The End of the Road for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

November 24, 2018

The End of the Road for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal


 On Friday 16 November 2018 the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) handed down a guilty verdict against ageing former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan in what’s known as Case 002/02. Out of fears that they would die before a verdict was reached, the case against them had been split into multiple parts. As such, they were already found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison in Case 002/01.

So what’s so significant about last week’s verdict?

First and foremost is the crimes that were considered as part of Case 002/02. The first conviction against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan had related primarily to the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975 and to a specific instance (at Tuol Po Chrey in Pursat province) where members of the previous government’s military were killed. This second part of the case considered a much broader range of crimes, and crimes that reflect the experiences of many more Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge regime.

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Case 002/02 included crimes related to the appalling conditions in cooperatives and worksites, torture and killings at security centres, discrimination against the Vietnamese, ethnic Cham minority, and Buddhists, and forced marriage. In a survey conducted in 2008, when Cambodians were asked which crimes Khmer Rouge leaders should be held accountable for, only 4.9% of them mentioned forced evacuation, which had been the focus of Case 002/01. On the other hand, 80% listed killing, 63% listed starvation, 56% listed forced labour, and 33% referred to torture. Trials such as those before the ECCC are meant to do more than just sentence perpetrators; they are tasked with contributing to a sense of substantive justice, and with helping to find the truth about what happened. So, although these two defendants had already been convicted and sentenced, it had not yet been for what were considered to be the right crimes.

There are two particular crimes worth drawing attention to: forced marriage and genocide.

Forced marriage

The Khmer Rouge’s policy of forced marriage, and the rape that occurred within those forced marriages, was not well known before the ECCC, despite estimates now that  400,000 people were forcibly married under the Khmer Rouge. It is largely through the testimony of civil parties (victims who have become parties to the proceedings before the ECCC) and through the advocacy of their lawyers that this issue was brought into the spotlight.

In harrowing testimony, victims recounted how they were too scared to refuse to be married but that they “could see that some people shed their tears quietly”. Couples would be monitored in their homes the night of their marriage by Khmer Rouge cadre to ensure they consummated the marriage. Another victim recalled, “I had to sleep with my husband because I would be in danger if I did not sleep with my husband. Because there was a militiaman eavesdropping, I submitted myself to be a wife. I could not avoid, so I tried to take this”. Women who refused to have sex with their new husband were sometimes raped by local Khmer Rouge leaders.

Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were convicted of crimes against humanity for both forced marriages and the rapes that occurred with them. This conviction is significant from an international law perspective for recognising forced marriage as a gendered crime that was committed against both male and female victims, and for addressing it at a national scale. It is also highly significant to those victims who came forward after decades of silence. However, the ECCC has also been criticised for not addressing sexual violence that occurred under the Khmer Rouge in contexts other than forced marriage.


Undoubtedly, the genocide conviction issued by the ECCC received the greatest attention from the Case 002/02 verdict.

Nuon Chea was found guilty of genocide against the Vietnamese and the Cham, and Khieu Samphan was found guilty of genocide against the Vietnamese (but not the Cham, with the Trial Chamber finding that “the evidence did not rise to the level of proving that Khieu Samphan actively assisted or facilitated the execution of the genocidal policy against the Cham”). Curiously, the summary of the judgement notes that “Judge YOU Ottara appends a separate opinion on genocide to the Judgement”. This is the first separate opinion issued by a single Cambodian judge, but its contents are not yet known.

There is immense power in the label of genocide. The actions covered by the conviction for crimes against humanity are just as horrific, yet it is those considered genocide that often attract far more attention. This is just as true in Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge period is referred to as a genocide in Khmer (ប្រល័យពូជសាសន៍).

Legally, however, genocide only refers to the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. This has led to divisive debates amongst scholars of Cambodia over whether some or all of the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge could be considered genocide. It also means that the experiences of ethnically-Khmer Cambodians (the vast majority of the population) are not covered by the definition, and the ECCC has not found the crimes committed against them to be genocide.

Here is where the verdict is ripe for misinterpretation. News headlines are very carefully crafted to engage readers by referring to genocide without explicitly misrepresenting the verdict (for example, the New York Times said “Khmer Rouge’s Slaughter in Cambodia is Ruled a Genocide”). For most people, Cambodian and foreigners alike, the details of this verdict will have little to no impact compared to the overarching label of genocide. However, there is a longstanding concern that if it enters into public consciousness in Cambodia that the ECCC found the treatment of the Vietnamese was a genocide but that the treatment of the Khmer was not, that this could further inflame anti-Vietnamese sentiment.

A complicated legacy

The final question to ask about the ECCC and Case 002/02 is: where to from here?

Last week, a summary of the judgement was read out before the Trial Chamber and released online. However, the full judgement is not yet available, with the only information given is that it will be released “in due course”. This decision has been criticised in a report from Stanford University’s WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice noting that Cambodia’s (notoriously weak) judiciary often relies on summary judgements without full reasoning, and that the ECCC had a chance to leave a different legacy.

