Final verdicts for Khmer Rouge leaders ‘vital’ for next generation

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Khieu Samphan stands trial at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The Supreme Court Chamber will announce the verdict for the former Khmer Rouge head of state on September 22. ECCC

Nearly a decade after the commencement of Case 002/02 against Khieu Samphan back in 2014, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now set to deliver its final verdict for the former Khmer Rouge head of state.

The Supreme Court Chamber of the ECCC, commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, will announce the verdict on September 22 at 9:30am.

Samphan, now 91 and the only surviving Khmer Rouge leader awaiting the final verdict, has been indicted for crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention and genocide. His charges have been severed into two trials: Case 002/01 and Case 002/02, the former of which commenced in June 2011.

In Case 002/01, he was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity, with part of the convictions quashed but life imprisonment upheld by the Supreme Court Chamber in November 2016.

In November 2018, Samphan was convicted of genocide and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions in Case 002/02.

Although Samphan’s case has dragged on for more than a decade and he is now in his 90s, some young Cambodians believe the ECCC trial is crucial and will serve as a reminder of the past for the next generations.

Eang Voleak, a fourth-year student in international relations, said it is long overdue.

“No matter the verdict, he cannot go anywhere. Even though he is very old, and other powerful leaders of his generation have already passed away, it is still important to show that humanity has learned from this experience, both in terms of the atrocities and the judicial process.”

“There are a lot of things that can be discussed about the trial. It’s very complex, in particular his personal history, but it’s important that we discuss it frankly – without emotions – that is, it must be scientific. The Khmer Rouge leaders are still the most responsible actors for the regime’s conduct,” he added.

Venerable monk Rom Rithy, who is also studying international relations, echoed the sentiment.

“They do not want to prolong the trial anymore because the majority of the Khmer Rouge leaders have died. Khieu Samphan is very old and it seems that he will not live long to serve the life imprisonment. This sentence will provide closure, and justice, to the victims of a cruel regime that ruled for just three years, seven months and 20 days.”

Both Voleak and Venerable Rithy, among other young people, admitted that they did not have much in-depth understanding of Case 002/02, especially the proceedings, although they understand that it is complicated. They said that because many young people viewed it as something that happened a long time ago, they do not have much interest in learning about it.

San Konnga, a third-year law student, said: “I have tried to study some of these cases, but did not go into too much depth, especially when it came to the trial process. It is very difficult to understand and has been going on for a long time.”

“Although this case is important for the next generation, I find it difficult to understand and follow. I know that the tribunal has shed lights on some trials, but not many people understand them clearly or discuss them with others,” she added.

With that being said, Konnga expressed her support for the announcement of the final verdict in the case, saying: “I agree with the proceedings because they are in line with the atrocities Khieu Samphan committed during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.”

Another former Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea, was also convicted in November 2018 of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, before his death from unspecified cause the following year. He was 93.