At least two senior leaders detained at the Khmer Rouge tribunal will be charged with genocide, an escalation of atrocity crimes charges against them, officials said Wednesday.
Nuon Chea, who was Pol Pot’s lieutenant and an influential ideologue for the communists, and Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, will be charged with the crime in an upcoming case against them. Both already face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Investigating judges read their decision to prosecutors, defense lawyers, and the accused in hearings Monday and Wednesday, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said Wednesday.
“This is the first additional charge following a more than two-year investigation by investigating judges,” Reach Sambath said.
Two more leaders in tribunal detention, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith, will have similar hearings in coming weeks. Defense lawyers said Wednesday the two are also expected to be charged with genocide.
The new charges are based on mass killings of Vietnamese and Cham Muslims under the regime.
Cham Muslims were singled out and killed in the central, eastern and northwestern zones, Reach Sambath said. “And especially in the village of Trea II, in Krouch Chhmar district, and in the O’Takuon pagoda, in Kang Meas district,” in Kampong Cham province, he said.
Son Arun, a defense lawyer for Nuon Chea, said Wednesday he will appeal to strike the genocide charge. “This is a very serious charge, because my client was ignorant of some areas,” he said.
However, Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, called the genocide charge a good step.
“Genocide is the right word to describe the difficulties of the people and the atrocities in Democratic Kampuchea’s regime,” he said. “This charge is not only important legally but it is important historically.”
The Documentation Center, which has spent decades researching Khmer Rouge crimes, estimates between 100,000 and 400,000 Cambodian Muslims were killed under the regime.
The total number of Vietnamese killed is not known, though at least 200,000 Vietnamese were expelled from Cambodiain the 1970s, and at least 345 Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed in the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison. Many Vietnamese were seized by the Khmer Rouge in Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces during armed conflict in the 1970s.