The timeline for appeals will not start until this full judgement is released, although both defence teams have already flagged their intention to file appeals. In Case 002/01 the judgement was announced in August 2014 and the appeals proceedings concluded in November 2016. The current completion plan for the ECCC, foresees an appeal judgement in Case 002/02 in the third quarter of 2020.

As for trials against other suspects, myself and other New Mandala contributors have written about the reasons why it is highly unlikely these contentious cases will go ahead. In the aftermath of the Case 002/02 verdict, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said that since there are “no more” top Khmer Rouge leaders, the government’s policy is that “now this process has ended”. It is hardly surprising, but serves as additional evidence that once the Case 002/02 appeals conclude, so too will the ECCC.

Rebecca Gidley is the author of Illiberal Transitional Justice and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

A Foxy Political Partnership In Malaysia

August 4, 2018

A Foxy Political Partnership In Malaysia

by Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT |Let me be clear at the outset. The term “cunning foxes” is not meant in the derogatory manner, but as a salutary description of two of Malaysia’s foremost veteran leaders.

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Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim are the duo who matter most in the country today. They are the supreme leaders, whether you recognise them as such or not and whether you support them or not.

It’s heartening to note that even the majority in the opposition hatiove come around to accept that the Mahathir-Anwar combination is what matters. At least, that seems to be the case.

Except for a few rabble-rousers in UMNO criticising the Pakatan Harapan leadership, most senior leaders within the opposition ranks have largely refrained from lashing out at Mahathir or Anwar, and rightly so.

Together, Mahathir and Anwar call the shots. What they do or say has a bearing on the direction the nation is heading. The mistakes they make will have dire consequences too.

On them lay the hopes and dreams of the majority of Malaysians, for the next five years at least.

In “The Political Animals At Large”, a political intelligence piece written by Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner, the fox symbolises the most outstanding and perhaps necessary trait of powerful politicians. Or what is needed for them to hold on to power.

“Cunning, sly and clever, foxes know their way around. They are really quite adept at negotiating the corridors of power, getting support and being tuned in to the bigger picture. They recognise and take advantage of the weaknesses of others in order to get ahead and further their cause”.

But it also sounds a warning.

“Unfortunately, it is ‘their cause’ that they invariably put first in their decisions and strategies. The objectives of the organisation tend to be neglected, even ignored when it suits”.

In the light of recent events involving Mahathir and Anwar, let us take a closer look at the warning.

Although both men are supposed to be tied together in their organisation, Pakatan Harapan, it is perhaps their personal “causes” that come first when making decisions with the objectives of Harapan being ignored. Indeed, the warning is not way off.

Now, what are the more personal causes of Mahathir and Anwar?

Man in hurry

At 93, Mahathir is a man in a hurry. He was forced to make a return to politics in order to fix the ills of the nation. He knows his time is limited and does not wish to be distracted. That’s fair enough.

Meanwhile, Anwar is getting edgy. Although he does not openly say it, we can sense his impatience to become the next Prime Minister.

Hey, who doesn’t want to fulfill a lifelong ambition as quickly as possible? So, we cannot fault Anwar’s impatience here. He was just a heartbeat away from the pinnacle of power in the past. Now, he is so near again, yet so far.

This is his second and possibly last chance at a shot at the premiership. Any one of us in Anwar’s shoes would do all within our might to ensure that we do not falter at this final shot at the top prize.

The glaring difference between Anwar and Mahathir now is that Anwar has to consolidate himself within his party, PKR. Mahathir couldn’t be bothered about his future in his newly formed Bersatu. He is already the boss and he doesn’t have to fight anyone for a party position.

Anwar is only the PKR de facto leader in name – he has yet to hold an official party post and is expected to go for the party presidency in the coming party elections.

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Enter PKR Deputy President Mohd Azmin Ali at this stage, and everyone gets worked up. Many are disappointed and disillusioned with such intrigues within the Harapan coalition so soon after savouring a sweet GE14 victory. Even a single coalition party in disarray is a big damper.

So the rumour mill has started churning too, faster than we could catch our breath. Mahathir is using Azmin to control Anwar, and to put the PKR de factor leader in his place. Anwar is unhappy with Azmin and is putting up Rafizi Ramli to thwart the ascent of his once-protégé private secretary but now overly ambitious minister.

Anwar has also purportedly described Azmin as a Mahathir barua (lackey), if a leaked audio recording is to be believed.

No smoke without fire

For those of us who know better, we can conclude there is no smoke without fire. Why? The internal feud in PKR is now out in the open. Rafizi has already assembled his team as he eyes the deputy presidency. And he had made it official with a public announcement. So what else is new to many of us?

Many in Harapan, PKR in particular, are just very ordinary politicians (there is no statesmanship caliber in any of them at all). They were shouting “Reformasi” when not in power. Now, they are in power, they want more power to entrench themselves politically. Sad, isn’t it?

