PEOPLE INDICTED IN THE KHMER ROUGE TRIBUNAL
Pol Pot was dead by the time the tribunal began and was formally investigated or charged. He died in 1998 in a jungle stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and never faced a courtroom. The five ones that were tried were 1): Nuon Chea, the chief ideologue of the Khmer Rouge; 2) Khieu Samphan, the head of state under the Khmer Rouge; 3) Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister; 4) Ieng Thirith, wife of Ieng Sary’s wife and sister-in-law of Pol Pot; and 5) Kang Kek Iew (Duch) , the head of the notorious Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison. Ta Mok, the military commander of the Khmer Rouge was scheduled to face trial but he died before he was indicted. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 14, 2013]
The maximum penalty the defendants faced was life in prison. Execution was not an optionas Cambodia has no death penalty. As of 2013, only one person, Kaing Guek Eav (Duch), had been convicted. He was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison in February 2012. Ieng Sary died in March 2013. Ieng Thirith was ruled unfit to stand trial on the grounds she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. The remaining defendants Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are in their 80s.
Kang Kek Iew was indicted on July 31, 2007 on eight counts of crimes against humanity and five counts of war crimes. He was transferred to the ECCC July 31, 2007. He is serving the sentence of life imprisonment in Cambodia.
Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary were indicted on September 15, 2010 on 1) three crimes under Cambodian law; 2) two counts of the crime of genocide; 3) twelve counts of crimes against humanity; and 4) six counts of war crimes. He was transferred to the ECCC September 19, 2007.
Ieng Thirith was indicted on September 15, 2010 on: 1) three crimes under Cambodian law; 2) one count of the crime of genocide; 3) ten counts of crimes against humanity; and 4) six counts of war crimes. He was transferred to the ECCC November 12, 2007. Proceedings were suspended on September 16, 2012. She was released the same day.
Evidence Against People Indicted in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal
When Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Thirith and Ieng Sary were indicted in September 2010 the tribunal said the four had been interviewed by investigating judges 46 times since being detained by the tribunal in 2007. Their file at the time of their indictment was 350,000 pages and included 11,000 documents and more than 1,000 written records of interviews with witnesses and civil parties. Except for Khieu Samphan none of the defendants showed any willingness to cooperate. [Source: AP]
In an 1999 interview with Nate Thayer of the Far Eastern Economic Review, Duch said the top leaders knew what was occurring at Tuol Sleng prison, where over 14,000 were tortured and sent to the killing fileds. The first was Pol Pot,” he said. The second was Nuon Chea, the third Ta Mok. Khieu Samphan knew of the killings, but less than the others.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2007]
Star Witness at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal
Describing testimony in trial of prison chief Duch, Patrick Falby of AFP wrote: “A survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime's main jail told how torturers ripped out his toenails and gave him electric shocks to make him confess to being a Soviet and US agent. Chum Mey described to Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes tribunal how he wept every day for the wife and children he lost under the 1975-1979 communist movement and the horrors he endured at Tuol Sleng prison. [Source: Patrick Falby, AFP, June 30, 2009]
The 79-year-old former mechanic was giving evidence at the trial of prison chief Duch, who is accused of overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the facility. "Because I kept telling them I didn't know about the KGB and the CIA, they used pliers to twist my toenails. The nail was completely detached from my toe, they pulled it out," Chum Mey said. He then stood in the centre of the courtroom and removed his sandals to show that his toenails had grown back deformed. The former inmate detailed how he buried his two-year-old son who died of illness as the Khmer Rouge emptied the capital Phnom Penh in 1975, and talked of his two daughters who disappeared under the regime.
Chum Mey said he was working at a sewing machine factory when he was brought to Tuol Sleng in 1978, while his pregnant wife was held in a nearby "re-education centre". They were reunited -- along with their then-two-month-old baby -- in 1979 but he lost them again when they disappeared without trace the same year. "I cry every night. Every time I hear people talk about the Khmer Rouge, it reminds me of my wife and kids. I am like a mentally ill person now," he said, weeping.
During his time at Tuol Sleng, Chum Mey said he was repeatedly tortured on suspicion of espionage. "While I was walking inside (after arriving) I said (to a guard), 'Brother, please look after my family.' Then the person kicked me to the ground," Chum Mey said, adding the man swore at him and told him he would be "smashed". Chum Mey told judges he was photographed, stripped, handcuffed and yanked by his earlobes to face interrogators. "They asked me to tell them the truth -- how many of us joined the KGB and CIA," Chum Mey said. "I'm still longing to know the reason why I was accused of being CIA and KGB because I knew nothing about them."
He described how interrogators beat him for 12 days and nights as he pleaded for his life. He shuddered in pain after they pulled out his toenails, he said, and heard "some sort of sound" after they subjected him to electric shocks. The agony finally ended when he falsely confessed to being a CIA and KGB agent, Chum Mey said, and his life was then spared because he was put to use repairing sewing machines and a water pump.
Asked by his lawyer whether he had any questions for Duch, Chum Mey asked whether all so-called CIA agents in Cambodia had been "smashed" or whether some remained. Duch answered that CIA was a broad term for people suspected of working against the Khmer Rouge. "The real CIA and the CIA perceived by the (Khmer Rouge) were different. They only identified you as someone opposing them -- that's why you were identified as CIA," Duch said.
Earlier, fellow survivor Van Nath described how starving prisoners ate insects and said he was only spared because he painted pictures of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998. Earlier in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the 66-year-old Duch begged forgiveness from the victims after accepting responsibility for running the jail. He has stated he did not believe most confessions extracted under torture, but rejects prosecutors' claims that he had a central role in the Khmer Rouge's rule and says he never personally executed anyone.
