Category Archives: History

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal Begins

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Website (officially the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia):

From The Cambodia Daily a paper which publishes very limited content online.  (I can only imagine the daily efforts and mission of printing free press are work enough). Therefore an excerpt, because this isn’t going to make it to the Stateside otherwise.

On the First Day of Trial, KR Atrocities Recounted

By Julia Wallace and Kuch Naren

As the Khmer Rouge tribunal began substantive hearings yesterday in its case agains three senior Pol Pot regime leaders, prosecutors told the court that the accused had turned their nation into “an ocean of blood.”

In an opening statement that lasted nearly the entire day, Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leange described the sheer horror of life under the Khmer Rouge regime – which she called “a system of brutality that defies belief” – in vivid and occasionally stomach-turning detail.

As she reeled off a litany of atrocities, co-accused Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and head of state Khieum Samphan lilstened impassively. Many victims sitting in the court’s gallery public gallery openly wept.

One of them, 55-year old Var Liman, ran out of the room in tears as Ms Leang began to describe the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975. “I couldn’t stop my tears, and I felt as if I was seeing the image of my brothers, my two brothers, who were tied with roped and carried to be executed separately in the forest,” she said afterwards sobbing in the court’s bathroom.

Ms Leang described countless scenes of cannibalism, disembowelment, bloody beatings and torture. At the Sre Ambel salt fields, laborers were forced to work until their legs were eaten away by salt water. At the Trapeang Thmar dam, menstruating women could not wash the blood off their bodies are were trailed by thick clouds of flies. Those we fell ill were fed rabbit pellets or injected with coconut juice.

As one security center, guards used pincers to pull of prisoners’ noses and earlobes, then poured acid on their victims, dragged them outside naked, and cut out their livers to fry and eat. At another, prisoners were forced to defecate into helmets that doubled as their food bowls. Two small girls aged 2 and 3 had their brains bashed out against a tamarind tree by guards after their parents died.

During a discussion of genocide against Cham Muslims, prosecutors play a video clip of a Cham woman describing her suffering. She said all her sons had been killed by the Khmer Rouge. “They boiled human excrement to make fertilizer, and they forced me to tast it, asking was it salty or not,” she asked. “When I speak about it, it makes me feel better, because if I keep it inside myself, I only suffer more.

Under the regime, the Khmer people were stripped not only of their belongings but also what Khieu Samphan had dubbed their “spiritual private property,” which the former head of state once said was more insidious than material wealth. “It comprises everthing that you think is yours, everything that you think in relation to yourself, your parents, your family and your wife,” Ms Leang explained quoting words Khieu Samphan once told an interviewer.

This lead to policies such as forced marriage and the systematic suppression of Buddhism. Monks were referred to as “disease carriers that sucks people’s blood.” Women were forced to have sex with new husbands they may have met that very afternoon, while couples who fell in love without authorization could be killed.

“They took from the people everything makes life worth livig: family, faith, education, a place to rear one’s children, a place to rest one’s head” said Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley. Chhim Phan, a former Khmer Rouge deputy commune chief attending yesterday’s hearings said that the prosecutors’ presentation was difficult to listen to. He once ordered his cadres to publicly execute a man and a woman who had fallen in love illicitly. Now, he is plagued by guilt.

“That couple was brought to smash in front of a crowd of men’s mobile unit and women’s mobile unit in order to warn others not to make love,” he recalled. “they were beaten to death with hoes and wooded sticks. I admit I killed that couple, but I was ordered to do so.”

Ms Leang and Mr Cayley said there was no doubt that the three accused were directly responsible for coordinating the policies that led to these atrocities. Each of three is charged with genocide against Cham Muslims and  ethnic Vietnamese; crimes against humanity including murder, extermination, enslavement and torture; and war crimes, including torture, unlawful deportation, willful killing and willfully causing great suffering.

But due to the case’s complexity, judges have spit it into several smaller “mini-trials,” and only forced evacuations and related crimes against humanity will be deal with when witness testimony begins in December. Khmer Rouge victims and their tormentors attended yesterday’s hearing side by side. Civil party Khoem Rin, 63 was evacuated from her Phnom Penh home to Kompong Speu in 1975. Her brother was executed in the jungle, and Khmer Rouge soliders friend and ate his liver, lungs and viscera.