As for Mahathir and Anwar, let me state a fact. No one knows Anwar better than Mahathir, and perhaps it’s also true that no one knows Mahathir better than Anwar. Well, apart from their spouses, possibly.

A Malaysian friend living abroad summed it up best when I asked him for his opinion on the Mahathir-Anwar partnership.

“Cunning foxes or not, we have to live with them for now. But I would want both Dr Mahathir and Anwar to be out of the scene completely – the sooner, the better. Drum into Malaysians that the world can exist quite well without them.

“The same goes for many of those lazing around on the opposition benches in Parliament, wasting taxpayers’ money. When will politicians ever learn that they are not wanted anymore? Shame, shame!”

I couldn’t agree more.

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Dr. Bridget Welsh: The GE-14 aftermath: Hope and Healing

May 14, 2018

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Thank You, Dr. Bridget Welsh (pic above) for the excellent coverage of GE-14. Your writings on Malaysia with the insightful analysis, keen observations and succinct comments  are a delight to read. I am privileged  to know you as a friend, public intellectual and top rate researcher. You will always have a special place in this blog–Din Merican, Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh

The GE-14 aftermath: Hope and Healing

Harapan now has the support and goodwill of most Malaysians. Managing expectations and living up to the promise that GE-14 has brought about will be a large responsibility. Healing the wounds inside the system and the country as a whole are essential to meet these responsibilities.

COMMENT| Dr Mahathir Mohamad is once again Malaysia’s prime minister. Pakatan Harapan under the strategic leadership of Mahathir was able to create the perfect electoral storm to win over large shares of UMNO’s base, maintain the support of the opposition and bring about Malaysia’s first change of government at the federal level in the nation’s history.

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Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister–Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Democracy won out – the people’s votes were counted and a responsible peaceful transition of power took place. Najib Razak’s governance – the greed, the kleptocracy and the sense that he and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were willing to sell out the country for their own interests, no matter how egregious – served to deeply alienate Malaysians across races and backgrounds and was strongly repudiated.

Millions of Malaysians took the ballot box and follow BN’s advice – ‘Make Malaysia Great Again’.

While I did see an opposition win as a viable scenario in the GE-14 political storm and could feel the strong sentiments on the ground, especially as the campaign gained momentum, I was too cautious in assessing the overwhelming outpouring, weighing in on the power holders holding on. I should have had more faith. I have long recognised the wisdom of ordinary Malaysians, and let despair, past disappointment and cynicism – in part shaped by global trends – overshadow hope.

In the wake of the Harapan victory, I begin my post-election analyses with focus on how hope can be actualised and an important healing process can begin.

Harnessing nationalism

Nationalism was a main driving force of this election as people from all walks of life voted to ‘Save Malaysia’. Most citizens put the love of their country over self-interest, following Mahathir’s own example. The BN’s emphatic loss was in large part due to its failure to look out for the interests of the country – from 1MDB to worrying investments with China.

Malaysians have long come together in crises such as the tragedies of MH370 and MH17. GE-14 represented yet another coming together to address a crisis and provides a positive opportunity for Malaysians to focus on national interest, a reset button.

It is important to capitalise on this spirit of working together, as the challenges of much-needed political and economic reforms extend well beyond one man (and his wife).

Building multi-ethnic bridges

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Focus has been on the multi-ethnic and national dimensions of the results. Caution is necessary in interpreting the results along these lines. While Malaysians from all walks of life voted for Harapan, the campaign was very much shaped along ethnic lines on both sides of the political divide. Even the post-election discussions of crossovers and such speak to the issue of Malay representation as opposed to others.

Ethnic mobilisation – engaging Malays – was at the heart of GE-14. UMNO was abandoned in large numbers with some going to Harapan, but others went to PAS. Arguably the Islamist party took more from UMNO support because it was a more comfortable racialised alternative for many Malays. While Harapan took away the mantle as the protector the nation, PAS has assumed the mantle for the Malays, with religious identity at the core.

Similar strong ethnic sentiments were expressed in Sabah and Sarawak. Acknowledging the persistence of race and religion is essential for any efforts to build a stronger society.

This said, arguably at no other time in Malaysia’s history, with the exception than that of Merdeka in 1957, has there been space to reduce racism and build mutual respect across communities, to realise that Malaysians embrace multiple identities of nation, community and religion and these identities do not have to be played off against one another.

This involves an understanding that Malaysia’s strength is in fact this diversity and difference. To move away from the “us” and “them” is not easy, to try to have trust, faith, tolerance and be respectful can be even more challenging when these practices have been eroded.

Meaningful reform needs to happen to the education system where the values of division are being perpetuated. As a young nation with so much talent, creativity, capacity and hope, the decay and distortions of Malaysia’s education system (often with the frustration and anger of many hardworking teachers) is, for me as an educator, one of the worst legacies of BN governance.

Special attention needs to centre on the curriculum in religious education and revitalising arts and culture. Efforts to work toward mutual understanding have to go beyond the classroom, to build on the extensive respectful quotidian exchanges that happen across races and faiths every day.

