x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Cambodia court races death, dwindling resources to rule on Khmer Rouge war crimes

Clock ticks at Cambodia's Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal, where two elderly defendants are in poor health and funds vital for bringing justice for the horrors of the "Killing Fields" are drying up.

PHNOM PENH // The clock is ticking at Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal, where the two elderly defendants are in poor health and funds vital for bringing some semblance of justice for the horrors of the “Killing Fields” era are fast drying up.

On trial are “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, 87, and the former president Khieu Samphan, 81, the right-hand men of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, whose dream of a peasant utopia claimed as many as 2.2 million Cambodian lives from 1975-1979.

The hybrid UN-Cambodian tribunal has so far reached a verdict in just one case, the life sentence in 2010 for Kaing Guek Eav, alias “Duch”, chief of the S-21 torture centre where 14,000 people died. Prosecutors face a race against time to ensure Duch is not alone.

They are asking for life imprisonment for the two cadres in a complex case being fast-tracked to salvage something from a court set up in 2005 ostensibly to bring Cambodians closure for one of the darkest, bloodiest chapters of the twentieth century.

Defence lawyers at Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge court on Tuesday denounced the proceedings as a “showcase” that had prejudged them as guilty.

The trial is “a showcase of the conclusion that everyone involved wanted and expected from the day the tribunal was constituted,” said Nuon Chea’s lawyer, Victor Koppe, in his closing statement claiming that “no one in this court is interested in ascertaining the truth”.

The former Khmer Rouge cadres are all that remains from case 002, which initially had four defendants charged with crimes against humanity and genocide, among other offences.

Many fear that only Khieu Samphan will live to hear his verdict. Nuon Chea is in poor health and has attended much of the proceedings via video from his cell. Former foreign minister Ieng Sary died this year and his wife, former social affairs minister, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and declared unfit for trial.

To try to secure a conviction, Case 002 was broken up into smaller cases. The current hearing is about their alleged role in the forced evacuation of the Phnom Penh in 1975 and execution of government troops. The court expects a verdict within the first half of next year.

Kuy Ke, 62, a rural farmer, said he feared facing Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan in the afterlife if there was no ruling soon.

“We want punishment,” he said. “In one to two years, they will die.”

* Reuters with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse