Saturday 24 Oct 2020 | 23:37 | SYDNEY
Saturday 24 Oct 2020 | 23:37 | SYDNEY

Khmer Rouge trial: Hurry up and wait

7 April 2010 09:20

For those who might have wondered, the reason you have not heard of any developments since last December involving the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (officially the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC) is because another three months have passed without anything of note having taken place.

That is, until last week.

The new international prosecutor, Englishman Andrew Cayley, who was appointed in December 2009, announced on 28 March that the ECCC is moving towards bringing to trial in 2011 the four senior Khmer Rouge defendants currently held in custody.

The defendants are: Khieu Samphan, former Democratic Kampuchea head of state, 79 years-old; Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two and the DK regime's chief ideologist, 78 years-old; Ieng Sary, the regime's foreign minister, 86 years-old; and Khieu (or Ieng) Thirith, Ieng Sary's wife and minister for social affairs under Pol Pot, 80 years-old. All four are in poor health.

In an apparently serious comment, Cayley said, 'I am accelerating, along with my colleague, the work as much as I can.' Stating that the trials would continue even if some of the defendants die, Cayley added that '(t)his trial will come to a conclusion. But the best way to do this work is not quickly but efficiently.'

Cayley's statement will be greeted by critics of the ECCC with scepticism, given that the tribunal, which was inaugurated in July 2006 and began its formal proceedings in June 2007, has so far heard only one case, that of Kaing Guek Ev, better known as Duch, the director of the Tuol Sleng extermination centre. The trial involving Duch, who has repeatedly admitted his responsibility for the torture and death of thousands, concluded at the end of last year, but so far no conviction has been recorded or sentence passed.

The sub-plot throughout the ECCC's existence has been Prime Minister Hun Sen's disapproval of the whole process because of the possibility that it would focus attention on member of the Cambodian regime who may have been active in the Khmer Rouge. Hun Sen himself was a Khmer Rouge military commander before he defected to Vietnam in 1977, though no evidence has ever been produced linking him to atrocities. The record for other figures is not so clear.

Before the ECCC was inaugurated Hun Sen repeatedly argued that his compatriots 'should bury the past'. More recently, at various times in 2009 when it appeared that the international prosecutor would press for the indictment of additional defendants, he condemned such a possibility claiming that such actions could lead to civil war. And as recently as December 2009 he stated that he would rather see the court fail than the Cambodia 'fall into war'.

With unresolved allegations of corruption in the administration of the ECCC and an apparent willingness in the international community to continue its funding — the US has just pledged US$5 million to its costs — Cambodia's prime minister has succeeded in minimising the ECCC's importance within his own country and removing it from international criticism at the governmental level.

He must also feel that the actuarial odds are increasingly in his favour, so far as the survival of the remaining four defendants are concerned.

It is these circumstances that have led to one widely circulated cri de coeur from a well-regarded critic of developments, expatriate Cambodian Sophal Ear, whose op-ed in the International Herald Tribune on 17 March is as fine statement as any I have seen of the ECCC's failures and the Hun Sen regime's successes in emasculating its reach and effects.

Photo by Flickr user ECCC, used under a Creative Commons license.