People's Stories Justice

View previous stories

Khmer Rouge leaders found guilty of genocide in landmark ruling
by AFP, UN News, agencies
16 Nov. 2018 (AFP)
Two top leaders of Cambodia''s Khmer Rouge regime were found guilty of genocide on Friday, in a landmark ruling almost 40 years after the fall of a brutal regime that presided over the deaths of a quarter of the population.
The Khmer Rouge''s former head of state Khieu Samphan, 87, and "Brother Number 2" Nuon Chea, 92, are the two most senior living members of the ultra-Maoist group that seized control of Cambodia from 1975-1979.
The reign of terror led by "Brother Number 1" Pol Pot left some two million Cambodians dead from overwork, starvation and mass executions but Friday''s ruling was the first to acknowledge a genocide.
The defendants were previously handed life sentences in 2014 over the violent and forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975.
But Friday''s judgement at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) also found Nuon Chea guilty of genocide against the ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minority group, among a litany of other crimes.
"The chamber finds that Nuon Chea exercised ultimate decision-making power with Pol Pot and... therefore finds Nuon Chea is responsible as a superior for all the crimes," presiding judge Nil Nonn said.
"This includes the crime of genocide by killing members of Cham ethnic and religious group."
Khieu Samphan was also found guilty of genocide against ethnic Vietnamese, though not against the Cham, he added.
Both parties were sentenced to "life in prison", merging the two sentences into a single term, Nil Nonn said.
Hundreds of people, including dozens of Cham Muslims and Buddhist monks, were bussed into the tribunal, located in the outskirts of Phnom Penh to attend the hearing.
The events covered by the verdict span the four years of the Pol Pot regime, and include extensive crimes against humanity.
"The verdict is essentially the Nuremberg judgement for the ECCC and thus carries very significant weight for Cambodia, international criminal justice, and the annals of history," said David Scheffer, who served as the UN secretary general''s special expert on the Khmer Rouge trials from 2012 until last month.
The revolutionaries who tried to recreate Buddhist-majority Cambodia in line with their vision of an agrarian Marxist utopia attempted to abolish class and religious distinctions by force.
Forced marriages, rape, the treatment of Buddhists, and atrocities that were carried out in prisons and work sites throughout the country fall under the additional list of charges -- which the two men were found guilty of as well.
"The verdict will affirm the collective humanity of the victims and give recognition to the horrible suffering," said Youk Chhang, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia -- a research organisation that has provided the court with evidence. It could also "provide a sense of closure to a horrible chapter in Cambodian history".
The hybrid court, which uses a mix of Cambodian and international law, was created with the backing of the UN in 2006 to try senior Khmer Rouge leaders.
Only three people have been convicted by the court. Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife died without facing justice, while "Brother Number 1" Pol Pot passed away in 1998.
The number of allegations against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan was so vast the court split the trials into a series of smaller hearings in 2011.
Many believe Friday''s decision will be the last for the tribunal, which has been marred by allegations of political interference.
Prime Minister Hun Sen -- himself a former Khmer Rouge cadre -- has repeatedly warned he would not allow more investigations to proceed, citing vague threats to stability.
The court has launched investigations into four more Khmer Rouge cadres, though one was dismissed in February 2017, highlighting the difficulties of bringing lower level members of the brutal regime to justice.
Scheffer said that "challenges of efficiency, funding, and access to evidence" are issues that plague all international criminal courts, but argued the successes of the Cambodian tribunal should not be diminished.
Nov. 2018
UN genocide adviser welcomes historic conviction of former Khmer Rouge leaders. (UN News)
The conviction of the former Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia on genocide charges was welcomed by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, describing the conviction by a UN-backed international tribunal in Cambodia as “a good day for justice”, adding that “it demonstrates that justice will prevail, and that impunity should never be accepted for genocide and other atrocity crimes.”
Nyon Chea, now 92, who was deputy leader during the brutal extremist regime of Pol Pot, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 87, were charged with exterminating Cham Muslim and ethnic Vietnamese communities, between April 1975 and January 1979.
