The Khmer Rouge Tribunal Begins

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Website (officially the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia):

From The Cambodia Daily a paper which publishes very limited content online.  (I can only imagine the daily efforts and mission of printing free press are work enough). Therefore an excerpt, because this isn’t going to make it to the Stateside otherwise.

On the First Day of Trial, KR Atrocities Recounted

By Julia Wallace and Kuch Naren

As the Khmer Rouge tribunal began substantive hearings yesterday in its case agains three senior Pol Pot regime leaders, prosecutors told the court that the accused had turned their nation into “an ocean of blood.”

In an opening statement that lasted nearly the entire day, Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leange described the sheer horror of life under the Khmer Rouge regime – which she called “a system of brutality that defies belief” – in vivid and occasionally stomach-turning detail.

As she reeled off a litany of atrocities, co-accused Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and head of state Khieum Samphan lilstened impassively. Many victims sitting in the court’s gallery public gallery openly wept.

One of them, 55-year old Var Liman, ran out of the room in tears as Ms Leang began to describe the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975. “I couldn’t stop my tears, and I felt as if I was seeing the image of my brothers, my two brothers, who were tied with roped and carried to be executed separately in the forest,” she said afterwards sobbing in the court’s bathroom.

Ms Leang described countless scenes of cannibalism, disembowelment, bloody beatings and torture. At the Sre Ambel salt fields, laborers were forced to work until their legs were eaten away by salt water. At the Trapeang Thmar dam, menstruating women could not wash the blood off their bodies are were trailed by thick clouds of flies. Those we fell ill were fed rabbit pellets or injected with coconut juice.

As one security center, guards used pincers to pull of prisoners’ noses and earlobes, then poured acid on their victims, dragged them outside naked, and cut out their livers to fry and eat. At another, prisoners were forced to defecate into helmets that doubled as their food bowls. Two small girls aged 2 and 3 had their brains bashed out against a tamarind tree by guards after their parents died.

During a discussion of genocide against Cham Muslims, prosecutors play a video clip of a Cham woman describing her suffering. She said all her sons had been killed by the Khmer Rouge. “They boiled human excrement to make fertilizer, and they forced me to tast it, asking was it salty or not,” she asked. “When I speak about it, it makes me feel better, because if I keep it inside myself, I only suffer more.

Under the regime, the Khmer people were stripped not only of their belongings but also what Khieu Samphan had dubbed their “spiritual private property,” which the former head of state once said was more insidious than material wealth. “It comprises everthing that you think is yours, everything that you think in relation to yourself, your parents, your family and your wife,” Ms Leang explained quoting words Khieu Samphan once told an interviewer.

This lead to policies such as forced marriage and the systematic suppression of Buddhism. Monks were referred to as “disease carriers that sucks people’s blood.” Women were forced to have sex with new husbands they may have met that very afternoon, while couples who fell in love without authorization could be killed.

“They took from the people everything makes life worth livig: family, faith, education, a place to rear one’s children, a place to rest one’s head” said Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley. Chhim Phan, a former Khmer Rouge deputy commune chief attending yesterday’s hearings said that the prosecutors’ presentation was difficult to listen to. He once ordered his cadres to publicly execute a man and a woman who had fallen in love illicitly. Now, he is plagued by guilt.

“That couple was brought to smash in front of a crowd of men’s mobile unit and women’s mobile unit in order to warn others not to make love,” he recalled. “they were beaten to death with hoes and wooded sticks. I admit I killed that couple, but I was ordered to do so.”

Ms Leang and Mr Cayley said there was no doubt that the three accused were directly responsible for coordinating the policies that led to these atrocities. Each of three is charged with genocide against Cham Muslims and  ethnic Vietnamese; crimes against humanity including murder, extermination, enslavement and torture; and war crimes, including torture, unlawful deportation, willful killing and willfully causing great suffering.

But due to the case’s complexity, judges have spit it into several smaller “mini-trials,” and only forced evacuations and related crimes against humanity will be deal with when witness testimony begins in December. Khmer Rouge victims and their tormentors attended yesterday’s hearing side by side. Civil party Khoem Rin, 63 was evacuated from her Phnom Penh home to Kompong Speu in 1975. Her brother was executed in the jungle, and Khmer Rouge soliders friend and ate his liver, lungs and viscera.

“When I first saw those top three Khmer Rouge leaders, I wanted to him them with my shoes, because even Hitler the former German leader never killed his own people. In contrast these former Khmer Rouge stupid leaders smashed their nation,” she said.  But Ieng Sary’s former messenger, 64-year-old Phy Phuon, who had traveled from Banteay  Meanchey province’s Malai district to watch his boss go on trial, said he was disappointed with the court for trying to find justice when “there is no justice in this world.”

“It’s not true that he killed many people, he said of Ieng Sary. “No, it isn’t true. I never saw the killing. His natural character is gentle. Other leaders’ attitudes wer also gentle, not violent and cruel… I never saw the corpses. I went to all the provinces around the country, and I never saw the killings and the bodies. I only saw the difficulties in building dams.”

International observers were also paying attention. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay applauded the trial’s opening statement from Geneva, although she cautioned that political interference must not be allowed to damage the credibility of the court.

Chhang Song, a former minister of information under the Lon Nol regime who fled the country in 1975, said he is avidly following the trial from his home in California. “It’s now the big time for the great show for those senior Khmer Rouge to come forward and answer for the huge crimes they have committed against the people in Cambodia,” he said.

“For me, looking from afar, it means a great and decisive step in the biggest trial in the history of Cambodia, and one of the biggest trials in the history of the world.”

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