Former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan lost his call for genocide | News

Last surviving senior leader of radical Cambodia Khmer Rouge regime has appealed against the genocide conviction rejected at the war crimes court in the capital Phnom Penh.

Thursday’s ruling in an appeal by 91-year-old Khieu Samphan, former head of state for the 1975-1979 “Democratic Kampuchea” government, marks the court’s final decision and ends 16 years in office. the work of the UN-backed war crimes tribunal. .

The rejection of Khieu Samphan’s call to seek abolition of genocide against the ethnic Cham Muslim and Vietnamese minorities in Cambodia also closes the book on one of the regime’s French-trained intellectuals, who argued that he was unaware of his crimes. serial killer caused by his colleagues.

Of the two million victims of the Khmer Rouge, 100,000 to 500,000 were Cham Muslims, and an estimated 20,000 were of Vietnamese descent.

In reading out the verdict in Phnom Penh, the court’s judges dismissed – point after point – many of Khieu Samphan’s appeals against him for genocide.

“Most of Khieu Samphan’s arguments are groundless,” judge Kong Srim said during his lengthy reading of the decision.

Thursday’s ruling is expected to be the court’s final verdict, bringing to justice only five senior Khmer Rouge leaders – including one who died during the proceedings and another who was convicted. unfit to stand trial – at a cost of more than $330 million.

Khieu Samphan – who is now the only remaining leader of the regime behind bars – was once called the ‘Clean Mr. Khmer Rougea hardline Communist regime in which two million people died in less than four years.

He earned his doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris in the late 1950s and is known for his integrity. But in the late 1960s, he joined the revolutionary movement of the Khmer Rouge and became a loyal lieutenant of Pol Pot, known as the British No. 1 and leader of the group.

Pol Pot died in 1998 and was never tried.

An icon of the mode

Although Khieu Samphan and his legal team were unable to convince the judges that he innocent of genocidehe seems to have convinced himself – despite being found guilty of crimes against humanity in a separate case before the court in 2014.

Giving an appeal against his genocide conviction last year, white-haired Khieu Samphan was too weak to make his personal remarks before the judges, so he filed a complaint against the judge. his judgment from his seat; 18 minutes of slow and engaging exhortations of his innocence.

Guilt, Khieu Samphan said, was attributed to him as a symbol of the regime and not to his deeds as an individual.

“I was judged symbolically,” he said.

“I categorically deny the charge and conviction that I intend to commit a crime, whatever it is, any crime, a crime against humanity of any kind,” he said.

Khieu Samphan in the Malai district of Cambodia in 1980.
Khieu Samphan in Cambodia’s Malai district in 1980 [J Kaufman/Courtesy of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia]

Philip Short, author of several famous biographies, including Pol Pot, wrote:

When interviewing former Khmer Rouge official For his book, Short found that when his questions became too direct, interviewees responded with answers that were clearly fictitious.

“This is even more true of educated Western leaders like Khieu Samphan than it is of undocumented farmers,” Short wrote. “There’s no shame in lying: it’s the answer to a laudable question.”

It is a fact that Khieu Samphan was highly trusted by Pol Pot.

According to brief records, Khieu Samphan was one of two Khmer Rouge leaders that Pol Pot had publicly praised.

Khieu Samphan’s defense team has argued that while their client holds a senior position, he does not enjoy the communication and meetings of higher-ups, and is unaware of Serial crime is committed during the rule period.

However, the court’s International Co-Prosecutor, Brenda Hollis, argued that Khieu Samphan attended the top-level meetings of the group’s leadership and “either by quietly ascending or actively assisting”. he is a party to serial crime.

“So he did more than just sit back and let someone else make the decision,” Hollis said during last year’s appeal hearing.

Genocide in Cambodia

Genocide was apparently committed in Cambodia Youk Chhang, director of the Cambodia Documentation Center (DC-CAM), told Al Jazeera, if Khieu Samphan’s conviction is overturned, it will raise questions about the reliability of international legal mechanisms. designed to prosecute the ultimate crime.

“He’s already been convicted – in the minds and hearts of survivors; Youk Chhang, whose research organization has meticulously documented the Khmer Rogue period, educated the public and worked with survivors, said.

Khmer Rouge expert, author, and more recently Harvard scholar Craig Etcheson said the genocide upheld ruling is extremely important for Cambodia and for international justice in general.

“I think that’s important to the Cambodian people, and historically it’s been very important. Etcheson, who has spent four decades investigating, discovering, documenting and preserving those responsible for crimes during the Pol Pot regime.

From 2006-2012, Etcheson was also an investigator for the co-prosecutor’s office in the war crimes court – officially known as Special Chamber at the Court of Cambodia (ECCC).

