The death in Cambodia last week of Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea has left unfinished a full accounting of the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge against Cambodians and others, survivors and rights groups say, with one group calling for further prosecutions.
Nuon Chea, the right-hand man to the Khmer Rouge’s late leader, Pol Pot, died at the age of 93 while serving a life sentence in prison, putting an end to his appeal of a conviction on charges of genocide, according to the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Cambodia that found him guilty last year.
News of Nuon Chea’s death on Aug. 4 prompted survivors and relatives of victims to lament a lack of closure to the atrocities of Khmer Rouge regime, whose leadership oversaw the killing of nearly two million people during its 1975-79 reign of terror in Cambodia.
The search for justice must not end now with Nuon Chea's death, one survivor of the notorious S-21 Tuol Sleng death camp said, speaking this week to RFA’s Khmer Service.
“I am aging, and so are the other victims,” camp survivor Bou Meng said. “Unless these trials are expedited, we may never receive real justice.”
In November 2018, Nuon Chea was sentenced to life in prison along with former head of state Khieu Samphan, making the two the first of the Khmer Rouge’s top brass to be found guilty of genocide, in a verdict hailed by the international community and rights groups.
Nuon Chea was found to have committed genocide against Cambodia’s Muslim Cham and ethnic Vietnamese minorities, while Khieu Samphan was only found guilty of genocide against the Vietnamese by reason of joint command.
The two former Khmer Rouge leaders were already serving life sentences after being convicted in 2014 by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge Tribunal, formally called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, of crimes against humanity for orchestrating mass disappearances and forced transfers of Cambodians.
Both men had registered appeals of their convictions.
Political interference, corruption
Nuon Chea’s death is the latest development in a trial process that critics say has been marred by inefficiency, corruption, and resistance from the Cambodian government.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has publicly objected to any additional arrests or indictments, claiming that any further court cases would lead to another civil war, but observers have suggested that his comments are part of a bid to protect some senior government officials who were former Khmer Rouge leaders.
“The court’s work has been interfered with politically by Hun Sen, who on several occasions has made statements that interfered with the court’s affairs,” Cambodian political analyst Lao Mong Hay told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“This frustrating lack of cooperation has resulted in long delays and setbacks while the court’s credibility and independence have been called into question.”
In an Aug. 5 statement, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said that many other senior Khmer Rouge commanders have so far escaped justice “because of Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge commander.”
“Current government officials have also been implicated, but never charged, for Khmer Rouge crimes,” Robertson said.
“With Nuon Chea’s death, governments should still demand that Hun Sen ensure the prosecution of others who tormented the Cambodian people during the Khmer Rouge genocide.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.