A number of mass-murderers have passed away in the last 40 years. However, Nuon Chea (92) and Khieu Samphan (87) – the last two surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge that brutally ruled Cambodia – have recently been convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by an International Tribunal. These two Communist leaders were members of the Legislative Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Cambodia and they also served as the head of the state in 1975-79. Pol Pot – the then chief of the party – was arrested in 1997. After his death in 1998, the global community forgot Pol Pot’s ‘reign of terror’ (between 1975 and 1979). Still, the justice has been delivered, as Nuon and Khieu have been sentenced to life imprisonment for committing genocide and crimes against humanity. The International Tribunal declared the two men were responsible for murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation imprisonment, torture, persecution on religious, racial and political grounds, enforced disappearances and mass rape through the state policy of forced marriages.
Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea was one of Pol Pot’s closest aides
The development is important, as we know that people have to wait long for justice in smaller nations that witness political turmoil quite often! The process of judicial trial and punishment of the Razakars in Bangladesh is another fine example of the lengthy judicial procedure. Razakars were members of anti-Bangladesh paramilitary forces organised by the Pakistani Army in erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
It is to be noted that the Army had taken control of Cambodia five years before the Khmer Rouge came to power. At that time, the Cambodians used to consider the Khmer Rouge as their saviour, as the Communists defeated the Cambodian Forces in an armed struggle.
Khieu Samphan & his co-defendant say they are targets of political persecution
The Cambodians still remember Pol Pot’s ‘reign of terror’ during which the Khmer Rouge used schools as jails and turned orchards into mass graves. The regime presided over deaths of at least 1.7 million people in those four years. The Khmer Rouge had sought to achieve a Communist Agrarian Utopia by establishing vast rural communes in cities! However, their radical (and barbarian) policies led to what has been termed “auto-genocide” through starvation, forced labour and execution.
Before delivering the verdict on November 16, Judge Nil Nonn gave a detailed account of some of the most horrific actions carried out by the regime. He said: “The chamber finds that prisoners were brought to interrogation rooms, handcuffed and blindfolded, their legs chained during questioning.” The interrogation methods included “beatings with sticks, rocks, electrical wire, whips, electric shocks and suffocation and the extraction of toenails and fingernails”, added Nil. The cabinets of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh are filled with thousands of human skulls, as the museum chronicles the Cambodian genocide.
So, the importance of punishing the perpetrators of genocide is closely related to the current political framework of the Southeast Asian nation. Since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Prime Minister Hun Sen has been ruling the country (for almost three decades). Most importantly, Hun Sen started his career when he joined the Armed Forces as a Battalion Commander during the Khmer Rouge regime. He changed the party in right time to stay in power. The PM has reportedly violated human rights and tortured the opposition leaders.
The Royal Palace in Phonm Penh
In the last five years, Hun Sen’s party has won all the elections! In last July, the PM’s party won all 125 seats in the National Assembly, as the opposition parties didn’t take part in the election. Therefore, the Cambodians were waiting for justice. When democracy (which replaced the autocratic rule in Cambodia) betrays the people, then we can easily understand that the power of judiciary is very much limited in that country. The people get nothing in the absence of political bona fides!
Although scholars had debated whether suppression of the Chams – a Muslim ethnic group whose members had put up a small, but futile resistance against the Khmer Rouge – amounted to genocide, Justice Nonn established that the Khmer Rouge had committed genocide against the Vietnamese and Cham minorities during the regime.
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