News / Asia

Cambodia Prepares for High Profile Trial of Khmer Rouge Leaders

Four top surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime from left to right: Nuon Chea, the group's ideologist; former head of state and public face of the regime, Khieu Samphan, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary; and his wife Ieng Thirith, ex-minister for so
Four top surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime from left to right: Nuon Chea, the group's ideologist; former head of state and public face of the regime, Khieu Samphan, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary; and his wife Ieng Thirith, ex-minister for so

Multimedia

Audio
Robert Carmichael

On Monday the United Nations-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh will open its hearing into the four surviving leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge movement.

Cambodians have waited three decades for this day: when the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge movement appear in court charged with an array of crimes - genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder.  The list is long.

The four defendants are Nuon Chea, also known as Brother Number Two, who is considered the movement’s chief ideologue; Khieu Samphan, the head of state; Ieng Sary, the foreign minister  and, his wife, Ieng Thirith, the social action minister.

The defendants in this case, the court’s second, deny all charges.

That marks a change from Case One, where former security chief Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, admitted his role and pledged to cooperate with the court.

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch, who ran the notorious Toul Sleng, a top secret detention center for the worst 'enemies' of the state, looks on during his appealing at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 28, 2011
Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch, who ran the notorious Toul Sleng, a top secret detention center for the worst 'enemies' of the state, looks on during his appealing at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 28, 2011

Case One

Duch ran the notorious S-21 security center in Phnom Penh, where at least 14,000 men, women and children were held, tortured, and then executed as enemies of the revolution.

Duch was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity and was jailed for 30 years.  He has appealed his conviction.

Duch was charged with implementing policy, in his case, that involved torture and executions to unmask so-called strings of traitors whom the regime believed were trying to undermine the revolution.  But the four defendants in Case Two are effectively on trial for devising policy, which distances them from atrocities.

Clair Duffy monitors the tribunal on behalf of the Soros-funded Open Society Justice Initiative.  She says that difference will likely feature in defense arguments.

A Cambodian man stands in front of human bones and skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge at a small shrine in Phnom Sampove, Battambang province, 314 kilometers (195 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh (file photo)
A Cambodian man stands in front of human bones and skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge at a small shrine in Phnom Sampove, Battambang province, 314 kilometers (195 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh (file photo)

“When we have seen trials of this scope involving defendants at that level of leadership allegedly, that is the kind of defense that has typically been run - either that they were not present at meetings where these kinds of policies were devised or that they weren’t aware of what actually was going to be the result of the policies that were being devised- i.e.: killings, torture, etc,” said Duffy.

Complexities

When the court closed Case Two last year, tribunal officials said the case file of 350,000 documents would make this the most complex since the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis.

There are other complexities too.  For a start the tribunal has recently been wracked by divisions over its handling of two more cases - known as Cases Three and Four.  The Cambodian government has long said it would not permit those last cases to proceed because they could threaten the country’s stability. 

Investigating judges have been accused of deliberately undermining the cases because of political pressure. Several U.N. staff member recently quit the investigations office in response, and there are fears that the court's handling of Cases Three and Four could damage its legacy.

Another challenge is that all four defendants are elderly, between 79 and 85 years old, and none is in robust health.  The trial will likely take several years, and there are fears one or more could die before it ends.

That is what happened in the trial of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague, as well as with a number of defendants at the Rwanda tribunal.

OSJI’s Duffy says a new rule will allow convictions or acquittals to be delivered against the accused as the trial proceeds.  So unless a defendant dies very early on, they would either be convicted or acquitted of certain crimes prior to the trial’s conclusion.

“The objective of that is potentially to shorten the trial into smaller bite-size pieces and render judgment progressively on each part rather than have one huge trial involving four accused that potentially goes on for years and judgment is never rendered in relation to one or even all of them,” she said.

At 84, Nuon Chea, who was Pol Pot’s deputy, is the second-oldest defendant.  He has previously blamed Cambodia’s age-old enemy Vietnam for much of what went wrong during his government’s rule. 

Fair trial

One of Nuon Chea’s defense lawyers, Michiel Pestman, says he is not optimistic his client will receive a fair trial.

“The signs are on red as far as we are concerned.  We are seriously worried that this court is unable to do what they are supposed to do, and that is deliver a fair trial," said Pestman.

Pestman accuses the investigation office, which is meant to be objective in its search for evidence of guilt or innocence, of deliberately favoring information that would convict, rather than acquit, his client.

He says that has undermined Nuon Chea’s fair trial rights. “And we have tried to influence this investigation, but all our requests to hear certain witnesses were rejected," said Pestman. "And now we are hoping that the Trial Chamber will hear those witnesses. And we will hear on Monday whether they are willing to do so, but we are afraid that they are not as interested as we think they should be.”

Much of the evidence against the four accused has come from a genocide research project in Phnom Penh called the Documentation Center of Cambodia.  It provided around half a million documents to the tribunal.

DC-Cam’s director is Youk Chhang, and along with millions of Cambodians, he has waited three decades for this day.  Youk Chhang says Case Two has the potential to help Cambodians come to terms with their history.

“So I think case two is the most important for me," said Chhang. "I think also for many other survivors as well, because we all know these four guys.  As we all know they have no acknowledgments about what happened.  They put all the blame to their subordinates, and they blame others.  So I think that is important that we have [it].  We want to hear what they have to say.”

Whatever the outcome, and regardless of whether any or all of the defendants survive the trial, Monday is highly significant.  The surviving leaders of one of the 20th century’s most brutal political movements will stand trial for crimes committed in the name of their revolution.

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid