TIME conflict

Why It Took So Long for the World to See How Phnom Penh Fell

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Sjoberg / AFP / Getty Images The young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975

The Khmer Rouge took the Cambodian capital 40 years ago

When the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communist forces, seized the nation’s capital of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, it was no surprise. In the years since the nation had been drawn into fighting in the region, the insurgents had continued to gain power. With the end of the U.S.’s involvement on the horizon—that would come before the month was up—it seemed clear that Phnom Penh would fall sooner or later.

In fact, as TIME reported in the days after April 17, the very leaders who had pledged never to stop fighting seemed to know that there was no point in a last stand. The surrender of the Khmer Republic to the Khmer Rouge was, the magazine noted, the first time a capital city had fallen to Communist forces since Seoul in the early 1950s.

But, even though the regime change was no surprise, the world watched with apprehension to see what the nation’s new rulers would do. In that initial report, TIME noted that at first “there was none of the carnage that some government officials had predicted”—one of the main fears was that widespread retribution would be exacted—even though “there were, to be sure, some ominous notes.”

A few weeks later, it became clear that those fears were not misplaced. “The curtain of silence that has concealed Cambodia from Western eyes ever since the Khmer Rouge capture of Phnom-Penh on April 17 opened briefly last week, revealing a shocking portrait of a nation in torturous upheaval,” TIME reported. “Eyewitness reports by the few Western journalists who stayed on in the Cambodian capital after the closing down of the American embassy indicated that the country’s new Communist masters have proved to be far more ruthless, if not more cruel and sadistic in their exercise of power than most Western experts had expected.”

Those eyewitness reports, as relayed by TIME, told a tale of Phnom Penh (stylized with a hyphen at the time) being emptied of its inhabitants, as urban Cambodians were forcibly relocated to grow rice in the countryside, despite the fact that there would be no rice harvest for months and there was no other plan to feed them. Foreigners who took refuge in the French embassy were stuck inside the compound, with no running water, for nearly two weeks. Cambodians among them—many married to the foreign citizens—were removed from the group before the outsiders were driven by truck to the Thai border and allowed to walk across.

The journalists among the roughly 1,000 people who escaped in that way agreed to hold their stories until everyone who would be allowed to leave was out, but by mid-May they told what they had seen.

In the years that followed, the details, as they emerged, only got more harrowing.

In 1978, David Aikman, who had been a TIME correspondent who left Cambodia mere days before Phnom Penh fell, wrote in an essay that what had happened in Cambodia since that day was “perhaps the most dreadful infliction of suffering on a nation by its government in the past three decades”:

On the morning of April 17, 1975, advance units of Cambodia’s Communist insurgents, who had been actively fighting the defeated Western-backed government of Marshal Lon Nol for nearly five years, began entering the capital of Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge looted things, such as watches and cameras, but they did not go on a rampage. They seemed disciplined. And at first, there was general jubilation among the city’s terrified, exhausted and bewildered inhabitants. After all, the civil war seemed finally over, the Americans had gone, and order, everyone seemed to assume, would soon be graciously restored.

Then came the shock. After a few hours, the black-uniformed troops began firing into the air. It was a signal for Phnom Penh’s entire population, swollen by refugees to some 3 million, to abandon the city. Young and old, the well and the sick, businessmen and beggars, were all ordered at gunpoint onto the streets and highways leading into the countryside.

…The survivors were settled in villages and agricultural communes all around Cambodia and were put to work for frantic 16-or 17-hour days, planting rice and building an enormous new irrigation system. Many died from dysentery or malaria, others from malnutrition, having been forced to survive on a condensed-milk can of rice every two days. Still others were taken away at night by Khmer Rouge guards to be shot or bludgeoned to death. The lowest estimate of the bloodbath to date–by execution, starvation and disease–is in the hundreds of thousands. The highest exceeds 1 million, and that in a country that once numbered no more than 7 million. Moreover, the killing continues, according to the latest refugees.

Aikman’s essay confirmed that news of what was happening in Cambodia had reached the rest of the world, without a doubt—but, he wrote, the response confirmed that somehow knowing the truth didn’t mean believing it and responding appropriately. “In the West today, there is a pervasive consent to the notion of moral relativism, a reluctance to admit that absolute evil can and does exist,” he wrote. “This makes it especially difficult for some to accept the fact that the Cambodian experience is something far worse than a revolutionary aberration. Rather, it is the deadly logical consequence of an atheistic, man-centered system of values, enforced by fallible human beings with total power, who believe, with Marx, that morality is whatever the powerful define it to be and, with Mao, that power grows from gun barrels.”

