Last Khmer Rouge leaders guilty of genocide, get life terms
By SOPHENG CHEANG
Friday, November 16
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The last surviving leaders of the communist Khmer Rouge regime that brutally ruled Cambodia in the 1970s were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes Friday by an international tribunal.
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were sentenced to life in prison, the same punishment they are already serving after earlier convictions at a previous trial for crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and mass disappearances. Cambodia has no death penalty.
Both men have suggested they were targets of political persecution. Nuon Chea was considered the main ideologist of the Khmer Rouge and the right-hand man of the group’s late leader, Pol Pot, while Khieu Samphan served as the head of state, presenting a moderate veneer as the public face for the highly secretive group.
The verdict read aloud in the courtroom by Judge Nil Nonn established that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Vietnamese and Cham minorities. Scholars had debated whether suppression of the Chams, a Muslim ethnic minority whose members had put up a small but futile resistance against the Khmer Rouge, amounted to genocide.
Members of the Cham community were among the large crowd of spectators who attended Friday’s session.
The court found Khieu Samphan not guilty of genocide against the Cham, for insuffient evidence, though he was convicted of genocide against the Vietnamese under the principle of joint criminal enterprise, which holds individuals responsible for actions attributed to a group to which they belong.
The Khmer Rouge sought to achieve an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities to establish vast rural communes. Instead their radical policies led to what has been termed “auto-genocide” through starvation, overwork and execution.
The crimes against humanity convictions covered activities at work camps and cooperatives established by the Khmer Rouge. These offenses comprised murder, extermination, deportation, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political, religious and racial grounds, attacks on human dignity, enforced disappearances, forced transfers, forced marriages and rape.
The breaches of the Geneva Convention governing war crimes included willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment.
One of the spectators at Friday’s hearing was 65-year-old Sum Rithy, who said he had been jailed for nearly two years under the Khmer Rouge, who accused him of being a spy for the CIA. His life was spared only because he was a skilled mechanic who could maintain engines and generators for his captors.
Rithy said three of his siblings were killed by the Khmer Rouge, also accused of being CIA spies, while his father died of starvation.
“Today, I am very happy that the both Khmer Rouge leaders were sentenced to life in prison. The verdict was fair enough for me and other Cambodian victims,” he said. “Last night, I could not sleep because I was afraid that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan could die before this verdict was announced.”
Nuon Chea, 92, was brought by ambulance and Khieu Samphan by van to the courthouse from the nearby prison where they are held. The prison and the courthouse were custom built for the use of the tribunal, which is officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC.
Nuon Chea, who suffers heart problems, was allowed to move from the hearing room to a separate holding room. Khieu Samphan, 87, was present for the entire hearing and with the help of two security guards stood as his sentence was read, showing no obvious emotion.
Lawyers for Nuon Chea said they would appeal, and Khieu Samphan was expected to do the same.
In addition to the two, the tribunal in 2010 convicted Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who as head of the Khmer Rouge prison system ran the infamous Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh.
There are fears that politics will thwart the tribunal from undertaking any further prosecutions.
Cambodia’s long-serving, autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared he will allow no further case to go forward, claiming they would cause instability. Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge commander who defected when the group was in power and was installed in government after the Khmer Rouge were ousted by a Vietnamese invasion.
Initial work had been done on two more cases involving four middle-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge, but they have been scuttled or bottled up by the tribunal, which is a hybrid court in which Cambodian prosecutors and judges are paired with international counterparts.
The failure to have more extensive proceeding has discomfited some observers, but others point to the tribunal’s accomplishments.
“International tribunals are better than the alternative, impunity. They will always be political and fall short of expectations,” Alexander Hinton, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of two books about the tribunal, said ahead of Friday’s verdicts. “But justice is usually delivered, even if at times, as has been the case with the ECCC, it staggers across the finish line.”
Before the tragedy at Jonestown, the people of Peoples Temple had a dream
November 16, 2018
Emerita Professor of Religious Studies, San Diego State University
Rebecca Moore does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
When people hear the word “Jonestown,” they usually think of horror and death.
Located in the South American country of Guyana, the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project was supposed to be the religious group’s “promised land.” In 1977 almost 1,000 Americans had moved to Jonestown, as it was called, hoping to create a new life.
Instead, tragedy struck. When U.S. Rep. Leo J. Ryan of California and three journalists attempted to leave after a visit to the community, a group of Jonestown residents assassinated them, fearing that negative reports would destroy their communal project.
