‘Even their remains should be in handcuffs’: Khmer Rouge vilified | News

Yath Run was only nine years old when Khmer Rouge took power in 1975.

The victory of Pol Pot’s forces caused Yath Run to be separated from his parents and sent to a child labor camp in Battambang province, in the northwestern countryside of Cambodia.

Decades later, Yath Run’s anger has not dissipated against the regime that separated him from his family, and its policies and purges have resulted in the deaths of two million people in less than a year. full four years.

A life in prison is not enough, he said, foretelling Thursday’s final verdict of the Khmer Rouge war crimes court in Phnom Penh, which affirmed the life sentence of former regime head of state Khieu Samphan for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Yath Run, 56, said: ‘They deserve a sentence of 200 or 300 years in prison and even their remains should be handcuffed until the end of their prison term.

Punishment for Khmer Rouge leaders should also continue in death; None of their relatives – not even children – should be allowed to attend their funeral, he said, suggesting the government designate a specific burial site only for the remains of the leader. regime ethics.

Group photo of Khmer Rouge Defense Minister Son Sen, Führer Khieu Samphan, "English number 2" Nuon Chea, "Brother No. 1. Pol Pot, Yon Yat, the regime's minister of culture, education and propaganda, Meas Sophy, Pol Pot's first wife, Sar Phacheta, Pol Pot's daughter.
(Left to right) Khmer Rouge Defense Minister Son Sen; Führer Khieu Samphan; ‘Brother No. 2’ Nuon Chea; ‘Brother No. 1’ Pol Pot; The regime’s Minister of Culture, Education and Propaganda, Yon Yat, and Meas Sophy, Pol Pot’s first wife with young Sar Phacheta, Pol Pot’s daughter. The identities of the others in the photo are unknown [Courtesy of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia]

“They are not allowed to hold funerals because in their regime innocent people have been massacred and their bodies have no coffins to lie in,” he said.

The rejection of Khieu Samphan’s appeal by the Extraordinary Chambers at the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) – the official name of the war crimes court – marks the final ruling in 16 years of work by the UN-backed court. .

The court said it upheld his conviction and life sentence “in all circumstances, including the tragic nature of the underlying events and the extent of harm caused by Khieu Samphan”.

Some have criticized the court for taking more than a decade and a half and spending more than $330 million to convict five senior Khmer Rouge leaders and successfully sentence only three. Others say the work of saving the Khmer Rouge nightmare will continue in Cambodia long after the court’s now completed legal work.

Khieu Samphan, 91, the former head of state of the Pol Pot regime, is the regime’s only living senior leader behind bars.

Self-proclaimed ‘Brother No. 1’ mode, Pol Pot, died in 1998 before he can be brought to justice.

Pol Pot's photo was taken by a Vietnamese delegation visiting Cambodia on July 27, 1975.
A picture of Pol Pot taken by a Vietnamese delegation visiting Cambodia on July 27, 1975. The Khmer Rouge had come to power a little more than three months earlier. [Courtesy of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia]

Nuon Chea, known as ‘Brother No 2’ and the main ideologue of the regime, was sentenced by a court to two life sentences for crimes against humanity and genocide. He passed away in 2019.

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, Ieng Sary, was charged with crimes against humanity but died of ill health before the end of his trial in 2013.

His wife, Ieng Thirith, the regime’s former minister of social action and Pol Pot’s sister-in-law, was also charged but later ruled unfit to stand trial on grounds of mental health. She passed away in 2015.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as ‘Duch’, was convicted of crimes against humanity in 2010 for crimes committed at the S-21 prison and torture center in Phnom Penh. Duch passed away in 2020.

In this classroom setting, sitting "English number 2" Nuon Chea;  Vorn Vet, the regime's minister of commerce;  Führer Khieu Samphan;  Ta Mok, the brutal military commander and secretary of the regime's Southwest Zone;  Ke Pauk, secretary of the Northern Zone;  Chou Chet, secretary of the Western District, and Ieng Sary, the regime's foreign minister.
‘Brother No 2’ Nuon Chea (sitting left) addresses senior Khmer Rouge officials, including Führer Khieu Samphan, Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and brutal military commander Ta Mok [Courtesy of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia]

Troubled memories

More than 40 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, survivors still linger on their memories of that period, according to a new study conducted by the Cambodia Documentation Center. [DC-CAM]The country’s leading research institution archives the events of the Khmer Rouge period.

