Khmer Rouge Leader Charged With Genocide, Died

By Kelly Ni
Kelly Ni
Kelly Ni
March 14, 2013 Updated: February 17, 2016

Ieng Sary, a Khmer Rouge leader, 87, died. He held senior positions within the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. Ieng facilitated the mass arrests of innocent Cambodians, sending them to the deathly S-21 secret prison where they were brutally tortured before killed, according to the Cambodia Tribunal website.

Ieng was on trial before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), after his arrest in 2007. He was charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Ieng was the deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Democratic Kampuchea from 1975 to 1979, and held other positions as well, according to the Cambodia Tribunal website. 

The ECCC had significant evidence that Ieng repeatedly and publicly encouraged arrests and executions within his Foreign Ministry and throughout Democratic Kampuchea. Evidence also revealed that Ieng facilitated mass arrests and transfers to S-21.

S-21 was a secret prison where innocent Cambodians—children, women, and men—were taken blindfolded, and never released. They were tortured and integrated for months before their capturers brutally killed them.

“It is impossible to come to grips with figures of this kind. In terms of Cambodia’s total population they resemble those in the Holocaust in World War II. Stalin’s collectivization of the Ukraine in the 1930’s or the massacres in Rwanda in 1994,” Cyber Cambodia states.

The Khmer Rouge, also the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and later called itself the Democratic Kampuchea (DK), killed nearly 2 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979 in its attempts to destroy the nation and import agrarian communist ideals in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge wanted to transform Cambodia into a rural, classless society. It abolished money, free markets, normal schooling, private property, foreign clothing styles, religious practices, and traditional Khmer culture, according to the Cambodia Tribunal.

“Public schools, pagodas, mosques, churches, universities, shops and government buildings were shut or turned into prisons, stables, reeducation camps and granaries,” it states. Everyone had to wear black, leisure activities were restricted, family relationships were criticized, and if three or more people were seen talking together, they could be executed.

The actual death toll is believed to be much higher due to the suffering of malnutrition, starvation, illness and disease, exhaustion from overwork in forced labor in fields or mines, or trauma from the suffering.

Ieng had been hospitalized several times since being detained by the ECCC. He was continually assessed on his fitness to stand trail.

His wife, Ieng Thirith, was arrested in 2007 with her husband. She was a senior member of the DK. Her older sister was married to Pol Pot—the leader of the Khmer Rouge and DK. Pol Pot died in 1998. She was “deemed unfit to stand trial due to worsening dementia,” according to The Phnom Penh Post.

Ieng went to university in Phnom Penh until he went to France to study. In France, he became a member of the French Communist Party in 1951.

He is believed to have founded Marxist Circle of Khmer students in Paris.

In 1957, he returned to Cambodia and became a history professor. He joined the Khmer Rouge in 1963. In 1975, he became Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs with the Khmer Rouge.

“While the Khmer Rouge was in power, they set up policies that disregarded human life and produced repression and massacres on a massive scale,” the Cambodia Tribunal states. “They turned the country into a huge detention center, which later became a graveyard for nearly two million people, including their own members and even some senior leaders.”

In 1978, Vietnamese troops fought their way into Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge leaders fled to the west and reestablished their forces in Thai territory, where they were aided by China and Thailand.

Ieng fled to Thailand when the regime fell in 1979, and was then convicted of genocide and sentenced to death by the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal of Phnom Penh. King Norodom Sihanouk pardoned his 1979 conviction in exchange for Ieng abandoning the Khmer Rouge. 

Kelly Ni
Kelly Ni