After years of red tape and disputes over legal jurisdiction, the first accused Khmer Rouge war criminal spoke before a tribunal in Cambodia. The defendant is Kaing Guek Eav (commonly called Duch), a 66 year old man, and one of five men charged with crimes against humanity in the deaths of 1.7 million people.
“Under his authority, countless abuses were committed, including mass murder, arbitrary detention and torture,” said a presiding judge, reading the indictment to the court.
He listed methods of torture that included beating, stabbing, suspension from ropes, removal of fingernails and drowning in pits filled with water.
Converted in 1996 by American evangelical missionaries, Duch has become a born-again Christian, apparently ready to confess his sins. When he was discovered in 1999 by journalists he admitted at length to ordering and taking part in atrocities. Comparing himself to St. Paul, he told the journalists, “After my experience in life I decided I must give my spirit to God.”
When the trials begin, his testimony could be damaging to some of his fellow defendants.
Ironically, Duch was appearing before the panel of five judges to lodge an appeal, stating that his human rights had been violated as he’s been held without trial for over eight years. Not surprisingly, the host of Cambodian spectators who were watching on closed circuit TV merely laughed.
Nuon Chea, the oldest living member of the Khmer Rouge regime was arrested this week by Cambodian police.
Nuon Chea, better known as Brother No 2, was seized from his house near the Thai border and charged with crimes against humanity. The second-in-command to the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, his arrest is the boldest move yet made by the UN-Cambodian tribunal, which was set up last year to investigate one of the bloodiest periods of rule in modern world history.
The Cambodian tribunal has been plagued by legal sidestepping and a bureaucratic malaise that finally began to end earlier this year as the court decided on key principles and paved the way for enlisted the judges necessary to begin the proceedings.
Recently, presidential candidate Barack Obama was asked whether he felt that the United States should keep troops in Iraq in order to prevent a genocidal frenzy. He replied:
“By that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done. We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done. Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea.”
As Goldberg pointed out in an Op/Ed piece in the LATimes, the key difference is that those two genocides weren’t triggered by American occupation and withdrawal.
As often as we hear comparisons between the Vietnam War and Iraq, you would think that a greater number of people would be drawing the same conclusions between the Cambodian genocide and what’s likely to happen in Iraq. If the two follow the same course, we will likely see the United States withdraw from Iraq, followed by a seizure of power from a single faction, which will lead to the first organized steps toward persecution and genocide.
Of course, the truly absurd question becomes, will we once again be throwing our hat in the ring with genocidaires?
After years of foot dragging and legal bickering, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) announced that they have filed a petition to bring five defendants before the tribunal. After the judges review the evidence, a final determination will be made before filing a formal indictment.
The radical communist Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, when 1.7 million people were killed by torture, disease, overwork and starvation.
No Khmer Rouge leader has ever been brought into court to face charges for crimes that resulted in the deaths of as many as one-fourth of the population and left the country in ruin and trauma.
The announcement Wednesday said the prosecutors had submitted for investigation 25 “distinct factual situations of murder, torture, forcible transfer, unlawful detention, forced labor and religious, political and ethnic persecution.”
It listed allegations that it said constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, homicide, torture and religious persecution.
While the five names have not been made public, it’s likely the list includes Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, and Kaing Khek Iev. The prosecutors announced that they had submitted 14,000 pages of evidence against the five individuals, including the testimony of 350 witnesses and thousands of pages of Khmer Rouge government documents.
The judges in the long-delayed Cambodian genocide trials began meeting on Monday to see if they could resolve issues that have been plaguing the court for the last six months. With constant problems arising from almost every meeting, it seems less and less likely that the suspects will ever be tried.
Speaking on behalf of her U.N.-appointed colleagues, Judge Sylvia Cartwright from New Zealand expressed optimism that the rules can be adopted.
“We know that if the internal rules are adopted in their present draft form, we have a foundation from which it may be possible to ensure a free, fair and transparent trial,” she said.
She and Kong Srim are co-chairing the plenary session.
As I’ve written about in the past, the biggest problem with these constant delays is the aging defendants, many of whom are dying.
Ta Mok, a senior member of the Khmer Rouge, died this past Friday. He had been in custody since 1999, when he was caught near the border of Thailand-Cambodia with a small group of followers.
Ta Mok was one of several key members of the Khmer Rouge awaiting trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his involvement in several massacres in 1975. His trial was expected to begin next year.
Khieu Samphan, one of the chief architects behind the Khmer Rouge genocide, was seen leaving his house on Tuesday with a truck filled with houshold items. His family denies that he is fleeing the area.
Samphan’s sudden departure comes just one day after a UN appointed tribunal began gathering evidence on him. It is believed that nearly two million Cambodians were killed while he was head of state.