August 7 was supposed to be judgment day for the last two leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime. Thirty-five years after the end of Pol Pot’s calamitous agrarian revolution, a United Nations-backed court in Phnom Penh found the movement’s chief ideologue Nuon Chea and the former president Khieu Samphan guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced them to life in prison. But neither Nuon Chea nor Khieu Samphan was convicted of genocide on August 7. And the tribunal will never even consider that charge in connection with the vast majority of the Khmer Rouge’s victims, the Khmer people, who make up 90 percent of the Cambodian population today. Even Cambodians who were relieved by the guilty verdicts were left feeling baffled, even betrayed, by the court’s handling of the genocide charge.
It could have been the setting of any Cambodian notable’s funeral. There was a large wooden house. There was a tall, terraced pyre in the dirt yard. The case for the coffin was topped with a silhouette of Angkor Wat. But this was Malai, a tidy little town in Cambodia’s northwest that for many years has been an enclave for Khmer Rouge holdouts. And the elder being commemorated was Ieng Sary, Pol Pot’s foreign minister and a member of his standing committee, who died last month at eighty-seven while on trial for assorted mass crimes before a UN-backed tribunal.
I wish to respond to an article written by Stéphanie Giry, published on your blog under the title: “Necessary Scapegoats? The Making of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” as follows: First, by saying that “[Cambodian Foreign Minster Hor Nam Hong] was the Ambassador to Cuba for the regime of General Lon Nol,” the writer is really insane and ignorant. Secondly, His Excellency Hor Nam Hong has never been a schoolmate with Ieng Sary for a simple reason that they are from different generations. Third, regarding a 2002 US Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, His Excellency Hor Nam Hong has already sent a letter of protest to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 18 July, 2011.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has long been keen to go down in history as the man who brought the Pol Pot regime to justice. But Hun Sen, a one-time Khmer Rouge battalion commander, knows only too well that investigations down the Khmer Rouge chain of command could expose the shady pasts of important members of the current government. Now, the joint Cambodian-international tribunal set up to prosecute Khmer Rouge crimes finds itself in a quandry: even as the Cambodian government has supported a case against the surviving senior leaders of the regime it has blocked two other cases against five mid-level officials, each one thought to be responsible for 40,000 to 100,000 deaths.
The July conviction of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch—the gaunt-faced, fever-eyed 68-year-old head of the Khmer Rouge’s leading torture center—by a special UN–Cambodian criminal court has been seen as a breakthrough in international justice. Years in the making, the trial was the first international criminal case brought against an official of the Pol Pot regime since a Vietnamese show trial in 1979. And despite mixed legal procedures, the conflicting approaches of Cambodian and international lawyers, hearings in three languages, budget shortages, corruption scandals, and political pressure, it was widely considered fair. Yet it is unclear how much the Duch case will have advanced the long-delayed efforts for justice against the Khmer Rouge, not least because Duch himself seems to have come out of the experience less repentant than he was when it began.