“When I first saw those top three Khmer Rouge leaders, I wanted to him them with my shoes, because even Hitler the former German leader never killed his own people. In contrast these former Khmer Rouge stupid leaders smashed their nation,” she said.  But Ieng Sary’s former messenger, 64-year-old Phy Phuon, who had traveled from Banteay  Meanchey province’s Malai district to watch his boss go on trial, said he was disappointed with the court for trying to find justice when “there is no justice in this world.”

“It’s not true that he killed many people, he said of Ieng Sary. “No, it isn’t true. I never saw the killing. His natural character is gentle. Other leaders’ attitudes wer also gentle, not violent and cruel… I never saw the corpses. I went to all the provinces around the country, and I never saw the killings and the bodies. I only saw the difficulties in building dams.”

International observers were also paying attention. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay applauded the trial’s opening statement from Geneva, although she cautioned that political interference must not be allowed to damage the credibility of the court.

Chhang Song, a former minister of information under the Lon Nol regime who fled the country in 1975, said he is avidly following the trial from his home in California. “It’s now the big time for the great show for those senior Khmer Rouge to come forward and answer for the huge crimes they have committed against the people in Cambodia,” he said.

“For me, looking from afar, it means a great and decisive step in the biggest trial in the history of Cambodia, and one of the biggest trials in the history of the world.”

A War Waged Against the City: Brother Number One

Source: David Chandler, Brother Number One A Political Biography of Pol Pot

“On April 17, Cambodian Communist troops, heavily armed, silent and many of them alarmingly young – appeared on the boulevards of Phnom Penh and converged on the center of the city…. Within twenty-four hours the young combatants ordered everyone in Phnom Penh to evacuate the city… the forced evacuation of the cities was the most far-reaching decision any modern Cambodian government ever took. To the leaders of the Red Khmer, it was not such much a cruel and thoughtless tactic as a demonstration of an extension of their victorious campaign. From that moment on, no foreign aid to feed the people would be allowed into the country. Those who suffered had refused to be on the winning side. A new Cambodia therefore would start from zero in an empty city.”

“Saloth Sar reached Phnom Penh in secrecy on April 23. For the past twelve years he had waged war against the city and all it stood for. The victory of what the Communists came to call the “glorious 17th of April: had obliterated the authority of Phnom Penh. As we was driven around the capital, with it smoldering garbage, burnt out cars, abandoned shops, deserted houses and empty streets, Sar’s excitement must have been difficult to restrain. He had stopped imperialism in its tracks.”

Source: The City He Built, New York Times

It is hard to imagine a crueler fate for an urban planner than seeing his country taken over by a regime with a murderous hatred of cities. As Cambodia’s pre-eminent architect and chief urban planner during the 1960’s, Vann Molyvann laid out significant portions of Phnom Penh and designed dozens of landmark structures fusing High Modernist design with classical Khmer elements, including the Corbusier-influenced Independence Monument, the stacked-block minimalist Front du Bassac housing development and the National Sports Complex. Then, in 1975, the Khmer Rouge marched into the capital and evacuated its entire population. They used the stadium for political meetings and mass rallies. In the southern port of Sihanoukville, they tried to blow up Vann’s National Bank of Cambodia building (having abolished money) but gave up when the vaults proved too strong.

”They took Cambodia from a country in the process of development to a communal society without the slightest vestige of the modern or the urban,” says Vann”

Source: Brother Number One Film

NPR – Khmer Rouge Trials


In Cambodia, Aging Khmer Rouge Leaders Go On Trial

A Cambodian woman looks at portraits of Khmer Rouge victims at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in the capital Phnom Penh on Nov. 17. Three senior Khmer Rouge leaders are on trial in what may be the last major legal case against the group's leaders.

EnlargeTang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty ImagesA Cambodian woman looks at portraits of Khmer Rouge victims at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in the capital Phnom Penh on Nov. 17. Three senior Khmer Rouge leaders are on trial in what may be the last major legal case against the group’s leaders.

November 22, 2011

In Cambodia this week, three elderly men are sitting in a courtroom, accused of atrocities that took place in the 1970s.

The three former leaders of the radical Khmer Rouge are on trial for their role in a regime that exterminated more than 2 million people — or roughly a quarter of the country’s population.

The Khmer Rouge was forced from power more than three decades ago, its former leaders are growing old, and this may be the final trial held by the U.N.-backed tribunal.

Dressed in a black barrister’s gown and speaking through a translator, co-prosecutor Chea Leng summed up the case to the tribunal’s five foreign and Cambodian judges.

The three former Khmer Rouge leaders who went on trial Monday in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, from left to right: Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's former chief ideologist, Ieng Sary, former foreign minister, and Khieu Samphan, former head of state.

Mark Peters/APThe three former Khmer Rouge leaders who went on trial Monday in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, from left to right: Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s former chief ideologist, Ieng Sary, former foreign minister, and Khieu Samphan, former head of state.

“The evidence we will put before you will show that the Communist Party of Kampuchea turned Cambodia into a massive slave camp, reducing an entire nation to prisoners living under a system of brutality that defies belief,” she said.

The regime’s chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, the head of state, Khieu Samphan, and its foreign minister, Ieng Sary, listened mutely to the proceedings. Their trials have been divided into segments in hopes of reaching some verdict before they die off.

The three, all in their 80s, have maintained their innocence.

Accounts Of Mass Killings

But Chea Leng linked the trio to policies that resulted in the deaths of up to 2.2 million people. She cited a witness account of when the Khmer Rouge forced the evacuation of the capital Phnom Penh in April 1975.

“Along the road, I saw the bodies of people who had died. They were already shriveled up, and people had walked on top of them. Some of them had been eaten by dogs. Death was everywhere,” Chea Leng quoted the witness as saying.

Several thousand victims of the Khmer Rouge are preparing to file civil suits against their former oppressors and will seek symbolic reparations. They come from around the country and around the world.

Among them is former schoolteacher Sophany Bay, who now lives in San Jose, Calif. She says her three children were starved and beaten to death by the Khmer Rouge.

“I want to hear from the three top leaders, because they denied [their role]; they never apologized to the people,” she said. “I want to know who was involved in these crimes.”

I want to hear from the three top leaders, because they denied [their role]; they never apologized to the people. I want to know who was involved in these crimes- Sophany Bay, Cambodian-American woman who lost her three children to the Khmer Rouge

Despite the millions of Cambodians who suffered under Khmer Rouge rule, surprisingly few are participating in the tribunal. Some claim they’re being unfairly excluded from the proceedings.

But it’s not just the victims who complain of injustice.

Nuon Chea’s Dutch lawyer, Michiel Pestman, has filed a criminal complaint, accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen and other officials of interfering in the tribunal’s proceedings.

“This government has prevented important witnesses from testifying in my case,” Pestman said. “I think that is a crime, and something should be done about that. But my client knows he’s going to be convicted and sentenced, whatever the evidence there is against him.”

Some victims say the ideal reparations for them would be some kind of memorial, or something to help people remember this horrific chapter, even as they seek to put it behind them.

The Venerable Khy Sovanratana, abbot of Phnom Penh’s Mongkulvan Buddhist temple, says he helps many Cambodians to face their traumatic memories in order to overcome them.

“We try to console them that this kind of thing can happen in our life, or in previous life,” he said. “We should try to get rid of those suffering, those obsessions, then try to move on.”

He is confident there will be justice for Cambodia — if not criminal justice, then at least karmic justice.

Psar Thmey

“The Central Market (Khmer: ផ្សារធំថ្មី, Psah Thom Thmey), is a large market constructed in 1937 in the shape of a dome with four arms branching out into vast hallways with countless stalls of goods. It is located in Cambodia‘s capital city, Phnom Penh. When it first opened in 1937, it was said to be the biggest market in Asia, and today it still operates as a market. From 2009 to 2011, it underwent a US$4.2 million renovation funded by the French Development Agency.”

Central Market

Central Market

Central Market

Central Market

November 2011

November 2011

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Chea Pal Flickr below:

Central Market Before Dark

Central Market at Night

Cambodian Railways

The passenger trains (all trains?) have not been in service since the Khmer Rouge. The tracks are currently under development – leading to the possible displacement of thousands of residents living along the rail corridors.

