Top Associate Of Pol Pot Faces Victim In Courtroom
Saturday, February 9, 2008
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Feb. 8 -- A Cambodian genocide victim confronted a former Khmer Rouge leader in a courtroom here Friday, demanding to know who was responsible for the "hellish regime" that killed about 1.7 million people, including her parents.
"It's the first time a victim is able to stand up and confront a defendant. It's extremely symbolic," said Peter Foster, a spokesman for Cambodia's U.N.-backed genocide tribunal. "We made history today."
The encounter came when Theary Seng took the stand on the second day of a hearing of former leader Nuon Chea's appeal for release from pretrial detention.
Nuon Chea, who was the main ideologue of the now-defunct communist movement and second-in-command to despotic leader Pol Pot, has been held since Sept. 19 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in the Khmer Rouge's ruthless 1975-79 rule. He has denied any guilt.
Nuon Chea sat stoically across from Theary Seng in the courtroom as she testified. When she was 7 years old, she and her 4-year-old brother were "shackled and held under inhumane conditions in a Khmer Rouge prison," she said.
"If Nuon Chea claimed he was not responsible, who was then for the loss of my parents and other victims' loved ones?" she asked. Theary Seng is a Cambodian American who heads the Center for Social Development, a nonprofit Cambodian group monitoring the country's judicial system.
No Khmer Rouge leaders have ever stood trial for their government's activities, and there are fears the aging and infirm defendants could die before facing justice. Pol Pot died in 1998.