How many Khmer Rouge leaders will be prosecuted in Cambodia?
The answer is that no one knows: the special tribunal that convened in Phnom Penh in early July hasn’t said how many trials they plan. But with recent the death of former Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok, affectionately known to his countrymen as "The Butcher," one more major Khmer Rouge leader has escaped justice.
Ta Mok’s death - he was more than 80 years old and suffering from high blood pressure, tuberculosis and respiratory complications - appears to have added a new sense of urgency to the process. The three-year, $56.3 million tribunal will likely bring charges against six aging ex-revolutionaries—all of whom could join Ta Mok before the court's term expires. Kaing Khek Iev, aka "Duch," is the only potential defendant in government custody. The 64-year-old had transformed a high school in the heart of Phnom Penh into the brutal interrogation prison known as Tuol Sleng, where 14,000 died.
Other high-profile defendants live freely in Cambodia and still command the respect of locals, although their health is frail. Ieng Sary, the regime's former foreign minister who received a royal pardon a decade ago, suffered a serious heart attack earlier this year and spends most of his time in a Phnom Penh hospital. Noun Chea, "Brother Number 2" to deceased regime leader Pol Pot, still lives in the mountains of western Cambodia close to the border with Thailand. Khieu Samphan, who served the Democratic Kampuchea as head of state, resides nearby in a simple house with his laptop computer, a television set and the writings of development economist Joseph Stiglitz - although recent reports suggest he may be a flight risk.
Lower profile potential defendants include Sou Met and Meah Mut, military commanders who are believed to have condoned mass executions. Both were mentioned in the book Seven Candidates for Prosecution, written five years ago by two researchers who have had an extensive look at the primary evidence.
Many current government officials who once served the Khmer Rouge, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, are unlikely to face trial due to its limited scope. However, the 17 Cambodian and 10 UN-appointed foreign judges will have the final say on who gets charged.
With most of the potential defendants already on death's door, the tribunal will not deliver individual retribution. What it can do, however, is give the millions of Cambodians who watched helplessly as their loved ones died horrifying deaths a little understanding about why it all happened. For many, it will be worth the wait. - BYLINE