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Surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge indicted

The international war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh is charging the four surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge: genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Though late, it is a retribution for the victims who died.

Former Khmer Rouge prison commander Kaing Guek Eav also known as Duch, surrounded by defense lawyers and guards

Former Khmer Rouge prison commander Kaing Guek Eav also known as "Duch", surrounded by defense lawyers and guards

The court’s investigating judges announced the indictment of the four surviving Khmer Rouge leaders at the UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh on Thursday. The trial of the four elderly suspects is expected to start in the first half of next year. One of those charged is the movement’s chief ideologue Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two. Also charged was the movement’s former head of state Khieu Samphan, one of the few public faces of the movement.

Cambodian Buddhist nuns and monks line up in front the war crimes tribunal

Cambodian Buddhist nuns and monks line up in front the war crimes tribunal

Former foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, the former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, are the other two charged persons. The four were indicted on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and a range of crimes under Cambodian law including murder, torture and religious persecution. Co-investigating judge Marcel Lemonde, admitted the three-year investigation had proved lengthy, but said the case was as complicated as those of the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

Charging Khmer Rouge leaders

The court completed its first case in July when it sentenced former security Chief Comrade Duch to 30 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Court spokesman Lars Olsen said that case was of a man who implemented policy. But the court’s second case would assess the evidence against those who led the movement and created policy.


Tribunal court hall in Phnom Phen

Tribunal court hall in Phnom Penh

"This is addressing the leadership – those who are believed to have orchestrated all the crimes in the country. So of course for the people of Cambodia this means that those who are believed to have set in place the whole system now will face charges in a court", Olsen said.

Investigations focus on specific instances

Announcing the decision to indict, co-investigating judge You Bunleng said the crimes of which the four stand accused amounted to an attack on the entire population of Cambodia. He said a demographic survey showed that the Khmer Rouge’s rule of Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 resulted in the deaths of between 1.7 million and 2.2 million people. The investigating judges said around 800,000 of those deaths were violent.

Given the scale of the crimes, the investigations were focused on specific instances of criminal acts that suggested the bigger picture. For instance, although the Khmer Rouge emptied every city and town when they took power, the judges investigated only three population displacements. And although there were at least 200 security centres where perceived enemies of the revolution were taken to be tortured and executed, just 11 were included.


Duch looks on during a tribunal session in Phnom Penh

"Duch" looks on during a tribunal session in Phnom Penh

New evidence for second case

They also said the genocide charge was specifically levied as a result of efforts by the Khmer Rouge to exterminate Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese, although Marcel Lemonde stressed it would be for the trial judges to decide whether the evidence supported the claim of genocide.

In July the UN-backed tribunal wrapped up its first case, sentencing Comrade Duch, who headed the regime’s key security prison S-21, to 30 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Around 20,000 people are thought to have been tortured and condemned to death at S-21. Some of Duch’s testimony will likely be used as evidence in the second case, particularly as it relates to his former superior, Nuon Chea. But Nuon Chea is elderly, as are the other three defendants, the youngest of whom is 78. All deny the charges against them. Whether they will be around to hear the verdicts is another matter entirely.

Author: Robert Carmichael, Phnom Penh
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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