Difficult undertaking

The first verdict in the Khmer Rouge trial has barely been handed down before the tribunal in Phnom Penh is gearing up for "Case 2". Four former Communist Party Central Committee members face charges including crimes against humanity.

On Monday, judges sentenced Khmer Rouge prison chief Kang Kek Eav, alias Duch, to 35 years in prison – but he will serve only 19 of them. It will be some time before a verdict is reached in the second case. Formal indictment is not expected before the end of September. Since mid-2007, the four former leaders of the years 1975 to 1979 have been in pre-trial detention: the former deputy of Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, former President Khieu Samphan, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirit, who served the Khmer Rouge regime as Minister of Social Affairs. "The trial in 'Case 2' will be much more difficult than in 'Case 1,'" predicts historian David Chandler, an expert on recent Cambodian history. "Case 1" was comparatively easy to handle because of many preserved archival documents on Tuol Sleng torture prison. In the prison camp, the condemned Duch and his subordinates had some 14.000 people killed. In "Case 2," however, Chandler said, writs and other documents were scarce. The country director of the German Development Service ded in Cambodia, Wolfgang Mollers, also fears difficulties: "It will be difficult to prove that the four bear political responsibility for the crimes."

Thousands of plaintiffs The judges have already hinted at a possible strategy for the hearings in the first case. The sentencing memorandum against Duch calls the Khmer Rouge leadership a criminal organization that "systematically" committed its crimes. And not least because of this, Duch, although not a member of the top cadre, was sentenced to many years in prison. Exactly this view of the Khmer Rouge could also play an important role in case 2. It remains to be seen how much weight the tribunal will give to the almost 4.000 survivors of the reign of terror to be admitted as joint plaintiffs at the hearings. One of them is Ket Sokhan. The 46-year-old is one of the many thousands of Cambodian women who were forcibly married off by the Khmer Rouge. After mass wedding, marriage had to be performed under the eyes of Khmer Rouge spies. Refusal to have sex was out of the question. "They would have killed us," says Ket Sokhan, who lives in a village in Kampot province.

For the first time, punishment for gender-based crime "Gender-based crimes" is the technical term for such atrocities. Berlin lawyer Silke Studzinski's study of files, documents and historical records has brought cases like Ket Sokhan's before the court. "They were already known in principle," says the lawyer who represents joint plaintiffs before the tribunal on behalf of ded and Civil Peace Service (ZFD). "Someone involved in the 1979 Khmer Rouge tribunal of the Vietnamese told me: 'We knew about it, but we didn't follow up on it.'.' The same mistake was almost made again now." Meanwhile, Ket Sokhan and other joint plaintiffs are concerned with more than just personal satisfaction. They want justice for the many people who were tortured, martyred, murdered because of their gender, religion or ethnicity. Sokhan is aware that the defense will accuse her of still living with her husband Iv Sem, who married under duress. For her, however, only one thing counts: "We were married by force. That was wrong."

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Christina Cherry
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