The death of Ieng Sary, on trial before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia after indictment for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, means that another senior leader of the Khmer Rouge has not been held accountable for his crimes. Ieng Sary, the foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, died in a Phnom Penh hospital on March 14, 2013.
“Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the United Nations in 1997 for assistance in holding Khmer Rouge leaders accountable – and since then has done everything in his power to stymie the tribunal’s work,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Hun Sen bears primary responsibility for denying justice to the victims of Ieng Sary’s atrocities.”
Khmer Rouge rule under the leadership of Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, and others resulted in the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians, about one-quarter of the population. Pol Pot, known as Brother Number One, died in 1998 after years of protection from Thailand and China.
Ieng Sary’s responsibility for the regime’s crimes derived from his position as a Permanent Member of the Khmer Rouge Standing Committee, which formulated policy and oversaw its implementation nation-wide. As Khmer Rouge minister of foreign affairs, he also directly oversaw the purge of ministry officials, sending many accused of treason for torture and execution. He repeatedly endorsed the Khmer Rouge policy that he helped formulate of “smashing” to death all those deemed to be enemies of the radical Khmer Rouge revolution, making baseless claims that those executed were agents of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Soviet KGB, or the Vietnamese Communists. He blamed those who were executed for the policies that brought about mass starvation and death from disease. He also defended the Khmer Rouge’s abusive policies in speeches and communications to the UN.
“It is a sad indictment of the Khmer Rouge tribunal that after more than six years, only one person has been convicted and only two others, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, remain on trial for Khmer Rouge-era crimes,” Adams said. “Cambodians now face the prospect that only three people will be held legally accountable for the destruction of their country.”