Cambodia Khmer Rouge Tribunal
Khieu Samphan, former Khmer Rouge head of state, arrives in a vehicle for a hearing at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. The tribunal will issue its ruling on an appeal by Khieu Samphan, the last surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge government that ruled the Southeast Asian country from 1975-79. He was convicted in 2018 of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentenced to life in prison. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
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Khmer Rouge tribunal ending work after 16 years, 3 judgments

21 Comments
By SOPHENG CHEANG and GRANT PECK

An international court convened in Cambodia to judge the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge regime that caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people in the 1970s ends its work Thursday after spending $337 million and 16 years to convict just three men of crimes.

In what was set to be its final session, the U.N.-assisted tribunal began issuing its ruling on an appeal by Khieu Samphan, the last surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge government that ruled Cambodia from 1975-79. He was convicted in 2018 of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentenced to life in prison.

He appeared in court in a white windbreaker, wearing a face mask and listening to the proceedings on a pair of headphones. Seven judges were in attendance.

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

“No matter what you decide, I will die in prison,” Khieu Samphan said in his final statement of appeal to the court last year. “I will die always remembering the suffering of my Cambodian people. I will die seeing that I am alone in front of you. I am judged symbolically rather than by my actual deeds as an individual.”

In his appeal, he alleged the court made errors in legal procedures 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. It ruled point by point on the arguments raised by Khieu Samphan, rejecting virtually all and saying its final judgment of several hundred page would be official when it is published.

The final ruling makes little practical difference. Khieu Samphan is 91 and already serving another life sentence for his 2014 conviction for crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and disappearances of masses of people.

His co-defendant Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s No. 2 leader and chief ideologist, was convicted twice and received the same life sentence. Nuon Chea died in 2019 at age 93.

The tribunal's only other conviction was that of Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who was commandant of Tuol Sleng prison, where roughly 16,000 people were tortured before being taken away to be killed. Duch was convicted in 2010 of crimes against humanity, murder, and torture and died in 2020 at age 77 while serving a life sentence.

The Khmer Rouge’s real chief, Pol Pot, escaped justice. He died in the jungle in 1998 at age 72 while the remnants of his movement were fighting their last battles in the guerrilla war they launched after losing power.

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

Four other suspects, middle-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders, escaped prosecution because of a split among the tribunal's jurists.

In an innovative hybrid arrangement, Cambodian and international jurists were paired at every stage, and a majority had to assent for a case to go forward. Under the French-style judicial procedures the court used, the international investigators recommended the four go to trial, but the local partners would not agree after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen declared there would be no more prosecutions, claiming they could cause unrest.

Hun Sen himself was a middle-ranking commander with the Khmer Rouge before defecting while the group was still in power, and 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.

With its active work done, the tribunal, formally called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, now enters a three-year “residual” period, focusing on getting its archives in order and disseminating information about its work for educational purposes.

Experts who took part in the court's work or monitored its proceedings are now pondering its legacy.

Heather Ryan, who spent 15 years following the tribunal for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the court was successful in providing some level of accountability.

“The amount of time and money and effort that’s expended to get to this rather limited goal may be disproportionate to the goal,” she said in a video interview from her home in Boulder, Colorado.

But she praised having the trials “in the country where the atrocities occurred and where people were able to pay a level of attention and and gather information about what was happening in the court to a much greater extent than if the court had been in The Hague or some other place.” The Hague in the Netherlands hosts the World Court and the International Criminal Court.

Michael Karnavas, an American lawyer who served on Ieng Sary’s defense team, said his personal expectations had been limited to the quality of justice his clients would receive.

“In other words, irrespective of the results, substantively and procedurally, were their fair trial rights guaranteed by the Cambodian Constitution and established law afforded to 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. There was far too much improvisation by the judges, and despite the length of the proceedings, the defense was not always treated fairly,” said Karnavas, who has also appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

“On the substantive and procedural law, there are numerous examples where the ECCC not only got it right, but further contributed to the development of international criminal law.”

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

“The court successfully attacked the long-standing impunity of the Khmer Rouge, and showed that though it might take a long time, the law can catch up with those who commit crimes against humanity,” said Craig Etcheson, who has studied and written about the Khmer Rouge and was chief of investigations for the office of the prosecution at the ECCC from 2006 to 2012.

“The tribunal also created an extraordinary record of those crimes, comprising documentation that will be studied by scholars for decades to come, that will educate Cambodia’s youth about the history of their country, and that will deeply frustrate any attempt to deny the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.”

The bedrock issue of whether justice was served by the court’s convictions of only three men was addressed by Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which holds a huge trove of evidence of atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.

“Justice sometimes is made of satisfaction, recognition, rather than the number of people you prosecute,” he told The Associated Press. “It is 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 conceptualize it as justice.”

AP journalist Jerry Harmer contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


21 Comments
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It’s a shame that Pol Pot never stood in the dock.

For those too young to remember, The KR was the very personification of evil in the late 20th century.

They gave the Nazis a run for their money in mass murder as an instrument of state policy.

And most of them got away with it.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Nemo....

 The KR was the very personification of evil in the late 20th century.

They gave the Nazis a run for their money in mass murder as an instrument of state policy.

Yes, the KM were terrible. But supported by the US administration for more than 15 year.

The US also killed more Cambodians by bombing during the Vietnam war than the KM did during their time in power.

Brzezinski and Kissinger should also have been in the dock.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

They gave the Nazis a run for their money in mass murder as an instrument of state policy.

And most of them got away with it.

Mao cultural revolution entered the chat , estimates up to 80 million died under his rule

4 ( +6 / -2 )

the Khmer Rouge carried out a reign of terror to establish a utopian agrarian society, causing Cambodians' deaths from execution, starvation and inadequate medical care. It was ousted from power in 1979 by an invasion from neighboring communist state Vietnam.

This rather tame explanation by AP is quite telling. They're hoping people don't search a little deeper in the history books.

In fact, the communist Khmer Rouge killed around 2 million of their own people, around 25% of the entire population. Some estimates claim 3 million. The KR destroyed the family unit and enlisted children to carry out many of the most heinous acts.

Child Soldiers in Genocidal Regimes: The Cases of

the Khmer Rouge and the Hutu Power

Péter KLEMENSITS, Ráchel CZIRJÁK

coscription concerned 10–12 year-olds, who after indoctrination were to be the most brutal cadres of the regime at the ages of 12–15. There are no records available for how many chil- dren were used as combatants in Cambodia, but their numbers can be estimated as tens of thousands during the 1970s and 1980s.8 For the brutal Khmer Rouge regime the youth were the perfect soldiers as “it is [...] easy for the commanders to give orders because the children did not have a conscience and are illiterate [...] they don’t know what is good what is bad. So, they simply follow the orders the commanders give them.” 

THIS is communism in a nutshell.

Never forget and never assume it can't happen again.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

They're hoping people don't search a little deeper in the history books.

No doubt. And a deeper search will show how they came in to power. Another one left out of the history books. Cambodia was a thriving developing country until the US started their little Soviet/China communism adventure. Today? Same US adventure, different players. Warmongers are united.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

After spending $337 million and 16 years to convict just three men of crimes.

I understand these kind of trials are extremely important and can be very complicated, but somehow it seems that spending hundred of millions of dollars and one and a half decades is not justified, specially when it only sentenced 3 people.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Yes, the KM were terrible. But supported by the US administration for more than 15 year.