Abandoned Train Cars

Abandoned Train Cars

Abandoned Train Cars

Abandoned Train Cars

1925_Hubbard_Proposed_Khmer Cities

1925_Hubbard_Proposed_Khmer Cities

“French protectorate: by 1980, more coherent planning and oversight of the city had begun with collective drainage programs and city beautification initiatives. The creation of open public spaces and a series of public buildings accompanied this campaign. French engineers drew plans for roads and designed buildings following the methods established by manuals of Public Works. The architecture of the new public buildings genrally copied Parisian models adapted to tropical settings. With the exception of some urban spaces, roads were brought under a uniform code which decreed their width to be twenty meters.”

In 1953 Cambodia became an independent nation followed by a rapid period of development.

Rapid Development

1867_French Field Officer_Khmer Cities

1867_French Field Officer_Khmer Cities

These settlements were protected from the annual flods by building dikes and using soil dug from drainage canals to fill land to the level of the dikes.



Drainage in the Four Faces

Runoff Zones

Source: Molyvann, Vann. Modern Khmer Cities. Phnom Penh, Cambodia : Reyum ; [Chicago, IL?] : Sales and distribution, USA, Art Media Resources, c2003


“Water drainage remains a critical structural problem for an expanding Phnom Penh as well. If very high floods on the Mekong River surpass the capacity of the present pumping system of the city, a catastrophe could ensue. in the 1960s, Phnom Penh developed a viable system of water drainage which included a network of pipes to drain both rain water and used household water. In addition, existing prek and beng were included in this drainage system which allowed rain water runoff as well through the use of pumping stations. Today, due to lack of maintenance, the existing drainage networks are almost completely blocked. Used household water and rain water accumulate in drains during the rainy season rather than running through them, causing flooding in many parts of the city. Improperly managed flood water inundate areas surrounding the city, thus limiting the amounts of water which can be pumped out of the central city into zones. Drains and canals leading to the beng or ponds inside the city which do still serve to hold excess water are obstructed or saturated so that rain water has to run directly onto roads, causeways and dikes to reach these reservoirs. The causeways and dikes thus only hold for one rainy season and must be repaired each year. Pumping stations are neither numerous enough nor powerful enough to adequately fulfill their pumping functions.”

“The drainage system established in the 1960s combined rain water and used household water into a single system. The system only served the central area of Phnom Penh as well as sections of the city located towards Beng Trabek and Beng Salang. Drainage in Tuol Kok at that time remained a simple network of open drains. The central drainage system of the 1960s did not include the area of Beng Tompun either. The dike of Beng Tompus was constructed in the 1970s as a military defense agains the Khmer Rouge. Beng TTompun receives water from the higher plains and from area around the airport. This water is channeled into the Meanchey River (a natural canal) along with water coming from Beng Salang and the area around the Khmer-Soviet Hospital. SInce the areas of Beng Salang and Beng Tompun lie at similar levels are separated by a high dike, pumps must be used to lead water into the larger Beng Tompun. Today Beng Tompun is ringed by spontaneously built shanty towns with more than 40,000 people living in extremely precarious sanitary conditions”

“The system of building dikes and then pumping water from one low-lying area to another in order to move water away from the city is not an infinitely extendable system. During heavy rains, flooding in Phnom Penh at present can cause a third of the city to be paralyzed. It is of great urgency to stop such flooding and to improve drainage at the center of the city. In the case of exceptional flooding, it will be necessary to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.”

“Even in the zones outside the dikes of Phnom Penh, the natural system of beng cannot be maintained. Instead, a new system of drainage must draw runoff surface water from the urban areas behind the river banks towards Prek Phnou to the north and Prek Thnot to the south. The low-lying urban areas of Phnom Penh, located behind the banks of the rivers, from a large rectangle measuring about twenty kilometers long and ten kilometers wide. The building of dikes around the city has created an obstacle to water running off from the higher plains toward the Tonle Sap River. The dikes channel these waters into the beng to the north and south of the city, obstructing water flow toward the rivers.”

“National Route 4 from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville forms a spine separating the great plain of low-lying fields behind the river banks into two sections. The northern section is drained by the Prek Phnou while the southern section is drained by Prek Thnot. The two prek must be expanded in order to drain all the runoff water from each of these plans. National Route 3 helps to lead runoff water towards Prek Thnot which National Route 2 running along the river bank to Takhmau, serves as a dike against hte floods of the Bassa River By establishing adequate management over the Prek Thnot and Prek Phnou, a mechanism for flood control will be put in place in Phnom Penh.”

Phnom Penh Development – Van Molyvann

Phnom Penh

Source: Molyvann, Vann. Modern Khmer Cities. Phnom Penh, Cambodia : Reyum ; [Chicago, IL?] : Sales and distribution, USA, Art Media Resources, c2003.


“The development of Phnom Penh today offers us a choice. We can either continue along the present path in which a form of laisser faire development responds to immediate needs and desires, or we can plan for a controlled development in which needs are anticipated and future requirements of growing populations are considered and prepared for.”

“For at least the next decade or two, Phnom Penh must cope with extremely rapid population growth. It is not an easy task to transform a city originally designed to house only about half a million inhabitants into a city capable of holding two to three million inhabitants. Planning for rapid population growth is not simply a question of building adequate accommodations for expected surplus populations. Rather one must create the foundations for an urban economy which can support such populations. Such an urban economy must in turn be linked to larger Southeast Asian economy as a whole”

“The major environmental constraints on the city of Phnom Penh are flooding and drainage. The history of Phnom Penh’s expansion is, in a sense, a hydraulic history. The city expanded by the construction of dikes which extended away from the colonial center of the city on the banks of the Tonle Sap River. The process of building dikes and then filling in their interiors was repeated several times, creating a series of concentric arcs on which the major boulevards of the city run today: Preah Sihanouk Boulevard, Monivong Boulevard, Mao Tse Tung Boulevard are all built on dikes.

(A levee, levée, dike (or dyke), embankment, floodbank or stopbank is an elongate naturally occurring ridge or artificially constructed fillor wall, which regulate water levels. It is usually earthen and often parallel to the course of a river in its floodplain or along low-lying coastlines.)

Phnom Penh Zones

“The concentric arc of each successive dike encircled larger and larger areas which then become urbanized. Today the four central city districts (Chamkar Mon, Daun Penh, Prampel Makara, Tuol Kork) like within the interior of these dikes, and the last diked arc defines the limits of the city. Surface water running of in a southwest direction is channeled through drains and sluices to areas outside of these dikes.; water accumulating along the dikes during the rain season must be pumped out and discharged into a network of beng (ponds) and prek (canals) outside the city.

Pumping Stations

It is not possible to continue expanding the city through the building of ever larger concentric dikes, filling in the interceding space to provide new areas for urbanization. Such a method of expansion requires too massive and costly public works projects, and will aslo destroy the natural drainage systems remaining around the city today. It is therefore necessary to develop a new approach to the expansion of Phnom Penh. This new plan must respect the natural environments while recognizing that large area of water, serving as storage reservoirs, will be an integral and attractive part of the future urban landscape.

Drainage Region

The environmental implications of urban extension, particularly in terms of the quality of water supply and the possibilities of managed drainage, have not yet been studied in detail and no comprehensive strategy has been developed to cope with the growth of Phnom Penh. Over the last decade, the city has grown rapidly and haphazardly spreading in tentacle like extensions up to twenty kilometers to the north, the west and the south. The real question posed for future development is how to manage growth while safeguarding the environment. Successful solutions to this dilemma will depend more on measures which offer incentive to those who follows them, than on measures which penalize those who ignore them.”

Runoff Zones

“Over the last decade, a considerable effort has gone into rehabilitating the roads as well as the water supply, drainage, and electricity systems of Phnom Penh. These projects have been limited, however, to increasing the capacities of existing systems through rehabilitation and reconstruction. No plan has been implemented to address new infrastructure needs in the future zones of urban extension emerging outside of the dikes, even though these zones currently contain more than 40% of the city’s population (or about 400,000 people). The surprising number of new constructions springing up on the outskirts of Phnom Penh are connected to existing infrastructure networks in an ad hoc and organic fashion. These evolving unofficial networks of connection must be taken into consideration and incorporated into future planning. As the capital grows, present marginal areas will become central sections of the city. It will then be difficult and costly to repair their infrastructure and unify their various roads and service networks.”