Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ieng Sary (1925-2013)

Brother Number 3, Ieng Sary, has died in Phnom Penh at age 87 while standing trial for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed as part of the Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979. His case in the mixed UN-Cambodian tribunal called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), designated Case 002, will continue with his co-defendants, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. Ieng's wife, Ieng Thirith, was also a co-defendant in the case before her dismissal due to advancing dementia.

Ieng was a co-founder of the Khmer Rouge along with his brother-in-law (and Brother Number 1), Pol Pot. He served as foreign minister during the Communists' genocidal rule in Cambodia, a period in which approximately 1.7 million people died from executions, starvation, and forced labor as the Khmer Rouge attempted to return Cambodia to "Year Zero." Ieng persuaded many educated Cambodians who had left the country to return to help rebuild it; most were subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and killed.

Ieng's death before the conclusion of his trial has highlighted one of the most significant problems with the ECCC. The long delay in its creation coupled with its very slow pace of operation has severely limited its ability to prosecute those who were most responsible for the destruction of Cambodia in the 1970s. Pol Pot died of natural causes in 1998, well before the tribunal began its operations in 2006.

To date, the ECCC has spent $175.3 million and has completed one trial, that of Kaing Guek Eav ("Comrade Duch"), who was in charge of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Two other cases--Case 003 against Meas Mut and Sou Met and Case 004 against Im Chaem (a Buddhist monk now)--are ready for trial but are mired in political controversy. The government of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia as prime minister since 1985, has numerous links to the Khmer Rouge terror that it prefers not to have revisited through trial testimony. Hun Sen has said that he will block future indictments.