Friday, December 2, 2016
Indonesia and Russia are holding intensive talks over the procurement of up to 10 Russian-made Su-35S multirole fighter jets for the Indonesia Air Force (TNI-AU).
For over a year now, Russia has been pushing very hard to sell Indonesia Su-35 (NATO reporting name: Flanker-E) Fourth++ generation, twin-engine, highly maneuverable multirole fighter jets; however, Russia has had limited success so far despite repeated leaks to the media that a deal was imminent.
Last month, an Indonesian defense official said in a phone interview with Reuters that Indonesia is interested in purchasing “nine or ten” Su-35S fighter jets. “We are still negotiating,” he added. “We are still bargaining, ‘how much do you want to sell them for?’”
In addition, a senior manager of Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, reiterated that bilateral talks are continuing. “Bilateral talks on the delivery of Su-35 multirole fighters are being conducted very actively,” Sergei Goreslavsky said during the Indo Defense 2016 exhibition on November 2. (See: “Indonesia Still Mulling Su-35 Purchase”).
As reported previously:
A joint military-technical cooperation commission began talks in late in November 2015 in Jakarta to discuss details of the contract, including technological transfers. (Indonesian law stipulates that at least 35 percent of the aircraft’s technology needs to be transferred to the country as part of the defense deal.)
Russia and Indonesia failed to sign a contract in early 2016. Among other things, analysts expected the inking of an agreement during the Russia-ASEAN Summit in May, 2016 but no fighter jet deal materialized. (Also, no signed contract emerged during Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu’s visit to Moscow in April, 2016.)
The exact details of the Indonesian-Russian fighter jet deal remain unknown. For example, as I noted elsewhere, there have also been conflicting reports over the total number of aircraft to be purchased:
First, Indonesia considered buying 16 new warplanes. This number went down to 10 as talks progressed. According to press reports, both sided eventually settled on eight, with an option of procuring two additional Su-35s in the future. The contract under negotiation also includes pilot training and knowledge transfers through a military exchange program.
The TNI-AU is currently undergoing a major modernization effort. By 2018, it is expecting to induct ten more F-16A/Bs fighter jets in addition to the 14 currently in service. Indonesia also operates older Russian combat aircraft including 11 Su-30s and five Su-27s. Indonesia’s defense budget has been steadily rising over the past four years. By Franz-Stefan Gady for The Diplomat
Ten high-profile activists detained by the police for alleged treason on Friday morning (02/12) are still being interrogated in Depok, West Java, and may face a life sentence for their troubles. The police have arrested rock star Ahmad Dhani, politician Eko Suryo, former military generals Adityawarman and Kivlan Zein, first President Sukarno's daughter Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, theater director and activist Ratna Sarumpaet, activist Sri Bintang Pamungkas and three other men, Jamran, Rizal Kobar and Firza Husein.
The police suspect the activists were planning to take advantage of Friday's mass prayer-cum-protest to storm the Parliament House in Senayan and demand a special plenary meeting to revoke the fourth amendment of the 1945 Constitution and return it to its original version.
Eight of the activists were detained on suspicions of treason and may be charged with violating Article 107 of Indonesia's Criminal Code on act of treason against the government, Article 110 on conspiracy to commit crime and Article 87 on premeditated intent.
Violation of the above laws carries at least a 20-year prison term and a maximum of life in prison.
Nine others on the list are Gen. (ret) Kivlan Zein; former lawmaker Sri Bintang Pamungkas; Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, sister of former president and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri; artist Ratna Sarumpaet; and activists identified only as Adityawarman, Eko, Firza Huzein, Jamran and Rizal.
They have been accused of attempting to stir up sentiment against the government hours before a massive rally was to be held by Islamic organizations to call for the incarceration of Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama at the National Monument (Monas) Park in Central Jakarta on Friday.
“We have named them suspects and have therefore arrested them,” said National Police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar. He claimed that some of the suspects had conspired to topple the government during the Dec. 2 rally.
“We note they had a few intentions, such as occupying the House of Representatives and spreading provocation that was not in line with the purpose of the event,” Boy said.
He further said the 10 suspects were suspected of conspiring together over the last three weeks.
Seven of the suspects have been charged with violating Article 107 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) on treason, while the remaining three have been charged with violating Article 207 of the KUHP on insulting the government. Several of them have also been charged under the Electronic Information and Transactions Law.