Finding moral compass

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They lost their moral compass, thinking that they  did not do anything wrong

In analysing developments in Malaysia (and elsewhere), I have regularly written about the loss of moral compass in the contemporary era. This was clearly the case among the UMNO elites, some of whom wrongly still think that they did not do anything wrong. Those in leadership positions should rightly be held accountable. Moving forward, there is, however, a need for a judicious search for justice.

Practices of corruption are endemic and part of a survival mode inside the system. Some in the Harapan government are also tainted with perceptions of these practices as the ‘UMNO’ culture of economic entitlement from holding office runs deep. This does not excuse them but helps us understand that the rot is systemic.

One important step could be to offer an amnesty to those who come forward, especially at the lower ranks, as a way of reaching across the system and starting fresh. This should be coupled with strengthening enforcement and incentives for good practices, a genuine commitment to anti-corruption.

Some of the crimes of the previous administration, however cannot be overlooked. Not only do people like Altantuya Shaariibuu, Teoh Beng Hock, Ahmad Sarbani Mohamed, Kevin Morais, Hussein Najadi, Raymond Koh, Amri Che Mat deserve the truth in their deaths and disappearances, as do countless others who died in Police custody, were buried in death camps and caught up in perilous trafficking rings.

Malaysia’s illegal economy needs to be curbed, and a culture of accountability reinforced. It will be difficult to open old and sensitive wounds but learning the lessons from these experiences and building on the knowledge of the reality of the seriousness of these problems is an integral part of a new beginning, of healing.

Tackling institutional reform

It is a given that Najib did serious damage to Malaysia’s political institutions, from the judiciary and parliament to the media environment and his own party. Mahathir at the helm provides an excellent (albeit ironic) opportunity for reform, given his national and broad mandate. He can indeed correct many of the mistakes he started and has acknowledged.

Lessons show this will take time, prioritisation, trust building, patience and a serious political commitment. Simple measures to repeal draconian laws on fake news, symbolic removal of senior staff who failed in their duties in areas such as the Electoral Commission and positive reinforcement of good practices and those who supported the turnover of power, such as the inspector-general of police, can go a long way. Attention will be paid on developments in the first 100 days.

A crucial part of this institutional rebuilding involves the 1.6 million in the civil service, many of whom voted for the opposition, but also many of whom remained loyal to UMNO. Keep in mind that BN won 35.4% of the country, over a third. The need for outreach to those in the system to dampen the inevitable resistance and resentments tied to entrenched practices that will come is pressing.

As stakeholders and implementors, civil servants are crucial for any successful institutional reform. In moments of change, it is always prudent to look for potential allies and be cautious in rushing to judgement. This does not mean to ignore real threats. GE-14 shows, however, that surprising allies can indeed lead to even more surprising outcomes.

Embracing social transformation

Equally substantive challenges remain in Malaysia’s economy, as acknowledged by Malaysia’s new leadership. Despite platitudes to the contrary, Malaysia is still caught in a middle-income trap. It does not yet have a clear strategy ahead to move out of it. The focus on infrastructure as a driver of growth needs to be complemented with more alternatives.

Serious thought needs to be placed on reforms in the agricultural sector to diversify from palm oil dominance. Equally valuable is consideration of how to strengthen services and ratchet up technology. There are seasoned experts inside the new leadership who understand that vision and long-term planning are better than short-term deals to pay off loans and address scandals. A thorough clean-up of 1MDB and the GLCs (government-linked companies) will go a long way to bringing investment into Malaysia.

The populist thrusts of the GE-14 campaign messages tap into real needs in society. Broadly, growing inequality, declining social mobility and persistent precarity of large shares of Malaysians underscored the resentments toward the Najib government. The GST showcased these vulnerabilities.

Throwing money at these problems through cash transfers such as BR1M did not go to the core of these problems. The poverty and underdevelopment in places such as Sabah, Sarawak and Felda areas remains serious. Equally significant are conditions in northern Terengganu and Kelantan, who cannot be left out of any new sets of initiatives even though they are opposition states.

GE-14 opens up the path for a social transformation, as did the critical juncture of 1969. If there was one positive from Najib’s decade in office, it is that he moved to embrace a more needs-based approach in social policy. This thinking can be foundational in the transformation, as an approach that focuses on one community at the expense of the other, for that race and not another, is part of the reason Malaysia is in the difficulties it now is.

This does not mean that policies cannot be sensitive to ethnic identities and social conditions, and policies will need to be adjusted to address the variation within Malaysia, whether it is rural Pensiangan or urban Kerinchi (not Bangsar South). Now, however, there is an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about social problems and how they affect the economy and vice versa.

Healthcare, gender relations, family structure and religion are an integral part of robust discussions of policy reform. GE14 may have been essentially devoid of policy debate, but its outcome opens up the possibility of moving political discussions in a new direction.

Harapan now has the support and goodwill of most Malaysians. Managing expectations and living up to the promise that GE-14 has brought about will be a large responsibility. Healing the wounds inside the system and the country as a whole are essential to meet these responsibilities.

If there was one lesson I learned in GE-14, it is to have more faith … and hope.

BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore. She is following the Malaysian GE14 2018 campaign on the ground and providing her analyses exclusively to Malaysiakini readers. She can be reached at

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Fracas at Nothing to Hide2.0 Forum

August 13, 2017

Fracas at Nothing to Hide2.0 Forum

COMMENT: What a shame! Najib Razak is unable to debate Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. At 92, the former Prime Minister is still a formidable debater. And it is also clear to me that Najib is scared of his own of his own shadow. If so, he cannot be helped. He is wasting money engaging these thugs to disrupt the public forum (ceramah).

Najib Razak cannot run away from the facts which are already known to us Malaysians and the international community, that is, he is a very corrupt politician, a liar and an incompetent Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Today’s fracas is nothing but an act of political desperation. It will not dissuade Malaysians from attending future ceramahs by the political opposition. On the contrary, we can expect larger crowds at future gatherings.

What is the Royal Malaysian Police doing? Perhaps, they are waiting for orders from their Inspector-General of Police.

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The Police are busy checking round the clock all postings on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. The IGP is equally occupied sucking up to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister-Home Affairs Minister.

We know that Khalid Abu Bakar is a weak IGP who got the job because he will be an obedient UMNO servant.  So do not expect the IGP to act. Knowing how the Police in particular the Special Branch operate, it is more likely that their agent provocateurs could be among the UMNO thugs. And the whole thing could have been pre-arranged to scare the 92-year old rather than harm him.

Mariam is right when she suggested that at GE-14 we should overwhelmingly vote against Najib and his UMNO-BN. We can longer allow a corrupt and cowardly politician and his associates to remain in office even for another 24 hours. They should summarily be shown the exit door.–Din Merican

UMNO Biadap Culture on Display: Attacking  Tun Dr.Mahathir Mohamad

by Mariam Mokhtar

When a 92-ye-old man is attacked, there is only one conclusion: Najib is very afraid.


An attempt to undermine former PM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s ceramah, called “Nothing to Hide 2.0” broke up in chaos and pandemonium, when some Malay thugs, set off flares, threw bottles at the audience, and hurled slippers at the nonagenarian.

Mahathir had been invited to the “Nothing to Hide 2.0” forum which had been organised by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) .

It was supposed to be a debate between Mahathir and the incumbent PM, Najib Abdul Razak; but we know that Najib has an aversion to debates and usually skips the country, when things are getting too hot to handle. He runs away (only this time, he has no place where to run to).

Said one political observer, “This is the modus operandi of UMNO-Baru. They send their thugs to a peaceful event. They do this to create fear, to get the public to stay away and to send a message to the person or people who are staging the event, that they do not care about people’s rights, or safety, or democracy.

“The thugs, masquerading as the people who are going to a ceramah, will do anything to disrupt a normal event.”

His friend said, “They threatened Zunar, the cartoonist, and wrecked his exhibition and sent UMNO-Baru thugs to wreak havoc.

“It was UMNO-Baru thugs who planned an assault on the Penang State Assembly a few years ago, because they were displeased with a state assemblyman’s comments.

“UMNO-Baru thugs, attacked peaceful supporters and sent threatening messages to the Bersih 2.0 committee members, like Maria Chin and Ambiga Sreenevasan. Many other Opposition politicians are also targeted by this vile UMNO-Baru thugs. Their leaders run away, but they send their hooligans in.

Najib is very afraid

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Today, who else do you think fears a 92-year-old man most?None other then Najib Abdul Razak and UMNO-Baru.

The more thugs attack a 92-year-old man, the more the moderate and usually reserved Malays will wonder why such tactics are employed. They will start to ask questions. Why? What harm can an old man do?

If the Malays were fence-sitters before, they will not be fence-sitters any longer.

This is NOT just about two adversaries having to fight a public political fight. The thugs sow more violence, but they will only make Malays question where their values have gone.

Desperadoes will do anything to stay out of jail. They are prepared to sacrifice the harmony of the nation. Pity we have such a weak IGP.

Let us show these UMNO-Baru thugs (and their backers including Najib Razak and UMNO-BN the exit at GE-14.

Book Review: Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer

June 27, 2017


Man or Monster?: The Trial of a Khmer Rouge  Torturer

by Sharon Wu

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Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, during trial proceedings at ECCC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 20 July 2009

In Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, Alexander Laban Hinton examines the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, who oversaw the torture and execution of prisoners during the Khmer Rouge’s rule of Cambodia in the 1970s. Bringing together creative ethnography, fieldwork and interviews and drawing on personal experience, this elegantly written and nuanced appraisal tackles the challenge of assessing the complexity of its central figure’s crimes, life and character, while addressing larger questions of transitional justice. writes Sharon Wu

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Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer. Alexander Laban Hinton. Duke University Press. 2016.

Perpetrators of mass crimes are easy to condemn, but harder to understand. Although their crimes may be evident, the degree of guilt and level of responsibility can be difficult to establish. This becomes all the more complex when the perpetrator is put on the stand. In his latest book Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, Alexander Laban Hinton, a professor at Rutgers University and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, dives deep into the tribunal of Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, and elegantly tackles this exact challenge of sifting through the many shades of one mass criminal’s life and character.

From 1975 to 1979, Duch served as the Deputy and then the Chairman of S-21 (also known as Tuol Sleng), the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime’s most notorious political prison and security complex. As many as 20,000 prisoners passed through Tuol Sleng’s doors to be tortured and executed on Duch’s instruction. In July 2007, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) arrested him on charges of crimes against humanity, breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the murder and torture of over 12,000 prisoners. His eventual guilty verdict was delivered almost five years later in February 2012.

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Khmer Rouge Brutality on Cambodians will never be forgotten

But what Hinton exposes is a man more nuanced than the sum of his crimes. Born in Kompong Thom, Cambodia, Duch began his career as a school teacher. He excelled in his studies, and was observed to be incredibly meticulous and hard-working in his professional and academic pursuits. Even at Tuol Sleng, prisoners and guards alike found him to be equally scrupulous and diligent in record-keeping, experimentation in torture methods and political education sessions. He memorised French poetry, had a wife and four children, acknowledged the severity of his crimes and publicly apologised before the courtroom. The duality demonstrated by these details muddled the public’s perception of Duch and had a clear impact on his trial. Hinton captures all of these intricacies.

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Only Cowards like Khmer Rouge  executioners dare take on innocent and helpless children

Like any other criminal of mass atrocities appearing before an international tribunal, Duch was presented with a range of dilemmas during his time as a murderous leader and again during his trial. Was he taking orders from the elite to save his own life or was he instrumental in ordering executions at S-21? Was he also a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime or was he complicit in carrying out its atrocities? Was he truly remorseful or did he publicly apologise in the hope of going free? In a shocking and bizarre  turn at the end of the trial, Duch ultimately redacted his public apology and insisted that he was not guilty for his crimes. This manoeuvre led victims and courtroom witnesses to ponder his actions as a former chairman and as a defendant. His involvement at S-21 was indisputable, but his degree of guilt and responsibility less so.

In focusing on this one particular case and this one peculiar man, Hinton further expands on the ECCC and the intricate process of bringing justice, truth and reconciliation to post-conflict Cambodia through legal mechanisms. He includes the trial’s extensive witness testimony and spoke directly with many victims, illustrating the spectrum of emotions they endured in watching the trial unfold. Unlike the ad hoc tribunals of Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge tribunal was a hybrid court that combined both Cambodian and international law, and incorporated legal practitioners from Cambodia and abroad. But like the ad hoc tribunals, the ECCC also witnessed its own share of politicisation, controversy and criticism. Hinton discusses the ECCC’s decision to try only five top Khmer Rouge officials, choosing to focus only on a handful of big fish and thereby limiting the reach of the court. He also mentions the ECCC’s failure to introduce certain evidence from the years before the Khmer Rouge’s regime. Many believe this information to be crucial to understanding the defendants, but it would also implicate the United States and other Western powers for their more controversial involvement in Southeast Asia.

Man or Monster? is more than a microhistory of one specific case. Not only does it offer a detailed overview of the Khmer Rouge as a rebel group or government, but Hinton also uses Duch’s earlier life to briefly walk us through postcolonial Cambodian history, from gaining independence to the strengthening of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot to US military involvement in the region. He then draws on Duch’s time at Tuol Sleng to elaborate on the Khmer Rouge’s operations, goals and ideology as well as the various crimes and atrocities committed under their direction.

Hinton trades traditional textbook jargon for a more literary and theatrical approach in examining these court proceedings. He inserts himself into the narrative, speaking directly about his interviews, his relationships with various actors of the tribunal and his memories of visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. He succeeds in casting off dry academic and legal language, rendering this book easily readable and oftentimes thrilling. He tastefully describes the drama and intricacies of the courtroom and gives vivid personality to its many characters.

However, he falls short when discussing the actual decision to write in a more literary style. He addresses his own experimental approach three separate times — in the foreword, the final chapter and the epilogue — in each instance repeating what was already previously stated. In the last chapter, titled ‘Background: Redactic (Final Decision)’, he even writes, ‘I have tried to bear in mind the creative writing imperative “Show, don’t tell”’, and acknowledges his struggle to follow ‘this imperative’, which is at times evident. Nevertheless, these multiple explanations do not take away from the true success of the book.

Hinton does the reader a tremendous service by not reducing Duch to a single identity. The book is certainly not a sympathetic take on Duch’s character, but it is a concerted effort to create a multidimensional understanding of a complicated man acting in complicated circumstances. Duch was defined not only by his murderous actions, but also by his life before and after the Khmer Rouge. Hinton invites us to contemplate the notion that what one person, or even one nation, may think of Duch may not be an unequivocal truth, but rather one of many frames through which to examine him. Simply calling him a ‘monster’ is reductive and unhelpful: the label overlooks his agency, his actions and those of the individuals around him as well as the many dilemmas he faced in this perilous time period.

By using Duch’s trial as a case study, Hinton also addresses the many larger questions of transitional justice. How is a former war criminal reintegrated into a peaceful post-conflict society? How does a court best avoid politicisation? Do legal mechanisms truly deliver justice and foster reconciliation? These questions may never have definitive answers, but Hinton asks us to consider them regardless.

Sharon Wu is an MSc candidate in the Conflict Studies program at the London School of Economics. She received her undergraduate degree from New York University and previously worked for an independent publisher in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on Twitter at @sharonlxwu.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Stop Rampant Misogyny and take an honest look in the mirror

February 12, 2015

Message to Najib Razak and Hadi Awang and Malay Muslims-Stop Rampant Misogyny and take an honest look in the mirror

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by Nadia

“Misogyny, in combination with a repressive and perverse attitude towards sexuality, has contributed to Malays having the highest rates of incest, rape, and unwed pregnancies.”–Nadia Jalil

Malaysian Muslims should struggle against anything in Malaysian culture which does not protect dignity and equality of human being.” — Tariq Ramadan, Kuala Lumpur, January 2015

Looking at developments in the US, I think there are few Muslims who would be unmoved by the large-scale protests against the #MuslimBan there. I wonder, though, how many of us Malay Muslims who have felt touched and inspired by the sight of non-Muslims in a “non-Muslim country” defending Muslims against oppression, felt a twinge of guilt at the fact that we have been complicit in, if not active participants of, oppression in our own country.

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Barack Obama’s Moderate Muslim Najib Razak and Islamic Extremist Hadi Awang  with India’s disciple of Sayyid Qutb. They are exploiting  ISLAM for their political survival.

Quite apart from the “special position” of Islam in Malaysia, which has been used to exert a kind of dominion over members of other faiths—from the major, such as the illegal expropriation of Orang Asli lands in Kelantan and elsewhere, to regular microaggressions like calls to boycott businesses owned by non-Muslims—it has now become very obvious that we have a very sick society.

Malay culture has become one of judgment over mercy. We have abandoned the precepts of hikmah in da’wah and adab when we indulge in amar ma’ruf nahi munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil). Indeed, more often than not, we relish in public undertakings of nahi munkar and barely enjoin good at all. Social media may not be a perfect yardstick, but given that Malaysians are one of the most active users of social media in the world, it’s a pretty reliable measure of social attitudes. Observe, for instance, the public shaming that occurs when a Malay Muslim is judged to have strayed from accepted mores, particularly in cases where women do not follow conventions in terms of dress.

This behaviour is tied to a development that goes unnoticed in our communities: rampant misogyny. Universities host “cover your aurat” week in which women who do not don the hijab are shamed and harassed, sometimes physically. While a lot of the conversations surrounding the return of a deported serial rapist have centred on safety concerns, another, more worrying, trend is Malay men indulging in victim-shaming—informing women that if they wish to be safe, they should police their dressing and their behaviour. At the extreme end some have wished that the serial rapist would rape women who do not police themselves. We have movies that turn rapists into heroes, and cases where rape survivors have been forced to marry their rapists, a ‘solution’ that is condoned by the community.

This misogyny seems to be founded on a culture of patriarchy that has been given an Islamist sheen. In official and unofficial sermons, women are constantly told that we must be subservient to men, that the one and only way to heaven is by serving the men in our lives, whether they are our husbands, our fathers or our brothers. Exposure to this male chauvinism starts from a young age: in mixed-gender schools, boys are encouraged to be leaders, girls their followers. By contrast, we don’t teach our boys that men, too, have duties and responsibilities to their wives, mothers, and sisters.

Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 3252 Narrated by Aisha ; Abdullah ibn Abbas Allah’s Messenger (saws) said, “The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family.” 

This attitude stands in stark contrast to the fact that Islam is a religion for which the last Messenger’s (pbuh) first wife was a successful businesswoman and his employer, while another is widely acknowledged as one of the major narrators of hadith, for whom it is said, “the implications of her actions for women’s participation in scholarship, political life, and the public sphere clashed with later conservative conceptions of the role of women”.[1] Indeed, Islam revolutionised the role of women in 7th century Arabia: where once women were thought of as nothing more than chattel and female infanticide common, Islam proclaimed that they were equal to men in God’s eyes.

Misogyny, in combination with a repressive and perverse attitude towards sexuality, has contributed to Malays having the highest rates of incest, rape, and unwed pregnancies. There has been no recognition that this is the direct result of a patriarchal and misogynistic culture that objectifies women, in addition to a refusal to educate children on sexual health and reproductive rights. Rather, proposed solutions again tend to focus on victim shaming and increasingly punitive measures.

