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Road to justice

Road to justice


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The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Thursday announced the indictment of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, paving the way for the most significant and complex trial concerning crimes committed by the regime during the late 1970s.

Investigations of the four accused – former Brother No 2 Nuon Chea; head of state Khieu Samphan; foreign minister Ieng Sary; and his wife, social action minister Khieu Thirith – date back to their arrests in 2007.

Tribunal judges had been coming up on a September 19 deadline to hand down indictments. That date marks the three-year anniversary of the beginning of Nuon Chea’s pre-trial detention, the maximum amount of time permitted under court rules.

The court has decided to “send forward these four accused for trial”, judge You Bunleng said at a press conference, before listing a long series of charges against the former top regime members, including torture, murder and rape.

All four accused have also been charged with offences pursuant to the 1956 Cambodian penal code, which was in effect during the regime’s 1975-79 rule, which represented one of the worst human tragedies of the 20th century.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians – or a fifth of the population at the time – lost their lives through starvation, disease, exhaustion from overwork or execution.

Hundreds of thousands of more fled their homeland, becoming refugees.

Those left behind still struggle today with the trauma caused by their experiences under the regime – the constant fear, deprivation and loss of family – as Khmer Rouge leaders sought to dismantle completely modern Cambodian society, returning the country to “year zero” in one of the most radical and, ultimately, misguided social engineering experiments in history.

On July 26, the tribunal announced the verdict in its first case, that of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, finding him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentencing him to 30 years in prison. Duch had also been implicated in the investigation of Case 002, but the court announced Thursday that he would not face additional charges.

Unlike in the Duch case, the accused in Case 002 have disputed the charges against them and have refused to cooperate with investigators. UN officials have predicted that the case will get underway by the middle of next year.

Those to be placed on the dock are:

  • Nuon Chea, Brother No 2 to the Khmer Rouge's leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998. The now fragile 84-year-old, who defected to the government in 1998 and was granted a pardon by Prime Minister Hun Sen, is believed by researchers to have been a key architect of the regime's death machine. Since surrendering in a deal that ultimately doomed the communist movement, Nuon Chea has acknowledged the deaths that took place under the regime but denies that he was in a position to stop the disaster that unfolded.
  • Ieng Sary, 84, who served as minister of foreign affairs under Pol Pot, and was also his brother-in-law by marriage. Ieng Sary was a young university radical in Paris before he emerged as one of the few public faces of the Khmer Rouge. Ieng Sary was found guilty of genocide in a Vietnamese-backed trial of former leaders in 1979, but was granted a royal pardon in 1996 after he defected to the government. He has suffered from deteriorating health since his arrest, highlighting the fragile condition of the tribunal's elderly defendants and fears that they might die before going to trial.
  • Ieng Thirith, 78, who is Ieng Sary's wife and was Pol Pot's sister-in-law. Sometimes described as the "First Lady" of the Khmer Rouge, she acted as social affairs minister and is held responsible by some researchers for the regime's drastic re-ordering of traditional Cambodian life. An intellectual who studied English literature in Paris, Ieng Thirith plunged into radical politics after becoming involved with Ieng Sary in France and remained a staunch defender of the Khmer Rouge long after the regime's demise in the late 1990s.
  • Khieu Samphan, another French-educated radical who served as head of state for Pol Pot's regime and was one of the regime's few diplomats who had contact with the outside world. The 79-year-old has never denied the bloodletting suffered under the Khmer Rouge but has also never admitted to a role in the regime's brutal excesses. He has instead styled himself as an intellectual and nationalist who claims he knew little, until long afterwards, of the devastation that was wrought during the Khmer Rouge's nearly four years in power. Khieu Samphan defected with Nuon Chea in 1998....read the full story in tomorrow’s Phnom Penh Post or see updated coverage in online from 3PM UTC/GMT +7 hours. (New York 4AM, Los Angeles 1AM, Chicago 3AM, Paris 10AM, Toronto 4AM, Sydney 6PM, Bejing 4PM, Tokyo 5PM, London 9AM, Johannesburg 10AM, Riyadh 11AM, Mumbai 1:30 PM)


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