Putin and Trump seem to have chemistry absent in the Russian leader’s relations with both current US President Barack Obama and with Hillary Clinton. Trump is a pragmatic deal-maker, not an ideologue. He is not going to call Russia out on democracy or human rights. If Clinton had won, confrontation with Russia would have continued, and may have even escalated considering that Clinton’s foreign policy entourage included many figures with strong anti-Russia and anti-Putin views. Trump does not have any preconceived notions about Russia. He is therefore more likely to succeed in making a fresh start with Moscow — or at least in avoiding dangerous clashes in places like Ukraine and Syria.
But most importantly, the Trump administration has a fairly good chance of getting along with Russia because of the president-elect’s foreign policy philosophy. Trump is keen to scale back the United States’ international commitments in order to concentrate resources on domestic priorities. Putting the United States’ own house in order is much more important to him — and, it seems, to his supporters — than performing the role of global policeman.
Trump’s views appear to be close to offshore balancing, a concept promoted by American realist thinkers such as Christopher Layne and Steven Walt. The offshore balancing grand strategy calls for eschewing costly onshore commitments and getting other states to do more for their own security. Offshore balancing emphasises that the current US policy of maintaining global primacy is unsustainable because it can lead to imperial overstretch. Instead, it envisions a multipolar system in which the United States will still be the strongest player, although not a preponderant and overbearing one. Offshore balancing also stresses that the United States’ comparative strategic advantages rest in naval and air power. This is very much in line with Trump’s stated desire to build up the US naval forces.
If Trump follows at least some precepts of offshore balancing, this will relieve much of the current tensions in US–Russia relations. After all, a multi-polar world is exactly what Russia wants. Moscow may even agree to grant Washington the status of ‘first among equals’, provided Russia is given due respect as a great power. If Trump shifts military investments from the continental theatres of Europe and the Middle East toward the naval theatre of East Asia, this will only please Moscow. Historically, Russia has seen its main security concerns as lying to the west and south of its borders. The Asia Pacific is still of secondary importance.
If the Trump administration avoids lecturing Moscow on democracy (which is very likely) and strikes a grand bargain with the Kremlin on Ukraine and Syria (which is less likely but still possible), that would usher in a period of rapprochement in US–Russia relations.
But the most interesting question in all of this is: what impact will the Russian–US détente have on Russia’s ‘strategic partnership’ with China? Since 2012, ties between Moscow and Beijing have been expanding and deepening, especially in the political–military domain. Russo–Chinese alignment has mostly been driven by shared opposition to the United States, which they accuse of hegemonic pretensions and suspect of seeking to subvert their political regimes.
Moscow’s estrangement from the West in the wake of the Ukraine crisis has made it increasingly dependent on Beijing — and deferent to Chinese interests in East Asia. But if Moscow normalises relations with Washington, it will be less interested in pursuing a far-reaching entente with China. This will remove the risk of the Asia-Pacific being divided into two camps: the Beijing–Moscow axis versus Washington and its allies. The Sino–Russian partnership will continue, but it will shed much of its current anti-US overtones, with the emphasis shifting to economics and trade. Moscow will feel less obligated to support China on contentious issues in East Asia, such as the South China Sea.
Russia will also act as a more independent and proactive player on the Korean peninsula. It is an open secret that Moscow’s harsh protestations against the THAAD missile defence system in South Korea were caused not by immediate concerns about its impact on Russian security, but rather at the behest of Beijing. On the North Korea issue, Russia is interested in the resumption of the Six Party Talks, which may be possible if Trump decides to reopen a dialogue with Pyongyang. With relations between Beijing and Pyongyang marked by growing distrust, Russia is now the only neighbour with whom North Korea remains on more or less friendly terms, which could enable Moscow to play a mediating role.
The Trump victory will also affect Russia’s relations with Japan. The stark fact that US alliances can no longer be considered ‘ironclad’ has now been laid bare. Even though Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to be granted an audience with the president-elect, Japan is unlikely to regain full confidence in the alliance. This makes it imperative for Tokyo to look for more partners in order to hedge against a rising China. Russia is one obvious choice. After the Trump win, we may expect Prime Minister Abe to re-double his efforts to court Putin.
Artyom Lukin is Associate Professor at the School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok.
Henry VIII of Thailand Henry VIII had six wives. The crown isn’t even on his head, and Vajiralongkorn is already halfway there
Henry VIII of Thailand Henry VIII had six wives. The crown isn’t even on his head, and Vajiralongkorn is already halfway there
A look behind the fog of fawning platitudes about the new King and the climate of insecurity in the country.
Not being able to write the truth is no excuse for knowingly publishing lies, but the Bangkok Post came close on Dec 1 when it ran with the ludicrous headline Joyous Thais await new King. The opening paragraph on the morning before the thrice-divorced playboy prince Vajiralongkorn officially accepted the invitation to become King Rama X mentions joy and admiration where the reality for many is fear and trepidation. At best, the reaction is mixed. The story, however, quickly descends into the type of unctuous vox pops – “Ms Hayu said as her eyes filled with tears” – that are necessary to fill a void the truth dare not tread.
Worse, arguably, was the accompanying page one story “Education key to progress” in which Vajiralongkorn was described as having “devoted his life and resources to aiding the development of the Kingdom and improving Thai people’s livelihoods”. Now, no one seriously expects the Bangkok Post to call Vajiralongkorn Thailand’s answer to Caligula without being shut down and editors being jailed, but it need not be so nauseating. Vajiralongkorn has devoted his life to himself, prefers Bavaria to Bangkok and upended centuries of tradition by declining to accept the mantle for seven weeks after his father’s death. Everybody knows, as Leonard Cohen told us, but nobody says anything too loudly.
Still, even the fog of fawning platitudes tells you something of the climate of insecurity as Vajiralongkorn took the title of Rama X, although custom dictates the coronation must wait until after his father’s cremation next year. Record sentences have been handed down for lese majeste offences since the 2014 coup, 1,300 websites have been shut down since King Bhumibol’s death on Oct 13 – more than the previous five years combined – and the junta has mooted an emergency online censorship agency, because its hand-picked parliament may not be quick enough with the rubber stamp.
International coverage is curtailed, too. Many reports from correspondents in Bangkok are peppered with phrases such as “Vajiralongkorn does not enjoy his father’s level of popularity” and other euphemisms that hint at his notoriety, while others such as the Daily Mail show no restraint. Fairfax’s Lindsay Murdoch at least mentioned that he had five sons and two daughters to three wives, officially; Bangkok’s second-largest English daily The Nation chose not to count the four sons struck from the line of succession while the Bangkok Post neglected to mention children whatsoever – self-censorship that will ultimately be self-defeating. The ABC’s Southeast Asia correspondent Liam Cochrane included a telling line: “A more detailed description of the Crown Prince’s colourful life is not possible for the ABC’s Bangkok bureau, due to the country’s harsh lese majesty laws, with a 15-year sentence for each count of royal defamation.”
The truth is public enemy number one because it hurts. No one need invent stories about a man who discards wives and heirs, jails or exiles relatives and is believed to have orchestrated a deadly purge of former loyal advisers. Wearing full-body fake tattoos and giving his poodle a royally sponsored funeral (the dog was an air chief marshal, after all) just looks bad. The generals who have hitched their fortunes to the royal franchise don’t want any awkward questions about either their complicity in ensuring the smooth transition, or speculation they may be trying to manipulate Vajiralongkorn.
Having mythologised Bhumibol for so long – the dreary royal jazz compositions are starting to fade from the radio after nearly two months, but black and white advertisements praising his almost sacred guidance remain omnipresent – it was impossible for any heir to compare. Vajiralongkorn, however, has a reputation for being the polar opposite of his father; where one is calm, wise and selfless the other is capricious, vengeful and selfish. Nothing could ever be quite so simple: Bhumibol partied hard and amassed a fortune while urging poor rural Thais to live within their means, and the father of the nation had a rather dysfunctional family of his own. Oldest daughter Ubolratana was effectively exiled to the United States after marrying an American, and was never mentioned in the royal news until after her divorce in 1988.
In this, Vajiralongkorn had something of a template for the treatment of his wives, although he has taken it to extremes. Wife number one was a royal, and not easily dismissed. Wife number two was banished in 1996 amid loud and public allegations of adultery, then later airbrushed from history. The swift and utter humiliation of third wife Srirasm’s family in late 2014 was alarming, with her father sentenced to 31 years in jail for corruption and brothers also locked away.
Just as lese majeste was used under Bhumibol’s reign to stifle questions about what comes next, it will be used to prevent discussion of the succession after Vajiralongkorn. At 64, with his health a source of concern, his only official male heir is 11 and rarely seen. The Daily Beast asked some good questions about who Vajiralongkorn would take as a consort and name heir, but missed the point when calling him a single man: making former air hostess Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya his queen would not be a good look right now. She already holds the rank of lieutenant general and is a commander in his household guard. Photographs of her in uniform attending Bhumibol’s funeral rites, always a step behind Vajiralongkorn, were issued by the palace, and she has been seen on the royal news. Pictures of the pair with a newborn, said to be a son, are far less official and have been spread surreptitiously for more than a year.
Henry VIII had six wives. The crown isn’t even on his head, and Vajiralongkorn is already halfway there.
Paul Sanderson is pen name. The author is an independent writer and consultant based in and around Southeast Asia since 2007 who has contributed to several research projects and textbooks.
The Malaysian Prime Minister’s ruthless tactics to hold onto power at all costs demonstrate that he is the one who is most afraid while his people are willing to fight on.
This week Najib Tun Razak is beating the Malay chauvinist drum at his party’s annual general assembly (AGM). Meetings of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) have regularly followed this mode, but the use of racism and paranoia have taken on greater intensity in the face of its leader’s eroding political legitimacy.
For the past two years, Malaysia’s Prime Minister has been beleaguered by the 1MDB scandal that has involved not only nearly $700 million going into Najib’s personal account but also raised issues of criminal money laundering, embezzlement and economic mismanagement involving over $3.5 billion. The case is being investigated and prosecuted in over six jurisdictions, most notably by the US Department of Justice. The scandal featured centre stage in last month’s Bersih 5 rally in which thousands went to the streets to protest corruption, economic mismanagement and systematic inequalities in the electoral process.
Despite public discontent, Najib has adeptly used a variety of tactics to stay in power, which is crucial if he is to avoid international prosecution. The most obvious of these involves a crackdown on political opponents. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed in 2015. Since then more than 10 opposition politicians have faced a variety of charges from sedition to challenges to ‘parliamentary democracy’. Last month whistleblower and parliamentarian, Rafizi Ramli, was convicted of violating the Official Secrets Act for releasing evidence associated with 1MDB. This week’s UMNO meeting has called for continued no-holds barred attacks on the opposition.
The crackdown on dissent has also targeted civil society. On the eve of the 19 November Bersih 5 rally, its chairperson, Maria Chin Abdullah, was arrested. She was held in solitary confinement and charged as a ‘terrorist’ under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act. This follows a litany of attacks on other activists, cartoonists and artists, as well as ordinary citizens for ‘insulting’ posts on Facebook and WhatsApp. In 2015 there were 91 cases for ‘sedition’ alone. Human Rights Watch has detailed these in an October 2016 report.
The media has also been in the firing line. In 2015 the harassment of publishers led to the closure of The Malaysian Insider. Last month the online portal Malaysiakini was raided, and its editor Steven Gan was charged for simply publishing a video. This comes on the back of the Communication and Media Act being tightened in March. ‘Protection’ from insults has extended beyond Najib to those seen to be protecting him. The aim is to silence criticism of Malaysia’s most unpopular prime minister.
To complement these attacks, Najib’s government has deepened its use of racial chauvinism. From the 2013 elections onwards, it has depicted opposition to it as ‘Chinese’ and reinforced the view that Najib’s UMNO party, is the only viable protector of the Malays. This politicised framing lacks any grounding in reality as over 40 per cent of Malays voted for the opposition in 2013 and the most recent Bersih rally showcased the breadth of multi-ethnic opposition to Najib, especially among young Malays. Nevertheless, Najib’s strategy has increased ethnic tensions along political lines. His ratcheted war-like rhetoric at the UMNO meeting points to a willingness to tear the society apart for his own political survival.
Scare tactics have extended to thuggery, most evident in the crass use of violence and intimidation by the UMNO-linked ‘red shirts’. Some of these political vigilantes – many of them allegedly paid to participate in hooliganism – have also been arrested but have clearly received favourable treatment. Despite official denials, the widespread perception is that thuggery is being promoted by the government.
Najib’s machinations also involve political manoeuvring. He has forged an alliance with conservative Islamist zealots. His government has allowed Wahhabi Islam to extend its extremist and intolerant tentacles through the unchecked and increasingly locally- and internationally-funded religious bureaucracy, with particular support from Najib’s close ally and 1MDB partner Saudi Arabia. Lacking moral authority of his own, Najib has chosen to ally himself with the discredited Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), led by Hadi Awang and his designer suit-wearing appointees. Perceptions of corruption and discriminatory land grabbing from indigenous people have corroded PAS’s public support, as Hadi has introduced a bill that hypocritically strengthens the punishment of ordinary Muslims for immoral activity. This bill, known as RUU 355, will open up opportunities for abuse by authorities in a government where the rule of law is not fairly practised and fuel ethnic tensions. It is no coincidence that bill was reactivated after the Bersih 5 rally.
Most of Najib’s politicking has focused on maintaining the support of his own party. He has repeatedly paid off UMNO leaders for their ‘loyalty’ through patronage while also purging UMNO of its leading critics. Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad resigned from the party earlier this year due to his opposition to Najib, while the party voted to expel former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, another prominent critic of the Prime Minister. Najib appointed the grassroots party-stalwart Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as his deputy, aiming in the short-term to deflect party challenges. He is seen to be holding off on the appointment of his favoured cousin, Hishammudin Hussein. But even within UMNO dissatisfaction remains high due to the realisation that Najib is an electoral liability and UMNO could lose. This is despite the attacks, divisions and lack of clear alternative leadership from the opposition. The public shows of loyalty through dictator-like salutes of the leader at the UMNO AGM hide real unease among members and growing discontent between UMNO elites and the grassroots.
It is therefore little wonder that Najib has increasingly relied on the levers of power to stay in office. His government has broadened gerrymandering and malapportionment in the 2015-2016 electoral redelineation exercise, conducting it without transparency and repeatedly dismissing the record number of challenges. He has also increased populist measures to buy support among Malaysia’s poorest citizens, a pattern that was replicated in the May 2016 Sarawak state elections. These measures have been introduced despite serious strain on operating budgets for government departments and widespread cuts to education and public services.
To compensate for the lack of funds and rising debt, Najib has turned to his new geostrategic ally – China – for money. Not only did China bail out Najib over 1MDB, but he also returned from a visit to Beijing at the beginning of last month bearing some $34 billion worth of deals, funds perceived to help greasing the patronage wheels ahead of the next elections to be scheduled before the end of 2018.
China has a vested interest in keeping a weak, dependent, autocratic leader in power. Little attention is being paid to the potential loss of Malaysian territory to the Chinese, to the unfavourable terms of these arrangements and their limited positive impact on Malaysia’s economy. Guarding against the possibility of electoral defeat, Najib has also established the new National Security Council, which came into effect in August and allows the prime minister to dictatorially declare a state of emergency through a body made up of his own appointees. At the same time, Najib has created a new special defence force and increased his personal protection.
While the Prime Minister has tried to use fear against his people, the person who has been the most afraid is Najib himself. This week’s UMNO meeting reflects rising paranoia. So far he has managed to hold on to power, but not without incurring serious costs. Growing authoritarianism, widening political polarisation, deepening ethnic tensions and discredited immoral leadership have damaged Malaysia’s social and political fabric. Najib’s mismanagement is also evident in the economy’s contraction and the depreciating currency. That thousands braved threats of arrest and thuggery to attend the Bersih 5 rally shows that many Malaysians are willing to fight on and will not be cowed. The test ahead will be the point when Najib’s fear campaign backfires more widely, and more Malaysians realize that the only thing they have to fear is Najib himself.
This piece is published in partnership with Policy Forum – Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and debate.
Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate of the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University. She specializes in Southeast Asian politics, with particular focus on Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore. She has edited/written numerous books including, Reflections: The Mahathir Years, Legacy of Engagement in Southeast Asia, Impressions of the Goh Chok Tong Years, Democracy Takeoff? The B.J. Habibie Period, Awakening: The Abdullah Badawi Years (a Malay edition Bangkit was published in 2014) and The End of UMNO? Essays on Malaysia’s Dominant Party. She is the Asian Barometer Survey Southeast Asia core lead, and is currently directing the survey project in Malaysia and Myanmar. From 2015-2016 she was a professor of political science at Ipek University in Turkey. Prior to joining Ipek, she taught at Singapore Management University, the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC and Hofstra University in New York. She received her doctorate in political science from Columbia University, her language training at Cornell University (FALCON) and bachelor’s degree from Colgate University. She also is a Senior Associate Fellow of The Habibie Center, a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University and a Senior Advisor for Freedom House and a member of the International Research Council of the National Endowment for Democracy.
This month marks a momentous event in Cambodia’s modern history, and the lives of its people, with the handing down of a final verdict by the Extraordinary Chambers of Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in the first case concerning two surviving senior officials from the Khmer Rouge regime, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
The Documentation Centre of Cambodia organised live screenings of the decision, held mostly in Buddhist temples and monasteries, in seven remote rural locations, with the aim of providing access to otherwise hard-to-come-by information. Screenings took place in the far-flung provinces of Stung Treng and Mondulkiri, the nearer but isolated districts of the Takéo, Svay Rieng and Kandal provinces, as well as Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Cham which have the largest concentration of Muslims in the country.
Briefings targeting ethnic minorities, marginalised peoples, ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers and cadre, villagers and school-aged students took place prior to the 9am pronouncement, which took one and a half hours to deliver. Following the verdict, forums were held for participants to express their reactions and opinions relating to justice, and the ongoing issue of healing and reconciliation.
Each venue had at least two Documentation Centre representatives present to guide the participants through the history of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and case-specific content. Documentation Centre staff also distributed materials including copies of Khamboly Dy’s A History of Democratic Kampuchea (2007 DC-Cam), which is a now a staple textbook for all secondary students in Years 9-12. A book specifically about the founding case against the surviving Khmer Rouge officials, known as 002, was also provided, as was a booklet on the history of the ECCC, including a summary of the Trial Chamber’s original judgment in case 002/01 (which narrowed the scope of 002).
Elderly survivors from the Prek Phtoul commune in the south-western Takéo Province welcomed the news of the final verdict, in addition to the opportunity to discuss the hardships endured under the regime.
“I believe this is about Karma because they did bad deeds, they were very cruel,” said Mrs Srey Yeng, 71. She recalled how at eight-months pregnant, she was assigned hard labour as part of the ‘four-year plan’ (1977-1980) where improbable tonnes of rice were expected to be yielded from war-scarred territory. When her three-year-old daughter became gravely ill with disease-related malnutrition, she requested permission from the collective leaders to attend to her. “You are not a doctor. You just keep working. Your children are looked after,” she remembers one saying. Yeng lost a total of ten family members, along with her daughter who died shortly after this incident.
The estimated number of deaths from starvation, execution, disease and overwork, ranges anywhere from 1.7 – 2.2 million – just under a third of the population at that time. That suggests there is not a person living today who remains unaffected by the aftermath of the near four-year reign of terror. More than 40 years later, the yawning wounds of the era may have healed into palpable scars, though reconciliation has been met with a degree of incredulity and repudiation particularly among the younger generation.
“I have often shared my experiences with my grandchildren, but I am never quite sure they believe me,” said Mrs Sok Phy, 79, echoing others who have found it a struggle to explain the extreme oppression endured.
Accompanied by her grandchildren, Pech Keat, 72, points to a page in her copy of A History Of Democratic Kampuchea provided at the screening. “During Khmer Rouge regime, I worked like them. It was unimaginable hardship,” she tells them, hoping that the grainy, muted grey and brown photographs will work in some way as proof of her nightmarish existence under the regime.
While the Khmer Rouge Tribunal has been heavily criticised for lengthy delays, arguably its greatest impact has been on valuing education as a means of genocide prevention.
“One of the most significant effects has been in the form of generating discussion and raising awareness,” said Youk Chhang, Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia. Additionally, revealing evidence to explain what happened during the period, in order to understand how it could ever have happened, highlights the importance of justice both in the present and for the sake of the future.
“How can a country profess to have the courage to take on the problems of the present and future, if it does not even have the courage to face its past?” asked Chhang who has been instrumental in getting a genocide studies program up and running to heal a forty-year division between perpetrators and victims.
To date, over half a million people have visited the tribunal, with a large percentage being mostly school-aged students from rural areas participating in the outreach program. The Khmer Rouge Study Tour is a one-day affair where interested parties such as NGOs and students visit the ECCC, the nearby Choeung Ek ‘Killing Fields’ and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the Khmer Rouge’s most notorious prison-security centre codenamed S-21. For the elderly and for those marginalised by distance and other circumstances, the live screenings importantly provided an opportunity to work toward healing and reconciliation within their own small communities, still very much plagued by social issues.
“I do not want personal compensation,” says 51-year-old Mr Dang Sheang. “What I hope to see are the kind of education measures being put in place now, which will continue to serve as a reminder to younger generations to protect the country from mass atrocity.
Julia Mayer is a Masters of Museum and Heritage Studies student at the Australian National University. She has lived in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea, and has written extensively on traditional arts, performances and cinema in the region. She is also the Asia Correspondent for Metro Magazine Australia.