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21 July 2006

"Do not be afraid. We are not like you." -- Václav Havel

A tree used for killing children at the Choeung memorial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. (Associated Press photo)

Well, he died in prison, that's something. A lot of accused genocidists in our lifetimes have never seen the inside of a prison cell. Some from the Balkans, not old men, are still at liberty, whereabouts unknown. Or wherabouts known by their governments, but undisclosed to the outside world. They are regarded as national heroes.

How to deal with genocides and war atrocities after the fact in order to deter and prevent future genocides and atrocities is one of the most perplexing of all political and judicial questions.

Genocides are historically regular and ancient occurrences.

The notion that genocidists can actually be tried and punished is practically a brand-new idea, dating from 1945 and the end of World War II. The law -- to put it charitably -- is still developing.

A concern I have about the relationship between Jews and the European Holocaust of the 1930s-1945 is that many Jews focus on the European Holocaust as a singular event of importance only to Jews and to Europe.

If there is a lesson to the Holocaust -- haShoa /
השואה in Hebrew -- it is that all decent people everywhere must transform the horror of the European Holocaust into opposition against all genocides everywhere. Respect for those who died in Europe during World War II is best expressed not in memorials that look backward, but in preventing future genocides, atrocities, ethnic cleansings. Someday soon it may be possible to honor each one of haShoa's dead by preventing the death of a human being somewhere else on Earth.

The killing fields of Cambodia are part of the same world abomination that was the European Holocaust. The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 -- 800,000 murdered is the lowball conservative figure -- was part of the same abomination.

This is apparently true, not some urban legend. When a staff officer asked Hitler what the world would think of his "final solution," Hitler replied: "Who remembers the Armenian genocide?"

I would add one small thing. The few accused genocidists who are arrested and brought to trial and convicted of mass murder should never be executed, but should live out their lives in prison.

We have an obligation to tell the world (as Václav Havel told Czech Socialist secret policemen):

"Do not be afraid.
We are not like you."

We need to show the world that the difference between murderers and civilized people is that when civilized people capture murderers, we do not kill them. That is how the children of the world will be able to tell the difference between Pinochet and his judges.


BBC News
Friday 21 July 2006

Khmer Rouge 'butcher'
Ta Mok dies

Ta Mok, one of the main leaders of Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime, has died in the capital Phnom Penh.

Nicknamed "The Butcher," he was the regime's military commander and linked to many atrocities of the 1970s.

About 1,700,000 people died under the Khmer Rouge, through a combination of starvation, disease and execution.

Ta Mok was expected to be one of the first people tried for genocide and crimes against humanity at UN-backed hearings due to start next year.

He was one of only two surviving Khmer Rouge commanders in detention, and with most of the remaining figures from the regime in poor health, some analysts question whether the trials have been left too late to see justice served.

Brutal legacy

"Ta Mok passed away this morning," military doctor Tuoth Nara told reporters. "He was an old man and died of natural causes, given his poor health and respiratory problems."

Fresh fears for trials

Ta Mok, who was in his 80s, had been unwell since last month, suffering from high blood pressure and tuberculosis, and slipped into a coma last week.

"We are saddened by his death," said his nephew, 33-year-old Morm Mol, as he announced the news to reporters outside the Phnom Penh hospital.

Of all the Khmer Rouge leaders, Ta Mok was regarded by many as the most brutal, the BBC's Guy Delauney reports from Phnom Penh.

He played a key role in a series of massacres and purges, which started even before the Khmer Rouge took power.

Ta Mok was in charge of the forces which destroyed the former royal capital Oudong in 1974, expelling civilians and killing officials and government soldiers.

Later he instigated purges as the Khmer Rouge went to war with itself.

He eventually became the overall leader of the organisation in 1997, but he was captured two years later and spent the rest of his life in jail.

Evading trial

Ta Mok's death leaves a Khmer Rouge prison boss, Kaing Khek Iev, more commonly known as Duch, as the group's only surviving leader in detention.

Pol Pot died in his jungle hide-out in April 1998 from an apparent heart attack.

Many Cambodians fear they will never get a chance to see justice, because aging Khmer Rouge defendants are dying before they face trial.

Earlier this month, judges and prosecutors from both Cambodia and other nations were sworn in for the UN-backed tribunal, which is due to start in 2007.

A spokesman for the tribunal, Reach Sambath, said on Friday that a "key resource of information" had passed away.

When he heard of Ta Mok's death, Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group researching the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, said: "It's sad news -- it's outrageous."

"Some people may be happy with this, but not the victims who have been waiting for justice for a long time," he told the Associated Press.

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