Cambodia experienced its most violent history during the short lived rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime. From 1975 to 1979, cities were emptied and the population was placed in forced labor camps, and those perceived to be loyal to the former Republic were executed. Nearly 2 million civilians died during the Khmer Rouge regime, and as many as 800,000 of these deaths were violent deaths. The crimes left the country and its survivors destabilized, traumatized, and in need of justice. After decades of suffering in silence, survivors of this violent past are finding some measure of justice. CJA represents 45 Cambodian Americans in a case against two former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities. In 2014, a tribunal found Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced them to life imprisonment. A second and final trial is underway.
After reaching a period of stability in 1997, the Cambodian government with the assistance of the United Nations established the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), an internationalized tribunal with a mandate to prosecute the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge, and those most responsible for Khmer Rouge atrocities. The court’s hybrid nature includes Cambodian and international crimes and mixed procedure. Perhaps the most innovative development was the system of victim participation, where victims of the crimes tried before the court can participate directly as civil parties and seek collective and moral reparations for the harms they suffered.
CJA represents 45 Civil Parties in Case No. 002 against the two remaining senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge: “Brother Number Two” under Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, and former Head of State Khieu Samphan. CJA’s clients are all members of the Cambodian diaspora living in the United States, and are all direct victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. During the close of the first trial against the two senior leaders, CJA client and civil party Sophany Bay testified to the harms inflicted upon her and her family during the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh, and the continued impact of these harms on her and her community in the United States diaspora. The court sentenced the senior leaders to life imprisonment and awarded reparations to the 3,867 victims participating in the trial. Mrs. Bay and several other CJA clients featured prominently in the final judgment against the senior leaders. Watch the verdict here.
The second and final trial against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, Case 002/2, concluded on January 11, 2017 and covered a broader range of atrocities not addressed in the first trial. On November 16, 2018, the Trial Chamber convicted Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan of genocide against the Vietnamese, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and crimes against humanity, including forced marriage and rape in the context of forced marriage. Nuon Chea was also separately convicted of genocide of the Muslim Cham. In addition to imposing life sentences on the defendants, the Court endorsed thirteen collective and moral reparations projects for the victims that focus on remembrance, therapy and psychological assistance, and documentation and education.
The ECCC’s first trial, Case 001, against Kaing Guk Eav, alias Duch ended in victory, finding the former Chairman of the Khmer Rouge S-21 Security Center in Phnom Penh guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed at the infamous prison in Phnon Penh. Duch is currently serving a life sentence in Kandal prison in Cambodia. As part of the Court’s reparations to victims, a collection of Duch’s statements of apology and acknowledgment of responsibility have been compiled and are available to view here.
Four additional Khmer Rouge officials have been charged for their alleged role in committing mass atrocities during the Khmer Rouge regime in four separate cases known as Case 003, Case 004, Case 004/1, and Case 004/2. The decision on whether these trials will move forward is pending.