FoxNews on October 17, 2014, published an AP report on the first trial on charges of genocide against Cambodia’s brutal 1970s Khmer Rouge regime opening with a prosecutor saying it will show that Cambodians were enslaved in inhumane conditions that led to the deaths of 1.7 million people from starvation, disease and execution. Excerpts below:
Khieu Samphan, the regime’s head of state, and Nuon Chea, right-hand man to the communist group’s late leader, Pol Pot, already received life sentences in August after being found guilty of crimes against humanity, relating mostly to the group’s forced movement of millions to the countryside when it took power in 1975. They have appealed their convictions.
The U.N.-backed tribunal split the cases into two trials for fear that Khieu Samphan, 83, and Nuon Chea, 88, could die before any proceedings against them could be completed.
In addition to genocide against minorities, the second trial will address for the first time accusations of rape and forced marriages.
It will show that Cambodians at the cooperatives and work sites were “enslaved and subjected to inhumane conditions that led to countless deaths from starvation, overwork and disease,” Cambodian prosecutor Chea Leang told the court, as the two accused sat silently.
“We are here because of millions of Cambodian people who did not survive in this regime, for whom three years, eight months and 20 days … meant only suffering and grief, pain and deaths,” she said.
Vann Math, head of the Cambodia Islamic Association, said that the Khmer Rouge fiercely persecuted the Cham, destroying mosques and killing people. He said many Chams are now avidly following the tribunal’s proceedings.
Lyma Nguyen, a lawyer representing ethnic Vietnamese victims, said outside the hearing that the trial represents not only a rare chance to shed light on the genocide, but also on the lingering harm the mayhem has caused to survivors.
Those forced to flee retained no documentation proving their Cambodian origins, so when they returned they were plunged into statelessness, and remain targets of widespread discrimination and political scapegoats.
Bopha Om, a 59-year-old woman who lost members of her family in the genocide, said she was forced into marriage under threat of death.
“The Khmer Rouge tortured me. They forced me to dig my own grave. So I want to see them being prosecuted in court,” she said.
In its first trial, the tribunal sentenced Kaing Guek Eav, also known as “Duch,” the director of the notorious S-21 torture center, to life imprisonment. The second trial, in which Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were convicted, opened in November 2011, but death and disability winnowed down the number of defendants.
Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died in March last year, and his wife Ieng Thirith, the regime’s social affairs minister, was declared unfit for trial in September 2012 after being diagnosed with dementia. The group’s top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.
“We want justice, and this justice is not even for us who have survived the Khmer Rouge genocide, but it is for our children and many generations to come. This justice would help to prevent genocide to happen again here and elsewhere,” said Youk Chhang, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has collected more than a million documents related to the Khmer Rouge terror.