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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - French trial to target Mok, Samphan and Chea

French trial to target Mok, Samphan and Chea

A FATHER, a doctor who refused to leave his patients after Phnom Penh fell to

the Khmer Rouge. A sister, arrested and tortured in the notorious Tuol Sleng


The deaths of these people are only two of nearly two million

caused by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, but they are the basis of a new

court case in France intended to target surviving KR leaders.

Ta Mok,

Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary face charges of murder, torture, illegal

detention, and crimes against humanity stemming from the deaths of Raingsi

Tioulong and Son Qui. The suit was filed April 2 with the Tribunal de Grand

Instance in Paris.

"We are not asking for financial compensation," said

plaintiff Antonya Tioulong, Raingsi's sister, by fax from Paris. "I am more

interested in knowing who ordered atrocities to be committed on my sister, why,

and to see those responsible for these atrocities be identified as criminals,

and adequately sentenced, instead of seeing them strutting about like heroes on

TV screens."

According to French procedure, the judge first must decide

if the case is admissible - which could be in a matter of weeks, said Tioulong,

48. If the judge admits the case, the investigation phase begins, which could

include a French investigation team coming to Cambodia to collect


Cambodia has no extradition treaty with France and the

Kingdom's Constitution forbids it. However, the court can issue an international

arrest warrant, which a third country could execute - as in the recent case of

Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested in Britain under an

international arrest warrant issued by Spanish courts.

"When my clients

saw what happened with Pinochet, they asked if we could do the same thing here,"

said Francois Zimeray, the lawyer in the case, by telephone from Paris. If

convicted in France, the accused would face life in prison, he said - but

acknowledged that extradition was unlikely. However, trials in absentia are

permitted in France.

"I have great hope that my action will succeed and

that it will end up with a real trial before a French or international court,

leading to a condemnation," Tioulong said. "It is not right to judge Khmer Rouge

leaders in Cambodia. How can I believe in justice in a lawless country ruled by

a former Khmer Rouge? A trial held there would only be a parody."


Tioulong and Son Qui were both French citizens. Son Qui, a doctor, was working

in Calmette Hospital near the French Embassy when the Khmer Rouge took Phnom

Penh in April 1975. He was entitled to leave in the last convoy deporting

foreigners from the embassy, and indeed his son Herve - co-plaintiff in the

court case - went with the convoy, but Son Qui chose instead to


"His behavior was really heroic because he wanted to stay with

his patients," Zimeray said. Dr. Qui was deported from Phnom Penh after the

convoy left and was last heard of in July 1976.

Raingsi Tioulong, a

mother of three, was 31 in 1975, ran a radio program and worked for an American

laboratory. She was expelled from Phnom Penh with the rest of the population.

Cousins who were with her and survived will testify that when the Khmer Rouge

cadre realized her name was Tioulong (her father, Nhiek Tioulong, was a senior

military officer in the 1960's and close to the King) she was treated worse than


Antonya, who was in France in the 1970's and staged a 12-day

hunger strike in 1979 to pressure France into accepting more Cambodian refugees,

returned to Cambodia in 1994. She went to Tuol Sleng to track down her sister's

fate and, in a gruesome daylong search, found Raingsi's "confessions". Tuol

Sleng prisoners were commonly tortured until they admitted to treasonous or

espionage activities.

The records from Tuol Sleng's archives show that

Raingsi was accused of having joined the CIA in 1969. They further accuse her of

following a CIA plan "to incite the village population to oppose Angkar" [the KR

regime] and "to organize demonstrations to re-enter Phnom Penh by force" in

November 1975.

Tioulong has submitted the confessions to the Paris

tribunal as evidence. As the deputy director of the documentation department of

L'Express magazine, she said she has many press clips and other evidence she

could add if necessary.

While at Tuol Sleng, she also found the piece of

evidence which upset her most: a stark black-and-white photo of Raingsi,

catalogued with those of the other 17,000 people who died at the torture


"Once I found her picture, I asked an American photographer to

reproduce it: I wanted to organize a Buddhist ceremony for her and to express my

respect and affection for her, " Tioulong said. "Sometimes the only way to cope

with feelings of [revulsion] is to pray."

Attorney Zimeray says the case

faces several legal challenges: the statute of limitations in France for these

charges is only 10 years; he has no papers to verify Raingsi's French

citizenship (her nationality gives French courts jurisdiction over the case);

and the statute against crimes against humanity was enacted in 1994, long after

the crimes were committed.

However, Zimeray said he will argue that

although crimes against humanity as such did not exist in 1975, the underlying

crimes (such as murder, forced labor, or gross ill-treatment) had long been

codified in French law. And he believes he can prove Raingsi's


As for the statute of limitations problem, Zimeray said

there is French precedent that the clock only begins to tick once a body is

actually found. Since Son Qui and Raingsi Tioulong's bodies will probably never

be found, the statute of limitations has not run out.

"My goal will be

reached if the investigation starts and leads to the impossibility for all Khmer

Rouge leaders to stay in any other country than Cambodia," said Zimeray, who has

been interested in Cambodian affairs since being shocked by TV footage of

refugees in 1979.

Zimeray also mentioned that several other French

citizens who lost family under the Khmer Rouge have approached him about joining

the action. He said he would allow them to join once he reviewed their


Meanwhile, a judge has been appointed in a separate but similar

case brought by 23 Belgian-Khmers against Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary

in Belgium. In addition, Belgian law allows other plaintiffs to join the suit

and French plaintiffs are also interested in joining the Belgian


Zimeray said the Tioulong-Son case would remain separate,


"If our legal action were to fail, that would be a revolting

shame," Tioulong said. "Which message would be sent to the younger generations,

not only in Cambodia but also around the world? Can we convince them that a

handful of butchers were allowed to murder 1.7 million fellow compatriots with

total impunity? And that it was enough for them to say 'sorry' to be absolved?"



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