Khmer Rouge leaders appeal life sentences for crimes against humanity | Cruise Mekong River

Khmer Rouge leaders appeal life sentences for crimes against humanity

Khieu Samphan (L) and Nuon Chea
Cambodia’s former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan (left) and former chief ideologue Nuon Chea are appealing their crimes against humanity convictions. Photograph: Reuters

Legal teams for the Khmer Rouge regime’s former chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, and its former head of state, Khieu Samphan, have appealed their life sentences and convictions for crimes against humanity following their sentencing in August.

A panel of judges at the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh sentenced the octogenarians to life in prison for crimes against humanity, extermination, political persecution and other inhumane acts for their roles in the 1970s regime that plunged Cambodia into turmoil and killed about 1.7 million people.

The legal defence for 88-year-old Nuon Chea put forward 223 grounds for appeal on Monday, while Khieu Samphan, 83, presented 148 grounds. The men, who are two of the most senior surviving leaders of the regime, vehemently denied the charges laid against them throughout the course of the trial.

Nuon Chea’s 30-page appeal argues that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice because he did not receive a fair trial, there were inconsistencies in witness testimony and says the judges were more concerned with “writing the final chapter of a propaganda campaign” than ascertaining the truth. It also said key witnesses who could have testified in favour of Nuon Chea had been rejected.

One of Khieu Samphan’s lawyers, Kong Sam Onn, said on Tuesday that the main purpose of the appeal was to reverse the judgment and acquit his client, based largely on what he said was “assumption or hearsay”.

“The court believes that Khieu Samphan didn’t have the power, just a symbolic [figure], but still the court presumed that he knew the facts and so this is the court’s assumption to believe that he knew the facts even [though’ there was no witness who testified that,” he said.

Long Panhavuth, a program officer with the George Soros-funded Cambodia Justice Initiative, said the feeling among many Cambodians was that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan should have received the heaviest sentences possible, regardless of legal intricacies being argued in the appeals.

“In general, this court is having too much problem with corruption, political influence, high expectations by the public … people applaud long sentencing,” he said.

He said the next phase of the case could be more meaningful if efforts were made to educate more Cambodians about the court. “Reactivating the outreach program is needed now so they can bring again a momentum of the court,” he said.

Because of the age of the defendants – of which there were originally four – and the sheer size of the mammoth case against them, the judges decided to partition it into smaller, more manageable trials in 2011. The regime’s former social affairs minister, Ieng Thirith, was found mentally unfit to stand trial and released in 2012, while her husband, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, died in March 2013.

The case’s first trial, known as Case 002/01, centred around the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh – an event that civil party lawyers said was the catalyst for unimaginable suffering over the course of the years that followed, until the Khmer Rouge were toppled by Vietnamese forces in January 1979.

Crimes also included the forced transfer of people to labour camps scattered around the country, as well as the execution of soldiers and officials from the Khmer Republic regime in a remote, rural site.

In addition to legal arguments, the case against them was also illustrated extensively by some of the 3,869 civil parties who described the events as they remembered them.

The judgment found Nuon Chea to have been “directly responsible and responsible as a superior” for the crimes, while Khieu Samphan was found to have been part of the “joint criminal enterprise” under which an estimated 1.7 million people died, even though he did not issue any direct orders related to the crimes.

The second phase of the trial against the pair will have a wider scope and consider charges including forced marriage and rape, purges and genocide. Although it is set to begin on 17 October, both legal teams have sought the disqualification of the judges.

The tribunal has been a costly exercise in international justice. It is the first hybrid court of its kind, using UN assistance in Cambodia’s domestic court system, which is widely reported to be mired in corruption.

Figures released in May show that more than $ 216m has been donated to the court since it was established in 2006. Japan ($ 80m), Australia ($ 20m), the US ($ 18m), Germany ($ 13m) and the UK ($ 11m) are its largest donors. But until August it had only secured one conviction – that of former S-21 jailer Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who is now serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity following his trial, which is known as Case 001.

The court also operated on a mostly hand-to-mouth basis last year as money dried up and donations were directed towards the international side, meaning most national staff went unpaid several times, sometimes for months on end.

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Cambodia | The Guardian

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