Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A bit of justice after the Khmer Rouge?

Happily for people in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge Party's rule is not a way of life for them anymore. Still, the scars caused by such movement are fresh in the minds of people in that nation, and for those who survived it, there is a good reason to be happy today: Nuon Chea (also known as Long Reth), one of the highest leaders of the movement, was arrested and will be tried soon for crimes against humanity.

The Khmer Rouge regime was one of the most ruthless, barbaric, criminal and inhuman political systems that mankind has ever seen. Such regime was controlled by a small posse of leaders, from which Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot (picture on the left), was the effective leader. The idea of the Khmer Rouge was to turn Cambodia into a "true" communist state (more or less in the same way that currently happens in North Korea, but worse). After reaching power in Cambodia in 1975, the regime changed the name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea, and took a series of extreme measures to successfully introduce their pure communism: Abolition of the currency, relocation of people from urban areas to rural communal farms, expropriation of private assets, isolation of the country from international influence and prohibition of religions were only some of the regulations. Obviously, as any other regime of its type, the Khmer Rouge did not tolerate any critics for their movement, thus students, intellectuals and ideologists were seen as enemies of the State.

Although the Khmer Rouge's rule lasted until 1979 (roughly four years), the results of their obscene regime were catastrophic and humiliating. Millions of men, women, children and elders, mostly intellectuals, monks, and individuals related to former governments, were killed in the numerous prison camps that operated in Democratic Kampuchea. The most remarkable camp was Tuol Sleng (also known as S-21), which serves today as a museum of the Cambodian holocaust.

The regime was forced out of power in 1979 by the Vietnamese army, who found in the Khmer Rouge a threat for their own national security and interests. Although the Khmer Rouge leaders tried to regain power through guerrilla, they failed and the Democratic Kampuchea was restored once again as the Kingdom of Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge was officially dissolved by its leader, Pol Pot, in 1996. Surprisingly, only a few leaders were arrested afterwards. Here's what happened to some of the most important figures of the Khmer Rouge:

  • Pol Pot died in 1998 and was never apprehended.
  • Chhit Choeun (better known as Ta Mok), another top leader of the Khmer Rouge, was arrested in 1999 and died in 2006 while waiting to be tried.
  • Ieng Sary, one of Pol Pot's closest collaborators, was officially pardoned by king Norodom Sihanouk in 1996 (thus he enjoys immunity). He currently lives happily and free in Cambodia.
  • Khang Khek Leu (also known as Duch), believed to be the individual that ran Tuol Sleng, was arrested and tried in 1999, after several years of hiding in Cambodia, Thailand and China, and changing his name a few times. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and is currently imprisoned.
  • Khieu Samphan, a tenacious defender of Pol Pot and loyal supporter of such individual, surrendered to the Cambodian government in 1998 after the dissolution of the Khmer Rouge. However, he enjoys retirement now and lives as a free person in Cambodia.
  • Son Sen was murdered along with other members of his family in 1997 by orders of Pol Pot.
Nuon Chea (right), often referred to as "Brother number 2" within the Khmer Rouge elite, enjoyed a free, happy, peaceful and modest life in Cambodia after Prime Minister Hun Sen (a Khmer Rouge defector) gave up any prosecution against him in 1998. A considerable amount of Cambodians, as well as the international community, were concerned about Hun Sen's passive attitude towards Nuon Chea. It took 9 years, until today, that Hun Sen's government changed their passive attitude and decided to arrest Nuon, aged 82, and charge him with crimes against humanity. Many people see this as a step closer to justice for the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, although people do not fully trust the Cambodian judicial system. However, at least Nuon Chea is not a free individual now, which is a step closer to punishment for the atrocities in which he participated between 1975 and 1979. Probably, the survivors of the Cambodian massacre would like to see Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan following the same fate as Nuon Chea.

More information about the Khmer Rouge regime here.
More information about Nuon Chea's apprehension here.

Nuon Chea's photo by AP


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