Foreign Policy Blogs

Cambodia Takes Drastic Steps Toward Justice for Khmer Rouge Genocide


Four former heads of the Khmer Rouge were indicted today by the U.N. sanctioned Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The four charged with crimes of Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and Genocide among others, ranged in age from 78 to 85 years, and have managed to escape justice for at least 31 years. This second trial of the ECCC will prove to be more contentious than the recently concluded ‘Duch’ trial that ended in the sentencing of the head of the infamous Toul Sleng prison to 30 years this past July, as all defendants contest their charges.

The four former Khmer Rouge officials; Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Noun Chea, all deny the charges against them. The investigation by the ECCC lasted over two years since their arrests and has amounted to over 350,000 pages of documentary evidence. Sources have called this case more complex than Nuremburg.

Nuon Chea was known as ‘Brother Number Two’ during Pol Pot’s regime and officially served as President of the Standing Assembly of the Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly. He was personally briefed about each prisoner in Tuol Sleng and personally signed off on over 14,000 state sanctioned murders.

Ieng Sary, Pol Pot’s brother-in-law by marriage appealed to Cambodian intelligentsia defectors to return to help rebuild the nation during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Upon arrival he ordered their summary execution.

Ieng Thirith, wife of Ieng Sary, served as minister of Social Action during Pot’s regime. She is charged with ordering the wide scale killing of employees of the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Khieu Samphan, neighbor of Nuon Chea in northwestern Pailin, served as head of state during the Khmer Rouge regime. His position was nominal but his alliance to Pol Pot was total. His case may be the most difficult to prove.

During the reign of the Khmer Rouge, 2.2 million Cambodians died, mostly from starvation, but over 800,000 from violent means. Only one person, Kaing Guek Eav, ‘Duch’, has been held accountable for these crimes. The primary perpetrator, Pol Pot, lead a government in exile after the 1979 Vietnamese invasion, recognized by the U.N., until 1985. He then led a life controlling the Khmer Rouge resistance with impunity until his death in 1998. These four indictments represent the biggest steps toward justice and reconciliation since the genocide occurred in the mid to late 1970s.



Brandon Henander
Brandon Henander

Brandon lives in Chicago and works as a Project Coordinator for Illinois Legal Aid Online. He has a LL.M. in International Law and International Relations from Flinders University in Adelaide. Brandon has worked as a lobbyist for Amnesty International Australia and as an intern for U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science, Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Iowa. His interests include American and Asian politics, human rights, war crimes and the International Criminal Court.

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