News / Asia

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Set for Closing Arguments in Key Case

Nuon Chea, left, also known as Brother Number Two, attends testimony of former Khmer Rouge leaders, Phnom Penh, March 20, 2012.
Nuon Chea, left, also known as Brother Number Two, attends testimony of former Khmer Rouge leaders, Phnom Penh, March 20, 2012.
Robert Carmichael
— The United Nations-backed war crimes court in Cambodia is scheduled to begin hearing closing arguments on Wednesday in its landmark first case against the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge movement, which is blamed for two million deaths during its rule of the country between 1975 and 1979.
 
The closing arguments, which are scheduled to run for the next two weeks, mark the final chance for the defense, the prosecution and lawyers representing thousands of victims to address the bench.
 
Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said Wednesday’s proceedings represent a key moment.
 
“It means that the victims who have waited now for more than 38 years are soon to see at least a judgment coming out against two people accused of being part of the regime that orchestrated mass crimes against the population in Cambodia. So this is of course a milestone, and a step further to some kind of closure for the victims,” said Olsen.
 
The case began in late 2011 with four elderly defendants. However, last year one of those - former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith - was found to be suffering from dementia and ruled unfit for trial. In March her husband, the former foreign affairs minister, Ieng Sary, died from heart failure.
 
That left only Nuon Chea, who was Pol Pot’s deputy, and Khieu Samphan, the head of state, from the regime that controlled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.
 
The age of the defendants - both of whom are in their eighties - and the complexity of the indictment led the judges to divide the case against them into a series of mini-trials. It is the first of these mini-trials that the tribunal will start to wrap up this week.
 
Controversially, though, this first mini-trial ignored the crimes that affected most Cambodians - the slave-like conditions under which the population labored building irrigation systems and planting rice. Hundreds of thousands died.
 
Instead, it mainly examined the crimes against humanity involved in the forced movement of people.
 
The first of these took place in the days and weeks after the Khmer Rouge gained power in April 1975, when more than two million residents of urban areas were ordered to leave the cities and were enslaved in the countryside. The second happened over the next two years and saw hundreds of thousands of people moved across the country. A third element of this mini-trial examined a mass killing in 1975 of soldiers from the defeated Khmer Republic.
 
Long Panhavuth is the program officer with the Cambodia Justice Initiative, a non-profit that monitors the tribunal. He feels this trial marks an important step along the road to ending Cambodia’s culture of impunity but regrets that the scope of the first mini-trial was so limited.
 
“It’s so worrying whether or not there is the possibility first whether the judgment will be issued on time - when the accused and some of the victims are still surviving - and, second, whether or not there is a new panel or whether or not the ECCC are going to try all the charges according to the indictment,” said Panhavuth.
 
That second mini-trial will hear charges of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity in a bid to ensure that it is more representative of the Cambodian people’s suffering. However, the court has not yet said when the second mini-trial will commence. There are fears that illness or death could rob it of one or both of the defendants.
 
Throughout their first mini-trial, both of the accused have denied the charges against them. Earlier this year, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan did apologize to victims and accepted some responsibility for the crimes of their regime. However, they tempered that by claiming that they had lacked real power and did not know that people were suffering.
 
Youk Chhang, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, the leading research organization into the crimes of that period, said that for the Cambodian people the fact that the accused were arrested and put through a judicial process in the first place is more significant than their apologies.
 
“We know that they never will be released for the rest of their lives unless they die like Ieng Sary. And even if they die in prison, to the Khmer people, I mean, they have been cursed by their bad karma. People look from a social expectation, and having a legal action that will confirm - even though it might not satisfy the justice defined by the book - but for the public these guys are convicted,” said Chhang.
 
For a large part of their 212-day trial, the defendants declined to answer questions about their alleged roles. Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said that, although the public would have wanted to hear more, the defendants were well within their rights to stay quiet.
 
“That being said, we have indications that both accused will be speaking during the closing statements to at least give a final account on their versions of the story, so hopefully at least this will be interesting both for victims and other observers,” said Olsen.
 
The closing arguments are scheduled to run until the end of the month, with the judges expected to deliver their verdict by the middle of next year.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid