Forced movement of Cambodian population will be first crime tried
The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s case against four senior regime leaders will be split into several smaller trials examining separate crimes and charges, the court announced late yesterday.
The subdivision of charges will help Trial Chamber judges manage and expedite the long-delayed, massively complex Case 002, allowing them to hand down a string of consecutive mini-verdicts and sentences that could be issued years before the entire case has been tried.
The first trial will focus on forced movements of the Cambodian population, including the evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975, which prosecutors allege comprised crimes against humanity.
The announcement comes amid serious doubts that all four of the case’s elderly accused will make it through what is expected to be a years-long trial.
Already, former Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith, 79, has been provisionally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and will likely be found unfit to be tried. Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, 85; Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, 85; and head of state Khieu Samphan, 80, also suffer from a plethora of health complaints.
“Experience before other international tribunals suggests that where separation of proceedings does not occur in cases of similar complexity to Case 002, Trial Chambers have occasionally required as long as 10 years to reach a verdict,” the court said in a statement.
Splitting charges, the statement continued, would “safeguard the interests of victims in achieving meaningful and timely justice, as well as the right of all Accused in Case 002 to an expeditious trial.”
In addition to crimes against humanity, the four defendants are charged with war crimes, genocide, murder, torture and religious persecution, which they are alleged to have committed through five key policies: the forced movement of the population; the establishment of worksites; the reeducation of “bad elements” and killing of enemies; the targeting of specific groups for killing; and the regulation of marriage.
The first trial will focus on just two population movements: the evacuation of Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge seized power, and the subsequent mass movements of people between different zones of Democratic Kampuchea starting in September 1975.
In their indictment issued last year, investigating judges said both movements were centrally planned and affected hundreds of thousands of people, resulting in numerous deaths from either starvation, lack of medical care or targeted killings. They said the repeated population movements subjected civilians to “great physical and mental suffering.”
“In deciding to commence the first trial with the forced movement of population and crimes against humanity, the Trial Chamber sought to follow the chronological and logical sequence of the [indictment], to commence with the earliest time period covered by the indictment (approximately 1975-1976), to ensure that the issues examined in the first trial provide a basis to consider the role and responsibility of all Accused, and to provide a foundation for the remaining charges in later trials,” the court wrote.
The forced movements also affected a vast cross-section of Cambodians, including most victims participating as civil parties in Case 002, the court said.
Michael Karnavas, the American defense lawyer for Ieng Sary, said in an e-mail that the subdivision of the trial was unsurprising and had been the product of extensive deliberation.
“I see nothing alarming or unusual in this decision in light of the magnitude of this case and the procedure adopted by the ECCC,” he said.
Deputy Co-Prosecutor William Smith declined to comment on the announcement.
“We haven’t seen the order, so we will be reviewing our position tomorrow,” he said.