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Asia

Ban Ki-moon makes solemn visit to S-21 torture center

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew out of Cambodia after a bumpy reception from Prime Minister Hun Sen, and after a visit to the country's genocide museum.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) is escorted around Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) is escorted around Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh

"Pol Pot was the prime minister of the Khmer Rouge. He killed his own people, more than two out of seven million," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as he was guided around the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum at the tail end of his two-day official visit to Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge prison known as S-21, was run by Comrade Duch, who was jailed earlier this year for 30 years by the UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh.

Ban said Duch's conviction was a milestone in Cambodia’s troubled history that had sent a powerful message to the world that crimes against humanity would not go unpunished.

The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes is housed in a former Khmer Rouge torture center

The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes is housed in a former Khmer Rouge torture center

"I will never forget my visit here today. In this place of horror, ladies and gentlemen, let the human spirit triumph. Wars cannot do justice, but we can. Thank you people of Cambodia for leading the way."

Bumpy ride overall

Overall, the UN secretary-general's visit was a bumpy one. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen told him on Wednesday that next year’s trial of four former Khmer Rouge leaders would be the court’s last.

However, later the government appeared to backtrack, with the information minister saying that Hun Sen had only said he did not want more prosecutions – not that he would prevent them from going ahead.

Ban did not answer directly when asked what he understood Hun Sen’s final message to be. "I had a good discussion on this matter twice with the Prime Minister Hun Sen, and also the deputy prime minister this morning, and I can tell you that the government of Cambodia is committed to completion of the process. The United Nations will discuss this matter with the international community members, particularly donors. That’s what I can tell you at this stage," he said.

Ban's spokesman later emailed clarification of that statement – in particular the phrase stating that the Cambodian government is committed to completion of the judicial process. He added it was for the court to decide independently which cases to pursue.

Human rights office might be shut down

It seems less likely that Mr Ban will be able to counter Hun Sen’s demand to close the UN’s human rights office here.

Ban Ki-moon said that Comrade Duch's conviction for war crimes was a milestone in Cambodia's troubled history

Ban Ki-moon said that Comrade Duch's conviction for war crimes was a milestone in Cambodia's troubled history

"According to the memorandum of understanding, the UN office of human rights in Phnom Penh has to work closely with the government to address human rights abuses," said Cambodian Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith.

"But until now we have never had cooperation from this office. We just get accusations. This office acts like a mouthpiece for the opposition."

Ban's visit also ended controversially, when a group of residents facing eviction who had tried to protest peacefully near his final stop and to meet him personally, were attacked and beaten by police using electric shock batons and walkie-talkies.

In an emailed statement, the Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang, who is travelling with Ban, said she had expressed her concern about the incident and the excessive use of force in person to the Ministry of Interior.

She also said she had received a petition from the residents, although there was no word on whether she would meet them in his place.

Author: Robert Carmichael
Editor: Anne Thomas

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