Khmer Rouge tribunal coming to an end with final verdicts

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The tribunal judging the criminal responsibility of former Khmer Rouge leaders for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians is expected to issue verdicts on November 16.

Nuon Chea, 92, and Khieu Samphan, 87, the last two surviving senior leaders of the radical communist group, are already serving life sentences after being convicted in a previous 2011-2014 trial of crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and disappearances of masses of people. Chea and Samphan will now be judged on additional charges of crimes against humanity, such as murder, extermination, enslavement, torture and persecution on political, racial and religious grounds, on genocide for the killings of members of the Vietnamese and Cham ethnic groups and more breaches of the Geneva Conventions, including willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment.

Update: On the morning of November 16, the tribunal for the first time declared that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Muslim Cham minority and ethnic Vietnamese. Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were found guilty and received life in prison.

As members of the Khmer Rouge leadership under “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, they have been prosecuted under the legal doctrine of joint criminal enterprise, which holds individuals responsible for actions attributed to a group to which they belong.

Confronted in court with such charges, both showed little remorse. Samphan denied knowing about matters including forced marriages and violent oppression of minorities, and both men mounted political defenses.

He described the claim of genocide as “Vietnamese propaganda,” a defense he and other former Khmer Rouge leaders have made previously. He also cast blame on the US for Cambodia’s problems. The US heavily bombed the Cambodian countryside during the 1970-75 civil war that led to the Khmer Rouge’s seizure of power.

Cases launched against four additional, middle-ranking Khmer Rouge officials have been scuttled or frozen and are unlikely to be revived.

If the current trial is the last staged by the UN-assisted international tribunal – officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – it will have convicted three individuals at a cost of more than $300 million.

From its inception, the court has been plagued by accusations that the government has been influencing its Cambodian judges. The tribunal is a unique and uncomfortable hybrid of Cambodian and international judges who must reach agreement on decisions.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly rejected the idea of any new trials, arguing that such a move could lead to civil war. Hun Sen himself was a mid-level Khmer Rouge commander before defecting while the group was still in power and fleeing to Vietnam where be joined liberation forces. Several senior members of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party share similar backgrounds. He helped cement his political control by making alliances with other former Khmer Rouge commanders.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The tribunal judging the criminal responsibility of former Khmer Rouge leaders for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians is expected to issue verdicts on November 16.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The tribunal judging the criminal responsibility of former Khmer Rouge leaders for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians is expected to issue verdicts on November 16.

Nuon Chea, 92, and Khieu Samphan, 87, the last two surviving senior leaders of the radical communist group, are already serving life sentences after being convicted in a previous 2011-2014 trial of crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and disappearances of masses of people. Chea and Samphan will now be judged on additional charges of crimes against humanity, such as murder, extermination, enslavement, torture and persecution on political, racial and religious grounds, on genocide for the killings of members of the Vietnamese and Cham ethnic groups and more breaches of the Geneva Conventions, including willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment.

Update: On the morning of November 16, the tribunal for the first time declared that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Muslim Cham minority and ethnic Vietnamese. Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were found guilty and received life in prison.

As members of the Khmer Rouge leadership under “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, they have been prosecuted under the legal doctrine of joint criminal enterprise, which holds individuals responsible for actions attributed to a group to which they belong.

Confronted in court with such charges, both showed little remorse. Samphan denied knowing about matters including forced marriages and violent oppression of minorities, and both men mounted political defenses.

He described the claim of genocide as “Vietnamese propaganda,” a defense he and other former Khmer Rouge leaders have made previously. He also cast blame on the US for Cambodia’s problems. The US heavily bombed the Cambodian countryside during the 1970-75 civil war that led to the Khmer Rouge’s seizure of power.

Cases launched against four additional, middle-ranking Khmer Rouge officials have been scuttled or frozen and are unlikely to be revived.

If the current trial is the last staged by the UN-assisted international tribunal – officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – it will have convicted three individuals at a cost of more than $300 million.

From its inception, the court has been plagued by accusations that the government has been influencing its Cambodian judges. The tribunal is a unique and uncomfortable hybrid of Cambodian and international judges who must reach agreement on decisions.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly rejected the idea of any new trials, arguing that such a move could lead to civil war. Hun Sen himself was a mid-level Khmer Rouge commander before defecting while the group was still in power and fleeing to Vietnam where be joined liberation forces. Several senior members of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party share similar backgrounds. He helped cement his political control by making alliances with other former Khmer Rouge commanders.

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