Earlier this month, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (the ECCC, a.k.a. the Khmer Rouge Tribunal) found Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan guilty of crimes against humanity.
The two men, aged 88 and 83 respectively, are the sole surviving senior leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, which held power in Cambodia from 1975-1979. During their reign, approximately 1.7 million Cambodians died, the victims of forced relocation, enslavement, torture, mass killings, and starvation.
In 2003, the Cambodian government and the United Nations agreed to establish a hybrid (part domestic, part international) tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge for their crimes. After several years of wrangling over the funding, the ECCC became operational in 2006. In 2010, it returned its first verdict: the conviction of the head of the notorious S-21 prison on crimes against humanity, torture, and murder charges.
The proceedings against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are part of the ECCC’s second case. (Yes, that’s right, this court is operating at the blistering speed of one case every four years.) With Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot dead since 1998, this case represented the tribunal’s best chance at holding accountable those most responsible for Cambodians’ suffering.
Originally, Case 002 encompassed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide charges as well as domestic criminal charges of murder, torture, and persecution against (“Brother Number Two”), Khieu Samphan (Cambodia’s head of state during the Khmer Rouge period), Ieng Sary (the Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister), and Ieng Thirith (the Minister of Social Affairs). But Ieng Sary died last year, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, was found mentally unfit to stand trial due to Alzheimer’s. And in 2011, the Trial Chamber made what was to many (including me) a puzzling decision, splitting Case 002 up into smaller “sub-trials”, allegedly to speed up the process.
The verdict handed down on August 6 wraps up the first of these sub-trials, Case 002-01. (Incidentally, closing statements were delivered more than 9 months ago, so if this is the process sped up, yowch.) Pursuant to the severance order, it dealt with the forced movement of population and the mass execution of former regime officials early in the Khmer Rouge period. It therefore did not reach what many consider to be the emblematic crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime – the prison camp system and institutionalization of torture, the massive forced labor campaign, and the genocidal attacks on the Cham and ethnic Vietnamese minorities.
So although the verdict is a welcome one, it’s not the comprehensive condemnation of Khmer Rouge crimes that victims and advocates had hoped for. And given the advanced age of the remaining defendants, and the glacial pace of the proceedings, this is likely the end of the line for efforts to seek justice for these atrocities.
*In case you missed it, I attended and blogged Case 002-01 in July 2012.