Time is Running out for Justice at Khmer Rouge Court

NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on the international community to do all it can to ensure the effective operation of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, following the death of one of the three remaining senior former Khmer Rouge defendants currently on trial before the tribunal.

The death at the age of 87 of Ieng Sary, who had been hospitalized since March 4, comes as the court has been forced to suspend local staff due to its inability to pay their salaries, while cutting back sessions due to budget constraints resulting from delays in funding commitments from the international community.

A fourth accused senior Khmer Rouge leader, Ieng Sary’s wife Ieng Thirith, was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial in November, 2011, due to age-related medical problems.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative said:

“The death of Ieng Sary before judgment could be rendered on any of the charges against him is a regrettable consequence of the delays that stalled the start of this process.”

“The two remaining defendants in this case, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, are also both in their eighties. Time is running out for the Cambodian government and international donors to provide sufficient funding and political backing to allow the ECCC to fulfill its mandate.”

Ieng Sary served on the ruling politburo in the Khmer Rouge government that controlled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, and was facing charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide over responsibility for mass killings and other crimes.

He was on trial in what is known as Case 002 along with Khieu Samphan, now aged 81, who served as Khmer Rouge foreign minister and head of state, and Nuon Chea, aged 86, the deputy secretary of the party, known as “brother number two” to the regime’s leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

The court’s co-investigating judges are also continuing to examine two further cases, known as Case 003 and 004, involving other senior Khmer Rouge figures, despite continued opposition from the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The tribunal has successfully completed one case, handing out a life prison sentence in February 2012 to the former head of the Tuol Sleng torture center.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was established in 2004 by a joint agreement between the United Nations and the government of Cambodia, and uses a mix of international and local judges and staff. It began proceedings in 2007.

The Justice Initiative has been monitoring the work of the tribunal since 2007, as part of its work to ensure accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.