The two most senior khmer rouge leaders still alive were convicted on Friday in Cambodia to life in prison for “genocide”, a qualifier was held for the first time by the cambodian court, special judge the crimes of the regime the maoist period, which caused some two million deaths.
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The ideologue of the regime, Nuon Chea, 92 years of age, “has had a significant contribution to the commission of the crimes”, “it held the power of ultimate decision” with Pol Pot, noted the judge Nil Nonn. With regard to Khieu Samphan, the head of State of “democratic Kampuchea”, today aged 87 years, he was the “face” of the maoist movement.
Nuon Chea, 92 years old, ideologue of the regime. MARK PETERS/AFP
Hidden behind his usual dark glasses, Nuon Chea has listened to the verdict from a cell specially fitted, due to his fragile health, in the court. Khieu Samphan was present in the room. Several hundred people, including members of the minority muslim cham and buddhist monks, were also present. “The Khmer rouge had murdered nearly fifty of my relatives. I suffer so much”, said to AFP, Math Sos, a muslim cham 75 years of age. During this second trial, which will probably be the last lawsuit filed against ex-members of the maoist régime, a hundred witnesses have gone to the bar to denounce beheadings, rapes, forced marriages and cannibalism. The two accused have denied the atrocities.
Crimes against humanity and genocide
Although the abuses have been perpetrated on a very large scale between 1975 and 1979, the current prime minister, Hun Sen, himself a former khmer rouge, has repeatedly asked that no other suspect has to be returned before the tribunal, insisting on the fact that it could cause unrest in the kingdom. Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan on trial since 2011 before this court. But to attempt to accelerate the procedure, in view of the extent of the charges, the debate has been split into several trials. At the end of the first, which focused on “crimes against humanity”, the two men have been sentenced in 2014 to life in prison, a sentence confirmed on appeal in 2016. The two sentences of life have been confounded.
buddhist monks come to attend the trial against the two leaders. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP
The second trial focused on accusations of “genocide”. For the first time, this qualifier has been retained by the special tribunal relating to the actions against the Vietnamese, the muslim community of Cham and other religious minorities. The chamber held that “the crime of genocide was established”, pointed out Nil Nonn. The objective was to”establish a society atheistic and homogenous (in) removing all the differences of ethnic, national, religious, racial, class and cultural”, he noted. This qualifier does not regard the massacres, whether they be mass, of the Khmers by Khmers who are not considered by the united Nations as a genocide. Autodafés of Korans, drowning collective: between 100,000 and 500,000 chams, out of a total of 700,000 people were killed between 1975 and 1979.
Close a chapter of history
To Youk Chhang, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a research organization that has provided extensive evidence to the tribunal, this finding “could help to close a chapter horrible history of cambodia”. This judgment will have “a weight very important for Cambodia, in international criminal justice and the annals of History,” said David Scheffer, an expert with the UN secretary-general at the trial.
At the opening of the trial, in June 2011, four former officers were in the box of the accused. But the social Affairs minister of the regime, Ieng Thirith, considered unfit to be tried because of dementia, has been released in 2012. She died since then. Her husband Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, died in 2013 at 87 years of age. Apart from Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, the court has already sentenced the other accused, Douch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, head of the S-21 prison, or Tuol Sleng prison, where 15,000 people were tortured before being executed outside of Phnom Penh, in the infamous “Killing Fields”. He was also on appeal was sentenced in 2012 to prison sentences. Pol Pot, “brother number one”, died in 1998 without having been judged.
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A particular court
The court in charge of judging these crimes is quite special. It is not an international court, properly speaking – as the international criminal Court (ICC) or the international criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – but a cambodian court, in which also sit on the board of the foreign judges. It was in 1997 that Cambodia has requested assistance from the UN to try those who were responsible for genocide and crime against humanity during the Khmer rouge regime”. These “ extraordinary chambers in the courts of cambodia ” (ECCC) have been created by a cambodian law of 2001. The statement is jointly entrusted to a prosecutor in cambodia, and to a prosecutor proposed by the UN. The same goes for the judges, at first instance and on appeal.