A collective murder-suicide followed, a ritual that had been rehearsed on several occasions.
This time it was no rehearsal. On Nov. 18, 1978, more than 900 men, women and children died, including my two sisters, Carolyn Layton and Annie Moore, and my nephew, Kimo Prokes.
Photojournalist David Hume Kennerly’s aerial photograph of a landscape of brightly clothed lifeless bodies captures the magnitude of the disaster of that day.
In the 40 years since the tragedy, most stories, books, films and scholarship have tended to focus on the leader of Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, and the community that his followers attempted to carve out of the dense jungles of northwest Guyana. They might highlight the dangers of cults or the hazards of blind obedience.
But by fixating on the tragedy – and on the Jones of Jonestown – we miss the larger story of the Temple. We lose sight of a significant social movement that mobilized thousands of activists to change the world in ways small and large, from offering legal services to people too poor to afford a lawyer, to campaigning against apartheid.
It is a disservice to the lives, labors and aspirations of those who died to simply focus on their deaths.
I know that what happened on Nov. 18, 1978 doesn’t tell the complete story of my own family’s involvement – neither what happened in the years leading up to that dreadful day, nor the four decades that followed.
The impulse to learn the whole story prompted my husband, Fielding McGehee, and me to create the website Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple in 1998 – a large digital archive documenting the movement primarily in its own words through documents, reports and audiotapes. This, in turn, led the Special Collections Department at San Diego State University to develop the Peoples Temple Collection.
The problems with Jonestown are self-evident.
But that single event shouldn’t define the movement.
The Temple began as a church in the Pentecostal-Holiness tradition in Indianapolis in the 1950s.
In a deeply segregated city, it was one of the few places where black and white working-class congregants sat together in church on a Sunday morning. Its members provided various kinds of assistance to the poor – food, clothing, housing, legal advice – and the church and its pastor, Jim Jones, gained a reputation for fostering racial integration.
Investigative journalist Jeff Guinn has described the ways early incarnations of the Temple served the people of Indianapolis. The income generated through licensed care homes, operated by Jim Jones’ wife, Marceline Jones, subsidized The Free Restaurant, a cafeteria where anyone could eat at no cost.
Church members also mobilized to promote desegregation efforts at local restaurants and businesses, and the Temple formed an employment service that placed African-Americans in a number of entry-level positions.
While it’s the kind of action some churches engage in today, it was innovative – even radical – for the 1950s.
In 1962, Jones had a prophetic vision of a nuclear catastrophe, so he urged his Indiana congregation to relocate to Northern California.
Scholars suspect that an Esquire magazine article – which listed nine parts of the world that would be safe in the event of nuclear war, and included a region of Northern California – gave Jones the idea for the move.
In the mid-1960s, more than 80 members of the group packed up and headed west together.
Under the guidance of Marceline, the Temple acquired a number of properties in the Redwood Valley and established nine residential care facilities for the elderly, six homes for foster children, and Happy Acres, a state-licensed ranch for mentally disabled adults. In addition, Temple families took in others needing assistance through informal networks.
Sociologist of religion John R. Hall has studied the various ways the Temple raised money at that time. The care homes were profitable, as were other moneymaking ventures; there was a small food truck the Temple operated, and members were also able to sell grapes from the Temple’s vineyards to Parducci Wine Cellars.
These fundraising schemes, along with more traditional donations and tithes, helped underwrite free services.
It was at this time that young, college-educated white adults began to trickle in. They used their skills as teachers and social workers to attract more members to a movement they saw as preaching the social gospel of redistribution of wealth.
My younger sister, Annie, seemed to be drawn to the Temple’s ethos of diversity and equality.
“There is the largest group of people I have ever seen who are concerned about the world and are fighting for truth and justice for the world,” she wrote in a 1972 letter to me. “And all the people have come from such different backgrounds, every color, every age, every income group.”
Rebecca Moore reads from a letter her sister Annie Moore wrote to her, in which Annie explains why she joined Peoples Temple.
But the core constituency comprised thousands of urban African-Americans, as the Temple expanded south to San Francisco, and eventually to Los Angeles.
Frequently depicted as poor and dispossessed, these new African-American recruits actually came from the working and professional classes: They were teachers, postal clerks, civil service employees, domestics, military veterans, laborers and more.
The promise of racial equality and social activism operating within a Christian context enticed them. The Temple’s revolutionary politics and substantial programs sold them.
Regardless of the motives of their leader, the followers wholeheartedly believed in the possibility of change.
During an era that witnessed the collapse of the civil rights movement, the decimation of the Black Panther Party and the assassinations of black activists, the group was especially committed to a program of racial reconciliation.
But even the Temple couldn’t escape structural racism, as “eight revolutionaries” pointed out in a letter to Jim Jones in 1973. These eight young adults left the organization, in part, because they watched new white members advance into leadership ahead of experienced, older black members.
Nevertheless, throughout the movement’s history, African-Americans and whites lived and worked side by side. It was one of the few long-term experiments in American interracial communalism, along with Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement, which Jim Jones emulated.
Members saw themselves as battling on the front lines against colonialism, as they listened to guests from Pan-African organizations and from the recently deposed Marxist Chilean government speak in their San Francisco gatherings. They joined coalition groups that were agitating against the Bakke case, which ruled that race-based admissions quotas were unconstitutional, and demonstrating in support of the Wilmington Ten, 10 African Americans who were wrongfully convicted of arson in North Carolina.
Members and nonmembers received a variety of free social services: rental assistance, funds for shopping trips, health exams, legal assistance and student scholarships. By pooling their resources, in addition to filling the collection plates, members received more in goods and services than they might have earned on their own. They called it “apostolic socialism.”
Living communally not only saved money, but also built solidarity. Although communal housing existed in Redwood Valley, it was greatly expanded in San Francisco. Entire apartment buildings in the city were dedicated to accommodating unrelated Temple members – many of them senior citizens – who lived with and cared for one another.
As early as 1974, a few hardy volunteers began clearing land for an agricultural settlement in the Northwest District of Guyana, near the disputed border with Venezuela.
A page from the October 1973 resolution establishing an agricultural mission in Guyana. Peoples Temple Collection, 1942–2015, (I.D. MS-0183), Special Collections and University Archives, San Diego State University
While the ostensible reason was to “provide food for the hungry,” the real reason was to create a community where they could escape the racism and injustice they experienced in the United States.
Even as they toiled to clear hundreds of acres of jungle, build roads and construct housing, the first settlers were filled with hope, freedom and a sense of possibility.
“My memories from 1974 till the beginning of ‘78 are many and full of love, and to this day they still bring tears to my eyes,” recalled Peoples Temple member Mike Touchette, who was working on a boat in the Caribbean as the deaths were occurring. “Not only the memories of building of Jonestown, but the friendships and camaraderie we had before 1978 is beyond words.”
But Jim Jones arrived 1977, and an influx of 1,000 immigrants – including more than 300 children and 200 senior citizens – followed. The situation changed. Conditions were primitive, and though the residents of Jonestown were no worse off than their Guyanese neighbors, it was a far cry from the lives they were used to.
The community of Jonestown is best understood as a small town in need of infrastructure, or, as one visitor described it, an “unfinished construction site.”
Everything – sidewalks, sanitation, housing, water, electricity, food production, livestock care, schools, libraries, meal preparation, laundry, security – had to be developed from scratch. Everyone but the youngest of children needed to pitch in to develop and maintain the community.
Some have described the project as a prison camp.
In several respects that is true: People weren’t free to leave. Dissidents were cruelly punished.
Others have described it as heaven on earth.
Undoubtedly it was both; it depends on who – and when – you ask.
But then there is the final day, which seems to erase all the promise of the Temple’s utopian experiment. It’s easy to identify the elements that contributed to the final tragedy: the anti-democratic hierarchy, the violence used against members, the culture of secrecy, the racism, and the inability to question the leader.
The failures are apparent. But the successes?
For years, Peoples Temple provided decent housing for hundreds of church members; it ran care homes for hundreds of mentally ill or disabled individuals; and it created a social and political space for African-Americans and whites to live and work together in California and in Guyana.
Most importantly, it mobilized thousands of people yearning for a just society.
To focus on the leader is to overlook the basic decency and genuine idealism of the members. Jim Jones would have accomplished nothing without the people of Peoples Temple. They were the activists, the foot soldiers, the letter writers, the demonstrators, the organizers.
Don Beck, a former Temple member, has written that the legacy of the movement is “to cherish the people and remember the goodness that brought us together.”
In the face of all those bodies, that’s a difficult thing to do.
But it’s worth a try.
How events in Ethiopia will influence the Horn of Africa
November 15, 2018
Lecturer, Political Studies, University of the Western Cape
Namhla Matshanda does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Western Cape provides support as a hosting partner of The Conversation AFRICA.
Reforms currently sweeping through Ethiopia under the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed have implications for the relationship between Ethiopia and its neighbours. Ethiopia is seen as the de facto leading state in the region. But it has a history of clashing with neighbouring states.
The current reforms have the potential to bolster Ethiopia’s leadership role in the region. And an Ethiopia that is perceived as a unifying force could lead to more stability.
Two recent announcements stand out: the normalisation of relations with the northern neighbour Eritrea and the signing of a peace deal with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a separatist movement that has sought self-determination for the Somali region of Ethiopia.
The reasons these two developments are so important is that the tension between Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Ogaden National Liberation Front have each contributed to instability in the region. The peace deal brokered between Ethiopia and Eritrea will not only affect internal tensions within Ethiopia. It’s also likely to signify a new chapter in the politics of the region.
For its part, the peace accord with the Ogaden National Liberation Front will end a long-standing conflict with the Ethiopian state. This conflict has shaped Ethiopia’s relationship with its Somali region, as well as Ethiopia’s relationship with the Republic of Somalia. The Somali region of Ethiopia is one of nine regional states under the current ethnic federal system in Ethiopia. It is mostly inhabited by Somali-speaking people.
Tensions – both within Ethiopia and between Ethiopia and its neighbours – are rooted in history. The formation of Ethiopia’s Empire state in the late nineteenth century was shaped by the absorption of smaller kingdoms in the south, east, and west of Shewa.
Shewa was Ethiopia’s political centre located north of the current capital Addis Ababa. By the late 19th century the incorporation of these territories was almost complete. By this time the capital had been moved to Addis Ababa.
This incorporation of territories is how the idea of the modern “Ethiopian state” emerged. But this imposition of state power on the new territories was contested. It has been the root cause of much of the country’s internal upheavals.
The importance of territory in Ethiopian statehood was further demonstrated by the 1952 incorporation of Eritrea as an Ethiopian province. Most Eritreans resisted the occupation and took up arms. The occupation was followed by nearly 30 years of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrean liberation movements.
Ethiopia has also been in conflict with neighbouring Somalia since Somalia gained independence in 1960. Shortly after its independence, the new government in Mogadishu began to prioritise clan loyalties as it formed a new centralised state. This pitted various clans against each other and widened the chasm between clan loyalty and nationality.
The foreign policy objectives of the new Somali Republic were influenced by the level of influence it enjoyed in the Somali-inhabited regions of its neighbours. This included the Somali region of Ethiopia.
Eventually, the push and pull between the republic and its diaspora contributed to the rise of a separatist narrative within the Somali-inhabited regions. This spawned organisations such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front. The front is a separatist rebel group fighting for the self-determination of Somalis in Ethiopia’s Somali region.
Conflict and territory
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Ethiopia was mired in conflicts that challenged its territorial integrity. One was the Ethiopia/Eritrea war.
Self-determination was at the core of the conflict between the Ethiopian government and Eritrean liberation movements. Throughout the conflict it was viewed as a civil war since Eritrea was regarded as a province of Ethiopia.
Similarly, the tension between Ethiopia and the Somali separatist movements was triggered by the Somali belief that their territory belonged to the Somali Republic.
These conflicts led to regional instability.
Ethiopia taking centre stage
Ethiopia has been on a path of reform since 1991. In the intervening years it has become the most economically dominant country in the region. This has cemented its leadership position. The current political reforms can be seen as part of a process of redefining Ethiopia’s role in the broader East African region – and the continent.
The governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front have been in peace talks since the early 1990s. The unsuccessful talks were accompanied by low-intensity conflict that severely affected the region.
That could be about to change. Thanks to Abiy Ahmed’s reform efforts, the front announced a unilateral ceasefire in August 2018, and by September peace talks had begun with the Ethiopian government and a peace deal was signed. There is cause for optimism that the deal will last because of the current leadership in Addis Ababa.
The peace deal with Eritrea has already had a number of positive outcomes that could contribute to regional stability.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afwerki have met several times to announce concrete evidence of the peace deal. Abiy also recently hosted his Eritrean and Somali counterparts to cement regional ties.