Academics have argued that at least 5,000 Chinese people were classified as technicians and working in the then-Democratic Kampuchea as advisors to Pol Pot and his Standing Committee. China was the only country to have any substantial presence here, and critics argue this is a national embarrassment.
Others have also suggested that China’s role inspired rival Japan to fund much of the tribunal, which has cost almost $150 million since 2006, when initial investigations were launched.
The ECCC’s mandate is to try those most responsible, hence its focus on surviving members of the Standing Committee – Khieu Samphan, chief ideologue Nuon Chea and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary – who wrote and deployed government policy.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Ieng Sary’s wife and former Minister for Social Affairs Ieng Thirith has also been charged, but was ruled unfit to stand trial due to dementia. She remains behind bars while doctors undertake further tests. Five other former Khmer Rouge have also been touted for prosecution and investigations are continuing.
In recent weeks, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan have been quiet while Nuon Chea and a senior Khmer Rouge advisor, Long Norin, gave evidence. Nuon Chea appeared to revel in being the center of attention and held to his long standing defense that the Vietnamese were responsible for all the deaths.
He also claimed his moniker Brother Number Two was inaccurate as it made him “look too big” and that none of the senior leaders were responsible for the evacuation of Phnom Penh or provincial cities of people who would fill the slave labor camps, like the airport construction site at Kampong Chhnang.
However, Nuon Chea attempted to justify the policy saying the cities were full of prostitutes, drunks, gamblers and hedonism comparable with Sodom in a country that needed farmers. He horrified Buddhist monks in the public gallery by denying the Khmer Rouge ever sought to abolish religion, and claims that the Khmer Rouge conducted mass purges of the party, turning on its own.
On the latter point, however, he added: “Some people could be re-educated while others could not…The revolution is to build the forces, not to smash the forces except in circumstances where those people after reeducation and rebuilding on several occasions could not be reeducated or transformed.”
The ECCC has faced severe criticism over its handling of investigations and the appointment of local and international staff. It has also been described as the most difficult tribunal since Nuremberg. Still, by the gates of the deserted airstrip in Kampong Chhnang, Ey Sarih says the tribunal is worth the expense and he happily shows off his collection ECCC booklets explaining the make-up and functions of the tribunal.
“Many, many people died, and they deserve to be before the court,” he says of the defendants. “Now my children are learning all about this in school and this is good.”
To date, more than 100,000 Cambodians have flocked to the ECCC to witness the trial process first hand. And there will be plenty of time for more to watch the proceedings unfold – defense lawyers told The Diplomat they expect the current trial to last another two years.