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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs