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Monday 10 Dec 2018 | 15:33 | SYDNEY
Monday 10 Dec 2018 | 15:33 | SYDNEY

Khmer Rouge tribunal convicts, but it's too little, too late



7 August 2014 14:20

Today's long-anticipated conviction Nuon Chea, Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge regime, and Khieu Samphan, Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea, for crimes against humanity brings to an end their long running trials in the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, which was established in 2006. Their trials began in 2011.

Originally there were four defendants on trial, but Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister in the Khmer Rouge regime, died while the trial was under way, and his wife, Khieu Thirith, was judged unfit to stand trial because of mental illness.

Yesterday, the court outlined terms of a new case against both the men convicted today. They are now to be charged with genocide.

The charges relate to the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime which killed many hundreds of thousands of Khmers Islam (or Chams, a substantial Muslim minority in Cambodia), as well as tens of thousands of Vietnamese. Give that both men are in their eighties, it is quite possible they will die in prison before a verdict is reached.

The tribunal has been subject to much criticism, some of which I outlined as long ago as 2007 in my Lowy Perspective paper, The Khmer Rouge Tribunal: An Ambiguous Good News Story. There is no doubt that the tribunal's continuing existence is an annoyance to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has made clear his reluctance to see it indict new defendants in accordance with his view that his compatriots should 'dig a hole and bury the past'.

Many Cambodians will be glad that a verdict has been reached, but there will be others who feel the whole process has taken too long and has failed to tackle the broader issue of the continuing presence in high places within government of many who previously were closely associated with the Khmer Rouge regime. It is a sentiment reflected in the above CNN video interview with the activist Theary Seng, whose family suffered grievously under the Khmer Rouge. The video is accompanied by a thoughtful commentary from Youk Chhang, the founder of the Cambodian Documentation Centre.

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