No, the Khmer Rouge was supported by the China and Communist North Vietnam (before the falling out)

The US supported the Khmer Republic after Prime Minister Prince Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown (and he fled to China) in 1970

Although the Khmer Rouge originally fought against Sihanouk, on the advice of the CCP, the Khmer Rouge changed its position and supported Sihanouk after he was overthrown

When the Khmer Republic fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, Sihanouk was appointed as its Head of State, a ceremonial position - but in reality, the true power was Pol Pot

In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge were largely supported and funded by the Chinese Communist Party, receiving approval from Mao Zedong. It's estimated that at least 90% of the foreign aid which was provided to the Khmer Rouge came from China

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Sorry lostrune....

The KR came to power with the support of the US, inconveniently for the ordinary people of Cambodia, the enemy of my enemy (Vietnam) was the US friend.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The US also killed more Cambodians by bombing during the Vietnam war than the KM did during their time in power.

No, this is wrong too

Estimates for Cambodians killed by US bombing ranges from 50,000 to as high as 500,000

That's a big range and that's a lot of people, but still nowhere near the Cambodians killed by the Khmer Rouge - which ranges from 1.5 million to as high as 3 million

History lesson kids

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Another one left out of the history books. Cambodia was a thriving developing country until the US started their little Soviet/China communism adventure. Today? Same US adventure, different players. Warmongers are united.

An oft-claimed but completely fabricated story from Stalinists who will say anything to deflect away from their cancerous ideology.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Sorry lostrune....

The KR came to power with the support of the US, inconveniently for the ordinary people of Cambodia, the enemy of my enemy (Vietnam) was the US friend.

No, you do not know the history of Cambodia. Prince Sihanouk was a known Marxist-leaning Prime Minister - look up his history. He was a frequent visitor to Beijing and Moscow.

That's why he was overthrown by the Khmer Republic with the support of the US. The Khmer Republic was the enemy of the Khmer Rouge, which was supported by both China and communist North Vietnam. The "Rouge" in their name means "Red" - as in communist red

Later, China and North Vietnam had a falling out, as well as the Khmer Rouge and North Vietnam had a falling out. That's when the Khmer Rouge and North Vietnam became enemies, but that occurred after the Vietnam War.

It doesn't make sense for the US to support the Khmer Rouge. First of all, Khmer Rouge are clear-as-red communists supported by China and at first North Vietnam. The US supported the Khmer Republic in overthrowing Prince Sihanouk who leaned towards China and Russia, the enemies of the US. Why would the US support the Khmer Rouge in overthrowing the Khmer Republic, when it was the US that supported the Khmer Republic in overthrowing the marxist Prince Sihanouk?

Sorry Mr. Kipling, ya don't seem to know the complex history of Cambodia. You just see the US and you see little Cambodia, and you immediately think the US supports anything that destroys Cambodia. Cambodia's history is more complex than that, with its other neighbors China and Vietnam also having their parts in the play

2 ( +2 / -0 )

And Cambodia is still fighting corruption and lawlessness…

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lostrune2 is correct although I have to say that the US connection to the prince brought it into a closeness to The KR that brought me unease at the time.

But the United States neither brought the KR to power nor supported it.

That is persistent communist propaganda.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

An oft-claimed but completely fabricated story from Stalinists who will say anything to deflect away from their cancerous ideology.

I suppose it’s possible some here are on a different timeline. Myself, I’m speaking of the late 1950’s and into the 60’s.

As far as your comment, I have no clue what it means.

Prince Sihanouk was a known Marxist-leaning Prime Minister - look up his history. 

Really? Marxist leaning? Is that why he took 550 million in aid from the US between 1955-63? Many folks forget, or really don’t understand how tense things were back in the Cold War days. All the while the CIA is actively supporting Sihanouk’s rivals.

He was motivated enough to write about it. See below.

My War with the CIA: The Memoirs of Prince Norodom Sihanouk

https://www.amazon.com/My-War-CIA-Memoirs-Sihanouk/dp/0394485432

But the United States neither brought the KR to power nor supported it. 