We have now become a people who emphasise religiosity over spirituality, good deeds and good conduct; obsessed over the trivial and ritualistic. We are constantly preoccupied by perceived incursions into our ‘rights’ by non-Muslims, and this siege mentality permeates our interactions with them: a clearly non-Halal pork burger restaurant gives one of its dishes a traditionally Malay name, and we are up in arms, claiming it an insult to our religion.

Where, then, are similarly vociferous outcries in matters of grave injustice? We police outward shows of religiosity—what we eat and what we wear, and demand that our rights supersede those of others, always. As citizens of a multicultural country we ignore the rights of others and public interest (maslahah) in order to chase “religious points”. We stand quietly by as an Islamist State government destroys Temiar lands and punishes members of the tribe who are protecting their homes and trying to stop the environmental devastation that occurs through excessive logging.

We don’t question massive embezzlement of public funds, even when we know that those funds are used to finance people going for Haj and Umrah—which seems to me a very perverse way of “spiritual money laundering”. We allow for the fact that many of our mosques are not sanctuaries but places where the most vulnerable amongst us are turned away.

Our preoccupation with religiosity is aided and abetted by an institutionalised religious infrastructure that infantilises Muslims by claiming that only it can “defend the honour of our faith” and “protect Muslims from becoming confused”. We are constantly told that only the official way is religiously acceptable, even if some rulings rely on a narrow and highly literal interpretation of Scripture. Any form of questioning, however slight, or criticism, however valid, is automatically labelled deviant, and an attack on Islam. In addition, we have a moral police that has been known to harass suspects to the point of causing death—how is this following the precepts of ‘adab?

The fact that Islam in Malaysia is now represented by moral policing, religious bigotry and misogyny has contributed to resentment among non-Muslims, giving rise to Islamophobia. Many non-Muslims lauded Trump for his anti-Muslim views because they have been presented and oppressed by this narrow, intolerant and sometimes, absolutely distorted version of Islam their whole lives.

There are other challenges, but the final one I would like to put forth is the rise in violent extremism. According to IMAN Research, as at August 2016, 236 Malaysians have been arrested by the authorities for joining ISIS, including a 14-year-old girl.[2] This is not surprising, given the fetishising of violent jihad above all other types of jihad, not only in some Madrasahs, but in ‘mainstream’ environments as well. In addition to that, official efforts by the establishment to counter violent extremism contrasts jarringly with domestic bigotry that continuously otherises those in the minority.

I highly suspect that part of this behaviour is due to the heavily politicised nature of Islam in this country, where UMNO and PAS regularly try to “out-Islam” the other, and all other political parties have to play along with this narrative. Thus has our faith been hijacked by rank politics and conflated with the bigoted ideology of Malay supremacy.

Of course, it can be argued that these are generalisations, and “not all Muslims” subscribe to these behaviours and have these views. I emphasise again that these are norms, in the sense that we have become desensitised to them and, apart from the statements made by more temperate Muslim organisations and our own private protestations, they continue on, generally unremarked and tolerated, if not accepted.

I am not at all questioning the position of Islam as the official religion of this country. Instead, what I am calling for is the end of this distorted misrepresentation of our faith. As those who are privileged to be in the majority, we have a duty to end oppression committed in the name of Islam.

I fully realise that I am preaching to the choir in an amplified echo chamber. However, ours is a more dissonant than harmonised, whereas those promoting a narrow and intolerant Islam far removed from the vibrancy and openness of the Muslim civilisations which continue to be our inspirations—of the Abbasids, Umayyads and Cordoba—are concentrated and organised. We have let this go on for far too long. If you care for an Islam in Malaysia that is representative of our faith’s beauty, ideals of justice, and rahmah, I submit that we have to act now.

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Islam is also not conformity and compulsion, but reason and compassion

Firstly, we need to arm ourselves with knowledge. Of Islam, of other faiths, of socio-political and economic developments. Knowledge is, as always, power. If you choose to be devout, as Tariq Ramadhan, the Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, has exhorted, “(i)f you want to be good Muslims, instead of preventing people from believing, you become better believers. Don’t be scared of people who are not Muslim. Be scared, be afraid, be worried about our own lack of consistency.”[3] 

Secondly, we need to strengthen our own communities, and get organised. We need to overcome petty disagreements surrounding minute differences in opinion and support those organisations that are already working to promote a tolerant Islam that fights oppression. We need to form alliances, and yes, we need to go beyond the echo chamber.

Finally, we need to act against oppressions conducted in our name. Loudly speak out and strongly act against bigotry, fight for the vulnerable and marginalised, insist that our mosques are opened as sanctuaries, promote Islam as it truly is.

We need to get to work.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

[1] ‘15 Most Important Muslim Women in History’, important-muslim-women-in-history/ extracted on 10 February 2017.

[2] ‘The Allure of ISIS’, IMAN Research August 2016, isis_1_aug2016 extracted on 10 February 2017.

[3] “Look in the mirror, Muslim don tells Malaysians critical of Western discrimination”, The Malay Mail Online, 1 February 2015, malaysians-critical-of-western-discrimi#sthash.lwflqwTZ.dpuf