The case against Nuon Chea, the communist party’s deputy secretary, appeared virtually open and shut yesterday as the Khmer Rouge tribunal published the findings of its three-year investigation of the former regime.
The court announced on Sept 16 that it had indicted Nuon Chea, 84, along with head of state Khieu Samphan, 79, Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, 84, and his wife Ieng Thirith, 78, the former Social Action Minister.
However the text of the indictments–for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and crimes under Cambodian law resulting in perhaps as many as 2.2 million deaths–had not been released before yesterday and has been redacted to protect the names of witnesses.
Due to the historical and personal limits of the court’s jurisdiction, the indictment also made clear the extent to which the tribunal has collected evidence for which the direct perpetrators cannot be tried or that cannot be used in any prosecution.
Investigations at the Kraing Ta Chan security center in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district indicated that more than 15,000 people had been executed there, with one witness saying that as many as 17,000 human skulls were exhumed.
Such a death toll could exceed the number of people killed in Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge secret police, whose chairman Kaing Guek Eav was sentenced in July to 35 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The court is limited to trying senior leaders and “those most responsible” for regime crimes. While the four accused will be held to account for crimes at Kraing Ta Chan, the court is not believed to have initiated proceedings against its operators.
The civil party applications of 664 people, perhaps the largest group of the 2,100 civil parties admitted to the coming trials, were deemed admissible in connection with the regime’s policies of forced marriage.
In describing the alleged roles of the four accused, the court’s Co-Investigating Judges found that with Pol Pot, Nuon Chea had been one of two people directly in control of the regime’s operations, crafting its policies and directing their implementation.
At the Foreign Ministry, Ieng Sary may have on occasion sought to prevent the arrests of some people but was a full rights member of the communist party’s standing committee, its most powerful executive body, and allegedly participated in the drafting of a March 1976 directive granting authority to officials to carryout executions nationwide.
Like Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, was described as an advocate and a public endorser of the regime’s policies of agricultural collectivization and execution. Civil parties also allege his involvement in the mass deportations to the regime’s East Zone.
Despite her sometimes erratic behavior and the reported mental illness of her sister Khieu Ponnary, psychiatric experts determined that Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sary’s wife, exhibited “an absence of any serious mental problem.”
Though not a full-rights member of the party’s central committee, Ieng Thirith is suspected of supporting the regime’s policies and actively identifying alleged traitors who were then killed by the secret police.
According to the indictment, the Vietnamese Embassy disregarded requests for information concerning alleged Khmer Rouge atrocities in Vietnam’s Tay Ninh province.
Lai Xuan Chien, counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy, said yesterday he was too busy to speak with a reporter.