Wrong. Check out the definition of “covert operations”. By the CIA military coup in March 1970, they permanently for the near future and purposefully destabilized the nation, which then later brought in the KR.

invalid CSRF

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Wrong. Check out the definition of “covert operations”. By the CIA military coup in March 1970, they permanently for the near future and purposefully destabilized the nation, which then later brought in the KR

The US supported the Khmer Republic against Prince Sihanouk hoping to install a more western leaning government there. The result was instability that allowed the Khmer Rouge to gain power and run the Khmer Republic out. That is a far cry from the US actively supporting the ascension of the Khmer Rouge. It is a case of unintended consequences, not a deliberate policy choice by the US.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And Cambodia is still fighting corruption and lawlessness…

Thanks to having communist nations as benefactors that prevent the rise of a democratic and accountable government there.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

unintended consequences

Yeah I don’t think so. Think about it. Did the CIA have a re-stabilize plan? No. You can’t intentionally destabilize a country then say “sorry. Ooops. We didn’t want that to happen”.

And I also think you should use the correct vocabulary. The word “supported” is just a lie.

invalid CSRF

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

So because one interested person say it is happy to get at least some results this means the process was efficient? that makes no sense.

You mean this interested person, Youk Chhang, who was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the Heroes and Pioneers section doesn't have a valued opinion on this?

How about the opinion of someone that actually can evaluate if the costs and time are justified?

You mean Youk Chhang, who was the director of DC-Cam whose work focused on documenting the crimes of Democratic Kampuchea, and which published a textbook on the Khmer Rouge period is not able to evaluate this; but we are expected to listen to your opinion telling us this was not justified?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

You mean this interested person, Youk Chhang, who was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the Heroes and Pioneers section doesn't have a valued opinion on this?

No, I am saying his opinion is about his personal feelings of gain from the veredict, but has absolutely no relevance about how efficient the process was, which is the criticism done and that you don't address at all in your comment, do you have any expert evaluating the topic that says the expenditure is justified?

Has Youk Chhang even said to be an expert evaluating the efficiency of tribunals? because you are trying to make an appeal to an authority the own person is not making.

I have never made an appeal for myself being an authority, I gave only my personal opinion about it, you are the one trying to criticize it with a baseless appeal to authority from someone that has not made that appeal in the first place.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

No, I am saying his opinion is about his personal feelings of gain from the veredict, but has absolutely no relevance about how efficient the process was, which is the criticism done and that you don't address at all in your comment, do you have any expert evaluating the topic that says the expenditure is justified?

He is the expert evaluating the topic, which is why his statement is mentioned. He isn't a random person stopped on the street for a soundbyte.

He is the foremost expert on crime of the Khmer Rouge.

He was a founder of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations in The Hague .

He is one of the persons behind the trial of these men in the first place.

He is the authority.

His opinion speaks for victims since he is part of the group representing the victims.

You have no clue about this.

Has Youk Chhang even said to be an expert evaluating the efficiency of tribunals? because you are trying to make an appeal to an authority the own person is not making.

yes, if you spent a few minutes to look him up you would know this basic piece of information.

I have never made an appeal for myself being an authority,

You're not one.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

He is the expert evaluating the topic

According to whom? not him of course because he has never said so, so can you provide proof of his expertise? what kind of qualifications has he about efficacy of tribunals? His personal feelings about getting some kind of justice are not even about how efficiently he go it.

He isn't a random person stopped on the street for a soundbyte.

That does not make him an authority on the efficacy of the judgment, neither you saying he is. Absolutely none of the arguments you make has anything to do with his qualifications to judge if the money and time dedicated are appropriate, justified and much less if they are to be considered an efficient expenditure.

yes, if you spent a few minutes to look him up you would know this basic piece of information.

Except he has not, ever. You just want to consider him so without any basis to make an invalid appeal to authority he has never made.

You're not one.

Again, I have never said I am one on this field, but I have never baselessly pretended other people to be as you are trying to do.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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