One of the thieves was saved…

March 17, 2013

Kind of a mixed week for justice in Cambodia.

The big news here was the death of Ieng Sary, the 87-year-old former Brother Number Three and foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge. He was on trial for crimes against humanity at the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia.

Ieng Sary was known as a strong believer in the Khmer Rouge’s extreme revolutionary ideas, and was described as “a duplicitous and manipulative man,” according to the BBC.

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“I have done nothing wrong,” Ieng Sary said before his arrest in 2007. “I am a gentle person. I believe in good deeds. I even performed good deeds to save several people’s lives.”

But Ieng Sary “repeatedly and publicly encouraged, and also facilitated, arrests and executions within his Foreign Ministry and throughout Cambodia,” wrote Steve Heder, a Cambodia scholar who assisted the tribunal.

This included persuading hundreds of Cambodians living overseas to come back to the kingdom. When they did, they were all executed.

It’s important to note that Ieng Sary had not been convicted of any crime. And now he never will be. Nor will his wife, Ieng Thirith, who was let off last year because she’s thought to be suffering from Alzheimers disease. So that leaves just two of the former senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge still on trial: Brother Number Two Nuon Chea and former head of state Khieu Samphan. They are both in their 80s, and the court is working extremely slowly. It has sat for just 15 days so far this year.

Lots of the clerks and translators have been on strike in the last week or two, saying they haven’t been paid this year. This suits former Khmer Rouge cadre and now Prime Minister Hun Sen, who really doesn’t want the court to continue picking through the evidence that he and his senior colleagues were an ineffably nasty bunch of bastards, who shouldn’t be allowed to run a carwash, let alone a country.

On the plus side for justice here, radio station owner Mam Sonando has been freed. In October, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail for stoking a so-called secessionist movement in Kratie province – a claim used by the government to justify a violent mass eviction last May that saw a 14-year-old girl shot dead by police.

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Of course, it was beyond ridiculous that he was ever jailed in the first place.

Rights groups and legal monitors noted that no credible evidence had ever been presented suggesting either that such a movement existed, or that Mam Sonando masterminded it.

Among the critics of the conviction were US President Barack Obama, who raised the case with Prime Minister Hun Sen during his visit last year. So at his appeal this week, prosecutors dropped the charge of secession against him (he wasn’t even in the country at the time) and freed him. However, they charged him with something called a ‘forestry crime’ and gave him a five-year suspended sentence. So they can wheel him back in any time they feel like it.

Mam Sonando was, and, one hopes, still is, a fierce critic of Hun Sen. Because we need all the help we can get around here.

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