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Advocates Archive: Mock Trial of Khmer Rouge Held (1990)

June 9, 2023

Mock Trial of Khmer Rouge Held: Cambodians Testify before Panel of Community Representatives 

On June 9 in the State Capitol, men and women, young and old, approached the witness stand to testify about life under the Khmer Rouge. For many members of the Twin Cities Cambodian refugee community, the mock trial of the Khmer Rouge for international crimes of genocide was their first public recounting of the violence, starva­tion, disease and trauma they suffered.  

Prosecutors Peter Thompson of Thompson & Lundquist and Clifford Wardlaw of the Hennepin County Attor­ney's office presented photographs of the Killing Fields: mounds of skeletons, destroyed Buddhist and Christian places of worship, and the torture chambers of Tuol Sleng--a Khmer Rouge concentration camp in Phnom Penh. Other evidence included a torture manual used by guards at the Tuol Sleng camp.  

Professor Ben Kiernan of Yale University gave expert testimony on the history of the Khmer Rouge and their campaign to destroy members of national, ethnic, ra­cial and religious groups. Dr. Eric Egli testified about the mental harm inflicted upon survivors of the genocide.  

Hennepin District Judge Kevin Burke and State Public Defender John Stuart were defense counsel. Judges in­cluded: Rev. Larry Bussey (St. Luke's Episcopal), Val Crawford (Pioneer Press), Rev. Norman Kretzmann (Lutheran Social Service), Hennepin District Chief Judge Roberta Levy, Terry Louie (Asian/Pacific American Sec­tion of the State Bar), Alan Page (Attorney General's office), Rabbi Stephen Pinsky (Temple Israel), U.S. District Court Judge James Rosenbaum, Fredilyn Sison (Henne­pin County Attorney's office), and U of M law professor David Weissbrodt.  

Based on the evidence, the Court found that the govern­ment of Democratic Kampuchea had committed acts of genocide against the Cham, Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai populations, against the Buddhist monkhood, and against its own national group, the Khmer people. It also found that same government continues to violate inter­national law by failing to bring to justice the perpetrators of genocide. It ordered the government of Democratic Kampuchea to institute such proceedings. (Videotapes of the trial will be available in August.) 

This article first appeared in the Observer, the newsletter of the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee, Vol. 3, Issue 4, July-August 1990.

The 1990 mock trial led to the Khmer Oral History Project, during which members of the Khmer community were interviewed on videotape about their experiences during the years of the genocide in Cambodia, their experiences in refugee camps, and their emigration to the United States. Each interview includes a transcript, available in English and Khmer as appropriate. Explore the Khmer Oral History Project here.

In 2007, after lengthy negotiations, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia first investigation commenced. The Advocates assembled testimonies collected as part of the 1990 mock trial and worked with members of Minnesota's Cambodia diaspora to ensure that the voices of victims were included in the official proceedings. 

The Advocates is celebrating 40 years of defending human rights. Throughout this year are sharing stories and projects from our archives to shed light on the history of the organization, and the issues we work on.