Read the full 1978 essay, here in the TIME Vault: An Experiment in Genocide

TIME Cambodia

Cambodian Orphans Yearn for Answers 40 Years After Fleeing the Khmer Rouge

Young Cambodian child at a hospital in Phnom Penh, in March 1975.
Francoise Demulder—AFP/Getty Images Young Cambodian child at a hospital in Phnom Penh, in March 1975.

A daring orphan lift spared scores from the savage communist clique, but left children with no ties home

Here are the things Miika Thoeun Gove knows about her Cambodian origins: a woman claiming to be her grandmother said she couldn’t take care of her. An orphanage took her in. The U.S. embassy arranged for an airlift to California.

By the time the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, Miika had been safely shuttled out, but her identity remained trapped inside. In Cambodia, Pol Pot’s brutal regime set about systematically dismantling all existing systems — killing an estimated 1.7 million people in pursuit of a harebrained “year zero” agrarian utopia. In the process families, institutions and records were obliterated amid one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. In the U.S., doctors estimated Miika’s age by looking at her teeth; new parents assigned a birth date, they gave her a name.

“I don’t know how it worked, there’s virtually no details other than [me] arriving,” she tells TIME. “I don’t even know if that’s the true story.”

Forty years ago this and last month, a series of planes flew into Phnom Penh’s besieged Pochentong airport on a special sortie. The Fighting Tigers at the controls dove down into the tarmac to avoid Khmer Rouge gunfire and — barely cutting the engines — pulled up alongside cargo trucks. With little ceremony, those in the truck began to load the plane with box after box of babies.

“As this telegram is being dispatched,” read a U.S. embassy cable sent just hours after a March 17 airlift, “the orphans are not the only ones heaving a king size sigh of relief.”

At the time of the evacuations, the U.S.-backed Khmer Republic had all but crumbled under the weight of incompetence and corruption, while large-scale American bombing of the countryside sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to Phnom Penh for safety. Desperate parents — starving and fearing for their lives — overwhelmed the state-run orphanage; the babies would not stop coming.

Canadian sisters Eloise and Anna Charet arrived in the country just months before the fall to open a private orphanage, called Canada House. Eloise recalled taking babies and toddlers from a room in the state orphanage, “where the children were just left on mats and were left to die. The ants were crawling on them, the flies all around their eyes and mouth … the only thing you could see was the flickering of their eyes once in a while and this room was just packed with children left to die, they didn’t know what to do.”

On March 17, the sisters successfully evacuated all 43 of their charges — an unlikely feat that allowed for scores more to be pulled out in the following weeks by various private agencies and individuals. Most of the Cambodian children were initially sent to war-torn Saigon where they were thrown in with more than 3,000 Vietnamese children to be airlifted out to the U.S., Europe and Australia in the audacious and controversial “Operation Babylift.”

As the situation in Cambodia deteriorated, its envoys in Washington, D.C., begged the U.S. for assistance and arranged for a final group of 220 orphans to be pulled out and adopted. In Phnom Penh, the Minister for Refugees scrambled to process the children. On April 9, 28 flew out. They were to be the last.

“I messaged [Refugee Minister] Kong Orn … about the orphans’ situation. I also messaged other officials. But there was no answer from anyone. Clearly the subject of orphans was not on anyone’s mind at the time,” says Gaffar Peang-Meth, a diplomat based at the Cambodian embassy.

The chaos surrounding those final flights ensured that many orphans arrived with only the scantest of documentation. In a July 1975 internal report, the U.S. Agency for International Development recorded that half of the 108 orphans airlifted out of Phnom Penh “are experiencing legal problems regarding their adoptability and/or placements.”

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Sjoberg / AFP / Getty ImagesThe young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975

“The placement of the orphans … in adoptive homes has been held up because of questions raised regarding their adoptability and/or prospective placement. Due to the emergency situation which existed at the time, the sponsoring agencies and the government did not obtain the proper releases or process other required documentation,” the report continued.

In California and elsewhere, lawsuits proliferated over whether the children were in fact orphans. Miika and scores of other children spent upwards of a year in foster homes while officials debated their status. Four decades later, some have yet to be naturalized.

“The children’s arrival was not all smooth and happy,” recalls Gaffar Peang-Meth, who became the point man for verifying many of their legal status. Some news media reports suggested that the children were not all orphans and openly questioned why they had been brought to the U.S. Gaffar Peang-Meth responded that there was no authority in Phnom Penh to answer such allegations.

Amid the mounting concern, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ordered a temporary halt to the babylifts on April 16, just one day before the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh. Then deputy commissioner of the INS, James Green, told the Washington Post that the agency would “launch a full investigation to determine what these children’s backgrounds are and how they got into the United States.”

