Four high-ranking leaders of Cambodia's disgraced Khmer Rouge government of the 1970s were on Thursday indicted for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide”.
The four — Khieu Samphan (79), Nuon Chea (84), Ieng Sary (85) and Ieng Thirith (78) — would continue to be detained, according to the two Co-Investigating Judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
ECCC official Reach Sambath later told The Hindu from Phnom Penh that the trial, now ordered by the judges, was expected to begin in the first half of 2011. The internationally recognised Trial Chamber of the specialised ECCC would decide whether the four accused should be prosecuted together or individually, said Mr. Reach Sambath.
For now, the decision to bring the surviving top leaders of the Khmer Rouge to justice was “significant news for the people of Cambodia who had waited for [over] 30 years” for this day. The trial would begin a “healing process” for Cambodia's future, he said. The ECCC said in a statement the case file against the four accused “extends to over 350,000 pages, more than 223,000 of which relate to substance”. The case would focus on some aspects of the Khmer Rouge's crimes, which caused “an estimated 1.7 million to 2.2 million deaths, of which approximately 800,000 were violent [killings]”. While the perceived crimes against humanity and genocide related to “an attack against the entire population of Cambodia”, the charge of war crimes was filed “in the context of [Cambodia's] international armed conflict with Vietnam” during the Khmer Rouge's reign.
Of the four accused, Khieu Samphan was head of state. His doctoral thesis on Cambodian economy, obtained in Paris in 1959, was often cited for the disastrous policies pursued by the Khmer Rouge's highest-ranking leader, Pol Pot, who died in 1998 without being brought to justice. As Pol Pot's deputy for long, the now-indicted Nuon Chea was “Brother Number Two” in the organisation.
Ranking as “Brother Number Three”, Ieng Sary was the Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister. His wife, Ieng Thirith, now indicted, was the movement's most senior woman leader and the regime's Social Affairs Minister.
Thursday's indictments follow the conviction of a lower-level Khmer Rouge official, Kaing Guek Eav (67), in July this year for his role in mass executions at a security centre which was also used as a killing field in the 1970s.