By the time the court began functioning, a number of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders had died. In addition to Pol Pot, the deceased included Son Sen, the defense minister; Yun Yat, the information and education minister; Thiounn Thioeunn, the health minister; and Ke Pauk, a senior military commander. But enough senior figures remained living to give the court plenty to work on. Criminal investigations began on July 3, 2006. Massive amounts of evidence were gathered, and eventually four separate cases emerged.
Defendant: Kaing Guek Eav (known as Duch), former commander of security prison S-21 (Tuol Sleng), where the Khmer Rouge detained at least 14,000 Cambodians.
This case was the first to come to trial, in 2009. In 77 days of proceedings, the court heard testimony not only from 17 witnesses of fact, seven character witnesses, and nine expert witnesses, but also from 22 “civil parties”—people who had been victimized.
In a landmark decision in July 2010, the court returned its first conviction, finding Duch guilty of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The court sentenced him to 35 years’ imprisonment, reduced by approximately 18 years for time served and previous illegal detention. Both the prosecution and the defense appealed the sentence. On appeal, the Supreme Court Chamber increased the sentence to life imprisonment.
Defendants: Khieu Samphan, former head of state of Democratic Kampuchea; Nuon Chea, former deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea; Ieng Sary, former foreign minister; and Ieng Thirith, former social affairs minister.
The defendants were charged in 2010 with crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and genocide against the Muslim Cham and the Vietnamese. Ieng Thirith was found mentally unfit to stand trial and was removed from the case; her husband, Ieng Sary, died in March 2013.
This case was divided into two sub-cases. Charges in the first, known officially as Case 002.1, focused on alleged crimes against humanity related to the forced emptying of cities starting on April 17, 1975, and the execution of soldiers of the Lon Nol government.
Initial hearings for Case 002.1 began in November 2011, with the defendants limited to Khieu Sampan and Nuon Chea. Thirty-one civil parties were among the witnesses. In addition, more than 100,000 people came to the court to watch from the witness gallery. Both men were convicted in August 2014 and sentenced to life in prison.
Case 002.2 is now directed against the same two men. They are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including extermination, enslavement, torture, rape, and political, racial, and religious persecution. They are also charged with genocide against the Cham and the Vietnamese. Court proceedings are currently underway.
Cases 003 and 004
In March 2015, one of the tribunal’s international judges charged three more people, all mid-level Khmer Rouge figures. In Case 003, former Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Muth was charged with homicide, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. His alleged offenses relate to his actions at Wat Enta Nhien security center in Kampong Som and the S-21 security center, as well as his actions against Vietnamese, Thais, and other foreign citizens intercepted at sea and on offshore islands.
Former district official Im Chaem was charged in Case 004 with homicide and crimes against humanity concerning her alleged actions at the Phnom Trayoung security center and Spean Sreng, where large numbers of Cambodians were sent for forced labor.
The former deputy secretary in the Central Zone of Democratic Kampuchea, Ao An, was charged in Case 004 with homicide under Cambodian law and crimes against humanity of murder, extermination, persecution on political and religious grounds, imprisonment, and other inhumane acts (namely, inhumane conditions of detention) at Kok Pring execution site, Tuol Beng security center, and Wat Au Trakuon security center.
The court ultimately will determine whether each of these three cases moves forward to indictment or dismissal. The advancing age of the suspects and the willingness of the Cambodian government to cooperate with any possible arrest and prosecution present possible challenges. And although the Cambodian government and the international community continue to provide funding for the operation of the court, which relies heavily on voluntary contributions raised by the United Nations, obtaining that support each year requires considerable diplomatic effort.