ONLY a handful of former high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials will face justice for the atrocities committed during their authoritarian rule, the United Nations-backed tribunal tasked with legal proceedings said on Monday.
According to the South China Morning Post (via the Associated Press), the tribunal acknowledged convictions of many former leaders were unlikely as in the case of Im Chaem, a former middle-ranking official who was dismissed in February of crimes against humanity.
Co-investigating judges, according to the statement, found Im Chaem did not fall into the category of senior leaders and did not qualify as a person “most responsible” for atrocities during her time as an officer.
It explained the evidence that had “implicated” her was not up to par with legal standards.
“(This) does not equate to a statement that no crimes were committed by a charged person,” the statement said, in elaborating on the case against Im Chaem, who is said to be in her 70s.
Im Chaem was accused of causing the deaths of thousands of labourers while serving as a district chief in the northwestern province of Banteay Meanchey, where she was in charge of a forced labour camp constructing an irrigation project.
Under an agreement negotiated to establish the tribunal, no other court in the country has jurisdiction over human rights violations committed under the Khmer Rouge regime.
This, according to the statement, meant only a small group of people would be prosecuted in Cambodia for the atrocities.
“It is undoubtedly difficult for the public and the victims to accept even the soldiers who routinely killed small children by bashing their heads against trees or who had competitions about who could kill the greatest number of people, should not face justice,” the statement said.
“In many domestic criminal justice systems such conduct would attract a whole life sentence without parole and in some countries possibly even the death penalty for each individual act of each individual offender.”
The statement also said the agreement to limit such cases to the UN-assisted tribunal “was a conscious political choice during the negotiations, balancing the call for integration of the remaining Khmer Rouge into society against the desire for some form of judicial closure for the horrendous suffering of the victims.”
An estimated 1.7 million people died under the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s – approximately a fifth of the entire population.
Most of the victims died of starvation, torture, exhaustion or disease in labour camps or were killed during mass executions.
In late June, the Khmer Rouge’s former head of state denied charges of genocide and rejected being labelled a “murderer” during the closing of a UN-backed trial.
Khieu Samphan, 85, denied responsibility for murders and rights abuses under his regime described in the court by over 100 witnesses throughout the trial.
In 2014, a UN-backed tribunal sentenced Khieu to life in prison along with Nuon Chea, another senior leader known as “Brother Number Two” after being found guilty of crimes against humanity.
The court, which combined Cambodian and international law, was established in 2006 to try senior Khmer Rouge leaders, but many of them have died without facing justice. Pol Pot – “Brother Number One” – died in 1998.