Home > Centre for the Study of Human Rights > Events > 2010 > Impunity in Cambodia

Impunity in Cambodia

  • Date and time: Thursday 18 November 2010, 6.30-8pm 
  • Venue: Old Theatre, Old Building, LSE.
  • Speakers: Brad Adams, Margo Picken, Simon Taylor
  • Chair: Dr Chaloka Beyani


Senior leaders of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea are now on trial in Cambodia for the crimes committed between 1975 and 1979 when two million people are estimated to have died. Will these trials help to break the impunity that has characterised Cambodia's recent history and which continues today? Virtually no one has ever been brought to justice in Cambodia in spite of substantial evidence of state organised violence and of individual responsibility for serious crimes. Since Democratic Kampuchea, through the People's Republic of Kampuchea of the 1980s, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia of the early 1990s and after - journalists, activists, politicians and others have been killed and threatened, with no recourse. Meanwhile, those who order or perpetrate human rights violations have been rewarded; many hold high office. Impunity takes different forms. Cambodia is a country up for sale; corruption is rampant. Wholesale plundering of its forests, minerals, and other natural resources has ruined livelihoods, fuelled conflict and destroyed the environment. Cambodia's political and business leaders have exploited natural resources for personal profit and to shore up their positions of power. Meanwhile half of Cambodia's national budget is provided by international donors. How have they responded and with what effect?



Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division since 2002, is a general expert on Asia. The division he oversees covers human rights issues in 20 countries from Afghanistan to the Pacific. Prior to Human Rights Watch, Mr. Adams worked in Cambodia for five years as the senior lawyer for the Cambodia field office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and as the legal advisor to the Cambodian parliament's human rights committee. Mr. Adams conducted human rights investigations, initiated the UN's first in-country judicial mentor program, drafted and revised legislation, such as the press law, political party law, NGO law, and others. A former legal aid lawyer in California, Mr. Adams graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law.

Simon Taylor is one of three co-founder/directors of Global Witness, a London and Washington DC based NGO which investigates and campaigns to prevent natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses.

In December 1999, Simon launched and led Global Witness' oil and corruption campaign, which began the global call for transparency of payments made by companies to governments for oil and gas extraction. Through investigation and exposing corruption associated with companies and elites involved in these sectors, this work led to Global Witness' conception of the Publish What You Pay Campaign (PWYP), which Simon co-launched in 2002 with George Soros, together with other NGO's including Transparency International (UK) and Save the Children Fund UK. PWYP calls on listing authorities, such as the US SEC, to require oil, gas (and by 2002, also mining) companies to publish the payments they make to each country of operation for resource extraction, as a condition of listing. The launch of PWYP, which now consists of over 400 civil society organisations worldwide, led directly to the UK Government's launch of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) - the global multi-stakeholder initiative which aims to deliver revenue transparency in the extractive sector worldwide. Global Witness is a board member of EITI. In addition to continuing to co-lead Global Witness, Simon has focused on investigating and analysing threats to global energy supplies, in particular for oil, over the past two years. This work resulted in the October 2009 report, "Heads in the Sand", and forms the start basis of Global Witness' climate and energy campaign.

Margo Picken has worked in the field of human rights for much of her professional career. Most recently, she worked for the United Nations as director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia from 2001 to 2007. She was responsible for the human rights programme of the Ford Foundation from 1988 to 1995. She established and directed the Office of Amnesty International at the United Nations in New York from 1976 to 1987. She is the author of several articles on human rights, and has served on the boards of a number of non-governmental organisations. She is a graduate of the University of London with a Masters Degree in International Relations.

Chaloka Beyani (chair) is Senior Lecturer in Law at LSE

Event Recording

An audio recording of this panel event is available on the Centre's podcast page 

Exhibition - Cambodia: Reflections of the Khmer Rouge

This event is part of a series organised to coincide with an exhibition presented by the LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights and the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

Cambodia: Reflections of the Khmer Rouge portrays life under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and brings the story up to date with information about the ongoing trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders. The exhibition features material from the archives at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, much of which has not been seen outside of Tuol Sleng, the former detention centre in Phnom Penh. Click here for more information about the exhibition.

Visiting information: 1 November - 10 December 2010; on Monday - Friday between 10am - 8pm; Atrium Gallery, LSE (free to attend)