By then, of course, the lines of communication had already been severed. With it went any hope of tracking down family ties.

Adoptees grew up oblivious to their roots, yet haunted by them.

“No matter how you grow up childhood always challenging, but not really having a mental foundation of how it started, that’s really challenging,” says Miika Thoeun Gove. “I can’t even reach out to anyone in the group that I flew out with, I have no information.”

A handful of the orphans have returned to Cambodia in search of more information, though such quests tend to be fruitless.

Kim Routhier-Filion, one of the Canada House babies, traveled to Cambodia in 2012 accompanied by Eloise and Anna Charet, and a film crew from the French-Canadian news station RDI. While there, the filmmakers captured Routhier-Filion looking through records and speaking with archivists, but he confessed scant faith in reconciliation.

“For me, my adoptive parents are my real parents,” he said. “I didn’t have any expectations of finding my biological parents in Cambodia. I assume they got killed. I don’t even know my biological mom’s name. I didn’t have any hope or expectations of that.”

Gove, whose documents carry neither the name of her parents nor birthplace, has similarly little anticipation of closure. It is something, however, she has come to accept.

“Imagine the children who didn’t get out of there,” she points out calmly. “I figure I’m doing O.K.”

TIME indonesia

Fishermen Rush to Be Rescued Amid Indonesian Slavery Probe

Foreign fishermen gather during an inspection by Indonesian officials in Benjina, Aru Islands, Indonesia, April 3, 2015
Dita Alangkara—AP Foreign fishermen gather during an inspection by Indonesian officials in Benjina, Aru Islands, Indonesia, April 3, 2015

Foreign fishermen from Burma and Cambodia have rushed to be rescued from Indonesia amid an ongoing slavery probe

(BENJINA, Indonesia) — Hundreds of foreign fishermen on Friday rushed at the chance to be rescued from an isolated island where an Associated Press report revealed slavery runs rampant in the industry. Indonesian officials investigating abuses offered to take them out of concern for the men’s safety.

The men, from countries including Burma and Cambodia, began getting the news as a downpour started, and some ran through the rain. They sprinted back to their boats, jumping over the rails and throwing themselves through windows. They stuffed their meager belongings into plastic bags and rushed back to the dock, not wanting to be left behind.

A small boat went from trawler to trawler picking up men who wanted to go and was soon loaded down with about 30 men.

The director general of Indonesia’s Marine Resources and Fisheries Surveillance initially told about 20 men from Burma that he would move them from Benjina village to neighboring Tual island for their safety following interviews with officials on Friday. However, as news spread that men were getting to leave the island, dozens of others started filing in from all over and sitting on the floor.

When the official, Asep Burhundun, was asked if others hiding in the jungle could come as well, he said, “They can all come. We don’t want to leave a single person behind.”

Fishermen who are Thai nationals will remain on the island. Most of the boat captains are from Thailand.

The Indonesian delegation began interviewing men on boats and assessing the situation on the island this week, and have heard of the same abuses fishermen told The Associated Press in a story published last week. They described being abused at sea, including being kicked and whipped with stingray tails and given Taser-like electric shocks. Some said they fell ill and were not given medicine; others said had been promised jobs in Thailand and then were taken to Indonesia where they were made to work long hours with little or no pay.

The delegation said security in Benjina is limited, with only two people from the Indonesian navy stationed there. Out of security concerns they decided to move the fishermen to Tual — a 12-hour boat ride away — where they will stay at a Ministry of Fisheries compound where their identities can be verified.

“I’m really happy, but I’m confused,” said Nay Hle Win, 32. “I don’t know what my future is in Burma.”

Win Win Ko, who ended up in Indonesia four years ago after leaving Burma, opened his mouth to smile and revealed four missing teeth. The 42-year-old said they were kicked out by a boat captain’s military boots because he was not moving fish fast enough from the deck to the freezer hold.

“I will go see my parents,” he said. “They haven’t heard from me, and I haven’t heard from them since I left.”

Margie Mason and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report from Jakarta.

TIME photography

Bearing Witness to the Legacy of War

Photographer Giles Duley, who lost three limbs in Afghanistan, speaks about his new project

In 2011, photographer Giles Duley began a project that would document the lasting effects of war on people living in cities and towns across the globe where the fighting had ended many years, even decades ago.

That year, while patrolling in Afghanistan with American troops, Duley stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device. The blast nearly took his life; he lost both legs and an arm. After a year in the hospital and nearly 30 operations, Duley returned to photography with a new determination to finish his project, which he calls Legacy of War. The project encompasses 14 countries and comprises photographs, original poetry and music.

Last month, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project, which you can contribute to here. Below, TIME Multimedia Editor Mia Tramz caught up with Duley as he continued his work on the project from Cambodia.

TIME LightBox: What’s the scope of the project and the idea behind it?

Giles Duley: The idea came to me I guess four or five years ago. A lot of my work has been documenting the effects of conflict over the years. One of the things I noticed was that there was a lot of commonality between the stories that I heard, and so I became interested in trying to bring all these different stories together. I was actually going to Afghanistan to start the project when I got injured, so I thought it would never actually happen. My plan was if I could get working again, I would return to doing this project.

The thing that really strikes me is that a war doesn’t end when a peace treaty is signed. In school, as you’re growing up, you’re always taught about the dates of a particular conflict. And I was interested [by] what happens after this final date; what happens when the conflict is supposedly finished. Because what I’ve experienced in my work was that the war is not over if people are still dying from it, if they’re still injured, if their lives are still impaired by it.

My idea was to try and bring together stories from approximately 14 countries, showing various themes that kind of crop up in post-conflict countries. That might be land contamination from land mines, from UXOs and it might be the effects of things like Agent Orange or depleted uranium. But it’s also looking at the physical effects on people who are living with injuries, and people living with the psychological trauma of conflict. I wanted to bring all these different stories together and just get people to reflect on the fact that conflict doesn’t end when a peace treaty is signed.

TIME LightBox: Which countries will you be covering and how did you choose them?

Giles Duley: One of the things I kind of want to do is to bring together stories that may be a little bit more familiar to us with stories that are less familiar. Hopefully, by bringing them together, you get to understand the similarities. In the United States, I wanted to look at the effects of trauma on former combatants, especially soldiers from [the] Vietnam War, how their lives have been affected. The same in the U.K. looking at injured servicemen and [those] with PTSD. Then it’s countries like Vietnam with Agent Orange and UXO; Cambodia, Colombia, Laos and other countries like it by land mines. I’ll be doing stories in Angola, which has a huge legacy of war; in Congo or the DRC, I’ll be looking at the effects of sexual abuse in both men and women. In Northern Ireland, I’m looking at the effects of the troubles, [which have] caused poverty and other social issues.

Other countries [will include] Gaza, [where] I’ll be looking at the long-term effects of conflict there. I’ve already done a story on the refugees in Lebanon, a country which really had two tiers of refugees from war. I’ll be looking at refugees in Sahel Sahara. It’s a vast cross-section of stories.

TIME LightBox: How did you arrive at the aesthetic for this project?

Giles Duley: I actually decided to use film for this project — a mixture of 35 mm and medium format. The main reason for film is that I wanted the images to both have a timeless feel and to serve as documents. Many of the photographs will reflect the period when the conflict happened and at the same time, a print made from a negative has a sense of true documentation. In a period when many question the role of Photoshop and other manipulation in documentary photography, I wanted to return to a simpler process.

TIME LightBox: Outside of the photography, what other components are you working into the project?

Giles Duley: I want this to be more than just a set of photographs. As a child, I was really influenced by the poets of the First World War and the black-and-white photographs covering the Vietnam War. They were the two things that really changed my opinion as a very young teenager about conflict. I grew up as a kid [thinking] that I wanted to join the army. I was fascinated by military history. But as I say, it was reading this poetry of people like Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and looking at the photographs of people like Don McCullin that really galvanized something in me, that made me realize the true consequences of war.

I’m very interested in the educational component. I realized that schools are still studying poetry from the First World War. So what I want to do is update that and get poets and musicians writing about current conflicts and their long-term consequences. For me as a photographer, I hope that the poetry and the music will add a different dimension to the work, so that it’s more accessible to people.

TIME LightBox: What’s your process working with these musicians and poets? Are they seeing the photographs you’re making from those particular parts of the world, or are they just writing or creating from their own experiences, or a mix of both?

Giles Duley: Anybody that’s working with me on this project will either be traveling with me at a later stage in the project, or it will be a process of me meeting them, showing them the photographs, and probably most importantly sharing the testimonies of the people who are photographed.

TIME LightBox: What has surprised you most since you started working on this project about what you’re finding?

Giles Duley: I don’t know if it surprised me, but what I’m becoming very aware of is just the enormity of how conflict affects life. [For example], in Vietnam, Laos and Lebanon and Cambodia — you start to look at one story, and immediately that opens up 10 other stories. It’s often in less expected ways or [something] you just don’t think about. Some of the stories are more obvious, like land mines, etc. But when you look at the long-term impact of a child that was born to a woman who was raped, that is a real legacy of war. And they live with that legacy for all of their lives — the psychological trauma of people affected by war is something that is not often talked about or documented, but whole generations of civilians have been traumatized by conflict.

TIME LightBox: Can you talk about where you see the project living when it’s finished and in what form?

Giles Duley: This is a project that has four phases. The first phase is the photographic phase, which is to go out there and document the initial stories. The second phase is to work with poets and musicians to give more depth to the stories. The third phase is then looking at how that body of work comes together through exhibitions and a book. For me that stage is very important because the exhibitions have to be in public spaces. They have to be in places where people interact with these stories who wouldn’t normally go to a photographic gallery.

And I’m also very interested in taking the project back to the countries that I’ve photographed. One of the things that most surprised me is how interested people are in the other countries I’m photographing. People in Northern Ireland are asking me about the people in Rwanda. The people in Vietnam are very interested in stories that I’m going to be doing in Angola, for example.

One of the key elements is, as well as having the photographs exhibited in the public spaces in Western countries, it’s for the exhibitions to return to the countries where these stories first came from, so the stories are shared. Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about sharing stories. I have no judgments, I have no opinions. I’m merely going out there to try and gather the stories of people affected by conflict and to share those stories.

And then the final stage, the fourth stage, will be educational. And that’s about taking it to schools. It’s about getting it on the curriculum, [so that when] people are taught the historical facts of a conflict, they’re also taught about how a conflict continues to affect people [long after it’s over]. That’s how I see it developing. And hopefully, in the end, it will be something that will kind of take on a life of its own and I can step back and people can continue to share these stories.

TIME LightBox: Your story is also woven into this. How has your experience informed your approach to this project and how it has been integrated into it?

Giles Duley: No matter what I choose to do for the rest of my life, I will live with the scars, both physically and mentally of what happened. So it’s given me a great understanding. But I think more than that it’s kind of focused my ambition and determination to carry this project through because, as I say, every day now I live with a reminder of what conflict does.

It has opened up communication with a lot of people that may have been more suspicious of why I was doing this story; people who see my personal experience and can relate to it. I guess weirdly, although I may be a lot slower as a photographer now and it may be a bit harder for me to work, there’s probably not a photographer in a better position to actually tell these specific stories about the legacy of war.

TIME LightBox: What do you see as the biggest challenges in getting this project done?

Giles Duley: The biggest challenges on a personal level are the travel, the work. I have no legs and I’ve got one hand, and I travel on my own to do this work. It’s not easy. I must admit last year when I found myself in paddy fields in the rainy season in Laos, trying to carry all my cameras and a backpack and my legs getting stuck in the mud, I was thinking, “O.K., who came up with this idea?” [Laughs.] So the obvious challenges like that are there, that in a weird way as I say, also drive me on to complete the story.

Aside from that, obviously this is a project that I’m self-funding. It’s something that I think is important. A lot of NGOs and nonprofits and charities are helping me with the stories. I have years and years of working with NGOs and they’ve been fantastic in supporting this project. So the likes of MAG, which is a de-mining charity; Handicap International; UNHCR; Emergency, which is an Italian NGO; and Find a Better Way, which is another land-mine charity, have all been supporting it. But at the end of the day, I have to find a way to finance these stories, or at least finance the physical costs of the photographic side of it.

The project really I think for me is the defining project of my life. It will probably be the last major overseas project I do because it’s simply so physically draining and difficult for me. But I am determined to carry this out to the utmost of my ability.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Giles Duley is a freelance photographer and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. Follow him on Twitter @gilesduley.

Mia Tramz is a Multimedia Editor for TIME.com. Follow her on Twitter @miatramz.

TIME Asia

Seven Out of 10 Kids Across Five Asian Nations Experienced Violence at School

Indonesia reported the worst rate of school violence, with 84% of children having experienced it

Seven out of 10 children in Asia have experienced violence in school, a study of over 9,000 students across five countries revealed.

Conducted by children’s-rights group Plan under its Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools initiative, the study collected data from male and female students ages 12 to 17, as well as others involved in their education like parents, teachers and headmasters, in Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Nepal.

The study has several disturbing implications, with emotional violence being the most prevalent form of school harassment, followed by physical violence. More boys reported facing physical violence than girls did, and regressive gender attitudes are a significant contributor to school violence overall.

Indonesia showed the highest rate of gender-based violence in schools out of the five countries surveyed, with 84% of students having experienced violence, while Pakistan had the lowest at 43%. “Even the bottom end of the scale — 43% in Pakistan — is unacceptable,” said Mark Pierce, Plan’s Asia regional director.

The prevalence of the problem in the Southeast Asian nation is illustrated by shocking videos uploaded to YouTube, like the one below that shows a girl at a primary school in West Sumatra’s Bukittinggi being kicked and beaten by her classmates.

Another video, uploaded as recently as last month, shows another girl being held in a choke hold by a male peer while another jumps in and out of the frame to punch her and make suggestive motions — culminating in an all-out brawl.

Several other causes and factors contributing to school violence — perpetrated by both peers and authority figures — exist even within the limited scope of the study, such as students’ lack of trust in existing reporting mechanisms, traditional and cultural norms, and a low rate of intervention by observers.

With reporting by Yenni Kwok

TIME Cambodia

Witness Describes Khmer Rouge’s Gruesome Torture During Genocide Trial

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Tang Chhin Sothy—AFP/Getty Images Cambodian and international journalists watch a live video feed showing former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan during a hearing for his trial at the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Jan. 8, 2015

Former detainee recounts savage torture episodes committed by communist cadres

Khmer Rouge security officials used acid and pliers to torture inmates and disemboweled a detainee and consumed her organs, according to witness testimony given in Phnom Penh this week.

On Monday, former prisoner Keo Chandara told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) — a tribunal created to investigate the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge — that guards used pliers and acid to torture female detainees incarcerated at the Kraing Tachan security center.

According to his testimony, prison guards at the facility would use the pliers to lacerate the inmates before pouring acid into the wounds. If the detainees passed out due to the excessive pain, the overseers would then use water to revive them.

“About 10 prisoners who were ordered to sit and watch the torture,” said Keo Chandara, reports the Cambodia Daily.

During one particularly gruesome episode, Keo Chandara said the guards hanged one prisoner by a hook through her mouth and then cut out her heart, gall bladder and liver after she was unable to answer questions during an interrogation session.

“One of them asked that the liver be fried and the gall bladder kept for him,” Keo Chandara told the court, according to the broadcaster Voice of America.

The Chinese-backed cadres took the extremities of central planning to new heights during their reign over the kingdom from 1975 to 1979. Cities were evacuated, intellectuals and members of the middle class were executed and currency abolished as the communists launched their ill-fated collectivist reforms that led to mass starvation and wanton savagery.

Approximately 1.7 million people — a quarter of the national population — are believed to have died under Khmer Rouge rule.

Vietnamese forces eventually dislodged the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979; however, guerrilla bands loyal to the outfit continued to battle the central government into the late 1990s.

The ECCC is currently investigating genocide charges against two of the Khmer Rouge’s last surviving top cadres, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, who were sentenced to life in prison for committing crimes against humanity last year.

TIME Cambodia

Cambodian Guards Drank Wine With Human Gallbladders, Says Genocide Survivor

Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a "Killing Fields" memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province
Chor Sokunthea—Reuters Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a Killing Fields memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province, 125 km (78 miles) east of Phnom Penh on March 28, 2009

Horrific testimony made at atrocity trial

In the 1970s, Khmer Rouge guards would drink wine infused with human gallbladders, according to a survivor of Cambodia’s infamous Killing Fields.

Former detainee Meas Sokha told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Khmer Rouge (ECCC) — a special tribunal created to investigate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime — that guards at a prison in Takeo province would dry out the gallbladders of inmates and steep them in wine, reports the Cambodia Daily.

“Whenever there were killings, the guards would drink wine with a gallbladder. I could see gallbladders drying in the sun and I knew these were from human beings,” said Meas Sokha, who was imprisoned for three years in 1976. “There were so many [gallbladders] dried by the fence, it was put in wine for drinking and to make people brave.”

Sokha also told the U.N.-backed ECCC that he witnessed between 20 and 100 killings in a single day.

In some East Asian medical traditions, the use of animal bile in drinks — usually snake or bear bile — is thought to promote virility.

From 1975 until 1979, Cambodia experienced one of the most savage genocides of the 20th century, during which around 1.7 million people — a quarter of the national population — perished as the Khmer Rouge, the nation’s communist party led by the French-educated Pol Pot, pursued its agrarian utopia.

The court is currently investigating genocide charges against Khieu Samphan, 83, the regime’s head of state, and Nuon Chea, 88. Both were sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in August.

TIME Cambodia

Cambodia’s Internal-Security Chief: ‘I Learned From Hitler’

Thai Defence Minister General Yuthasak S
Tang Chhin Sothy—AFP/Getty Images Thai Defense Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapa, left, shakes hands with Cambodia's internal-security chief Sao Sokha, right, upon his arrival at the Ministry of Defense in Phnom Penh on Sept. 23, 2011

Nazi dictator hailed as an example for states wishing to maintain social order

A top Cambodian security official has praised one of history’s most reviled dictators, Adolf Hitler, at a speech in the country’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Commander General Sao Sokha, who heads the paramilitary Royal Gendarmerie and sits on the central committee of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said that states that wanted to maintain social order should look no further than the wartime Nazi Chancellor of Germany.

“Speaking frankly, I learned from Hitler,” Sao Sokha said, according to the Cambodia Daily. “Germany, after World War I, was not allowed by the international community to have more than 100,000 soldiers, but the Nazis and Hitler did whatever so they could to wage World War II.”

He claimed the Third Reich’s rise during the 1930s was an invaluable example for Cambodia, after its bloody civil war of the 1960s and ’70s.

On Wednesday, the impoverished Southeast Asian nation of 15 million marked three decades of rule by strongman Hun Sen.

According to Human Rights Watch, Hun Sen’s regime has been blighted by “extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, summary trials, censorship, bans on assembly and association, and a national network of spies and informers intended to frighten and intimidate the public into submission.”

Seems the admiration would likely cut both ways.

TIME Infectious Disease

Unlicensed Cambodian Medic Charged With Murder After Allegedly Spreading HIV

212 HIV cases were found in the community where he practiced

An unlicensed medic is being charged with murder after Cambodian medical authorities found 212 cases of HIV in the district where he had been treating patients, allegedly with contaminated equipment.

Yem Chrin treated poor patients and was believed to have healing powers, Reuters reports. However, he did not have a medical license and was allegedly delivering injections and blood transfusions using unclean equipment. Authorities tested 1,940 people in the northwestern province where Yem Chrin worked, and 212 tested positive for HIV. Some children as young as 6 years old tested positive for the virus, according to al-Jazeera.

Yem Chrin allegedly told police that he sometimes used the same syringe on two or three patients before disposing of it.

The World Health Organization and UNAIDS found that “the percentage of people that reported receiving an injection or intravenous infusion as part of their health treatment was significantly higher among the people who tested positive for HIV than the people who were HIV negative,” in the area in which Yem Chrin treated patients, Reuters reports.

The development is a setback in Cambodia’s largely successful efforts to eradicate the virus since it first spread through the country in the 1990s.

[Reuters]

TIME Australia

Australia’s Plan to Outsource Its Refugee Problem to Cambodia Won’t Work

Refugee Deal Signed Off By Cambodian & Australian Ministers
Omar Havana—Getty Images Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng hold a flute of champagne after signing a deal to resettle refugees from Australia to Cambodia at the Ministry of Interior on September 26, 2014 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Impoverished, repressive and corrupt Cambodia is no place for an asylum seeker

“Let them eat cake.” Australia’s Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison did everything but utter the unsavory phrase attributed to Marie Antoinette when he clinked Champagne flutes with Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng, a former cadre of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, at a ceremony in Phnom Penh last week.

The toast celebrated the signing of a controversial memorandum of understanding to resettle in Cambodia asylum seekers intercepted at sea while attempting to make landfall in Australia. Those asylum seekers are currently languishing in an offshore detention center in the Pacific island state of Nauru.

Morrison refused to answer questions from the local and foreign press corps packing the garishly decorated room. However, in a written statement released at the signing, he commended Cambodia for “making countless efforts to develop the country after civil war [and for] demonstrating its ability and willingness to contribute positively to this humanitarian issue.”

His Cambodian counterpart Kheng likewise remained mum but could do little to hide a beaming smile as his government pocketed a $35 million signing fee from Australia plus an allegorical blank check to cover the cost of resettling up to 1,233 predominantly Middle Eastern asylum seekers.

The deal was quickly condemned by a wide range of pundits as a diplomatic stunt that, if actioned, will see one of the world’s wealthiest nations outsource its refugee problem to one of the poorest.

“It’s shameful, despicable and unconscionable. It makes me sick,” Hong Lim, a former Cambodian refugee and MP in the Australian state of Victoria, tells TIME. “Scott Morrison has earned himself the title of the most notorious human [trafficker] of the year.” He adds, “Cambodia has a terrible record of treating refugees.”

Lim points to the 2009 deportation at gunpoint of 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China. On their return, China sentenced 17 of the Uighurs to lengthy sentences in kangaroo courts and rewarded Cambodia with $850 million worth of trade deals — a story that lampoons Morrison’s claim that Australia’s asylum seekers will “now have the opportunity and support to re-establish their lives free from persecution.”

According the U.N., there are only 68 refugees residing in Cambodia. But the number fails to take into account the country’s 750,000 ethnic Vietnamese who, despite being born in the country, are considered illegal immigrants. Deprived of citizenship and voting rights, shut out of normal jobs, housing and schools, they are regularly subjected to public lynchings and scapegoating by political candidates trying to whip up nationalistic furor during elections.

Life for regular Cambodian citizens is not much better. While cutting my teeth as a cadet journalist in Phnom Penh a decade ago, I witnessed almost daily incidents of violence perpetrated by security forces who exhibited pathological contempt for the working poor. And while Cambodia’s economy has improved significantly over the years, with gross national income per capita rising from $400 per annum in 2004 to $950 in 2014, the culture of impunity inherited from the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime remains wholly intact.

In its 2014 World Report, Human Rights Watch accused Cambodia of repeatedly using “excessive force to suppress” protests following last year’s general election. In January, when tens of thousands of underpaid garment workers marched in Phnom Penh to demand a living wage, police opened fire with machine guns, killing four people and wounding dozens more. As recently as Friday, Cambodian protesters attempting to protest the refugee deal in front of the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh were met by riot police who knocked at least one woman unconscious, as this video appears to show.

“Cambodia is not a place to resettle refugees, because the local people in this country cannot lead decent lives,” Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy told the Cambodia Daily. “They are deprived of fundamental rights and living conditions, so how could we accommodate people from other parts of the world?”

Adds U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres: “It’s crucial that countries do not shift their refugee responsibilities elsewhere. International responsibility sharing is the basis on which the whole global refugee system works. I hope that the Australian government will reconsider its approach.”

If Australia’s last attempt to outsource its asylum-seeker problem to an aid-dependent neighbor is anything to go by, Guterres may get his way. Before he was voted out of office last year, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stitched together a deal with Papua New Guinea (PNG) — an impoverished state where the maltreatment of refugees (in this case West Papuan), police brutality and corruption rival those in Cambodia — to resettle 1,000-odd male asylum seekers currently held in an Australian-run detention center on PNG’s Manus Island.

At the time, then Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison decried Rudd for “not being upfront,” ignoring the practical difficulties of resettling refugees in PNG and for signing over $400 million in taxpayers’ funds in return “for a blank sheet of paper.”

In the two years that have passed, not a single Australian asylum seeker has been resettled there. The reasons for the failure were manifold, but, as Morrison eruditely opined, PNG was unable to provide anything resembling a durable and secure solution for refugees. The country also lacks a basic legal framework to determine the refugee status of asylum seekers.

The only place where Australia’s Regional Resettlement Arrangement has ever been put into action is Nauru. There, 51 Shi‘ite men from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, recognized by Australia as genuine refugees, are living outside the island’s detention center in a community tellingly known as Fly Camp.

“We are living in a camp in the jungle. This is where they resettled us. This is no place to live. If we are refugees why are we not living in community? We have no neighbors here. Our neighbors, our relatives are mosquitoes and flies and dogs,” a refugee who could not be named for legal reasons told Suvendrini Perera, a professor in cultural analysis at Curtin University.

Said another: “Scott Morrison, he wants to sell us, sometimes to one country, sometimes to another country. But no one is ready to [welcome] us.”

And while Cambodia appears willing to break the status quo, it will do so on the caveat that Australia’s asylum seekers migrate on their own volition. And that’s an unlikely possibility, given that some of those in Nauru have said they would rather die than go to Cambodia — literally. After watching a video where Morrison announced the deal with Cambodia, a 15-year-old asylum seeker drank a bottle of washing liquid. She was one of half a dozen inmates who recently attempted suicide in the offshore detention center and was flown to Australian with her mother for emergency medical treatment.

Seen in this context, the Cambodian resettlement plan, like the PNG resettlement plan before it, is destined to fail and unlikely to help a single asylum seeker find refuge in a safe and productive environment. But here’s what it will do.

First, it will fuel corruption in Cambodia by providing a pool of tens of millions of pilferable dollars.

Second, it will, like the detention centers themselves, provide another cruel and calculated deterrent for other asylum seekers considering riding a leaky boat from Indonesia to Australia, by creating conditions that are just as bad, if not worse, than those they fled from.

And third, it will hamstring Australia’s ability to win international support for the critical foreign policy issues it is championing, like stopping the Japanese from resuming whaling in Antarctica, the war against ISIS and seeking justice for victims of the Malaysia Airline’s MH17 tragedy, 36 of whom were Australian residents.

“Only last month, [Australian] Prime Minister Tony Abbott told off Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Crimea. He told Putin, ‘You shouldn’t do something simply because you can,’” says Cambodian-born Australian lawmaker Hong Lim. “But now Australia is paying Cambodia to take part in this ridiculous, immoral plan just because they know they can get away with it. They are bestowing legitimacy to members of a regime who will just take their money and run.”

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