Cambodia: Verdict due in historic trial of Khmer Rouge duo

Thursday's verdict deals primarily with forced evacuation of population of capital in 1975; next phase deals with genocide of Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese.

Cambodia: Verdict due in historic trial of Khmer Rouge duo

World Bulletin/News Desk

Thursday is set to be a historic day for Cambodians, with a verdict due to be delivered in a long-running war crimes case against two surviving Khmer Rouge leaders.

Nuon Chea, 88, known as Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot’s Brother Number Two, and Khieu Samphan, 83, former head of state, face life imprisonment for their roles in the ultra-Maoist regime of the 1970s that saw 1.7 million Cambodians murdered or die from starvation and overwork in a disastrous attempt to create an agrarian utopia.

The two octogenarians have been on trial since 2011 by a United Nations-backed court in the capital known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia—which was set up to try key regime leaders who were in charge of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

“As the first and likely last verdict against members of the senior leadership, it holds immense symbolic significance and will be seen as a judgment on the entire regime,” said Anne Heindel, legal advisor to the Documentation Center of Cambodia and co-author of “Hybrid Justice” a new book on the court.

“It's generally expected that both accused will be convicted,” she added. Both men face a maximum penalty of a life sentence.

It is the last chance for many Cambodians to see some kind of justice done. Pol Pot died before he could be tried, and since the court was set up in 2007, the number of accused has decreased by half.

Former foreign minister Ieng Sary, who was originally on trial alongside Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, died of a heart attack last year, while his wife leng Thirith, former minister for social affairs, was declared unfit for trial due to dementia.

The court has so far delivered one verdict—a life sentence for Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, the former prison chief of notorious Khmer Rouge torture center S-21 in 2011.

With slow-moving proceedings and the declining health of the elderly accused, this trial—known as Case 002/02—was split into several “mini-trials” in the hope that a verdict would at least be seen before their health deteriorated even more.

The first phase of the trial, for which this week’s verdict is being delivered, deals primarily with the forced evacuation of the population of the capital Phnom Penh in 1975—judged a crime against humanity. The sick were forced out of hospitals, and children and the elderly forced to walk long distances to join cooperatives in the countryside. Thousands died on the journey.

The next phase of the trial against the two men, set to begin in September or October, deals with charges of genocide of two minority groups—the Cham Muslims and the ethnic Vietnamese. For many of the thousands of civil parties to the case, these are the more relevant charges—though there is doubt the accused will live to see a second verdict.

“A substantial number of civil parties have no connection to the events under consideration and will have to wait for the next trial to hear discussion of crimes that still haunt them over thirty years later,” Heindel said.

“Legally it may be hoped that the judgment reduces evidentiary confusion and bias concerns generated by the severance of the indictment into multiple overlapping cases, so that the second senior leaders trial can begin promptly without fair trial uncertainty,” she continued.

However, many Cambodians have already lost faith in the court process, which has been sluggish and also marred by allegations of government interference.

Many officials in Cambodia’s current government were lower ranking Khmer Rouge cadre before they defected to join Vietnamese forces and overthrow the regime in 1979. Prime Minister Hun Sen was himself a Khmer Rouge soldier.

The government has repeatedly said that two other cases being prepared by the court against senior military cadre will not be allowed to go ahead—and two investigating judges from the UN-side of the hybrid court quit their posts over what they said was government interference in the process.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Ağustos 2014, 15:07

Muhammed Öylek