PHNOM PENH: The sentencing of former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea to life in prison for crimes against humanity on Thursday marks a day that has been long awaited in Cambodia.
It’s a day that many people thought would never come to pass. Considering all the time that has elapsed since the crimes were committed, it’s a miracle that we have come to today’s judgment. Justice has been done at long last.
Life imprisonment is the maximum penalty that can be applied by the court and this has been handed down today to the two surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The verdict has been delivered despite the political and financial difficulties faced by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The constant doubts and incessant criticism of the ECCC made things very difficult.
We know that the pace of international justice is very slow and that it has been eight years since the court was established. But the real difficulty was the time that elapsed before the court was set up.
So many of the survivors died in the intervening period. So did many perpetrators including Pol Pot himself and other senior leaders. In the end, we were left with only two.
The verdict has highlighted the importance of the court as a national court with international participation and assistance.
Other international courts tend to be distant from the crimes and also far removed from the victims so they don’t have the same resonance and impact.
Here in Cambodia, a quarter of a million people came to the court during the trials. Nothing like this has ever happened anywhere in the world and this is quite unique.
The other unprecedented aspect has been the direct participation of civil parties. We had almost 4,000 civil parties in this case. They were able to tell their stories in court, explain their sufferings and claim reparations.
The decision by the court on reparations is most welcome. The different measures requested by civil parties range from making May 20 a National Remembrance Day and building memorials.
Other reparations cover areas such as school textbooks, testimonial and self-help therapy to assist victims who are still suffering extreme emotional distress along with both permanent and mobile exhibitions explaining what happened under the Khmer Rouge and the work of the court itself.
It’s a wide range of creative and positive reparations especially requested by the victims.
Many who doubted the process have questioned the amount of money spent by Cambodia and the international community on the proceedings.
Equivalent to around US$100 (RM319) a head for the almost two million people who died under the Khmer Rouge, it seems a small price to pay for the families of the victims and the younger generation of Cambodians for which this dark period in the country’s history has until now been obscure. - The Cambodia Herald / ANN
The author, who has been working with the royal government task force on the Khmer Rouge trials since 1999, is former chief of public affairs and head of the victims support section at the extraordinary chambers in the courts of Cambodia.