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What thinking caused the appalling genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime? An UN-backed war crimes court in Cambodia makes the surviving leaders talk – face-to-face with the victims.

Blog Sarah ThustSince a few months the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) investigate new cases and Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen is furious. The court’s new suspects could reveal inconvenient details. Hun Sen and many government officials are former Khmer Rouge cadres.

A summary of the ECCC’s Cases and what to expect from the new suspects: Meas Muth, Im Chaem, Yim Tith, Ao An. And all you need to know about the accused: Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Kaing Guek Eav, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith.

Meas Muth alias Achar Nem

New Case 003 at ECCC Cambodia

Date of birth: 10 August 1938 in Kampot province

Meas Muth ECCC Cambodia
Meas Muth © ECCC Cambodia

Meas Muth served as a general with Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). „He is widely believed to have served as a high-level adviser to the prime minister and his defence ministry.“ (The Ecomomist on 10 March 2015)

His role: Former Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Muth held several positions during the period from 17 April 1975 to 6 January 1979. He was also a representative of the Military General Staff in Kratie province. He might have been responsible for the seizure of a number of Westerners, who eventually landed up in S-21. Meas Muth denied the charges in an 2001 interview with the „Phnom Penh Post“. After he left the Khmer Rouge, the general served the governing Cambodian People’s Party.

Status: Meas Muth was initially charged in absentia on 3 March 2015 to expedite the process. A persistence that might make the Cambodian government uncomfortable, according to a report of „The Economist“. The case is under investigation.

For me there is no problem with the court. I will say everything: what I know and what I did. The low ranks had to respect the orders. It was like under Hitler. Hitler asked Goering to kill the Jews. If Goering did not do it, he would have been killed.

Meas Muth, former Khmer Rouge

Im Chaem

New Case 004/01 at ECCC Cambodia

Date of birth: about 74 years ago in Takeo province

Im Chaem says she has tried to prevent protest against the local government in her area in Anlong Vaeng. „I see that most former Khmer Rouge (in Anlong Vaeng) join this party (the CPP).“ (Documentation Centre of Cambodia on 6 April 2012)

Khmer Rouge member Im ChaemIm Chaem © Dc-Cam

Her role: Im Chaem was allegedly a former district chief in the North-West Zone, she told the Documentation Centre of Cambodia in an interview. According to her description she used to work as a farmer before and her family was close to „the Butcher“ Ta Mok, one of the KR-leaders. The court is trying Im Chaem related to her role as chief of a work camp, where about 40,000 people died.

Status: CPP-close Im Chaem was charged in absentia on 3 March 2015 to expedite a long process. The Co-Investigating Judges filed a notice of conclusion of the judicial investigation against her and ordered severance from Case 004 in February 2016. This could lead to a formal indictment, but also raises the possibility of Chaem’s case being dropped, according to the Phnom Penh Post.​​

Crimes allegedly committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979:

  • Crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds, and other inhumane acts
  • ​Violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code: premeditated homicide

Why should I be worried about the charges against me? … I am not wrong, the person who charged me is wrong.

Im Chaem, former Khmer Rouge official

Yim Tith alias Ta Tith

New Case 004/02 at ECCC Cambodia

Date of birth: more than 70 years old

Yim Tith was given some land by prime minister Hun Sen, like many former Democratic Kampuchea soldiers. (The Investigative Fund on 24 October 2011)

Khmer Rouge member Yim TithYim Tith © Dc-Cam

His role: Yim Tith was the Acting Secretary of the Northwest Zone and had been the Secretary of the Kirivong District of the Southwest Zone in 1976 and 1977. During that time, Tith allegedly oversaw the killing of as many as 16,000 people.

Status: Along with Case 003 the ECCC’s investigations had been strongly opposed by the Cambodian government as well as the tribunal’s local employees, the newspaper reported. Yim Tiths initial appearance was on 9 December 2015, where he was formally charged in the case. The case is under investigation.

Crimes allegedly committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979:

  • Genocide of the Khmer Krom
  • Crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, persecution against several minorities, and other inhumane acts including forced marriage
  • War crimes (Geneva Conventions): willful killing and the unlawful deportation or transfer of civilians
  • ​Violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code: premeditated homicide

So far, Yim Tith declined to be interviewed. Neighbors say he has health problems, poor hearing and likely Alzheimer’s, „Voice of America Khmer“ reported. Other sources add, he is a wealthy businessman these days.

Aom Yoeung alias Ao An

New Case 004/03 at ECCC Cambodia

Date of birth: about 80 years old from Kampong Chhang province

Khmer Rouge member Ta AnTa An © Dc-Cam

His role: Ao An, who studied at a Buddhist pagoda, joined the Khmer Rouge in the 1960s and met future military chief Ta Mok, according to a 2011 interview with the Documentary Center of Cambodia. Ao An went to work in the Southwest  zone, under Ta Mok, becoming secretary of Kandal Steung district. He was promoted in 1977 to become the deputy secretary of Democratic Kampuchea’s Central Zone and the secretary of Sector 41.

Status: Ao An was charged with premeditated homicide and crimes against humanity on 27 March 2015. The case is under investigation. The case is highly politically sensitive, as An’s testimony could include high-ranking members in the current administration, the „Khmer Times“ reports.

Crimes allegedly committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979:

  • Crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, persecution on political and religious grounds, imprisonment, and other inhumane acts (namely inhumane conditions of detention)
  • ​Violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code: premeditated homicide

Why am I not afraid? The reason I’m not afraid is that I know myself clearly. The deeds that one did should be recalled, and if I did not commit them, how can I fear Hell?

Ta An, former Khmer Rouge member

​Khieu Samphan

Ongoing Case 002/01 at ECCC Cambodia

His role: ​Khieu Samphan, who studied in France and also published a doctoral dissertation, went into hiding a few years after his return to Cambodia. Samphan reemerged within the Khmer Rouge resistance. In 1976 he was appointed Democratic Kampuchea’s Head of State and even represented the Khmer Rouge at the 1989 International Conference on Cambodia in Paris.

Date of Birth: 28 July 1931 in Svay Rieng province

Crimes allegedly committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979:

  • Genocide, by killing members of the groups of Vietnamese and Cham
  • Crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation imprisonment, torture, persecution on political, racial, and religious grounds and other inhumane acts
  • War crimes (Geneva Conventions): wilful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or civilian the rights of fair and regular trial, unlawful deportation or unlawful confinement of a civilian

Sentences: The Trial Chamber decided to separate the charges in Case 002 into two smaller trials in order to allow to issue a sentence, before the older defendants and victims passed away.

  • Case 002/01 (crimes related to the forced movement of people): life imprisonment on 7 August 2014, appeals proceedings are ongoing​
  • Case 002/02 (e.g. genocide, forced marriages and rape and internal purges): trial hearings ongoing

Must-Reads about Case 002: analysis by „Cambodia Tribunal Monitor“ about Khieu Samphan’s final statement during the Appeal Hearings of Case 002/01 (www.cambodiatribunal.org), „Like Ghost Changes Body: A Study on the Impact of Forced Marriage under the Khmer Rouge Regime“ by Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Cambodia (provided by Heinrich Böll Stiftung), News from the ECCC on Case 002/01 and Case 002/02

Khieu Samphan held his final statement in the appeals hearing at the ECCC on 18 February 2016. The Appeal Judgment in Case 002/01 is expected mid2016.

The Trial Chamber had a pre-judgment of my guilt. … What I want to say today, and what I want my countrymen to hear, is that as an intellectual, I have never wanted anything other than social justice for my country.

Khieu Samphan, former Khmer Rouge official

Lao Kim Lorn alias Nuon Chea

Ongoing Case 002 at ECCC Cambodia

His role: Unlike most of the leaders of Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea did not study in Paris. He studied law at Bangkok’s prestigious Thammasat University and soon engaged in Thai politics. Demagogue Chea, who was a member of the Communist Party of Kampuchea since 1960, became the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist. „Brother Number Two“, as Chea was often called, was second-in-command to leader Pol Pot. He remained with the Khmer Rouge until December 1998.

Date of Birth: 7 July 1926 in Battambang province

Crimes allegedly committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979:

  • Genocide, by killing members of the groups of Vietnamese and Cham
  • Crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation imprisonment, torture, persecution on political, racial, and religious grounds and other inhumane acts
  • War crimes (Geneva Conventions): wilful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or civilian the rights of fair and regular trial, unlawful deportation or unlawful confinement of a civilian

Sentences: The Trial Chamber decided to separate the charges in Case 002 into two smaller trials in order to allow to issue a sentence, before the older defendants and victims passed away.

  • Case 002/01 (crimes related to the forced movement of people): life imprisonment on 7 August 2014, appeals proceedings are ongoing​
  • Case 002/02 (e.g. genocide, forced marriages and rape and internal purges): trial hearings ongoing

Must-Reads about Case 002: „Behind the Killing Fields: A Khmer Rouge Leader and One of his Victims“ by Gina Chon and Sambath Theth (on Google Books), „Like Ghost Changes Body: A Study on the Impact of Forced Marriage under the Khmer Rouge Regime“ by Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Cambodia (provided by Heinrich Böll Stiftung), News from the ECCC on Case 002/01 and Case 002/02

Nuon Chea didn’t speak during the appeals hearing at the ECCC on 18 February 2016. The Appeal Judgment in Case 002/01 is expected mid2016. Journalist Pin Sisovann explains Chea’s absence

„The appeals hearing took place without Nuon Chea, who has declined to participate, following the court’s refusal to call the current president of the Senate, Heng Samrin.“

In his final statement in Case 002/01 on 31 October 2013 Nuon Chea said:

Through this trial, it is clearly indicated that I was not engaged in any commission of the crimes as alleged by the Co-Prosecutors. In short, I am innocent in relation to those allegations. Honourable Court, when I make such a claim, probably some people who do not clearly understand the law or those who are partial are mocking at me. However, that is okay for me.

