Genocide in Cambodia: Documents from the Trial of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary edited by Howard Denike, John Quigley, and Kenneth Robinson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. 559pp.

Certainly the reign of the Khmer Rouge ranks as one of history’s bloodiest, most ruthless and horrific attempts at social engineering, which claimed the lives of an estimated 1.7 million people from April 1975 to January 1979. Six months after the January 1979 Vietnamese liberation/invasion, the new government—which lacked universal recognition—established the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal to try in absentia Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, the two most senior Khmer Rouge officials, for genocide. Howard DeNike, John Quigley, and Kenneth Robinson meticulously gathered the documents and present them in this volume.

The book is arranged in three major parts. Part I includes government decrees, press conference transcripts, and orders of the presiding judge related to the tribunal’s establishment. Of particular note are documents 1.03 (Decree Law No. 25: Appointment of Members of the Tribunal) and 1.08 (Composition of the Tribunal). The people’s Revolutionary Tribunal, typical of civil law systems, assigned one presiding “judge” and ten assessors—professionals and non-professionals—to serve as adjudicators. Documents 1.11a and 1.11b list the 11 lawyers from Algeria, Cuba, India, Japan, Laos, Syria, USSR, USA, and Vietnam invited to participate in the tribunal, including John Quigley, one of the editors of this volume.

As is typical in civil law proceedings, much of the investigative work and documentary evidence is presented in the pretrial phase. Such documents comprise Part II, which the editors present in five categories: witness statements; reports by government investigators; reports commissioned by government investigators about the impact of the Khmer Rouge on Cambodian social life; Khmer Rouge documents; and foreign press accounts of the atrocities. Of note are documents with the prefix 2.1.2 detailing the annihilation of Cambodia’s religious institutions; documents with the prefix 2.3 highlighting field investigations of the Siem Riep crocodile pit into which humans were thrown, as well as the crematories and mass graves found throughout the country; and documents with the prefix 2.4 detailing the destruction of Cambodia’s educational, health, and transportation systems. Having worked in Cambodia in 1993, I can attest to the long-term effects of such brutal policies: 7th – 9th century temples that lay in ruins; fields riddled with human bones and clothing; and ineffectual educational, health care, and transportation systems.

Part III documents relate to the trial itself, and include the prosecutor’s indictment, which summarizes all the evidence in Part II; concluding speeches by the prosecuting and defense attorneys, as well as by the foreign lawyers; and the judgment finding Ieng Sary and Pol Pot guilty and sentencing them to death.

The surfacing of Pol Pot in 1997 and his death in 1998 renewed calls for the capture and trial of Khmer Rouge officials. In early December 2003, United Nations officials and the Cambodian government tentatively agreed upon a tribunal framework, but the process is currently mired in financial difficulties and political instability.

Despite its shortcomings, the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal, the editors note, was the first trial of a government leader and other officials for genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The precedent, Quigley contends, cannot be ignored. Perhaps the envisioned 2004 tribunal, an international-domestic hybrid, will succeed in carrying out the work of the 1979 tribunal and bringing a necessary sense of justice to Cambodian society.

Matthew S. Weinert, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver
January 2004

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