Well, it’s finally happening. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have issued their first indictment (on July 31) related to the genocidal actions of the Khmer Rouge government led by Pol Pot. The first to be indicted is Kang Kek Ieu (known also as Duch), the man who ran the Tuol Sleng prison and torture center [more pictures].
Of course, the two biggest fish, Pol Pot and Ta Mok, both escaped justice by dying before the ECCC could convene. One of the issues that will come up is whether the mass killings in Cambodia constituted a “genocide”, since that term is most typically applied to the killing of one group by another–and in this case most victims were Cambodians killed by Cambodians. However, this way of looking at the crimes of the late-1970s ignores the fact that the Khmer Rouge first targeted ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia, then moved on to Cambodians supposedly infected by Vietnamese thinking, and then finally turned on their own people.
It remains to be seen how many people will ultimately be indicted by the ECCC, given that many mid-level Khmer Rouge officials (including the current Prime Minister) now serve in the Cambodian government. But even the trial of one major figure will open up a public discussion of those horrible years that for too long has remained on the margins.