Cambodia's first Khmer Rouge trial to start mid-February

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

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by Suy Se*

Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal yesterday officially set February 17 as the start date for the long-awaited first trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of atrocities in the 1970s.
Court documents said the hearing for former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav -- better known as Duch -- will be for crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention as well as premeditated murder and torture.
Duch, 66, will be the first leader of Cambodia's brutal 1975-1979 communist regime to stand trial at the tribunal, an initial step towards justice for the up to two million people who died under Khmer Rouge rule.
He will be tried for "his acts or omissions in Phnom Penh and within the territory of Cambodia between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979," said the court documents, released to the media yesterday.
Duch was indicted last year for allegedly overseeing the torture and extermination of more than 12,000 men, women and children when he headed Phnom Penh's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21.
"This is what we have been waiting for for so long," said Tuol Sleng survivor Vann Nath, who made it through years in the prison because he was put to work painting pictures that celebrated the regime.
"Now we know the clear date for the trial. And we hope that we will know the truth that we have been waiting 30 years for," added Vann Nath.
A mathematics teacher who became the Khmer Rouge's torturer-in-chief, Duch has been in prison since 1999 for his role at Tuol Sleng. He was formally transferred to the tribunal in July 2007.
Thousands of inmates were taken from the centre he ran for execution at Choeung Ek, now infamously known as the Killing Fields.
The indictment last August gave a detailed breakdown of the horrific conditions at Tuol Sleng and Duch's alleged role in the atrocities, saying that every prisoner who arrived there was destined for execution.
"Duch personally tortured or mistreated detainees at S-21 on a number of separate occasions and through a variety of means," the indictment said.
Chum Mey, another survivor of Tuol Sleng, who was spared because he was put to use repairing car engines, called yesterday's announcement "another step toward justice."
"I want Duch to speak about the truth of the regime and where he got the order to kill the people," Chum Mey said.
Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation and overwork as the regime emptied Cambodia's cities, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to forge a communist utopia.
Duch is one of five Khmer Rouge leaders who have been detained by the court for their alleged roles in the regime.
Also in detention awaiting trial are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was the minister of social affairs.
Established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the UN, the long-stalled tribunal has met controversy as it seeks to prosecute crimes committed 30 years ago by senior Khmer Rouge leaders.
At least two of the top Cambodian tribunal officials have been accused of corruption by some defence lawyers in connection with an alleged scheme where local staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.
The court will also soon be tested by an upcoming ruling on whether to pursue more former Khmer Rouge leaders, after a disagreement between the tribunal's co-prosecutors on whether to broaden investigations.
The tribunal received a boost earlier this month when Japan's foreign minister pledged funding of 21 million dollars during a visit to Cambodia.


Prosecutors open Khmer Rouge probe

07-10-2006, 04h08


Students look at the skulls in front of a closet at Tuol Sleng genocide museum in Phnom Penh. Twenty-seven years after the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge, prosecutors for Cambodia's new UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal have launched their probe of surviving leaders of the regime blamed for the deaths of up to two million people.

Prosecutors for Cambodia's new UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal have launched their probe of surviving leaders of the regime blamed for the deaths of up to two million people, a spokesman said.

The investigations got underway as Cambodia's former king Norodom Sihanouk rejected efforts to try only a handful of "old, sickly, unrepentant individuals," saying the money would be better spent fighting poverty.

International prosecutor Robert Petit from Canada and Cambodian prosecutor Chea Leang began their joint investigation to determine which of the former leaders should face trial, said tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath.

"Now we are embarking on the process of bringing former Khmer Rouge leaders to stand trial and to find justice for the victims," Sambath told AFP.

"But as they said last week, they need some time to collect evidence and documents before they issue the indictments... But they will try their best to do it as soon as possible," he said.

Sihanouk, who quit the throne in 2004 but still wields considerable influence, said in a message posted at the weekend on his website that he opposed the tribunal because it would not prosecute all of those responsible for the Khmer Rouge atrocities.

The former monarch has in the past both supported and condemned the tribunal, saying in 2004 that he would testify at the proceedings, but a year later calling the legal efforts a "comedy and a hypocrisy".

"I am against the special tribunal that has been established in Cambodia to try five or six Khmer Rouge individuals," Sihanouk's weekend posting said.

"With the tens of millions of US (dollars) reserved for the 'trial', one could provide immensely beneficial services for" impoverished Cambodians.

Seventeen Cambodian and 10 UN-appointed foreign judges were sworn in on July 3, marking the beginning of a long-awaited tribunal that should see some former Khmer Rouge leaders tried by mid-2007.

Petit warned Friday that it could take months to issue any indictments.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, once a low-ranking Khmer Rouge member, was reluctant to commit resources to the tribunal and the government was blamed for trying to derail the proceedings.

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation and overwork in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, when Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge attempted to impose an agrarian utopia, forcing millions into the countryside.

Pol Pot died in 1998. Surviving members of the regime -- including his top deputy Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan and ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary -- are in their 70s and 80s, prompting fears that they could die before facing justice.

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