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Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic to Work with Legal Team Supporting Victims of Khmer Rouge Atrocities

Note:  On June 16, 2011, co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley, based primarily on evidence provided by the legal team, filed an official request with the Court to investigate crimes against the Khmer Krom as part of the latest and fourth case being investigated by the Court (Case 004).

A group of faculty and students from Yale Law School’s human rights clinic have joined the legal team for the Khmer Krom, survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide who are determined to have their cases heard at the upcoming trial of four former senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

Members of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic will work with Access to Justice Asia (AJA) to seek justice for the Khmer Krom, a minority group targeted for elimination by the Khmer Rouge when relations between Cambodia and Vietnam became strained in the 1970s and Pol Pot turned against Vietnam.

The United Nations-backed court established to prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders did not include the crimes against the Khmer Krom as part of the three-year investigation it just concluded. However, Khmer Krom survivors continued to press their case with the court, submitting extensive evidence of the atrocities they suffered. These efforts paid off.

On June 13, co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley reached out to Khmer Krom survivors. Meeting for the first time with nearly 200 of them in Pursat Province, on the grounds of a pagoda where Khmer Krom had been executed, Cayley acknowledged the need to present to the court the atrocities committed against the Khmer Krom people.

Co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley reassures Ms. Khon Savin that the Khmer Krom survivors will be heard. Photo courtesy of Access to Justice Asia

Now, 83 Khmer Krom survivors will participate in the trial, which is expected to begin early next year. They are represented by a team of lawyers led by Singapore Management University Assistant Professor of Law Mahdev Mohan of the AJA. Also assisting will be the Yale Law School clinical team, headed by Clinical Visiting Professor Laurel Fletcher, an expert in transitional justice and humanitarian law.

“Our goal is to ensure that the harm suffered by the Khmer Krom as a distinctive group is acknowledged, documented, and redressed through this justice process,” said Fletcher. “We trust that as the evidence of the Khmer Krom’s ordeal is developed during trial, the court will treat the Khmer Krom equally with other minority groups, and our clients will share equally in any reparations awarded by the court.” (Read the commentary in the Phnom Penh Post by Professor Fletcher and Professor Mohan.)

The legal team will continue working to overcome the disadvantages faced by the Khmer Krom from the onset of the proceedings. Indictments issued earlier this month charge former senior Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide against Cambodia’s Cham Muslim and ethnic Vietnamese minorities but not against the Khmer Krom.

This omission stems in part from the prosecution’s exclusion of the Khmer Krom from its investigation, which left the tribunal’s judges unable to pursue such charges, despite compelling evidence of mass killing and forced displacement of the Khmer Krom throughout Cambodia.

Nevertheless, the legal team remains determined to ensure that the court hears evidence of the crimes committed against their clients.

“Our Khmer Krom clients’ evidence bridges a missing link in the case against the Khmer Rouge and sheds light on why Khmers killed Khmers under the Pol Pot regime. After all that they have endured, their evidence should be presented, not swept under the carpet. We intend to vigorously represent our clients’ interests and work to ensure that they have their day in court,” said Mohan.

The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, under the direction of Clinical Professor Jim Silk, involves law students in a wide variety of advocacy projects on behalf of human rights organizations and individual victims of human rights abuse.