Both men were convicted for grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the crimes against humanity of murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political, religious and racial grounds and other inhumane acts against civilians in Cambodia during this period.
It is the first time that any of Pol Pot’s senior officials of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, as the ruling party was known, have been convicted of genocide, according to news reports.
Mr. Dieng also expressed his support and solidarity with the victims, saying that “all the people who have suffered as a result of the heinous crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during this period have waited a long time for justice. Hopefully this decision will provide them with some measure of redress and solace.”
He said it was also an historic verdict, when it comes to preventing similar crimes in the future: “While criminal accountability is foremost a tool to provide justice and redress to victims, it also has an important preventative function as a deterrent as well as to help societies in reconciliation efforts,” he said.
“At a time when we are witnessing a dangerous disregard for fundamental rights and international legal norms and standards in many parts of the world, this decision sends a strong message, in the region and globally, to those who commit, incite or condone atrocity crimes that sooner or later they will be held accountable.”
Sep. 2018
Genocide remains a “threat and a reality” in the 21st century, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in an appeal to States to do more to act on the “warning signs” that often precede grave violations of international law.
At an event at the Human Rights Council in Geneva to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Genocide Convention, Ms. Bachelet highlighted the findings of a UN probe into “the military-led campaign of murder, rape and assault” against Myanmar’s Rohingya people, as well as brutal acts committed against the Iraqi Yazidi community by ISIL.
“This leaves us in no doubt that the genocide convention matters as much today as it did on 9 December 1948,” she said. “The day it became the very first human rights treaty to be adopted by the UN General Assembly - followed the next day by the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Insisting that it was time to “take stock” of recent violations in Myanmar and Iraq, Ms. Bachelet also welcomed last week’s decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it had jurisdiction to rule over the alleged mass deportation of some 750,000 Rohingya, from Rakhine state.
The ICC decision did not specifically address the crime of genocide “but it offers real hope” that those responsible will be brought to justice, she noted, while underlining the importance and “preventative impact” of the work of the Human Rights Council and the UN Human Rights Office, OHCHR.
“Accountability matters,” the UN official continued. “Prevention and punishment – the explicitly stated twin aims of the genocide convention – can never be seen in isolation from each other. Punishment is key to prevention. Impunity is an enabler of genocide; accountability is its nemesis.”
To date, 149 States have ratified or acceded to the Genocide Convention, whose full name is the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
It was signed in the aftermath of World War Two and the Holocaust, when Member States of the UN drew up an international treaty to prohibit the crime of genocide, which required signatory governments to take all necessary steps to prevent or stop it.
Forty-five UN Member States have yet to join the international accord – 20 from the African continent, 18 from Asia and the remaining seven from the Americas – Adama Dieng, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, told the Human Rights Council.
This lack of commitment of such a large number of States was as “puzzling” as it was naďve, Mr. Dieng said. “What message are those States sending, 70 years after the adoption of the Convention? That genocide could never happen within their borders? That is being naďve. History has shown us time and again that genocide can happen anywhere.”
Insisting that the convention was still relevant and that joining it was a “moral obligation towards humanity”, Mr. Dieng urged Member States to prioritize ratification by its 70th anniversary, on 9 December 2018.
He insisted that the genocide convention, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Rome Statute of the ICC, remain “the most important legal standard we have to fulfil the commitment to ‘never again’ that the world made 70 years ago”.
Failure to support the convention risks further disastrous human and economic consequences, Mr. Dieng explained: “enormous loss of life, massive displacement of people, collective trauma that lasts for generations, devastated economies, and development set back by decades.”
* UN Web TV: Panel Discussion on 70th Anniversary of Genocide Convention - Human Rights Council:

