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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' 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.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs