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No Country For Old Men

You'd hesitate to use glib words like "closure" in this context, but the arrest of Pol Pot's former second-in-command on war crimes charges is welcome news, nonetheless: Nuon Chea, now 82, was flown from his jungle home to the capital, … Read More

By / September 19, 2007

You'd hesitate to use glib words like "closure" in this context, but the arrest of Pol Pot's former second-in-command on war crimes charges is welcome news, nonetheless:

Nuon Chea, now 82, was flown from his jungle home to the capital, Phnom Penh – and was later charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He will face Cambodian and foreign judges at a special genocide tribunal.

He was second-in-command to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot from 1975-79, when some 1m people are thought to have died.

Nuon Chea, who was also known as "Brother Number Two", has spent the past few decades living freely in Pailin, the movement's former jungle headquarters. Police and court officials went to his home near the Thai border early on Wednesday to question him, and issue him with an arrest warrant on charges of crimes against humanity.

"He was shaking. His legs looked like they would collapse," neighbour Sok Sothera told the French news agency AFP. Nuon Chea was then taken under police escort to a helicopter for the flight to Phnom Penh.

Though his lawyers will no doubt bring it up as an issue, it's doubtful that too many Cambodians will have qualms about seeing an octogenarian going on trial. The absence of any formal judicial proceedings against the Khmer Rouge leadership has, moreover, made it possible for the likes of John Pilger to use the tragedy to push his own worldview (in which the US – who else? – bears primary responsibility for the genocide), and for Noam Chomsky to go one better and spend the past quarter century downplaying and minimizing the scale of the Khmer Rouge terror, most notably by comparing it, grotesquely, with French vigilanteism after the end of the Second World War – thus neatly equating the fate of the innocent victims of these horrific crimes with Nazi collaborators.

Hunting down and trying old men for the crimes of the past is not without its problems, but no full and proper accounting for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge has ever been possible. Perhaps, after Milosevic, Pinochet and Hussein, it's fanciful to imagine that this heralds a new accountability for old tyrants; Nuon Chea may never make it to the dock. But it's something, after all.

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