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‘Even their remains should be in handcuffs’: Khmer Rouge vilified | News

Yath Run was just nine years old when the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975.

The victory of Pol Pot’s forces saw Yath Run separated from his parents and sent to a children’s labour camp in Cambodia’s rural northwestern Battambang province.

Decades later, Yath Run’s anger has not dissipated for the regime that separated him from his family, and whose policies and purges led to the deaths of two million people in fewer than four years.

A life spent in prison was not enough, he said, speaking ahead of Thursday’s final ruling by the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, which affirmed the life sentence of former regime head of state Khieu Samphan for genocide and crimes against humanity.

“They deserved a sentence of 200 or 300 years in jail and even their remains should be in handcuffs until their jail terms have been served,” 56-year-old Yath Run said.

Punishment for Khmer Rouge leaders should continue in death too; none of their relatives — not even children — should be allowed to attend their funerals, he said, proposing that the government designate a specific burial site just for the remains of the regime’s leadership.

(Left to right) Khmer Rouge Minister of National Defence Son Sen; Head of State Khieu Samphan; ‘Brother No 2’ Nuon Chea; ‘Brother No. 1’ Pol Pot; the regime’s Minister of Culture, Education and Propaganda Yon Yat, and Meas Sophy, Pol Pot’s first wife with a young Sar Phacheta, Pol Pot’s daughter. The identities of others in the photograph are unknown [Courtesy of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia]

“They should not be allowed to have a funeral ceremony because during their regime innocent people were massacred and their bodies had no coffins to lie in,” he said.

The rejection of Khieu Samphan’s appeal by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) — the official name of the war crimes tribunal — marked the final ruling in the UN-backed court’s 16 years of work.

The court said that it had upheld his conviction and life sentence “in light of all the circumstances, including the tragic nature of the underlying events and the extent of the harm caused by Khieu Samphan”.

Some have criticised the tribunal for taking more than a decade and a half and spending more than $330m to charge five senior Khmer Rouge leaders and successfully sentence just three. Others say the work of healing from the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge will continue in Cambodia long after the court’s now completed legal work.

Khieu Samphan, the 91-year-old former head of state of Pol Pot’s regime, is the sole surviving senior leader of the regime behind bars.

The regime’s self-styled ‘Brother No 1’, Pol Pot, died in 1998 before he could be brought to justice.

A photo of Pol Pot taken by a visiting Vietnamese delegation to Cambodia on July 27, 1975.
A photo of Pol Pot taken by a visiting Vietnamese delegation to Cambodia on July 27, 1975. The Khmer Rouge had swept to power a little over three months earlier [Courtesy of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia]

Nuon Chea, known as ‘Brother No 2’ and the regime’s chief ideologue, was sentenced to two life terms in prison by the tribunal for crimes against humanity and genocide. He died in 2019.

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, Ieng Sary, was charged with crimes against humanity but died of ill health before the completion of his trial in 2013.

His wife, Ieng Thirith, the regime’s former minister of social action and sister-in-law of Pol Pot, was also charged but was later ruled unfit to stand trial on the grounds of mental health. She died in 2015.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as ‘Duch’, was convicted of crimes against humanity in 2010 for atrocities perpetrated at the S-21 prison and torture centre in Phnom Penh. Duch died in 2020.

In this classroom setting sit "Brother No.2" Nuon Chea; Vorn Vet, the regime's minister of commerce; Head of State Khieu Samphan; Ta Mok, brutal military commander and secretary of the regime's Southwest Zone; Ke Pauk, secretary of the Northern Zone; Chou Chet, secretary of the Western Zone, and Ieng Sary, the regime's minister of foreign affairs.
‘Brother No 2’ Nuon Chea (seated on the left) gives a lecture to senior Khmer Rouge officials, including Head of State Khieu Samphan, Foreign Affairs Minister Ieng Sary and brutal military commander Ta Mok [Courtesy of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia]

Troubling memories

More than 40 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, survivors are still troubled by their memories of that period, according to new research conducted by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia [DC-CAM], the country’s leading research institution archiving the events of the Khmer Rouge era.

Based on a survey of more than 31,000 survivors conducted between August 2021 and August 2022, 87 percent of respondents reported that they still had troubling memories of the past.

Those memories “resonated” with survivors, and “25 percent of respondents reported still suffering nightmares of this period, despite the fact that it occurred over forty years ago”, DC-CAM’s Director Youk Chhang wrote.

Reflecting on the conclusion of the war crimes tribunal, Youk Chhang said the process was personal to each survivor, but the legal process had allowed Cambodians to be more open about what had occurred.

That openness had allowed them to look more deeply into their own personal and collective past. Cumulatively, that had resulted in people being willing to address issues more openly, which would help Cambodia in the future, he said.

DC-CAM also found that 47 percent of those surveyed had followed the work of the tribunal compared with 51 percent who had not. A staggering 81 percent answered “good/satisfied” when asked what they thought of the tribunal, compared with 8 percent who answered “not good/not satisfied”.

When asked what the tribunal’s contribution to the individual and wider society had been, the overwhelming response was “justice”.

Education was also considered the most important way to “help the younger generation remember the history of the Khmer Rouge and prevent” the return of such a brutal regime.

Reconciliation

“For me, the most important thing that came out was the effect that the court had on national reconciliation,” said Craig Etcheson, author of Extraordinary Justice: Law, Politics, and the Khmer Rouge Tribunals.

Etcheson, who was also an investigator with the tribunal’s office of the co-prosecutor from 2006 to 2012, said the court process had started new conversations in Cambodian society.

Parents could finally speak to their children about the events of the late 1970s, Etcheson said. They could explain why, previously, they may not have been able to talk about what had happened, and also why they may have behaved in certain ways, he said.

The tribunal had “reached into every nook and cranny of the country” and “across social divides”, he told Al Jazeera.

There was outreach to explain the court’s purpose through TV coverage, road shows, art exhibitions, and performances.

Important modules on Cambodian history during the period of the regime had been added to the school curriculum, and about 100,000 Cambodians had visited the tribunal’s proceedings, he said.

As chief of the tribunal’s public affairs office from 2006-2009, Helen Jarvis remembered a feeling of slight trepidation when first travelling to Cambodia’s rural areas to distribute information about the war crimes court, nervous about how people might react.

Former rank and file members of the Khmer Rouge had lived quietly in cities, towns and villages since the movement spluttered to its end in the late 1990s, as fighters were given a choice to defect to the government or face arrest, and as their military strongholds accepted Phnom Penh’s authority.

“I was so hesitant at the beginning, wondering how would we be received,” Jarvis recounted, adding that to her surprise, her team never once encountered hostility or negativity during those trips.

“It was enthusiasm I think, especially in rural communities right from the start. But we didn’t have sufficient funding, in my view, to do it really well,” she said.

The tribunal — the first hybrid war crimes court where national staff collaborated with international UN staff in a country where mass crimes were perpetrated — will be remembered for its public outreach and the participation of victims in the legal proceeding, she said, although she felt neither area had been adequately provided with funding or staff in the initial planning.

“It really is ironic – those were two big gaps. But they turned out to be the most important legacy, in my view.”

Moving forward

Asked if he felt the tribunal had been successful, DC-CAM’s Youk Chhang cautioned that “success” was never a word to use when dealing with genocide and discussing the deaths of two million people.

The most important part of the court process was its inclusion of survivors in the proceedings, he said, adding that the tribunal “allowed people to participate and to agree and disagree” and to “bring about closure to him or her personally”.

“Despite that some people did not like the court, it allowed people to express [their criticism] – that makes the court more healthy,” he said.

While the tribunal had been significant in terms of justice, prosecutions and convictions, Youk Chhang says there remains a lot more to be done after the genocide.

“The court is not the department of history or the counselling service,” he said. “That is what continues after the court is gone.”

Teenager Khlout Sopoar was born a year after the UN-backed war crimes tribunal began its work in Cambodia.

Sopoar never experienced the suffering or trauma of previous generations that lived through the regime and its aftermath.

Yet, the 15-year-old student was very clear in her judgement of the enormity of the crimes, their punishment, and the need to reconcile.

Khieu Samphan, the last surviving senior leader of the regime, was deserving of life in prison, she said.

And, the survivors of the regime should accept the justice delivered by the court.

“I think the atrocity committed by the Khmer Rouge regime was enormous,” Sopoar said.

“But the victims should accept the sentence,” she said.

For Sopoar and millions of Cambodians, the end of the legal proceedings marks a time to move forward.

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Japan lodges protest after Russia detains diplomat in Vladivostok | Politics News

Tatsunori Motoki, accused of spying by Russia’s FSB, was held for a few hours before being released and ordered to leave the country.

Japan has accused Russia of “unreasonable” behaviour and threatened “equivalent steps” after the FSB, the Russian federal security agency, detained a diplomat in the eastern port city of Vladivostok and accused him of being a spy.

Tatsunori Motoki, who worked at the Japanese Consulate General in the city, was released after a few hours and declared ‘persona non grata’, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said, citing an unnamed government source. It said Motoki had been ordered to leave Russia within 48 hours.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno described Motoki’s detention as “regrettable, unacceptable and unbelievable” and accused the FSB of taking the diplomat into custody in an “intimidating manner”.

Russia’s security agency announced it had detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok on Monday for alleged espionage and ordered him to leave the country.

“A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the FSB security service said in a statement, carried by Russian news agencies on Monday.

