The Khmer Rouge trial under the gaze of history
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The Khmer Rouge trial under the gaze of history


Ieng Thirith during a pre-trial hearing before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on 30 Apr 2010. She was the former Khmer Rouge minister of social action, currently charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva conventions and crimes under the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code. Photo courtesy ECCC POOL/Tang Chhin Sothy.

Sihanoukville. In the history of persons indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, it is not usual to see a woman. It is like leaders of violence and cruelty were men most of the time. However, if behind every great man there’s a great woman, behind every male criminal leader it seems that there is also a woman. In the case of former ministry of social action during the Democratic Kampuchea period (1975-1979), it seems Ieng Thirith was not only behind her husband Ieng Sary and his brother-in-law Pol Pot, but she is also accused as directly responsible of infamous crimes like extermination, imprisonment and persecution.

The credibility of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – a UN-Cambodian tribunal to prosecute the surviving senior leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea and those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – is under question. ECCC is about to start Case 002 this coming June 27, amid serious criticisms from human rights organizations and groups of the Khmer Rouge’s victims after the co-judges closed Case 003 in April , a case that could have brought two more defendants to court. Observers conclude that the ECCC most likely bowed to government pressure and the UN’s inaction, although the tribunal and the UN defend their independence.

But with this turbulent sea of critics, the ECCC is about to set a historical date this month when people like Ieng Thirith, her husband Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Noun Chea, will answer before a court for their actions as political leaders of the bloody regime. It is sure that human rights groups, groups of victims and the press will follow the prosecutions carefully and that ECCC will meet more pressure from the public opinion. Why are these four persons are considered the ‘only four surviving senior Khmer Rouge leaders,’ responsible for the atrocities of the ’70s. Did they do all those crimes? And why is the role of the victims so limited at the tribunal, almost as just observers.

Long years have passed since Democratic Kampuchea fell. The ECCC  has been a long time coming, but all these years of waiting have produced a long list of scholars, investigations, evidence and documents that are available everywhere. This is a problem for the ECCC: It knows very well who did what, but will the sentences match the evidence?