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.
To date, only a single conviction has been obtained by tribunal. It sentenced Kaing Guek Eav, also known as “Duch,” the director of the infamous S-21 torture center, to life imprisonment in a case where reams of documentation and a confession made for as smooth a trial as possible.
LIFE GOES ON: After a strict lockdown that left millions on the brink of starvation, Indians embrace work to avoid starvation and get ready for several major festivals India is on course to top the world in COVID-19 cases, but from Maharashtra’s whirring factories to Kolkata’s thronging markets, people are back at work — and eager to forget the pandemic for festival season. After a strict lockdown in March that left millions on the brink of starvation, the government and people of the world’s second-most populous country decided life must go on. Sonali Dange, for instance, has two young daughters and an elderly mother-in-law to look after. She was hospitalized this year in excruciating pain after catching the novel coronavirus. However, after the lockdown exhausted the family’s savings, the 29-year-old had
A COVID-19 outbreak among hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian fishers flown to New Zealand to bolster its struggling deep-sea fishing industry has prompted that country’s largest daily increase in infections in months, authorities said yesterday. More than 230 fishers were flown in from Moscow last week, with 18 of the crew members then testing positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine, New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. The Pacific nation has almost eliminated local transmission of the virus, but regularly records small numbers of new cases in returned travelers. The fishing cluster pushed the daily tally of new infections to 25,
From monitoring vital signs to filtering filthy air and even translating speech into other languages, the COVID-19-fueled boom in mask-wearing has spawned an unusual range of high-tech face coverings. As masks become the norm worldwide, tech companies and researchers are rolling out weird and wonderful models to guard against infection and cash in on a growing trend. One of the wackiest comes from Japan, where start-up Donut Robotics has created a face covering that helps users adhere to social distancing and also acts as a translator. The “C-Face” mask works by transmitting a wearer’s speech to a smartphone via an app, and allows
JAPAN Deer-edible bags invented The deer that roam Nara no longer face discomfort — or far worse — after local firms developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs. Last year, several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers. Firms collaborated to develop bags that pass safely through the animals’ complex digestive system. The bags are made with recycled pulp from milk cartons and rice bran, one of the main ingredients of the shika senbei savory