different ways. First, the CGP sought to assemble, organize, and disseminate as much existing information about the Khmer Rouge regime as possible. This it did by combining available secondary sources on the period with the available primary documents, as well as those that surfaced (and continue to surface) over the course of the project period. These materials were catalogued and entered into a bibliographic database, searchable on the Cambodian Genocide Program’s website (www.yale.edu/cgp). The bibliographic database currently contains 2,963 records.

 

From these primary and secondary sources, information regarding specific individuals was organized into a biographical database. This database presently includes 19,049 records, and includes information on Khmer Rouge leaders and cadres, as well as their victims. These records were reviewed by the U.N. panel of experts who were tasked with assessing the viability of holding a Cambodian genocide tribunal in 1998-9. They reported that there was not only sufficient evidence to hold a trial, but sufficiently damning evidence that the prospect of not holding a tribunal was unthinkable.

 

The Cambodian Genocide Program also obtained permission to digitally reproduce a collection of photographs taken of individuals slated for execution at Phnom Penh’s famous detention and torture center, Tuol Sleng prison. This collection of roughly 15,000 “mug shots” was organized as a third searchable database and is often the one that attracts the strongest responses from members of the public who encounter it on the CGP’s website. The vacant stares, expressions of fear and torment, and the inevitability of these people’s violent deaths is a compelling visual testament to the human cost of political extremism.

 

Together, these three databases comprise the Cambodian Genocide Databases, and were first mounted on the Internet in January 1997. An integrated search engine was subsequently added that enables the user to search for names of people, places, dates, etc. across all three databases, making this one of the most powerful research tools available to scholars, legal professionals, and survivors studying the Cambodian genocide. Yale University now hosts two identical versions of the databases, one formatted in Microsoft Access and maintained by the Yale University Library, and the other formatted in CDS-ISIS, and maintained by the Genocide Studies Program at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. The University of New South Wales hosts a third version of the databases.

 

A second major component of the Cambodian Genocide Program’s work has been generating new scholarship on the Cambodian genocide. Reports on topics that were previously not well understood were commissioned and published (see for example, the article “Literacy and Education under the Khmer Rouge” by George Chigas and Dmitri Mosyakov, attached). In addition, the Documentation Center has opened its own research department and is training Cambodians in the research and writing skills necessary to carry out original research on the Cambodian genocide.

 

The most ambitious original research project undertaken by the Cambodian Genocide Program, in conjunction with the Documentation Center of Cambodia, has been the mapping of all major mass grave sites in Cambodia that date from the late 1970s. Starting in 1995, teams of field researchers in Cambodia visited locations throughout Cambodia where mass graves were reported to be located. They took GPS (Global Positioning System) readings, and then fed the data into GIS software that plotted the points onto a projection of Cambodia. This project, which represents the most comprehensive effort ever to gain a geographical understanding of the killings that took place under the Khmer Rouge, has identified and mapped over five hundred genocide sites in twenty-two of Cambodia’s twenty-four provinces. The results can be viewed both in static form, and interactively on an Internet Map Server, on the Program’s website. The Cambodian Genocide Program has also published the maps in a booklet entitled Cambodian Genocide Sites: 1975-1979 (attached).

 

A final component of the Cambodian Genocide Program’s documentation efforts has been the translation of a range of key documents from the Cambodian language, Khmer, into English. These include the autobiography of Thiounn Prasith, a high-ranking official in the Khmer Rouge Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and later the representative of Democratic Kampuchea at the United Nations. These translations are all available on the Program’s website, and a complete list can be found in Appendix B.

 

Promoting the establishment of a tribunal

A second major objective of the Cambodian Genocide Program was to assist in the formation of a legal mechanism that would try the perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide. The documentation work described above was carried out with this goal in mind, although it should be said that the documentation work could also stand on its own as an effort to create an authoritative and incontrovertible record of what took place in Cambodia under Khmer Rouge rule. In the absence of a genocide tribunal, this information takes on even greater importance as an historical account.

 

In 1994, when the Cambodian Genocide Program began, there was no concrete sign that a tribunal would ever take place. With the final defeat of the Khmer Rouge in 1999, and the growing international trend of mounting expensive multilateral genocide tribunals, the prospect of a genocide tribunal for Cambodia became less unlikely. At the time of writing, the Cambodian government has passed legislation to create special chambers of the Cambodian courts to handle trials of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders. Two suspects are in custody. The United Nations has accepted, in principle, to assist the tribunal in a variety of ways. It is not clear exactly when such a tribunal will issue its first indictments or start hearing its first cases, but the Cambodian Genocide Program has ensured that the information is in place to mount cases against the architects of the genocide in Cambodia.

 

In addition to assembling the materials that will serve as a body of evidence in a tribunal, the Cambodian Genocide Program also assisted the legal process in other ways. In 1995, the Cambodian Genocide Program hosted an international conference in Phnom Penh entitled “Striving for Justice: International Criminal Law in the Cambodian Context.” This Conference brought together international legal experts, Cambodia scholars, and Cambodian government officials (including the then two co-Prime Ministers, Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh) to discuss Cambodia’s options for pursuing legal redress for the crimes committed in the 1970s.

 

On the heels of that landmark conference, the Cambodian Genocide Program began training Cambodian legal professionals, government officials and human rights workers in international criminal law and international human rights law. Seventeen individuals completed nine weeks of legal training in 1995 and twenty-one individuals (including most of the previous year’s class) completed another nine weeks of training in the summer of 1996. Many of these individuals continue to hold positions of power in Cambodia, and will be instrumental in striking a balance between a genocide tribunal that conforms to Cambodian law as it meets international standards.

 

Throughout the project period (1994-2001), the Cambodian Genocide Program and its associated personnel have advocated publicly and privately for the establishment of a genocide tribunal in Cambodia. Responding to press inquiries from around the world, Mr. Youk Chhang has tirelessly touted the importance of seeking justice for victims of the Cambodian genocide. Dr. Helen Jarvis, the CGP’s Documentation Consultant, took on the role of Advisor to the Cambodian government task force for Cooperation with Foreign Legal Experts and Preparation of the Proceedings for the trial of Senior Khmer Rouge Leaders, initially with the objective of advising the Cambodian government on dealing with documentary evidence, but eventually with a broad portfolio of duties related to the establishment of a tribunal. Dr. Susan Cook lectured to students and scholars examining the issue of a genocide tribunal in Cambodia, wrote for the popular and scholarly presses, and gave interviews to a wide range of media organizations covering the issue. A select list of recent articles, lectures, and media projects featuring the work and views of the Cambodian Genocide Program can be found in Appendix C.

 

 

Appendix A            Financial support to the Cambodian Genocide Program

Grants and gifts were received from the following:

 

Appendix B            Translations available on the Cambodian Genocide Program website

 

Appendix C            Select list of recent articles and media projects

 

Appendix D            Select list of recent publications by CGP and DC-Cam staff

·        "Documenting Genocide: Lessons from Cambodia for Rwanda" by Susan E. Cook. In Democratic Kampuchea and Cambodia Today. Chandler, David P. and Judy Ledgerwood, eds. Southeast Asian Studies Program, Northern Illinois University, forthcoming.

 

 

Appendix E            Summary comparison report of project objectives and accomplishments

 

            The Cambodian Genocide Program’s proposal to the State Department for additional funding to continue its documentation work, dated October 30, 1996, stated three main objectives. The first was to produce a comprehensive account of the Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea. The second was to ensure that adequate informational resources were available to any court that seeks to try the perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide. The third objective was to advance a more theoretical understanding of genocide as a political phenomenon.

 

            The Program successfully achieved all three major goals, though perhaps not precisely in the way it planned. As stated in the body of the report, the CGP, together with the Documentation Center, have not only consolidated existing material related to the Cambodian genocide, but have generated a substantial body of new scholarship on the subject. In addition, both the CGP and the DC-Cam serve as important resources for unaffiliated researchers who are working on related topics. As a result, the Cambodian genocide, in all its facets and terrible dimensions, is much more well understood today, by Cambodians and foreigners alike, than it was seven years ago.

 

            In terms of making the information available to a tribunal, this objective has also been met. The Documentation Center is often the first stop in Cambodia for officials, dignitaries and legal professionals looking at the tribunal issue. The Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale held a workshop in late 2000 for U.S.-based personnel whose work relates to the proposed tribunal. The databases containing tens of thousands of records on Khmer Rouge officials, original documents and mass graves are available on the Internet, as well as on a CD-ROM, for all to see and use. In addition, publications like the Documentation Center’s magazine “The Truth” and the CGP’s “Cambodian Genocide Sites: 1975-1979” have made research on the Cambodian genocide available to an ever-widening audience.

 

            The aim of advancing a more theoretical understanding of genocide as a political phenomenon was the focus of the research agenda pursued by the CGP at Yale. Susan Cook, a comparative genocide scholar, wrote and lectured widely on Cambodia and Rwanda, under the auspices of the Cambodian Genocide Program. Her publications, including the forthcoming “Documenting Genocide: Lessons from Cambodia for Rwanda” in Democratic Kampuchea and Cambodia Today, David Chandler and Judy Ledgerwood, eds, examine the similarities and differences between genocidal episodes, with the aim of identifying ways to detect and prevent state-sponsored mass murder.

 

In a related effort at Yale, the Genocide Studies Program has sponsored a whole range of activities that were not carried out with funds from this grant, but which are relevant and worthy of mention. The Genocide Studies Program has been directly engaged in teaching graduate students about genocide in all its dimensions, sponsoring public lectures on aspects of genocide, supporting doctoral research projects on genocide, and training genocide specialists around the world in the techniques of genocide documentation. The CGP’s contributions to this program have been considerable. The Cambodian Genocide Program has co-sponsored events with the Genocide Studies Program, such as the visit to Yale by Australian scholar Kelvin Rowley, who lectured on “The Khmer Rouge After 1978.” In addition, Susan E. Cook, as CGP Director, gave several presentations on Cambodia to the Genocide Studies Program, and served on its Steering Committee. In short, the CGP’s efforts to develop more sophisticated tools for the study of genocide in general were significantly enhanced by the presence of this related program at Yale.

 

           

Appendix F  List of Attachments to the Report

 

1.      Cambodian Genocide Program Annual Reports for 1997, 1999, 2000

2.      “New Momentum for Khmer Rouge Trial” by Khavan Sok. Bangkok Post August 5, 2001

  1. “Cambodians Chart the Khmer Rouge Paper Trail” Washington Post, January 8, 2001.

4.      “Prosecuting Genocide in Cambodia: the Winding Path Towards Justice.” By Susan E. Cook. On www.crimesofwar.org.

5.      “Literacy and Education under the Khmer Rouge (Featuring an overview of Revolutionary Flag Magazine).” By George Chigas and Dmitri Moskayov. Cambodian Genocide Program, 2001.

6.      Genocide Sites in Cambodia (1975-1979) Fladeland, M. and S.E. Cook, eds. Cambodian Genocide Program, 2001.