See Bou Meng and Chum Mey
Kang Kek Iew (Duch)
Kang Kek Iew, or "Comrade Duch", was the first Khmer Rouge member to be brought before the tribunal. He was arrested in 1999 and held at a military prison after that without a trial. He was detained in July 2006 in connection with the Khmer Rouge tribunal and made his first court appearance in November 2007. His hearings began in September 2009 and concluded in November 2010.
Kang Kek Iew (also spelled Kaing Guck Eav) headed the Santebal--a special branch of the Khmer Rouge in charge of internal security and running prison camps. In addition, Kang Kek Iew ran the notorious Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison in Phnom Penh. In 1999, in a government interview, he said he was not a “cruel’ man but “an individual with a gentle heart, caring for justice...since childhood.” He is now serving his prison sentence in Cambodia.
See Tuol Sleng Prison.
Trial of Kang Kek Iew (Duch)
Kang Kek Iew was indicted on July 31, 2007 on 1) eight counts of crimes against humanity; and 4) five counts of war crimes. He was transferred to the ECCC July 31, 2007. His trial began in February 2009 when he was 66 and lasted for nine months until November the same year. The prosecution called more than 30 witnesses, the defense about a dozen. Duch admitted to overseeing the torture and killing of at least 12,273 people at S-21 prison and was found guilty of murder, torture, rape, inhumane acts, crime against humanity and other charges. The 12,273 number referred to cases that were documented. The figure for the total number of people killed at the prison is believed to be between 14,000 and 16,000.
The trial began with the reading of indictments against Duch. This was followed by statements from the prosecution and the defense that in turn were followed by accounts from witnesses and the defendant. One of Duch’s defender was Franciois Roux, a Frenchman known for defending people in famous cases. He represented Zacarias Moussaoui, accused in connection with the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, and four people accused of genocide in Rwanda.
Describing one day of the trial which included testimonies about the methods of interrogation and torture used at Tuol Sleng prison, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “In statements included in a long indictment read by court officials, the defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, admitted ordering and taking part in systematic torture that sometimes continued for days. Testimony on Monday involved the reading of a detailed description of the charges against Duch Through his French lawyer, François Roux, Duch has admitted his role and apologized to the victims, but he was quoted Monday as saying that he feared for his life if he did not follow orders. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 30, 2009]
“Neatly dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt, Duch stood at the start of the proceedings to give his name and a string of aliases, and to confirm that he understood the charges. In his statements, made during pretrial investigations, he said he was working on orders from the top Khmer Rouge leadership, an assertion that appeared to implicate four other defendants who are awaiting trial. Duch implicated his superiors directly, according to the indictment, telling investigators, “I always reported to the superiors and they always ordered the arrest of the persons implicated.” [Ibid]
Tim Johnston wrote in the Washington Post: Duch “attentively read the transcript of the indictment as he sat, dressed in a white shirt and dark trousers, in the court on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. He looked more like the mathematics teacher he once was than a ruthless killer whose careful documentary record of his own brutality now forms a large part of the case against him. Hundreds of spectators sat behind a glass screen, having gathered to witness a moment that Theary Seng, whose parents were killed by the regime, described as "momentous." "I'm still processing it, but it is just an amazing sensation after having talked and written so much about it, after having waited personally for 30 years for this court to take place," said Theary Seng, who spent three years in a Khmer Rouge jail and still remembers her mother being taken away along with other adults to be executed. [Source: Tim Johnston, Washington Post, March 31, 2009]
Sentencing of Kang Kek Iew (Duch)
In July 2010 the tribunal convicted Kang Kek Iew guilty of crimes humanity, genocide and the breaches of the Geneva Convention. Initially, he was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment (prosecutors demanded 40 years). However, this was reduced to 30 years owing to his illegal detention by the Cambodian Military Court between 1999 and 2007. Reuters reported: “Thousands huddled around televisions in cafes and homes to watch live broadcasts of the verdict” in Cambodia. Later when time served and other technicalities were taken into consideration the sentence was reduced to 19 years—a term criticized by many Cambodians as being too lenient. Chum Mey, a S-21 survivor who attended the trial, told AP: “I can not accept the sentences because it is too little. He should get 70 to 80 years. Fo me he should be punished by hanging but Cambodian law doesn’t allow it.” In February 2012, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Supreme Court gave Duch a life sentence saying his crimes against the Cambodia people were “shocking and heinous.”
The judges said they took into consideration the historical context of the Khmer Rouge and recognized that Duch was not in the Khmer Rouge inner circle , had cooperated with investigators and expressed remorse, however “limited.” But they rejected his claim that he was merely a “cog in a machine: who could not get out. In June 2009, the court ruled that Duch’s rights had been violated as he was detained for a decade before he was put on trial.”
At the hearing before his sentencing Duch said: “I acknowledge that I was a member of the Pol Pot force and accordingly I am...psychologically accountable to the entire Cambodian population for the souls of those who perished,” adding he was “deeply remorseful and profoundly affected by the destruction on such a mind-boggling scale.” He then went on to say there was little he could do to stop the killing, “I could do nothing to help,” he said. “Pol Pot regarded these people as thorns in his eyes. Pol Pot really wanted to become king.”
Evidence Against Kang Kek Iew (Duch)
The case against Duch was more straight forward than the cases against the other Khmer Rouge tribunal defendants. He cooperated with the tribunal and there was plenty of evidence thanks to the meticulous recordkeeping of the Tuol Sleng prison that included written orders by Duch regarding torture and killings.
Duch, a born-again Christian, acknowledged running Tuol Sleng but like other Khmer Rouge leaders said he was simply following orders to and being killed himself for disloyalty. He told government interrogators: “I was under other people’s command and I would have died if I disobeyed it. I did it without any pleasure, and any fault should be blamed” on the Khmer Rouge leadership.
Duch had confessed in interviews with Western journalists and had confessed to committing multiple atrocities as head of Tuol Sleng prison. Seven areas of relevance resurfaced frequently during [Kang Kew Lew]'s trial: issues relating to M-13, the establishment of S-21 and the Takmao prison, the implementation of CPK policy at S-21, armed conflict, the functioning of S-21, the establishment and functioning of S-24; and issues relating to character of Kang Kek Iew himself.
During the rule of the Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea acted as the right hand man of leader, Pol Pot. Allegations against him include crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation imprisonment, torture, persecution on political, racial, and religious grounds), genocide, and serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, willfully depriving a prisoner of war or civilian the rights of fair and regular trial, unlawful deportation or unlawful confinement of a civilian).
Nuon Chea was the closest deputy of Pol Pot and was allegedly the architect of the regime's devastating execution policies. Before his trial Nuon Chea said from his hideout near Pailin: “I will be glad to go so that people in my country and other countries will know the truth of what happened. Whatever they ask I will tell them. I have responsibility for what happened, not the killing but for not being able to protect my own people. Speculating on what would happen he was sentenced to life in prison, Nuon Chea told the Cambodia Daily newspaper, “When I die it will all be finished.”
Nuon Chea was arrested in September 2007 at his jungle hideout in Pailin in northwestern Cambodia. His son Nuon Say, told AP that Nuon Chea’s wife fainted when she saw her husband taken away. He said Nuon Chea rolled down the window of the car that took him and took one last look at his son without saying anything, A helicopter flew Nuon Chea to Phnom Penh.
Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “All will benefit from the caprice of Mr. Nuon Chea, who complained that the squat toilet in his cell was hurting his ailing knees and was given a sit-down toilet.Similar toilets are being installed in the other cells, said a tribunal spokesman, Reach Sambath, “So they will all enjoy high-standard toilets when they come.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, October 26, 2007]
See Khmer Rouge Leaders
Nuon Chea Defends Actions
In a 1999 interview, Duch implicated Nuon Chea, in the mass killings of the Khmer Rouge, citing among other things a directive that said, “Kill them all.” In late November 2011, a few days after Nuon Chea’s trial opened, the BBC reported: “Top Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea has defended his actions at a UN-backed court in Cambodia, on the second day of his genocide trial. A prosecutor said he and his two co-defendants had "murdered, tortured and terrorised" their own people. But Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's deputy, said he had worked to "serve the interests of the nation" by protecting it from colonialism and invaders. [Source: BBC, November 22, 2011]
Prosecutor Andrew Cayley said: "These crimes were the result of an organised plan developed by the accused and other leaders and systematically implemented" by the Khmer Rouge command. "They cannot be blamed solely on Pol Pot as some of the accused may try." In response, according to the BBC's Guy Delauney, Nuon Chea painted himself as a defender of the Khmer people - particularly against its larger neighbour Vietnam, which he said wanted to swallow Cambodia "like a python". In a 90-minute speech, he suggested that "unruly elements" within the Khmer Rouge may have been responsible for atrocities which killed millions of Cambodians. "My position in the revolution was to serve the interests of the nation and people," he said. "I had to leave my family behind to liberate my motherland from colonialism and aggression, and oppression by the thieves who wished to steal our land and wipe Cambodia off the face of the Earth."
Later Nuon Chea said: “I don’t want the next generation to misunderstand history. I don’t want them to believe the Khmer Rouge are bad people , are criminal. Nothing is true about that...These wars crimes and crimes against humanity were not committed by the Cambodian people . It was the Vietnamese who killed Cambodians. [Source: AP]
Nuon Chea Confronts Victims at the Khmer Rouge Genocide Trial
AFP reported: “Survivors of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge publicly confronted the regime's "Brother Number Two" at a UN-backed genocide tribunal, marking the first time victims have faced a senior cadre in court. Theary Seng, whose parents were killed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule, stood before the tribunal to urge the judges not to free Nuon Chea before his trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. [Source: AFP, February 8, 2008]
Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American who survived the regime's atrocities as a child and is now a lawyer, urged the court not to free him, saying that his regime had shown no mercy when she was jailed as a seven-year-old. "My brother, who was younger than me, and I were put in prison under Mr Nuon Chea's regime. We were not informed of our rights. There was no due process and we were arrested arbitrarily," she told the court. "They treated us inhumanely -- for us, the graveyard was our playground," she said, standing behind a desk opposite Nuon Chea in the pre-trial chambers. "Here Mr Nuon Chea is afforded all the protection of the best legal principles and ideals (in) both domestic and international law," she said.
Nuon Chea sat impassively as Theary Seng and three lawyers representing other Cambodian victims spoke. Those survivors did not speak. Helen Jarvis, the tribunal's spokeswoman, called the appearance of the regime survivors "historic." "To actually stand across the room from someone who a victim feels is responsible for their suffering is very important and at the leading edge of international justice," she told AFP.
Trial of Nuon Chea
Nuon Chea was indicted on September 15, 2010 on 1) three crimes under Cambodian law; 2) two counts of the crime of genocide; 3) twelve counts of crimes against humanity; and 4) six counts of war crimes. He was transferred to the ECCC September 19, 2007. His trial began on June 27, 2011.
On September 19, 2007, Nuon Chea was arrested at his home in Pailin and flown to the Cambodia Tribunal in Phnom Penh where he was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was held in detention, from which he has sought to be released. Speaking in court in early February 2008, he said that his case should be handled according to international standards, arguing that the proceedings should be delayed because his Dutch lawyer, Michiel Pestman, had not yet arrived.
Nuon Chea’s case, number 002 was under investigation since 2007. The hearings began in 2011. At the time his trial began he suffered from high blood pressure and had suffered a stroke. Although Chea was the highest ranking official to be detained he denied the majority of his involvement in the Khmer Rouge: "I was president of the National Assembly and had nothing to do with the operation of the government. Sometimes I didn't know what they were doing because I was in the assembly". He told the tribunal, “We did not have direct contact with the bases, and we were not aware of what was happening there.”
In March 2013, medical experts appointed by the court deemed that Nuon Chean was physically fit to stand trial. “From a physical point of view, I felt he is well enough to continue with the trial,” Prof. John Campbell, a geriatrician from New Zealand, told the tribunal. Another expert, Britain forensic psychiatrist Seena Fazel, said his mental health and cognitive function “is currently good.”
Luke Hunt wrote in The Diplomat: “ Nuon Chea appeared to revel in being the center of attention and held to his long standing defense that the Vietnamese were responsible for all the deaths. He also claimed his moniker Brother Number Two was inaccurate as it made him “look too big” and that none of the senior leaders were responsible for the evacuation of Phnom Penh or provincial cities of people who would fill the slave labor camps, like the airport construction site at Kampong Chhnang. [Source: Luke Hunt, The Diplomat, December 17, 2011]
Luke Hunt wrote in The Diplomat: “ Nuon Chea attempted to justify the policy saying the cities were full of prostitutes, drunks, gamblers and hedonism comparable with Sodom in a country that needed farmers. He horrified Buddhist monks in the public gallery by denying the Khmer Rouge ever sought to abolish religion, and claims that the Khmer Rouge conducted mass purges of the party, turning on its own. On the latter point, however, he added: “Some people could be re-educated while others could not: The revolution is to build the forces, not to smash the forces except in circumstances where those people after reeducation and rebuilding on several occasions could not be reeducated or transformed.” [Source: Luke Hunt, The Diplomat, December 17, 2011]
Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea Apologize to Victims' Families
In May 2013, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Che apologize to families of Khmer Rouge victims. Sopheng Cheang of Associated Press wrote: Former leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge being tried by a U.N.-backed genocide tribunal apologized to families of victims of the regime's atrocities, bringing a rare emotional note to an extended criminal trial dominated by the detailed recounting of names and old dates. Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were responding to questions posed by the so-called civil parties, who are representing the victims' families at the trial. Both men have issued expressions of regret before for the killings, but they have denied legal responsibility and insisted they served with the best interests of their country and its people in mind. They have also not hesitated to cast blame on their former colleagues and other parties. [Source: Sopheng Cheang. Associated Press, May 30, 2013 ////]
“Their statements Thursday were notable chiefly for the context — they were responding directly to the family members who had testified in emotional detail to the manner in which they lost their loved ones to Khmer Rouge brutality. Because prosecutors must try to prove the defendants bore responsibility for the actions, much of the testimony has sought to draw a legalistic line showing their knowledge through a chain of command. Thursday's testimony touched on the moral implications of one of the most shocking historical episodes of the 20th century. ////
"I feel extremely sorry for the disappearance and extremely brutal killing of your father," Khieu Samphan told Yim Roum Doul, claiming, however, that he did not know at the time about "the atrocities committed by the military commanders and leaders." "I did not know the great suffering of our people," he said, adding that the perpetrators "must be brought to justice." He said he joined the Khmer Rouge not to kill fellow Cambodians but with the "determination to protect our country and to develop our country." "But unfortunately it turned out to be a complete disaster," he said, describing those responsible as "the most stupid persons on earth." ////
“In testimony earlier this week, Khieu Samphan did not neglect to point the finger at other parties whom he believed contributed to the Cambodian holocaust. He spoke to one civil party about the American B-52 bombing during Cambodia's 1970-75 civil war, and the resultant death and destruction. Some scholars suggest that the bombing polarized and radicalized Cambodian society, contributing to the hash policies implemented when the Khmer Rouge took power. He also reminded people that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen once served with the Khmer Rouge — before defecting in 1977 — and said he should be considered more responsible than him because as a junior commander he would have been more aware of what was going on. ////
“Nuon Chea said in his testimony that he took "responsibility morally" for what occurred during the Khmer Rouge regime, explaining that "I feel remorseful for the crimes that were committed intentionally or unintentionally and whether or not I had known about it or not known about it." Like Khieu Samphan, he offered condolences. Nuon Chea, who testified from his cell by video because of poor health, has spoken of his regrets previously, in the 2010 documentary film "Enemies of the People." "I have always said I made mistakes. I am regretful and I have remorse. I am sorry for our regime. I am sorry," Nuon Chea told Cambodian filmmaker Thet Sambath. But he was also clear that the Khmer Rouge leaders had seen their primary duty as safeguarding the revolution and said suspected traitors were killed because they "were enemies of the people."
Prosecutors Seek Life in Prison for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea
Prosecutors at Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal have sought life imprisonment for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. Justine Drennan and Sopheng Cheang of Associated Press wrote: Co-prosecutor Chea Leang wrapped up three days of closing arguments by calling for the maximum penalty allowed in Cambodia, which has no death penalty, saying neither man has acknowledged his crimes or shown remorse. "We do not ask for the killing of these two accused. We do not ask you to condemn these men ... to be abused and beaten, to be bound and shot, to watch their children be torn apart and smashed against trees," the co-prosecutor said, referring to the Khmer Rouge's treatment of its prisoners.[Source: Justine Drennan and Sopheng Cheang, Associated Press, October 21, 2013]
"We ask you for justice — justice for the victims who perished, justice for the victims who survive today, who had to live through such a vicious and cruel regime," she said. "The prosecution requests the trial chamber and your honors to punish the accused Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan with life imprisonment." The U.N.-backed trial concluded in October 2013 after closing arguments from defense lawyers and possible statements from the defendants themselves. A verdict is expected in the first half of 2014, more than two years after the trial began.
