UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia indicts four senior Khmer Rouge figures

Ieng Thirith during a hearing against her provisional detention at the ECCC in February 2009. Photo: ECCC Pool/Heng Sinith

16 September 2010 – The United Nations-backed tribunal in Cambodia dealing with mass killings and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago indicted four of the regime’s top officials today.

Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea – the four most senior members of the Democratic Kampuchea regime who are still alive – will now be tried before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for crimes against humanity, which includes murder, enslavement, torture and rape as a result of forced marriage.

They are also charged with the genocide of the Cham and Vietnamese ethnic groups, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and violations of the 1956 Cambodian penal code, including murder, torture and religious persecution.

Ieng Sary, 84, served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister under the Khmer Rouge. A former history professor, he fled to Thailand when the regime fell in 1979.

His wife Ieng Thirith was social affairs minister. Having studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, she was the first Cambodian to receive a degree in English literature.

Khieu Samphan, 79, was a professor before serving as head of State of Democratic Kampuchea. He took over from notorious Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot when he retired as the official head of the Khmer Rouge in 1987.

Nuon Chea, 84, was known as “Brother Number Two” under the regime. He studied law in Thailand, where he joined the Thai Communist Party. He served as Pol Pot’s deputy, and reached a deal with the Cambodian Government in 1998 that allowed him to live near the Thai border.

All four former leaders were arrested and handed over to the court in 2007.

In its first verdict handed down in July, the ECCC found Kaing Guek Eav guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Also known as Duch, the head of a notorious detention camp run by the Khmer Rouge was given a 35-year prison term, but last month, the tribunal’s prosecutors appealed the sentence, saying that it “gives insufficient weight to the gravity of [his] crimes and his role and his willing participation in those crimes.”

As many as 2.2 million people are believed to have died during the 1975-79 rule of the Khmer Rouge, which was then followed by a protracted period of civil war in the impoverished South-East Asian country.

Under an agreement signed by the UN and Cambodia, the ECCC was set up as an independent court using a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel. It is designated to try those deemed most responsible for crimes and serious violations of Cambodian and international law between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979.

Given the magnitude of the crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge during that period, the judicial investigations of the ECCC are focused on particular issues, including the regime’s displacement of the population, its re-education of “bad elements” and the regulation of marriage.


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