Based on a survey of more than 31,000 survivors conducted between August 2021 and August 2022, 87% of respondents reported that they still have painful memories of the past.

Those memories “resonate” with survivors, and “25% of respondents reported still experiencing nightmares during this period, despite the fact that it happened more than four years ago.” ten years ago,” wrote DC-CAM director Youk Chhang.

Reflecting on the war crimes court’s conclusion, Youk Chhang said the process is individual for each survivor, but the legal process has allowed Cambodians to be more open about what happened.

That openness has allowed them to look more deeply into their personal and collective pasts. Cumulatively, that has led to people being more willing to deal with issues in a more open way, which will help Cambodia in the future, he said.

DC-CAM also found that 47% of those surveyed had followed court work compared to 51% of those who did not. A staggering 81% responded “good/satisfied” when asked what they thought of the jury, compared to 8% who answered “not good/unsatisfied”.

When asked about the court’s contribution to the individual and wider society, the overwhelming answer was “justice”.

Education is also seen as the most important way to “help the younger generation recall the history of the Khmer Rouge and prevent” the return of such a brutal regime.


Craig Etcheson, author of Extraordinary Justice: The Law, Politics and Courts of the Khmer Rouge, said: “For me, the most important thing is the impact of the courts on national reconciliation.

Etcheson, who was also an investigator with the court’s co-prosecutor’s office from 2006 to 2012, said the court process had begun new dialogues in Cambodian society.

Parents can finally talk to their children about the events of the late 1970s, Etcheson said. They can explain why, in the past, they might not have been able to talk about what happened, and also why they might have behaved in certain ways, he said.

He told Al Jazeera the court had “reached every corner of the country” and “across the divisions of society”.

There is access to interpretation of the court’s purpose through television coverage, road shows, art exhibitions and performances.

Important modules on Cambodian history during the regime period have been added to the school’s curriculum, and about 100,000 Cambodians have come to watch the court proceedings, he said.

As chief public affairs officer of the court from 2006-2009, Helen Jarvis recalls feeling a little shaken when she first went to rural Cambodia to distribute information about the war crimes court, worry about how people might react.

Former members of the ranks and profile of the Khmer Rouge have lived quietly in the cities, towns and villages since the movement’s disbandment ended in the late 1990s, when the militants give an option to defect to the government or face arrestand when their military strongholds accepted Phnom Penh’s power.

“I was hesitant at first, wondering how we would be received,” Jarvis recounts, adding to her surprise that her team has never once encountered hostility or destruction. during those trips.

“I think it was enthusiasm, especially in rural communities from the very beginning. But in my opinion, we don’t have enough funding to do it really well,” she said.

Court – first mixed war crimes court where country officers collaborate with international UN staff in a country where there is a wide range of crime – will be remembered for their outreach and participation of victims in the proceedings , she said, although she feels no area is fully funded or staffed. in the original plan.

“It’s ironic – those are two big gaps. But it turns out that they are the most important legacy, in my opinion.”

Move forward

When asked if he felt the trial was successful, DC-CAM’s Youk Chhang warns that “success” is never a word to use when dealing with genocide and discussing the deaths of two million people.

The most important part of the court process, he said, is including survivors in the proceedings, adding that the court “allows everyone to come in and agree and disagree” and “make end for him or her personally”.

“Although some people don’t like the court, it allows people to express [their criticism] — that makes the courts healthier,” he said.

Although the court is important in terms of justice, prosecution and conviction, Youk Chhang says there is still much work to be done after the genocide.

“The court is not a history department or an advisory service,” he said. “That’s what continues after the court disappears.”

Teenager Khlout Sopoar was born a year after the United Nations-backed War Crimes Tribunal began operating in Cambodia.

Sopoar has never experienced the suffering or trauma of previous generations who lived through the regime and its aftermath.

However, the 15-year-old student is very clear about the enormity of crimes, their punishments and the need for reconciliation.

Khieu Samphan, the last living senior leader of the regime, deserves prison, she said.

And, survivors of the regime should accept the justice given by the courts.

“I think the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime is great,” Sopoar said.

“But the victims should accept the sentence,” she said.

For Sopoar and millions of Cambodians, the end of the legal process marks a moment to move forward.

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