Khieu Samphan on Friday became the third former Khmer Rouge leader to be charged with genocide by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
The former Democratic Kampuchea head of state was informed of the new charges in a meeting with the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s co-investigating judges, court spokesman Lars Olsen said on Friday.
On Wednesday, the tribunal announced that Brother Number Two Nuon Chea and the regime’s former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary would be charged with genocide. All three suspects had previously been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
As with Ieng Sary and Nuon Chea, the genocide charges against Khieu Samphan relate to crimes committed against Vietnamese and Cham Muslims during the 1975 to 1979 regime, Mr Olsen said.
Last month, in an announcement of the scope of their investigation in Case 002, the court’s co-investigating judges said they were examining the treatment of Vietnamese people in Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces, and during Khmer Rouge incursions into Vietnam.
The judges also highlighted the treatment of Cham Muslims in broad swaths of Cambodia, with a particular emphasis on sites in Kompong Cham province.
The charges against Khieu Samphan were also expanded on Friday to include murder, torture and religious persecution, all crimes under the 1956 Cambodian penal code, which was in effect during the Democratic Kampuchea era.
Prosecutors in September requested that the co-investigating judges meet with each of the court’s detainees to clarify charges against them. It was during these meetings that the charges against Ieng Sary, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were expanded. Ieng Thirith, the regime’s Minister of Social Action, is scheduled to come before the judges early next week, so it is still unclear whether she will be charged with genocide or any additional crimes, Mr Olsen said.
Until this week, no former Khmer Rouge leader had been charged by the ECCC with genocide, despite the fact that, for many, the word is inextricably linked with atrocities committed by the regime.
Genocide is defined by international law as “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” This excludes the majority of crimes committed by the regime, which were perpetrated by Khmers against Khmers for largely political and economic reasons.
In an e-mail message this week, historian Philip Short said the court’s new charges of genocide were “ill-founded,” because Cham Muslims and Vietnamese were not targeted by the Khmer Rouge for ethnic, racial or religious reasons.
“[Chams] were targeted for their resistance to KR policy—and for their rebellions—not for their race,” he wrote. “Small consolation, you may say! The result was the same. But it fits the definition of crimes against humanity, not genocide.”
And despite the Khmer Rouge’s creeping paranoia about Vietnamese political influence, Mr Short wrote, Vietnamese were targeted inconsistently, with more than 100,000 allowed to leave the country in the early days of the regime, and other prominent Vietnamese, such as Ieng Sary’s secretary, spared altogether.
“In Germany the fact of being a Jew—no matter what position you held—put you on an extermination list; the same was true in Rwanda,” he wrote. “There were no exceptions. Those were genuinely genocidal situations. In Cambodia, it was much more complicated. And…the prime motive for the crimes committed against them was political, not racial.”
Mahdev Mohan, a lawyer representing about 30 Khmer Krom victims of the regime, wrote in an e-mail on Friday that the new charges were “heartening,” and that he was pleased “the genocidal crimes that the Cham and Vietnamese minority groups have suffered are finally being given judicial recognition.”
However, Mr Mohan added that he hoped similar charges would be brought against the court’s defendants to address crimes against the Khmer Krom.
“It would be unfortunate and gravely ironic if genocide charges are preferred against non-Khmer minorities in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era, but not the Khmer Krom,” he wrote.