Commenting on Khieu Samphan’s apparent inability to acknowledge his role in the regime’s crimes, Etcheson said it would be difficult and possibly “dangerous” to try to reflect on what was going on in the regime’s crimes. mind of Kheiu Samphan.

“He believes he is being blamed for someone else’s crime. He has a very selective memory,” Etcheson told Al Jazeera.

“He was right in the middle of it… in charge of hunting down traitors in the organization.”

While the effectiveness of the court will be debated for years, Etcheson said he feels “a sense of accomplishment” knowing that justice has been done in the case of convicted Khmer Rouge leaders. , and the “fear of god” investigation into those identified as war criminals but the case did not go to trial.

“It was definitely an attack on punishment the Khmer Rouge had suffered for a long time,” Etcheson told Al Jazeera.

The regime’s former foreign minister, Ieng Sary, was impeached by the court but he died before the end of the trial in 2013. His wife, Ieng Thirith, a former minister of social action in the regime, was arrested. charged but was later found unfit to stand trial on the grounds of mental health. She passed away in 2015.

Khmer Rouge torture chief Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was convicted of crimes against humanity in 2010 for his role at the S21 death camp, where more than 14,000 people were detained and tortured before. when he was sent to be executed. He passed away in 2020.

Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, “Brother No. 2” of the regime, were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in 2014. Nuon Chea died in 2019 while on appeal – with Khieu Samphan – for the genocide.

There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of continuing education that allows each generation to understand what happened not so long ago, Etcheson said.

Support is also needed for the thousands of Khmer Rouge survivors and victims who have entered the court as civil parties – a first for a war crimes court – and provided testimony.

“That’s why so much money has been spent on achieving personal accountability,” Etcheson said.

“A lot of people have done bad things, but not everyone is equally guilty. It was the big bosses who dreamed of this nightmare and made it happen,” he said.

‘Qualifying Success’

Scholar and war crime researcher Peter Maguire, author of Law and War and Facing Death in Cambodia, has been both a close observer and vocal critic of the Cambodian proceedings. court.

Maguire wrote in 2018 that the court was “like most UN war crimes trials since the end of the Cold War…part good, part bad and part ugly”.

He pointed out that it took a Cambodian court $300 million and more time to convict the three Khmer Rouge leaders than it did for the US, Britain and France to put 5,000 war criminals on trial after World War II.

Commenting on the completion of the court’s work this week, Maguire said he stood by his earlier criticisms of the “incredibly slow and expensive proceedings”.

But, he said, the court was a “qualified success”.

Especially “for remarkable work, their investigators documented the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities,” said Maguire.

As he explained, the court made it clear that “everyone saw, in meticulous detail, who did what to whom” throughout the regime.

“It’s an important legacy,” Maguire told Al Jazeera.

The court issued what Maguire described as “an empirical record that can never be modified or challenged”.

When asked who would be interested in correcting what happened during the Pol Pot regime, and what was exposed by the war crimes tribunal, Maguire said: “Oh, of course, I think the government. China and Cambodia.”

Edit history

Researchers once feared that the court’s database – an unparalleled trove of documents and testimony – would not be made available after the ECCC had completed its work.

There are good reasons for such concerns.

Government of Prime Minister Hun Sen extremely insecure about its origins in the Khmer Rouge movement.

Several high-ranking party members, including Hun Sen, held positions of power within the Khmer Rouge until deserting to avoid being caught up in internal purges and then returning with the Vietnamese army. overthrow Pol Pot.

China, too, has a history in Cambodia that it probably wants to forget.

Beijing was the Khmer Rouge’s strongest supporter, both in terms of material aid – mostly military – and also as an ideological advisor from 1975-1979 and beyond.

Providing court records should now be a priority, Etcheson said, as the court will enter a three-year “sequel phase” agreed to by the UN and the Cambodian government earlier this year. where projects and proposals to strengthen the court’s legacy will be implemented.

Etcheson said he wanted to publish a series of works similar to those released after the nazis experiment in Nuremberg after World War II and called the “blue series” and “blue series”. leaf”.

This is a point on which Maguire concurs, noting that a similar series of articles on the Cambodian courts would be a non-public record immune to political and historical modification.

Instead of concluding, Youk Chang said that the court’s move to the succession phase was actually the beginning of a new phase of work.

“Legacy is the beginning not the end of the court,” he told Al Jazeera.

DC-Cam will continue its work of educating upcoming generations of Cambodians about the regime, collecting oral histories and providing services to survivors, Youk Chhang said.

“We will continue to do that,” he said, adding that one day reporters will be in contact with Cambodian scholars about the Khmer Rouge regime – an area of ​​study originally led by researchers. foreign leader.

“You have to continue your work,” Youk Chhang said, explaining that since genocide has not stopped in the world, those who seek to stop it should not stop their work either.

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