The diplomat had also been soliciting information about “the impact of Western sanctions” on the eastern Primorsky region, the FSB added, according to the agencies.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement the diplomat had been ordered to leave the country within 48 hours, and the FSB had lodged a complaint with Japan.

Local media released footage allegedly showing Motoki receiving documents at what appears to be a restaurant, and him admitting to the accusations during FSB questioning.

Japan’s embassy in Russia earlier lodged a protest about the detention to Moscow’s foreign ministry, saying “it was a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations” and the order to leave the country was “unreasonable”, according to Kyodo.

Russia considers Japan to be a “hostile” country, a designation it shares with all European Union countries, the United States and allies, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

Moscow and Tokyo have traded tit-for-tat sanctions since February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Even before the war, Tokyo’s relations with Moscow were complex. The two sides are involved in a dispute over islands Russia calls the Kurils and Japan the Northern Territories, which has prevented them from signing a post-war peace treaty.

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First female premier poised to take helm of Italy government

ROME — A party with neo-fascist roots won the most votes in Italy’s national election, setting the stage Monday for talks to form the country’s first far right-led government since World War II, with Giorgia Meloni at the helm as Italy’s first female premier.

Italy’s lurch to the far right immediately shifted Europe’s geopolitics, placing Meloni’s euroskeptic Brothers of Italy in a position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. Italy’s left warned of “dark days” ahead and vowed to keep Italy in the heart of Europe.

Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed 45-year-old Meloni’s victory as sending a historic, nationalist message to Brussels. It followed a right-wing victory in Sweden and recent gains by the far-right in France and Spain.

Still, turnout in the Italian election Sunday was a historic low of 64%, and pollsters suggested voters stayed home in protest, disenchanted by the backroom deals that had created the country’s last three governments and the mash-up of parties in outgoing Premier Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

By contrast, Meloni was viewed as a new face in the merry-go-round of Italian governments and many Italians appeared to be voting for change, analysts said.

The victory of Meloni’s just 10-year-old Brothers of Italy was more about Italian dissatisfaction with the decades-long status quo than any surge in neo-fascist or far-right sentiment, said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs.

“I would say the main reason why a big chunk of (voters) … will vote for this party is simply because it’s the new kid on the block,” she said.

The election’s sharp swing to the right, “confirms that the Italian electorate remains fickle,″ said London-based political analyst Wolfango Piccoli, noting that an estimated 30% of voters went for a different party than their choice in 2018 elections.

Meloni, whose party traces its origins to the postwar, neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, tried to sound a unifying tone, noting that Italians had finally been able to determine their leaders.

“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone. We will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people,” said. “shechose us. We will not betray it.”

Near-final results showed the center-right coalition netting 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy snatching 26% in its biggest win in its decade-long meteoric rise. Her coalition partners divided up the remainder, with the anti-immigrant League party led by Matteo Salvini winning 9% and Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8% of the vote.

The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26% support, while the populist 5-Star Movement — which had been the biggest vote-getter in the 2018 parliamentary election — saw its share of the vote halved to 15%.

While the center-right was the clear winner, the formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations among party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, Draghi remains in a caretaker role.

The elections, which took place six months early after Draghi’s government collapsed, came at a crucial time for Europe as it faces Russia’s war in Ukraine and related soaring energy costs that have hit ordinary Italians as well as industry.

A Meloni-led government is largely expected to follow Italy’s current foreign policy, including her pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend itself against Russia’s invasion, even as her coalition allies take a different tone.

Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both have distanced themselves from his invasion of Ukraine, Salvini has warned that EU sanctions against Moscow are hurting Italian industry. Berlusconi has even excused Putin’s invasion as an event foisted upon him by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas.

A bigger shift and one likely to cause friction with other EU nations is likely to come over migration. Meloni has called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores, and has proposed screening potential asylum-seekers in Africa, not Europe.

Salvini has made clear he wants the League to recapture the interior minister post, where he once imposed a tough anti-migrant policy. But he may face an internal leadership challenge, with Meloni’s party outperforming the League even in its northeastern stronghold.

On relations with the EU, analysts note that for all her euroskeptic rhetoric, Meloni moderated her message during the campaign and has little room to maneuver, given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in coronavirus recovery funds. Italy secured 191.5 billion euros, the biggest chunk of the EU’s 750 billion-euro recovery package, and is bound by certain reform and investment milestones to receive it all.

That said, Meloni has criticized the EU’s recent recommendation to suspend 7.5 billion euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding, defending autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban as the elected leader in a democratic system.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen praised Meloni for having “resisted the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union.”

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox opposition party, tweeted that Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity.”

Meloni is chair of the right-wing European Conservative and Reformist group in the European Parliament, which includes her Brothers of Italy, Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice Party, Spain’s far-right Vox and the right-wing Sweden Democrats, which just won big there on a platform of cracking down on crime and limiting immigration.

“The trend that emerged two weeks ago in Sweden was confirmed in Italy,” acknowledged Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, calling Monday a “sad day for Italy, for Europe.”

“We expect dark days. We fought in every way to avoid this outcome,″ Letta said at a somber news conference. “(The Democratic Party) will not allow Italy to leave the heart of Europe.”

Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science at Rome’s Luiss University and the executive editor of the Journal of European Integration, noted that Italy has a tradition of pursuing a consistent foreign and European policy that is bigger than individual party interests.

“Whatever Meloni might be up to will have to be moderated by her coalition partners and indeed with the established consensus of Italian foreign policy,” Christiansen said.

———

Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.

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Tense Japan holds funeral for assassinated ex-leader Abe

TOKYO — A tense Japan prepared Tuesday for a rare and controversial state funeral for assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving leader in his nation’s modern history and one of the most divisive.

Tokyo was under maximum security, with angry protests opposing the funeral planned around the capital and nation. Hours before the ceremony began, dozens of people carrying bouquets of flowers queued at public flower-laying stands at nearby Kudanzaka park.

Thousands of uniformed police mobilized around the Budokan hall, where the funeral is being held, and at major train stations. Roads around the venue are closed throughout the day, and coin lockers at main stations were sealed for security. World leaders, including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, were in town for the funeral.

Opponents of the state-sponsored funeral, which has its roots in prewar imperial ceremonies, say taxpayers’ money should be spent on more meaningful causes, such as addressing widening economic disparities caused by Abe’s policies.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been criticized for forcing through the costly event to honor his mentor, Abe, who was assassinated in July. There has also been a widening controversy about Abe’s and the governing party’s decades-long close ties with the ultra-conservative Unification Church, accused of raking in huge donations by brainwashing adherents. Abe’s alleged assassin reportedly told police he killed the politician because of his links to the church; he said his mother ruined his life by giving away the family’s money to the church.

Kishida says the longest-serving leader in Japan’s modern political history deserves a state funeral. The government also maintains that the ceremony is not meant to force anyone to honor Abe. Most of the nation’s 47 prefectural governments, however, plan to fly national flags at half-staff and observe a moment of silence.

Opponents say Kishida’s one-sided decision, which was made without parliamentary approval, was undemocratic, and a reminder of how prewar imperialist governments used state funerals to fan nationalism. The prewar funeral law was abolished after World War II. The only postwar state funeral for a political leader, for Shigeru Yoshida in 1967, also faced similar criticism.

“Spending our valuable tax money on a state funeral with no legal basis is an act that tramples on the constitution,” organizer Takakage Fujita said at a protest Monday.

About 1.7 billion yen ($11.8 million) is needed for the venue, security, transportation and accommodation for the guests, the government said.

A group of lawyers has filed a number of lawsuits in courts around the country to try to stop the funeral. An elderly man last week set himself on fire near the prime minister’s office in an apparent protest of the funeral.

In what some see as an attempt to further justify the honor for Abe, Kishida has launched a series of meetings with visiting foreign leaders in what he calls “funeral diplomacy.” The talks are meant to strengthen ties as Japan faces regional and global challenges, including threats from China, Russia and North Korea. He was to meet about 40 foreign leaders through Wednesday. No Group of Seven leaders are attending.

Kishida met about 10 dignitaries Monday, including Harris, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte. He will meet with his Australian and Indian counterparts separately and host a reception Tuesday.

About 4,300 people, including Japanese lawmakers and foreign and local dignitaries, are attending the funeral.

Japanese troops will line the streets around the venue, and 20 of them will act as honor guards outside of Abe’s home as his family leaves for the funeral. There will then be a 19-volley salute.

The ceremony will start when Abe’s widow, Akie Abe, enters the hall carrying an urn containing her husband’s ashes, placed in a wooden box and wrapped in white cloth. The former leader was cremated after a private funeral at a Tokyo temple days after his death.

Government, parliamentary and judicial representatives, including Kishida, will make condolence speeches, followed by Akie Abe.

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party are boycotting the funeral, along with others.

Abe’s opponents recall his attempts to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities, his push for more military spending, his reactionary view of gender roles and a leadership seen as autocratic and supportive of cronyism.

Protests of the funeral have increased as more details emerged about Abe’s and LDP lawmakers’ connection to the Unification Church. The South Korea-based church has built close ties with LDP lawmakers over shared interests in conservative causes.

“The fact that the close ties between the LDP and the Unification Church may have interfered with policymaking processes is seen by the Japanese people as a greater threat to democracy than Abe’s assassination,” wrote Hosei University political science professor Jiro Yamaguchi in a recent article.

Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped the church take root in Japan and is now seen as a key figure in the scandal. Opponents say holding a state funeral for Abe is equivalent to an endorsement of ruling party ties to the Unification Church.

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