December 8, 2022

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AFP) – An international court convened in Cambodia to judge atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime that killed an estimated 1.7 million people in the 1970s, ended its business Thursday after spending $337 million and 16 A year for just conviction. Three men of crimes.

In its last session, the UN-backed court began ruling on an appeal filed by Khieu Samphan, the last surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge government that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. He was convicted in 2018 of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment. .

He appeared in court in a white windbreaker, wore a face mask and listened to the proceedings on a pair of headphones. Seven judges attended.

Khieu Samphan was the group’s nominal head of state, but in his defense of the trial, he denied having real decision-making powers when the Khmer Rouge carried out a reign of terror to establish a utopian farming community, causing Cambodians to die from execution, starvation, and inadequate medical care. He was ousted from power in 1979 by invading the neighboring communist state of Vietnam.

“No matter what you decide, I will die in prison,” Khieu Samphan said in the final appeal statement to the court last year. “I will die always remembering the suffering of my Cambodian people. I will die when I see that I am alone before you. I am judged symbolically and not by my actual actions as an individual.”

In his appeal, he alleged that the court made errors in legal process and interpretation and acted unfairly. But the court noted Thursday that his appeal did not directly question the facts of the case as presented in court. She ruled point by point in the arguments raised by Khieu Samphan, dismissing almost everything and saying that her final judgment of several hundred pages will be official when it is published.

The final judgment makes little practical difference. Khieu Samphan is 91 years old and is already serving another life sentence for being convicted in 2014 of crimes against humanity linked to the forced transfers and disappearances of large numbers of people.

The other accused Nun Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s second leader and chief ideologist, was convicted twice and sentenced to the same life imprisonment. Non Chea passed away in 2019 at the age of 93.

The court’s only other conviction was that of Kaeng Jiek Eve, also known as Dutch, who was the commander of Tuol Sleng Prison, where nearly 16,000 people were tortured before being led to death. Deutch was convicted in 2010 of crimes against humanity, murder and torture and died in 2020 at the age of 77 while serving a life sentence.

The real Khmer Rouge president, Pol Pot, has escaped justice. He died in the bush in 1998 at the age of 72, while the remnants of his movement were fighting its last battles in the guerrilla war that it launched after losing power.

Only the trials of the other defendants were not completed. The former foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge, Ieng Sari, died in 2013, his wife, former Minister of Social Affairs Ieng Thirith, was deemed unfit to stand trial for dementia in 2011 and died in 2015.

Four other suspects, middle-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders, escaped trial due to a split among the court’s judges.

In an innovative hybrid arrangement, Cambodian and international jurists were brought together at each stage, and the majority had to agree to the case moving forward. Under French-style judicial procedures used by the court, international investigators recommended that the four be brought to trial, but local partners did not agree after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced there would be no further prosecutions, claiming they could cause unrest.

Hun Sen himself was a mid-level leader with the Khmer Rouge before defecting while the group was still in power, and many senior members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party share similar backgrounds. He helped solidify his political control by forging alliances with other former Khmer Rouge leaders.

With its active work, the Court, officially called the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, is entering a three-year “residual” period, focusing on organizing its archive and disseminating information about its work for educational purposes.

Experts who have participated in the Tribunal’s work or observed its proceedings are now reflecting on its legacy.

Heather Ryan, who has spent 15 years pursuing the Open Society Justice Initiative court, said the court has succeeded in providing a certain level of accountability.

“The amount of time, money, and effort that went into reaching this limited goal may be disproportionate to the goal,” she said in a video interview from her home in Boulder, Colorado.

But she praised the conduct of the trials “in the country where the atrocities took place and where people were able to pay much more attention and gather information about what was happening in court than if the court was in The Hague or anywhere else.” The Hague in the Netherlands hosts the World Court and the International Criminal Court.

Michael Karnavas, a US attorney who served on Ieng Sari’s defense team, said his personal expectations were limited to the quality of justice his clients would receive.

“In other words, regardless of the outcome, both substantively and procedurally, were their rights to a fair trial guaranteed by the Cambodian constitution and applicable law for them at the highest international level?” He said in an email interview. “The answer is somewhat mixed.”

The trial stage was less than what I consider fair. Karnavas, who appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, said.

“With regard to substantive and procedural law, there are many examples in which the European Criminal Court (ECCC) has not only understood the matter correctly, but has further contributed to the development of international criminal law.”

There is consensus that the court’s legacy goes beyond the law books.

said Craig Echison, who has studied and written on the Khmer Rouge and was the head of investigations for the prosecutor’s office at the Economic Crimes Tribunal from 2006 to 2012.

“The court has also created an extraordinary record of these crimes, containing documents that scholars will study for decades to come, which will educate Cambodia’s youth about their country’s history, and this will severely thwart any attempt to deny the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.”

Yuk Chang, director of the Documentation Center in Cambodia, has addressed the fundamental issue of whether justice was served through the court’s conviction of only three men, which includes a huge body of evidence for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.

“Justice is sometimes achieved through complacency and discretion, not the number of people you are prosecuting,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s a broad definition of the word justice itself, but when people are satisfied, when people are happy with the process or benefit from the process, I think we can visualize it as justice.”


Beck reported from Bangkok. Journalist Jerry Harmer contributed to this report.

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