The current trial, Case 002, against senior leaders of the regime, opened in November 2011. To make a massive indictment more manageable, the court decided to split Case 002 into smaller "mini trials" that would examine the evidence in rough chronological order. It was feared that the aging, infirm defendants might not survive long enough to complete more comprehensive proceedings, depriving victims of even a modicum of justice.
The present trial's focus is on the forced movement of people and excludes some of the gravest charges related to genocide, detention centers and killings. The tribunal has ruled that the next trial, on genocide and other charges, will begin as soon as possible but has not set a date. Hundreds of survivors and onlookers crowded the courtroom and the tribunal's grounds to hear the prosecutors' request. Among them was 68-year-old Im Hun, who traveled to the capital from the eastern province of Prey Veng. "They committed huge crimes and they deserve life imprisonment," said Im Hun, who lost his wife and 10 family members during Khmer Rouge rule. "But these two men are still lucky because they received a fair trial, unlike all the people the regime killed without allowing any of them to speak or defend themselves."
Ieng Sary was the former foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge and a close ally of Pol Pot. He was alleged responsible (through his acts or omissions) for planning, instigating, ordering, aiding, abetting, or overseeing of the crimes of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. Allegations against Ieng Sary include crimes against humanity, genocide and breaches of the Geneva Convention.
Ieng Sary “repeatedly and publicly encouraged, and also facilitated, arrests and executions within his Foreign Ministry and throughout Cambodia,” wrote Stephen Heder, a Cambodia scholar who assisted the tribunal and is a co-author of “Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 14, 2013]
Before his arrest in 2007, Mr. Ieng Sary said: “I have done nothing wrong. I am a gentle person. I believe in good deeds. I even performed good deeds to save several people’s lives.”
Trial and Death of Ieng Sary
Ieng Sary was indicted on September 15, 2010 on 1) three crimes under Cambodian law; 2) two counts of the crime of genocide; 3) twelve counts of crimes against humanity; and 4) six counts of war crimes. He was transferred to the ECCC on November 12, 2007. He died on March 14, 2013. The proceedings were terminated the same day.
Ieng Sary was arrested in November 2007. He and his wife, Ieng Thirith, were brought before the Khmer Rouge tribunal in November 2007. When he trial began Ieng Sary suffered from a heart problem. Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “During the trial, Mr. Ieng Sary’s lawyers argued that he was protected by a pardon, granted in 1996 by King Norodom Sihanouk, absolving him of a conviction in absentia for genocide in a show trial in 1979, shortly after the Khmer Rouge were driven from power by a Vietnamese invasion. The court, however, ruled that the amnesty did not apply to the charges brought against him by the tribunal. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 14, 2013]
Scholars said he had knowledge of massacres that were carried by the Khmer Rouge regime, citing telegrams he received from the field. One such telegram sent in April 1978 referred to “internal enemies.” It said: We are continuing to wipe out the remaining elements. They were against our revolution both openly and secretly.” At a news conference, he blamed Pol Pot for the mass killings. “Pol Pot made all the decisions on all matters by himself,” he said. He “killed people without careful consideration.” Ieng Sary also pointed a finger at Mr. Nuon Chea, who he said was implicated in torture and execution.
Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “Ieng Sary died I March 2013 in a hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he had been taken from his holding cell. He was 87. The tribunal expressed regret over Mr. Ieng Sary’s death. The defendants have all been in and out of the hospital since their arrests, and the tribunal has tried to assure that they survive to hear their sentences. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 14, 2013]
“The death of Ieng Sary is another blow to the Extraordinary Chambers and is an example of ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’ ” said Long Panhavuth, who has been following the trial closely as program coordinator of the Cambodia Justice Initiative, an independent monitoring program. “It is unfortunate that the trial chamber could not complete the judgment while the accused and the victims are still alive.”
See Khmer Rouge Leaders
Trial of Ieng Thirith
Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sary’s wife and sister-in-law of Pol Pot (her sister was married to Pol Pot), and Ieng Sary was brought before the Khmer Rouge tribunal in November 2007. She was a defendant until she was excused because she has dementia. Thirith was allegedly responsible for the planning, instigating, and aiding/abetting Cambodians during the time of Khmer Rouge control. Allegations against Thirith include crimes against humanity, genocide and breaches of the Geneva Convention. According to tribunal documents she was accused of involvement in the “planning, direction, coordination and ordering of widespread purges” as well as the “unlawful killing or murder of staff members from within the Ministry of Social Affairs.”
Ieng Thirith was indicted on September 15, 2010 on 1) three crimes under Cambodian law; 2) one count of the crime of genocide; 3) ten counts of crimes against humanity; and 4) six counts of war crimes. He was transferred to the ECCC November 12, 2007. Proceedings were suspended on September 16, 2012. She was released the same day. Ieng Thirith suffered from chronic and physical illnesses, her lawyers said, In November 2011, Ieng Thirith was found to be mentally unfit to stand trial, due to Alzheimer's disease. She was formally freed in September 2012.
See Khmer Rouge Leaders
Trial of Khieu Samphan
Khieu Samphan, the former Khmer Rouge head of state, once wrote in his own defense: "At each turn in this history, I felt it was my duty to side with the national forces in the hope of contributing, no matter how modestly, to ensure the country emerged from its morass."
Khieu Samphan was indicted on September 15, 2010 on 1) three crimes under Cambodian law; 2) two counts of the crime of genocide; 3) twelve counts of crimes against humanity; and 4) six counts of war crimes. His case was transferred to the ECCC in September 19, 2007. He was formally arrested in November 2007 after being released from a Phnom Penh hospital after suffering a stroke. His trial began on June 27, 2011.
At the time his trial began he suffered from high blood pressure and had suffered a stroke. His lawyers included Jacques Verges, who earned notoriety in the past for representing serial killers, terrorists and former Nazis.
Ta Mok Dies Before His Genocide Trial Begins
Ta Mok, a military commander of the Khmer Rouge who had been accused of war crimes, died in Phnom Penh in July 2006. The New York Times reported: He died of natural causes, angering members of human rights groups who said his death cheated the people of Cambodia of justice in a scheduled genocide trial. News agencies said that Ta Mok, believed to be about 80, died from a combination of high blood pressure, tuberculosis and respiratory problems.” [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, July 21, 2006 <>]
"It's sad news. It's outrageous," Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a group researching the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Some people may be happy with this, but not the victims who have been waiting for justice for a long time." Youk Chhang had compiled hundreds of pages of evidence relating to Ta Mok's role in the Khmer Rouge, including the written confessions of Ta Mok's lieutenants, who were interrogated during the Khmer Rouge's internal purges of 1978 and 1979. <>
In one confession, quoted by The Associated Press, a district leader under Ta Mok's supervision described his failure to follow orders to isolate ethnic minorities and sweep them "cleanly away," a euphemism that the Documentation Center said meant killing. On the cover sheet of the confession is a notation from the interrogators at the Tuol Sleng interrogation center: "Comrade Mok has read already; handed over on April 18, 1978." <>
“Some people may be happy with this, but not the victims who have been waiting for justice for a long time,” said Youk Chhang. Unlike other surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, Ta Mok did not strike a deal to surrender or defect to the government. He was captured along the Thailand-Cambodia border in March 1999 while on the run with a small band of followers. After his capture, Ta Mok was held in a Phnom Penh military prison but was hospitalized in June, shortly before Cambodian judges and judges appointed by the United Nations were sworn in to form a tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. [Source: Associated Press, July 21, 2006]
Ta Mok’s trial was slated in 2007. Ta Mok’s lawyer, Mr. Samay, said this month that his client had told him that he would tell his side of the story if given the chance to do so in court. “He wanted to tell the world that he never killed anyone,” Mr. Samay said.
See Khmer Rouge Leaders
Another Khmer Rouge Atrocity Suspect Dies Before Being Brought to Justice
In June 2013,a former top Khmer Rouge military officer who was expected to be indicted for alleged atrocities---former Khmer Rouge air force chief Sou Met— died, a Cambodian official said. Sopheng Cheang of Associated Press wrote: “ Sou Met suffered from diabetes and died June 14 after a long illness. He had been living in Battambang province and was believed to be 76. Tribunal documents leaked in 2012 indicated that prosecutors were seeking to indict Sou Met along with Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Mut. The documents alleged that both took part in purges that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. [Source: Sopheng Cheang, Associated Press, June 26, 2013]
Ek Sam Oun said Sou Met had been appointed an adviser to the Cambodian armed forces and held a major-general's rank in the army after he defected from the Khmer Rouge in the late 1990s, but was retired at the time of his death. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has opposed extending the tribunal to cover further suspects, saying it would cause civil unrest. Many former members of the Khmer Rouge — including Hun Sen, who defected from the group in 1977 — hold important positions in the current government or are political allies.
What About Trying Other Khmer Rouge Members in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal
On the issue of trying addition Khmer Rouge members in the Khmer Rouge tribunal, AFP reported, Hun Sen renewed strong warnings that his country could be plunged back into civil war if the UN-backed Khmer Rouge court tried more suspects. Mr Hun Sen, himself a former low level commander in the communist regime, addressed the matter in a speech less than a week after the court said it could open investigations against more members of the Khmer Rouge government. [Source: AFP, September 7, 2009]
“If you tried (more suspects) without taking national unification and peace into consideration and if war re-occurred, killing between 200,000 and 300,000 people more, who would be responsible for it?'” the premier told a ceremony. “I have achieved this work (peace), I will not allow anybody to destroy it.... The value of peace here is very big,' Mr Hun Sen said, lamenting that Cambodia had already been drenched 'by blood and tears'. 'So anybody, please don't cause more trouble,' he added.
Critics have said there is no risk of renewed fighting since the country's civil war ended in 1998, and have accused the administration of trying to protect former regime members now in government.
Tim Johnston wrote in the Washington Post: International prosecutors want to charge another six people, a move Chea Leang, the Cambodian co-prosecutor, has resisted. She says that further trials would inhibit reconciliation. Adams said such arguments underscore a fundamental weakness in the courts. The court is also limited by its mandate, which covers only the period from the day the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh in 1975 to the day the Vietnamese army drove it out in 1979. Brad Adams, the Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, told the Washington Post: "The notion that you can deal with the deaths of 2 million people by putting five or even 10 people on trial is ludicrous.” [Source: Tim Johnston, Washington Post, March 31, 2009]
Controversy Surrounding Cases 003 & 004 and the Resignation of Judges
In June 2011 the court experienced significant public controversy following the release of a public statement by International Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley criticising the Co-Investigating Judges for closing their investigation of Case 003 prematurely, including an accusation that the Judges were attempting to "bury" the case. The defendants charged in Case 003 are Meas Muth and Sou Met, two Khmer Rouge army commanders who allegedly oversaw the arrests and transportation of prisoners to the S-21 prison. This statement followed international concerns that the court might succumb to government pressures not to indict additional defendants. German Co-Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk criticised Cayley's statement as a violation of the court's internal confidentiality rules. [Source: Wikipedia]
After Siegfried Blunk resigned from his job unexpectedly in March 2012 over the government's statements opposing further prosecutions, it was said that while he was not influenced by political statements, "his ability to withstand such pressure by government officials to perform his duties independently, could always be called in doubt, and this would also call in doubt the integrity of the whole proceedings," of Case 003 and 004. Judge Blunk had been a controversial figure since he took over the position from French judge Marcel Lemonde (French) who resigned in 2010, to investigate cases 003 and 004. ^
After international co-investigating Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet (Swiss) left his job unexpectedly, it cast more doubt on the court's ability to pursue more cases such as Case 003 and 004 against the ailing Khmer Rouge leaders. Similar allegations of political pressure have been alleged in case 004. Case 004 involves former mid-level Khmer Rouge commanders Im Chaem, Ta Ann and Ta Tith. Chaem ran a forced labor camp involving a massive irrigation project in Preah Net Preah and Ta Ann and Ta Tith were two deputies who oversaw massacres in the camp. Since then, Ta Tith has become a wealthy businessman in Cambodia and Im Chaem has become a commune chief in Cambodia's Anlong Veng District, further speculating political pressure would come to drop charges if these three were ever tried together. ^^
Nearly 200 Staffers Strike at Khmer Rouge Tribunal Over Unpaid Wages
In September 2013, Associated Press reported: “Nearly 200 staffers at Cambodia's U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal have gone on strike to demand wages that are several months overdue, a court spokesman said. A majority of the court's Cambodian employees, including interpreters and translators essential to the court's functions, did not come into work Monday because their wages have not been paid since June, spokesman Neth Pheaktra said. Budgetary shortfalls, along with the defendants' advanced age and poor health, have raised concerns the trial may grind to a halt before any verdict is reached. [Source: Associated Press, September 2 2013]
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called last week for more international donations to the tribunal, warning that its "very survival" is under threat. A U.N. spokesman at the court, Lars Olsen, said the strike threatens to delay proceedings at the tribunal."We are very concerned about the possible risk of disruption to the judicial process through the strike by national staff," Olsen said in an email Monday. "The U.N. is also concerned for the welfare of the national staff and their families."
The tribunal has met with resistance from the Cambodian government, where many top officials are former Khmer Rouge members. The Cambodian government is officially responsible for paying the salaries of the court's Cambodian employees, but has often failed to supply adequate funds, leaving international donors to pick up the slack. "We call on the Royal Government immediately to meet its obligation to pay the national salaries so that the strike can be averted," Olsen said. "The U.N. is also working closely with the principal international donors to explore all possibilities for averting the crisis." The Cambodian-run section of the court currently faces a $3 million shortfall for wages from June through the end of the year, Neth Pheaktra said.
Closing Statements of the Khmer Rouge Trial
In October 2013, the BBC reported: “The UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Cambodia has started hearing closing statements, in what officials say is a crucial phase of the trial. Nuon Chea, 87, and Khieu Samphan, 82, are charged with crimes against humanity for their roles in the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979. Spokesman Lars Olsen said this was "the final milestone" before the verdict, which is expected some time next year. [Source: BBC, October 16 2013]
Lawyers of "civil parties", which represent the plaintiffs, gave their initial statements. One of the lawyers, Pich Ang, described the Khmer Rouge as "one of the most heinous regimes history has ever known". "This is the final milestone before the verdict," Mr Olsen told the Agence-France Presse news agency. "It is the last chance to convince the judges about the case."
Failure of the Khmer Rouge Trials
Charlie Campbell wrote in Time magazine, “The U.N.-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was founded in 2006 to investigate these crimes against humanity and hold those responsible to account. The proceedings — touted as the largest such reckoning since the Nuremberg trials of prominent Nazis — were to target the very top level regime figures and those chiefly responsibly for particularly heinous acts. Life imprisonment was to be the maximum punishment. [Source: Charlie Campbell, Time magazine, February 13, 2014]
But virtually since the outset, allegations of corruption and politicization have dogged the ECCC’s glacial progress, and proceedings were halted for long periods as national staff went on strike after not being paid. Late last month, an agreement was finally reached for funding to be restored after the U.N. received certain assurances. Nevertheless, serious questions still hover over a tribunal that has delivered only one conviction in eight years at a cost of some $200 million. “This is no longer a legitimate court,” says Theary Seng, a prominent U.S.-trained human rights lawyer whose parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge. “It’s a sham. It does such a disservice to Cambodian victims and international justice in general.”
The original ECCC was formed as a hybrid tribunal, comprising elements of international and domestic law, with proceedings heard by foreign and Cambodian judges. Four original cases were set out. Case 001 against Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his nom de guerre Comrade Duch, saw the former chief of the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, convicted for crimes against humanity relating to more than 15,000 deaths. He is currently serving a life prison sentence. Case 002 originally had four defendants. Nuon Chea, 87, was Pol Pot’s right hand man and known as “brother number 2.” Khieu Samphan, 82, was the former head of state. But former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sery died, and his wife, Ieng Thirit, another senior regime figure, was declared mentally unfit to stand trial. Cases 003 and 004 have stalled — even the names of those under investigation were not officially revealed, although they have been widely circulated. And that represents the entirety of proceedings.
Compared to this paltry total, there were 161 indictments in the former Yugoslavia, 95 in Rwanda and 22 in Sierra Leone. But “I don’t think the present government wants to have any further indictments other than the four accused in Case 002,” Victor Koppe, a Dutch lawyer currently defending Nuon Chea at the ECCC, tells TIME. “There are strong indications that they probably feel it is getting close to themselves.”
Many established figures in Cambodian politics today previously had positions of influence within the Khmer Rouge.Cambodia’s strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen was himself a former Khmer Rouge battalion commander, and lost an eye in battle before fleeing to Vietnam to escape an internal purge. (In 1975, his battalion oversaw a brutal crackdown against the Muslim Cham minority group, although Hun Sen claims to have been recovering in hospital at the time.)
The debate rages over whether the Khmer Rouge was “essentially a top-down, pyramidal type structure,” as maintained by Prof. Greg Stanton, an expert in genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, or whether, as Koppe says, there were various and opposing factions responsible for atrocities. “To only focus on one faction within the Khmer Rouge is already questionable,” he argues.
Certainly, senior Khmer Rouge figures close to the Hun Sen administration have been barred from testifying, such as current National Assembly Chairman Heng Samrin and Senate President Chea Sim. “In any other international tribunal the importance and relevance of someone like Heng Samrin would be so obvious,” says Koppe, frustrated that his “firsthand knowledge of decisions being made in ‘75 and afterwards” cannot be called upon. Blocking Heng Samrin from court, he adds, “is a clear sign of the unfairness of the proceedings.”
Critics say the trials have been highjacked to specifically absolve former leading Khmer Rouge figures now within Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party. “I’m in awe of Hun Sen,” says Theary Seng sardonically, deploring the “manipulated and whitewashed” history the ECCC is now helping to propagate. “It will go down in all the history books as a brilliant move.”
Crucially, Hun Sen insisted on proceedings taking place on home soil, a marked departure from other such tribunals, such as those investigating genocide in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, which took place in other countries. “True international tribunals [are] situated somewhere else and are much less prone to government influence or interference,” explains Koppe, who previously worked in the Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone tribunals. Stanton says it was important to base the court domestically “to give Cambodians a way to understand what happened in their country,” However, he concedes that “Judges who are part of the Cambodian system are always going to continue to be influenced by Cambodian politics.”
The U.N. insists that it has done everything possible to ensure fair and transparent proceedings. “The long history of negotiations leading to the creation of the ECCC clearly establishes that alternative structures for justice were advanced and thoroughly considered by the Secretariat and by Member States of the United Nations,” spokesman Lars Olsen told TIME via email. That is no comfort to victims such as Kilong Ung, for whom justice always felt beyond reach. “They are never going to catch the guy who starved my parents to death,” he says. “There are a lot of mid-level Khmer Rouge who got out with the refugees and are all over the world right now — some with the wealth they took with them. Just like the Nazis.”
Trial of Sam Bith
In December 2002, Sam Bith—the former guerilla commander in southwestern Cambodia— was sentenced to life in prison for mastermind the abduction of three Western backpackers in 1994. After four months of negotiation failed to produce the ransom money demanded, “Sam Bith gave an order to kill them on September 28, 1994,” the judge said. Sam Bit was not the first senior Khmer Rouge leader to be found guilty of a crime in a Cambodian court of law. Two other men who served under Sam Bith—Nuon Pet and Chhoulk Rin—were sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in the murders. Bith died in jail at the age of 74 in March 2008.
AP reported: “Sam Bith was sentenced to life in prison in December 2002 after being found guilty of conspiring to kill the men —David Wilson of Australia, Mark Slater of Britain and Jean-Michel Braquet of France, all tourists in their late 20s — in 1994. [Source: Associated Press, February 22, 2008 #]
“Sam Bith had served as a Khmer Rouge commander in southwestern Cambodia, where a train carrying the three backpacking tourists was ambushed on July 26, 1994.About a dozen Cambodians were also killed and many others wounded in the armed attack by Khmer Rouge rebels at Phnom Voar, or Vine Mountain, 62 miles southwest of Phnom Penh. The rebels held the three tourists under miserable conditions and killed them two months after the attack, when protracted government negotiations for their release failed. Two other former Khmer Rouge field commanders — Nuon Paet and Chhouk Rin — are serving life sentences for their involvement in the killings. #
“Sam Bith defected from the Khmer Rouge to join the government in 1997 and received a general’s rank in the Cambodian Army, but he was arrested in May 2002 after being implicated by another former Khmer Rouge official in the killings. In convicting him in 2002, a judge said Mr. Sam Bith had ordered his subordinates on Sept. 28, 1994, to kill the foreigners. Mr. Sam Bith pleaded not guilty and claimed in court he had already been relieved of his position as a regional commander by the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot weeks before the train ambush. #
Trial for the Killers of a British De-Miner
In October 2008, four former members of the Khmer Rouge were sentenced to 20 years in prison each for their involvement in the abduction and murder of British mine clearance expert Christopher Howes and his Cambodian interpreter, Houn Hourth, in 1996. A fifth accused man was acquitted. All five had pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated murder and illegal confinement at the trial in Phnom Penh.
Time magazine reported: The three-judge panel took less than five minutes to read the guilty verdict and announce that Khem Ngon, 58, Loch Mao, 56, and Puth Lim, 57, would spend the next 20 years in prison after being found guilty of murder, kidnapping and membership in the outlawed Khmer Rouge communist movement. Khmer Rouge leaders were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million people during Cambodia's infamous "killing fields" period in the 1970s. A fourth suspect, Sin Dorn, 52, was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison for having assisted in the abduction of Howes and Houn, who were conducting a humanitarian de-mining mission for the UK-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) when they were taken hostage. A fifth defendant in the case was found not guilty. [Source: Kevon Doyle,Time magazine, October 14, 2008 ==]
Following their sentencing, the four aging convicts, dressed in blue prison uniforms, sat on stone benches outside the courtroom as they waited to be transported back to jail. Wives, children and relatives who traveled from Anlong Veng for the verdict huddled around the men to say their final farewells. None of the convicted men talked to reporters. "Today, we feel that justice has been done for our two colleagues who were brutally murdered whilst carrying out life-saving work," MAG's Chief Executive Lou McGrath said in a statement distributed at the courthouse. "Hopefully now, the loved ones of Chris and Hourth can finally move on with their lives," he said. ==
Text Sources: Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014