Nuon Chea, former Khmer Rouge official

Kaing Guek Eav alias Duch

Finished Case 001 at ECCC Cambodia

His role: In the early 1970s, former mathematics teacher Kaing Guek Eav became the Khmer Rouge’s Chairman of „M13“ prison, where thousands of Cambodians were tortured and killed in the name of the Communist Party. From 1975 to 1979, Duch oversaw the S-21 prison camp („Tuol Sleng“), where nearly 14,000 „enemies of the state“ were kept indefinitely to be interrogated, tortured, and killed.

Date of birth: 17 November 1942 in Kampong Thom province

Crimes committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979:

  • Crimes against humanity: persecution on political grounds, extermination (encompassing murder), enslavement, imprisonment, torture and other inhumane acts
  • War crimes (Geneva Conventions): willful killing, torture and inhumane treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or civilian of the rights of fair and regular trial, and unlawful confinement of a civilian

Sentence: life imprisonment on 3 February 2012, the decision is final

Must-Reads about Case 001: „The Elimination“ by Rithy Panh (on Google Books), „When Clouds fell from the Sky“ by Robert Carmichael (www.whencloudsfell.com), News from the ECCC (official website)

After Kaing Guek Eav held his final statement in the appeals hearing on 30 March 2011, the Chamber decided to increase his sentence from 35 years to life imprisonment.

And I would like the Supreme Court Chamber to acknowledge that I am not falling within the personal jurisdiction of this Court. It is true that the senior leaders and the most responsible persons were others, not me.

Kaing Guek Eav, former Khmer Rouge official

Ieng Thirith alias Phea †

Unfinished Case 002 at ECCC Cambodia

Date of birth: 12 March 1932 in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh

Unfit to stand trial: Ieng Thirith suffered from progressive dementia (most likely Alzheimer’s Disease). She was released on 16 September 2012.

Day of death: 22 August 2015

Khmer Rouge member Ieng ThirithIeng Thirith © ECCC

Crimes allegedly committed:

Genocide, by killing members of the Vietnamese community

Ieng Thirith is alleged to be directly responsible for having ordered crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political and racial grounds, and other inhumane acts

War crimes (Geneva Conventions): willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, willfully depriving a prisoner of war or civilian the rights of fair and regular trial, unlawful deportation or unlawful confinement of a civilian

Position in Democratic Kampuchea: Minister of Social Affairs

Education: studied Shakespeare studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, France

„Like many others of Cambodia’s ruling class, she presented herself as progressive but in fact was profoundly conservative and feudal in her behavior and lifestyle. (…) She behaved like a queen during the Khmer Rouge regime.“ Cambodian citizen and the ECCC’s witness Ong Thong Hoeung said about the only woman to hold a senior Cabinet position in Pol Pot’s government, to the Cambodia Daily.

Ieng Sary alias Van †

Unfinished Case 002 at ECCC Cambodia

Date of birth: 24 October 1925 in Tra Vinh Province (now part of southern Vietnam)

Day of death: 14 March 2013 in detention

Khmer Rouge member Ieng SaryIeng Sary © ECCC

Crimes allegedly committed:

  • Genocide, by killing members of the groups of Vietnamese and Cham
  • Crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, deportation imprisonment, persecution on political, racial, and religious grounds and other inhumane acts
  • War crimes (Geneva Conventions): willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or civilian the rights of fair and regular trial, unlawful deportation or unlawful confinement of a civilian

Position in Democratic Kampuchea: Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs, Member of the Standing Committee and Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea

Education: studied in France at the Lycée Condorcet and at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris

​„His death is another reminder that justice delayed is justice denied. (…) He has taken with him many secrets that could have shed light on a very dark period of Cambodia’s history, which continues to haunt us.“Theary Seng told the „Financial Times“ after the death of Ieng Sary. She, a Cambodian legal activist, lost her parents under the Khmer Rouge regime in the Boeung Rei prison while she was detained there as a child.

About the ECCC

What happens when an UN-backed war crimes court in Cambodia is trying the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime? So far, it took the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) ten years at the cost of more than $200 million for only one conviction. What sounds like a shocking failure, is indeed an effective way to empower victims by making the accused talk.

The Khmer Rouge’s rule was among the bloodiest of the 20th century, having caused the deaths of one in four Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. By the time Pol Pot’s regime was overthrown, about 2 million people had lost their life. However, soon after prime minister Hun Sen took over and the soldiers were chased back to the jungle, many leaders and victims returned to quietly coexist.

Only the hybrid court ECCC, an unusual international legal body, raised awareness to talk about the cruel events. It was founded in 2006 to investigate the crimes of the Khmer Rouge with its location in the dusty outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh.