Wed, Jul 30, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Khmer Rouge tribunal to tackle genocide charges

SLOW WHEELS OF JUSTICE:With the verdict for their first trial due next week, the new trial of former Khmer Rouge officials focuses on genocide against Vietnamese and Cham


The slow course of justice for the leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime is to inch forward again today, as a UN-backed tribunal holds an initial hearing against a pair of defendants in their 80s facing genocide and other charges.

The Khmer Rouge’s former head of state, Khieu Samphan, and Nuon Chea, right-hand man to late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, are among the few surviving top leaders of the brutal communist group that was responsible for about 1.7 million deaths from starvation, exhaustion, disease and execution when it was in power from 1975 to 1979.

It will be the second case for the defendants, who have already been tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity related to forced evacuations and a mass execution, one of many massacres at sites around the country that came to be known as the “killing fields.”

The verdict in that two-year trial is due next week. If found guilty, the two men could be put in prison for the rest of their lives.

The new trial brings additional charges of genocide, alleging that Pol Pot and other senior leaders intended to wipe out the members of the country’s Vietnamese and Muslim Cham ethnic minorities. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese were forced into Vietnam, and virtually all of those remaining were executed. Estimates of the number of Chams killed range from 90,000 to 500,000.

International deputy coprosecutor William Smith said that the team felt there was sufficient evidence to bring such cases.

“It’s really significant because genocide is one of the most serious charges in international law,” Smith said.

In Wednesday’s initial hearing, lawyers and judges will discuss which witnesses and experts will be called, the issue of requests for reparations, and procedural legal objections. The judges expect the actual trial to begin in the last quarter of this year, tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said.

Lyma Nguyen, an international civil party lawyer representing ethnic Vietnamese victims, said the trial represents not only a rare chance to shed light on the suffering caused by the alleged genocidal policies, but also on the long-standing harm they have inflicted.

Those forced to flee retained no documentation proving their Cambodian origins, so when they returned, they were plunged into statelessness.

Today, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese remain undocumented, living on the fringes of society without access to proper schooling, healthcare, jobs or social services.

The trial also marks the first time rape and forced marriage will be addressed by the court, as offenses considered crimes against humanity.

Court officials and historians had argued that Khmer Rouge policy banning sexual relations among unmarried couples was proof rape could not have been widespread or systematic.

However, Duong Savorn, head of the gender-based violence team at the Cambodian Defenders Project, a local legal aid group, said his research had suggested that there were “many, many cases” of rape.

“I think it’s good to put on the record,” he said.

After years of legal and political wrangling, the Khmer Rouge tribunal was established in 2006 to bring the regime to justice some 30 years after its reign of terror.

However, since then, the court has been plagued by corruption, mismanagement and financial woes.

The hybrid structure of the court, in which UN-appointed international judges share the bench with Cambodian counterparts, has led to allegations of political interference and repeated deadlocks.

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