Genocide Charges for Former Khmer Rouge Leaders

After lengthy and contentious debate, a further four former Khmer Rouge leaders are to be tried by the United Nations-backed war-crimes court in Cambodia with genocide as well as with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The four are the Khmer Rouges’ chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, their former head of state, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, who were both ministers in the Khmer government.

The contentious charge is the one of genocide. Genocide is especially hard to prove. The question is whether groups of victims are targeted because of ethnicity or religion, or rather because they are real or perceived political or economic enemies. Somewhat perversely, victims belonging to the latter fall outside the crime’s definition.

It’s hard to believe that the atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouges’ ultra-Maoist revolution in the mid- to late 1970s which cost the lives of at least 1.7 million people, nearly one in four of the country’s population, is not genocide.

Hard also to believe that the West, particularly the US, in a particularly cynical bit of cold war politicking, actually supported the Khmer Rouge government in exile during the 1980’s.

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