Cambodia passes law making denial of Khmer Rouge genocide illegal

New law threatens to reopen old wounds in the country, where 1.7m died at the hands of the rebel group

The prime minister of Cambodia has rushed through new legislation which makes it illegal to deny the war crimes and genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge regime – a law observers believe he will use to attack his political opponents ahead of an upcoming election.

Premier Hun Sen called a special session of the country’s parliament to pass the legislation, which fixes a jail term of up to two years for anyone convicted of disputing the actions of the rebel group, responsible for the deaths of up to 1.7m people.

The authoritarian Mr Sen took the initiative following recent comments made by an opposition politician who claimed some of the artefacts at the notorious Tuol Sleng jail were fabricated by Vietnamese forces who invaded Cambodia in 1979 and forced the Khmer Rouge from power.

“Anyone who says there was no Khmer Rouge genocidal regime in Cambodia has to be punished,” Hun Sen said earlier this week.

More than three decades on, the issue of the Khmer Rouge regime and their attempt to turn the country into a Maoist, agrarian society, remains complex and deeply sensitive. Hun Sen was himself a former Khmer Rouge commander before he switched sides and fled to Vietnam in the mid 1970s.

Yet even though it was Vietnamese forces who forced the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, their 10 year occupation of the country created antipathy and anger. In many cases this has added to an historically distrustful relationship between the two countries.

Recently, Kem Sokha, deputy president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, claimed that exhibits at Tuol Sleng genocide museum, a former torture and interrogation centre from where 17,000 people were dispatched to their deaths, had been faked.

His party claimed the comments were taken out of context but pro-government media has seized on the remarks.

As it was, the new anti-genocide denial legislation was passed without the presence of any opposition members of parliament. A committee controlled by Hun Sen this week ruled that the opposition MPs must relinquish their seats because they had left old parties to join a new, merged party to contest the election scheduled for July 28.

Even before this week’s set-back, the National Rescue Party faced a tremendous challenge because its leader, Sam Rainsy, is forced to live in exile to avoid jail over what are widely seen as politically motivated criminal charges against him.

Analysts say they believe Hun Sen has acted to cement his support and to enable himself to further attack the opposition. “The motive is very clear – it’s election season,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, speaking from Phnom Penh.

He added: “The prime minister is trying to distract people from what is happening today by looking at what happened in the past.”

Mr Virak said that while the crimes of the Khmer Rouge were widely recognised, he did not believe the new legislation would help reconciliation in the country.

Ou Ritthy, a young social activist, said: “I find this passed law very political. Hun Sen keeps reminding Khmer people that he cares about the survivors, but he doesn’t realize that such a law was prepared too quickly and it would be lacking in proper research and input from the public.”

As this political drama has been playing out, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, a UN-backed tribunal has been hearing more evidence about the actions of the Khmer Rouge and the impact on the population of Cambodia. A third of the population were killed or starved to death.

The court is trying two former senior members of the regime, Nuon Chea, also known as Brother Number Two and who was considered the right-hand man of Pol Pot and the militants’ ideologist, and the former president, Khieu Samphan.

Among the witnesses to testify this week was Sydney Schanberg, a former correspondent with the New York Times who was among more than 100 Westerners detained the Khmer Rouge when they invaded Phnom Penh in April 1975. His story was featured in the film The Killing Fields.

Testifying by video-link from the US, Mr Schanberg, 79, recalled how he had watched the Khmer Rouge force people from the city, ordering them into the surrounding countryside. He said: “All through the day you saw these people being driven, like you drive cows, out of the city.”

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

School Office/ Finance Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Ilford: School Office/ Finance Assistant Long t...

School Office/ Finance Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Ilford: School Office/ Finance Assistant Long t...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album