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At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

  • Kong Sothanarith
  • VOA Khmer

FILE - Buddhist monks gather at a memorial stupa with bones of more than 8,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime at Choeung Ek, a "Killing Fields" site located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 17, 2014.

FILE - Buddhist monks gather at a memorial stupa with bones of more than 8,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime at Choeung Ek, a "Killing Fields" site located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 17, 2014.

Chum Mey, an 82-year-old survivor of the Khmer Rouge, sits on a plastic chair outside his book kiosk in the courtyard of the former prison that once held him. He sells books about the Khmer Rouge and about himself in what is now called the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

He said he is now awaiting the verdict from the United Nations-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal for two former leaders of the regime, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. The court is expected to announce that verdict August 7.

“I’m happy to see there will be a verdict,” he said. “The entire world is waiting for it too.”

The first phase of the trial, which is coming to an end, focused on the forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975.

“I [will not forget] the evacuation of people from Phnom Penh. I will never forget," said Chum Mey. "Why? It is because I slept amongst corpses. The smell of decomposed humans was everywhere when we were evacuated out of town."

'Duch' sentenced

The tribunal has sentenced just one Khmer Rouge defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch," who received a life sentence for his role as supervisor of the Tuol Sleng detention center.

Tuol Sleng survivor Bou Meng said anything less for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan will be too little.

“I am waiting for the verdict, waiting to see what it would say," Bou Meng said. "In the regime, higher ranking Khmer Rouge cadres order the lower level. The lower cadres followed the order of their seniors. So giving that Duch was convicted to life in prison, the senior leaders should not be convicted to 10 or 20 years in prison. They must be in prison for life, too."

Lars Olsen, a spokesman for the international side of the U.N.-backed court, said he feels sure justice will be delivered.

“It will be justice not only for victims, but for the accused. It means we are going forward to achieve our mandate," he said.

Neth Pheaktra, Cambodian spokesman for the hybrid court, echoed that sentiment, adding "the whole world has been waiting so long for the verdict."

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the verdict will be critically important.

“The verdict is historically important and the most value for humanity in terms of justice," he said.

Atrocity crimes

But for Youk Chhang, the head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which conducts genocide research crucial to the trial, the completion of the trials should not overshadow a larger failure.

“We [mankind] have failed for over 60 years," he said. "No genocide has ever been prevented and no tribunal has ever brought a complete justice. So long as we continue to fail to prevent more genocide from happening, we can’t declare a victory.”

In the second phase of the trial, which started Wednesday, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan face charges for atrocity crimes, including genocide, committed by the Khmer Rouge under their leadership.

As many as two million Cambodians died from starvation, overwork and executions during the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, which attempted to create an agrarian communist utopia.

The group's leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 and co-founder Ieng Sary died earlier this year.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.

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