Visit the related web page

Rohingya returns only ‘at their freely expressed wish’ – UN refugee chief
15. Nov. 2018
Return of Rohingya to Myanmar stopped after mass protest. (AP)
The plan to send Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh back to Myanmar has been halted after massive protests broke out in refugee camps. The plan called for "voluntary" returns and officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return to their destroyed villages and homes.
13 Nov. 2018
There is “terror and panic” among Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, who are at imminent risk of being returned to Myanmar against their will, the United Nations top human rights official has said, warning that the returns would seriously endanger the lives of those sent back.
According to the UN human rights office, OHCHR, some of the refugees have threatened suicide if they are forced to return, and two elderly men in Cox’s Bazar have already attempted suicide.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined that with “complete lack of accountability” and ongoing violations in Myanmar, repatriations effectively means “throwing back” the refugees into the same cycle of human rights violations that they “have been suffering for decades.”
There are plans for the repatriation of more than 2,200 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. However, refugees have stated repeatedly that they do not wish to return under current conditions, OHCHR added. In addition, several families apparently listed for return are headed by women or children, placing them at heightened risk.
Ms. Bachelet also stressed that forcibly expelling or returning refugees is a “clear violation of the core legal principle of non-refoulment,” which forbids repatriation where there are threats of persecution or serious risks to the life, physical integrity or liberty.
Any returns must take place in line with international standards of voluntariness, safety and dignity, with full transparency, and only when the conditions are right, added Ms. Bachelet.
The UN human rights chief also called on the Government of Myanmar to show its seriousness in creating the conditions for return by addressing the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine state.
Since late August 2017, widespread and systematic violence against Myanmar’s mainly-Muslim minority Rohingya, has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in Rakhine state and seek refuge across the country’s border, in Bangladesh. Prior to that, well over 200,000 Rohingya refugees were sheltering in Bangladesh due to earlier displacements.
“The history of the Rohingya in Myanmar is one filled with repeated episodes of violence, flight and return,” said Ms. Bachelet, calling on the international community “to speak with one voice to stop this cycle from repeating itself yet again.”
According to estimates, there are some 925,000 Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh, most of them in the district of Cox’s Bazar, once an idyllic coastal town, transformed into the largest refugee settlement in the world, in just a matter of months.
12 Nov. 2018
Returns of Rohingya refugees, forced to flee their homes due to widespread and systematic violence in northern Myanmar, “should only take place at their freely expressed wish” the United Nations top refugee official has stressed, amid concerns that conditions at places of origin are not yet conducive to safe, dignified and sustainable returns.
In a statement, on Sunday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, said that repatriation of refugees “is premised upon the free and informed decision by refugees … to return.”
Since late August 2017, widespread and systematic violence against Myanmar’s mainly-Muslim minority Rohingya, has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in Rakhine state and seek refuge across the country’s border, in Bangladesh. Prior to that, well over 200,000 Rohingya refugees were sheltering in Bangladesh due to earlier displacements.
According to estimates, there are currently some 925,000 Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh.
“Returns should only take place at their freely expressed wish based on relevant and reliable knowledge of the conditions within the country of origin and the area of return,” said Mr. Grandi, noting that the “best way” to provide that knowledge to allow refugees “to go and see the conditions in Myanmar for themselves.”
“Before making a choice of whether to return or not, the refugees reportedly verified by Myanmar as having the right to return should be allowed to visit their places of origin in Rakhine state, or other places to which they might choose to return.”
According to media reports, some 4,355 people have been placed on a list approved for return by Myanmar. However, not everyone on the list has been informed and it is unclear how it was compiled. The first repatriations are said to start on Thursday.
High Commissioner Grandi also said that the responsibility rests with Myanmar, to ensure that conditions are conducive for voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable returns from Bangladesh.
At present, these conditions are not present, Mr. Grandi stated, adding that his Office, UNHCR, “remains committed” to supporting the Myanmar’s efforts to create such conditions, under the terms of a tripartite agreement signed by UNHCR, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Myanmar in June.
An Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, established by the UN Human Rights Council, has concluded that violence against the Rohingya community by Myanmar’s security forces amounted to “the gravest crimes under international law” and called for referring the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or to an ad hoc tribunal for investigations and prosecutions.


View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook