As the second trial of Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea reopened Friday, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) released a documentary which tells the story of three Cambodian women living in France who travel to Phnom Penh on August 4th 2014 to attend the historic verdict against two of the highest-ranking living political leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime. Khieu and Nuon received life sentences two months ago and now face genocide charges.
Case No. 002 – History of a Verdict follows Mrs. Féniès, Mrs. Ou and Mrs. Ros, who were all victims of international crimes under the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. With the help of FIDH they filed a complaint as civil parties before the ECCC, seeking justice for themselves and their families who died under the Khmer Rouge regime, a justice they were awaiting for almost 40 years.
Khieu Samphan, 83, and Nuon Chea, 88, stood before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in the first case for crimes against humanity and genocide. On August 7th, the ECCC convicted Nuon Chea, 88, and Khieu Samphan, 83, and sentenced them to life in prison. It is the first time that high-ranking officials of the Khmer Rouge regime have been convicted by an independent court and represents a critical step against impunity.
They were found guilty of the crimes against humanity of murder, political persecution, forced transfer, attacks against human dignity, enforced disappearances and extermination during forced movements of population in Cambodia from April 17th 1975 to December 1977. They were also found guilty of the crimes against humanity of murder, political persecution and extermination of former soldiers and officials of the Khmer Republic at Tuol Po Chrey in Pursat Province. Both men have appealed their convictions.
In opening statements Friday, deputy prosecutor William Smith said the hearings “will ensure a more comprehensive accounting” of the crimes of which Khieu and Nuon are accused, so that “Cambodia’s past is not buried but built and learnt from.”
Case 002/02 is the second trial against Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea. The alleged crime which form the basis for Case 002/02 include genocide against the ethnic Muslim Cham and the Vietnamese; nationwide forced marriages and rape; internal purges; and treatment of Buddhists, among other charges. Prosecutors will begin calling witnesses on Monday.
In the documentary, Mrs. Touch Féniès recalls: ”OnApril 17th 1975 the population of Phnom Penh was forced to walk into the jungle. They were on their bikes, with their guns, dressed in black uniforms. At each house, they would holler from their bikes for the people to come out so they could clean up the city. First we didn’t believe it but then we saw the neighbors running, terrified. Women giving birth on the side of the road, the Khmer Rouge kept making them walk.”
Mrs. Sokhon Neang Muong Ou remembered the same day: ”That April 17th they chased me from my home. We went where we were ordered to. And we didn’t know where they were taking us. We walked, and walked and walked. There were many people on the road. We were pressed up against each other. We had trouble moving forward. It was very hot. People began to die, one after another.”
Since 2008, FIDH, through lawyers from its Litigation Action Group (LAG), has been representing 10 victims, living in France and Civil Parties in Case 002/01 before the ECCC. FIDH enabled them to attend the verdict hearing in Phnom Penh. FIDH, together with its member organisations in Cambodia, ADHOC and LICADHO, has organized various missions and seminars in Cambodia on the ECCC and has published several reports and position papers, focusing on the role of victims in ECCC proceedings, their rights to participation, legal representation and reparation. ADHOC enabled 46 Civil Parties from 23 provinces in Cambodia to attend the hearing.
Khmer Rouge rule under the leadership of Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and others resulted in the deaths of as many as two million Cambodians, more than one-quarter of the population. Pol Pot, known as “Brother Number One,” died in 1998 after years of protection from Thailand and China.
The Khmer Rouge took power in April 1975, at the end of the United States’ war in Indochina. Led by Pol Pot and Nuon Chea, they ruled the country until January 7th 1979, when Vietnam drove them out. Estimates suggest that as many as two million of Cambodia’s eight million people were killed or died from disease, starvation, or forced labor during this period.
You can view the documentary, with sub-titles in French, English, Spanish and Khmer here:
A live audio and video stream of the hearings is available on the ECCC website throughout the trial.