After 16 years, $337 million and only 3 judgments, Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia ends

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An international court convened in Cambodia to judge the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge regime, which led to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people, after spending $337 million and 16 years to convict only three of the crimes Thursday finished his work.

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In its final session, the UN-aided tribunal rejected the appeal of Khiu Samphan, the last surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge government, which ruled Cambodia from 1975–79. He was convicted in 2018 of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and given life in prison, a sentence confirmed Thursday.

Common Cambodian busloads came to watch the final proceedings of a tribunal, which sought to bring justice, accountability and explanation for the crimes. Many of those who attended Thursday’s session survived through the Khmer Rouge terror, including survivors Bou Meng and Chum May, who had testified at tribunals over the years.


Khiu Samphan appeared in court on Thursday in a white windbreaker, in a wheelchair, wearing a face mask and a pair of headphones while listening to the proceedings. Seven judges were present.

Khiu Samphan was the group’s nominal head of state but, in his trial defence, was denied real decision-making powers when the Khmer Rouge reignited terror to establish a utopian agrarian society, through executions, starvation and inadequate medical care. Cambodian killed. , The group was ousted from power in 1979 by the invasion of the neighboring communist state of Vietnam.

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“No matter what you decide, I will die in prison,” Khiu Samphan said in his final statement of appeal to the court last year. “I will die forever remembering the suffering of my Cambodians. I will die seeing that I am alone in front of you. I am judged symbolically rather than by my actual actions as a person.”

In his appeal, he alleged that the court had erred in legal procedures and interpretation and acted erroneously, objecting to more than 1,800 points.

But the court noted on Thursday that his appeal did not directly question the facts of the case as presented in the court. It rejected almost all the arguments raised by Khiu Samphan, admitting an error and reversing its decision on only one minor point. The court said it found most of the Khiu Samphan’s arguments “unfounded”, and that many were “alternate interpretations of the evidence”.

The court declared that its judgment of several hundred pages would be official upon publication, and ordered that Khiu Samphan be returned to the specially constructed prison where he is kept. He was arrested in 2007.

Thursday’s decision makes little practical difference. Khiu Samphan is 91 years old and is already serving another life sentence in 2014 for crimes against humanity involving forced relocation and disappearance of people.

His co-defendant Nuon Chia, the number 2 leader and main ideologue of the Khmer Rouge, was convicted twice and received the same life sentence. Nuon Chia passed away in 2019 at the age of 93.

The tribunal’s only other sentence was that of Kaing Geuk Eve, also known as Dutch, who was the commandant of Tuol Sleng Prison, where approximately 16,000 people were tortured before being taken to be executed. Dutch was convicted of crimes against humanity, murder and torture in 2010 and died in 2020 at the age of 77 while serving a life sentence.

Pol Pot, the real head of the Khmer Rouge, escaped justice. He died in the jungle in 1998 at the age of 72, while the remnants of his movement were fighting their last battles in a guerrilla war launched after losing power.

Only the trials of the other two defendants were not completed. The former Foreign Minister of the Khmer Rouge, Ing Sree, died in 2013, and his wife, the former Minister of Social Affairs, Ing Thirith, was deemed ineligible to stand trial due to dementia in 2011 and died in 2015.

Four other suspects, a middle-class Khmer Rouge leader, escaped prosecution due to a split between the tribunal’s jurists.

In an innovative hybrid system, Cambodian and international jurists were linked at each stage, and the majority had to consent to proceed with the case. Under the French-style judicial procedures used by the court, international investigators recommended that four go to trial, but Cambodian peers would not agree as Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that there would be no further trials, claiming doing that they can cause unrest.

Hun Sen himself was a middle-ranking commander with the Khmer Rouge while the group was still in power, and many senior members of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party share similar backgrounds. He helped consolidate his political control by forming alliances with other former Khmer Rouge commanders.

With its active function, the tribunal, formally called the Extraordinary Circle in the Courts of Cambodia, enters a three-year “residual” period, to get its archives in order and about its work for educational purposes. focuses on disseminating information.

Experts who take part in the court’s work or oversee its proceedings are now contemplating its legacy.

Heather Ryan, who spent 15 years after the tribunal for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the court was successful in providing some level of accountability.

In a video interview from her home in Boulder, Colo., she said, “The amount of time and money and effort spent to achieve this limited goal may be disproportionate to the goal.”

But he praised the trial being conducted “in a country where atrocities took place and where people were able to pay a level of attention and gather information about what was happening in court compared to what was happening in The Hague in court.” or some other place.” The Hague in the Netherlands hosts the World Court and the International Criminal Court.

Michael Karnavas, an American lawyer who served on Ing Sarri’s defense team, said his personal expectations were limited by the quality of justice his clients would receive.

“In other words, regardless of the consequences, fundamentally and procedurally, were their fair trial rights guaranteed by the Cambodian constitution and established law granted to them at the highest international level?” he said in an email interview. “The answer is somewhat mixed.

“The testing phase was less than what I thought was appropriate. There was too much correction by the judges, and regardless of the length of the proceedings, the defense was not always treated fairly,” said Karnavas, who also appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Has happened. .

“On substantive and procedural law, there are many instances where the ECCC not only corrected it, but contributed to the development of international criminal law.”

There is a general consensus that the legacy of the tribunal is beyond the books of law.

“The court successfully attacked the Khmer Rouge’s long-standing impunity, and showed that although it may take a long time, the law can catch those who commit crimes against humanity,” said Craig Acheson Said, who studied and wrote the Khmer Rouge and was head of investigation for the Office of Prosecution at the ECCC from 2006-12.

“The tribunal also created an extraordinary record of crimes that included documents that would be studied by scholars for decades to come, that would educate Cambodia’s youth about the history of their country, and that would provide any evidence of denial of crimes.” Will also deeply disappoint the effort. The Khmer Rouge.”

The basis issue was whether or not the three men were judged by a court sentence by Yuk Chang, the director of Cambodia’s Documentation Centre, which has a large reservoir of evidence of atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.

“Justice is sometimes made of gratification, recognition, not the number of people you prosecute,” he told the Associated Press. “It’s a broad definition of the word justice, but when people are satisfied, when people are happy with the process or benefit from the process, I think we can conceptualize it as justice.”


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