Khmer Rouge: Guilty!

Billy Otter / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Two survivors of the Khmer Rouge celebrate with smiles after the announcement of life sentences for the accused. (KT Photo: Billy Otter)

PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – Almost four decades after their atrocities, two aging Khmer Rouge leaders were convicted Thursday of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment.
 
Nuon Chea, 88, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologue, and Khieu Samphan, the 83-year-old former head of state, were each sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of directing murder, political persecution and enslavement of citizens, stemming from mass evictions of city-dwellers and executions of captured enemy soldiers. 
 
Chea, a close aide to  Pol Pot, the movement’s paramount leader, was often referred to as “Brother Number Two.” Pol Pot, known as “Brother Number One,” died un-captured in a jungle hut in 1998.
 
During nearly four years in power, the Khmer Rouge government killed about one quarter of Cambodia’s population, through execution, starvation, slave labor and denial of medical care. The court, an international war crimes tribunal, said the two men participated in “a widespread systematic attack on the civilian population of Cambodia.”
 
Their lawyers said they would appeal the verdicts. But the judge said that because of the gravity of their crimes they “shall remain in detention until this judgment becomes final.”
 
In eight years of its existence, the tribunal, formally called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, has produced three convictions and has spent $200 million, largely in foreign money.
 
In the only other conviction, the tribunal convicted  Kaing Guek Eav, or “Duch”, the director of S-21, the notorious Khmer Rouge interrogation center in Phnom Penh.  He was found guilty of crimes against humanity relating to the torture and deaths of about 15,000 people. He is serving a life sentence in a jail, where is he is protected from contact with other prisoners. Virtually everyone in Cambodia lost relatives to the Khmer Rouge.
 
On Thursday, in the special United Nations-built courthouse near Phnom Penh’s airport, the summary of judgment, read out by Judge Nil Nonn, contained details of the victim’s testimonies. In one horrifying account, “they recalled seeing a soldier tear apart a crying baby that was crawling on his dead mother’s body.”
 
Chea became Deputy Secretary in charge of the security of the party and state.
 
Last October, in his final statement to the court, he blamed Khmer Rouge excesses on “treacherous” subordinates. He said he educated Khmer Rouge cadres “to love, respect and serve the people and the country.”
 
He added: “I never educated or instructed them to mistreat or kill people, to deprive them of food or commit genocide.”
He defended Khmer Rouge policies as necessary develop “a people’s democratic revolution.” 
 
But in a 2009 documentary, “Enemies of the People,” Cambodian film-maker Thet Sambath extracted different explanations.
 
In the film, Chea tells Thet Sambath, who lost relatives to the Khmer Rouge, that the movement killed perceived traitors if they could not be “re-educated” or “corrected.”
 
“These people were categorized as criminals,” he says in the film, which has had limited showings in Cambodia. “They were killed and destroyed. If we had let them live, the party line would have been hijacked. They were enemies of the people.”
 
During the trial, Chea several times walked out of the proceedings in protest. But on Thursday, when chief judge Nonn asked both men to rise for the verdicts,  Chea said he was too weak to stand from his wheelchair and was allowed to remain seated.
 
The Case 002  lost two of its original four defendants to old age. Ieng Sary, the regime’s foreign minister, died in March 2013 at age 87. His wife, Ieng Thirith, the Khmer Rouge social-affairs minister, 82, was released in 2012 after being deemed senile.
 
These proceedings are hopping to bring closure and healing to victims of the Khmer Rouge. To date, over 200,000 people have witnessed the events in the public gallery.  Millions more have watched   on television.
 
On Thursday, applause erupted in the overflow area outside the courtroom from the Khmer audience after hearing the verdict. Many came from areas around Cambodia to witness the decision.
 
Soum Rithy, 60, from Siem Reap, was a prisoner under the Khmer Rouge regime. Outside the courtroom he said he was overjoyed with the court’s verdict and was emphatic in his hope that a stupa will be built in every province to show respect to spirits of all Khmer Rouge victims.
 
David Scheffer, director of the Center for International Human Rights, said, after the guilty verdicts:  “The winds of justice have blown through Cambodia today – through its villages and its cities.”
 
Deputy prime-minister Sok An admitted that the Tribunal had not always run smoothly, but added: “We are satisfied with the court and the verdict reached today, and we hope our international partners feel the same way.”
 
The office of the Co-prosecutors said: “This will give Cambodia a chance to reset its moral compass. It will assist in pointing the country in the right direction, by looking at its past.”

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