The Co-Prosecutors for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) have recommended the indictment of five Khmer Rouge leaders for their role in the Cambodian genocide between April 17, 1975, and January 6, 1979. This recommendation (called the "Introductory Submission"), together with over 1,000 documents (including 350 witness statements) supporting the charges, will now be considered by the Co-Investigating Judges in the mixed United Nations-Cambodian court established by an agreement reached between the UN and Cambodia in June 2003.
While the Co-Prosecutors are prohibited from releasing the names of those against whom indictments are being sought or the details of the charges, the statement released in Phnom Penh yesterday [.pdf] indicates the nature of the crimes being alleged:
Pursuant to their preliminary investigations, the Co-Prosecutors have identified and submitted for investigation twenty-five distinct factual situations of murder, torture, forcible transfer, unlawful detention, forced labor and religious, political and ethnic persecution as evidence of the crimes committed in the execution of this common criminal plan.
The factual allegations in this Introductory Submission constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, homicide, torture and religious persecution. The Co-Prosecutors, therefore, have requested the Co-Investigating Judges to charge those responsible for these crimes.
The top leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, died in 1998 having never been indicted or imprisoned for his role in the genocide that is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of approximately two million people. The military leader of the Khmer Rouge, Ta Mok, died last year, also without ever having faced charges.
Khieu Samphan, who served as head of state for Democratic Kampuchea and was one of the leading intellectuals in the Khmer Rouge (he earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Paris in 1959), is among those expected to be indicted. Khieu is 76 years old.
Nuon Chea, known has "Brother Number Two" during the brief reign of the Khmer Rouge, has stated that he expects to be indicted, but he also has maintained his innocence. Nuon Chea is now 82 and living in northwest Cambodia, the region to which many members of the Khmer Rouge retreated after being driven out of Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese military in January 1979.
Ieng Sary, another Khmer Rouge leader facing a possible indictment, served as foreign minister in the government of Democratic Kampuchea. He was related by marriage to Pol Pot and was third in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy when the government of Democratic Kampuchea was established. Ieng Sary is in his late seventies and was reportedly hospitalized in Bangkok for heart problmems late last year.
The only person among those expected to be indicted who has admitted responsibility for his actions in the Khmer Rouge regime is the former commandant of S-21 (the infamous Tuol Sleng prison) Khang Khek Ieu (better known as Brother Duch). Duch is also the only major suspect who is currently in custody, although not as a consequence of charges brought by the ECCC.
Of approximately 14,000 prisoners who passed through Tuol Sleng between 1975 and 1979, only twelve are known to have survived. Most were tortured and later executed at the most notorious of Cambodia's "killing fields," Choeung Ek.
Like other Khmer Rouge leaders, Duch disappeared into the countryside after the Vietnamese invasion in 1975-1976. In 1998, journalist Nic Dunlop discovered Duch working in a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. Duch had been converted to Christianity in 1996 by a Khmer-American missionary and had begun doing humanitarian work along the border. After his identity was discovered, Duch turned himself in to authorities and has been imprisoned awaiting trial in a Cambodian national court in Phnom Penh ever since.
Unlike Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, and Ieng Sary, who were granted pardons in the late 1990s by the government of Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen (himself a former member of the Khmer Rouge), Duch was never pardoned. (Although the ECCC may have to consider arguments related to the pardons if Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, or Ieng Sary is indicted, it is expected that pardons granted by Cambodia's government will not be considered binding on the ECCC given its emphasis on internationally defined crimes.)
Who might the fifth person named in the Introductory Submission be? Some speculation has focused on Meas Muth, son-in-law of the late Ta Mok and himself a military commander in the Khmer Rouge. Meas Muth, however, joined the Cambodian military after his defection from the Khmer Rouge, which means his prosecution might present significant political problems.